Friday, March 17, 2017

Is it Boring in Bradenton? Let's See What You Think!

So after the VA trip, things settled down into somewhat of a routine...Sparky is subbing a LOT and really loving it. Kids say the darnedest things. She had a 5 week job in second grade and it was with a  high functioning class, a class full of very smart, great thinkers, and it was a ball! So that kept her busy all of January and into February. Eldy is playing golf at least two to three times a week, so he's keeping busy, too....

When Sparky isn't subbing, she's riding her bike....15-20 miles two to three times a week. Now, that might seem impressive, but Sparky stops a lot to take photos. When she IS riding, however, she boogies....A pair of sandhill cranes sat on a nest for most of February, and the first week of March, they hatched two little ones. March is prime time for sandhill crane hatching, especially early in the month....Sparky knew they had hatched after missing a couple of days at the marsh due to work, because of the small crowd of amateur photographers that descended on the marsh with their whopper lenses...Sparky used to have a Canon Rebel SLR with two lenses, but the darn thing was SO bulky, and every time she saw a cool shot, she had the wrong lens screwed on, so after trying and trying to like the camera for about a year, she decided to go with a Canon point and shoot, the SX530 with 50X zoom. She can just throw it over her shoulder and go. She hears there is a Nikon P900 with 85X zoom or something like that, but she's pretty happy with the one she has. And here's the kind of photos she gets with it....She's VERY happy with it.....Here the parents are changing nest guarding duties...off goes one to eat, and the other one comes on duty....

And here are the little cuties. They are about four days old in these photos...Sparky apologizes for the watermark, she has decided to start marking her photos after getting a bunch of them chosen over the past year for the local weekly newspaper, Your Observer. Time to get serious about submitting some photos in some contests, maybe....

Chicks and mama's legs.....

And here is Sparky's favorite.....

Cranes are not all that Sparky sees on her rides...Always fascinated with bees among the beautiful blossoms here in Bradenton, Sparky likes to try and capture them in the flowers and buds. Her favorite bee shot is this one....This was taken with an iPhone 6S. Sparky uses her phone for 99% of the close up nature shots.

Sparky likes to try and capture the big shore and wading birds close up, too....Love this anhinga eye....This one is back to the Canon point and shoot.

And that's just one bike ride on a good day.....See you soon...More photos and blog coming about the Venice Rookery this week...stay tuned....We told you we've been busy! :-)


"Are you my mama?"


                                                            Sparky and Eldo

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Yes, We are Still Here, Alive and Kicking!

Well...it's been awhile....and it's been a whirlwind of lots going on...family and friends visiting, Sparky subbing a LOT, a side trip to Virginia for Sparky to see her daughter, Eldy's family visiting, Sparky biking a LOT and taking a ton of nature photos, AND....Sparky has been crafting for Etsy...Sparky is developing yet another craft interest (die cutting cards) and so on and so on...So-o-o-o-o....first things first...a trip to Virginia.
Sparky and Sparky, Jr.


Artwork in the brewery
Sparky has volunteered to be the Family Readiness Group Leader for her daughter's unit...this means someone needs to be available for soldiers' families when troops are deployed, to provide assistance of all sorts to wade through problems that arise when the soldier is on active duty...Sort of a friendly face for the unit that can help solve problems when things get complicated, provide resources and coordinate solutions for the family unit. Sending emails, helping coordinate family activities for the unit and sending out newsletters is all part of the job. So off to Virginia to attend some training, and have some wonderful mother/daughter time...Much needed!  After training, we went to a couple of great breweries....Strangeways Brewery in Richmond, was one...just the coolest brewery ever! It had the coolest stuff on the wall and in the brewery, and Kelly, the beer afficicionado in our family, after trying a couple of flights, pronounced this was an excellent craft brewery! (Sparky does not drink beer, she is starting to think she is missing out on something. But after trying a very weird beer that was salted caramel, she still says, "No thanks!" Salted caramel ice cream, YES PLEASE!)
On the Appomattox Trail
We hiked on small trails nearby and visited the Edgar Allen Poe Museum as well...It was VERY interesting and we highly recommend it. Lots of interesting theories about how he died...What a tragic life he led! It was a gray, cold day, but the grounds were beautiful and the museum was a tight connection of little rooms and stairwells with exhibits and displays of artifacts about his life. Here is a link for more information about it....http://www.poemuseum.org/index

Richmond is a beautiful city...It has very old parts that have deteriorated, and new, vibrant businesses going up along with new downtown living spaces....Sparky would love to go back and revisit some day....Very cool murals throughout the city....

Because so much is going on....Sparky will be blogging more this week...she is off school for spring break and has a little time (HA!) to catch up. We are sure you've been wondering what the heck happened to us? Yes?  Maybe?.....Well...Sparky needs to catch up anyway and to preserve some memories...blogging seems to be more like a modern day diary these days. We're happy if you are still reading, and certainly understand if you are not. We are still enjoying everybody's travels through blogs and reading about where all of you are....Thanks for stopping by!

                                                               Sparky and Eldo

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Day Trip to the Everglades....

Every once in awhile, Sparky and Eldo get restless...we miss the traveling, RVing lifestyle, but hey....we are now off the road and that's where we are at this stage in our lives...living in Bradenton, FL, Eldy's golfing, Sparky is subbing, and the weather is relentless sunshine and plenty of warmth and heat for our old bones....Sparky still misses cooler weather and the change of the seasons, but that's where we can travel occasionally in the summer to get out of the heat....

female anhinga
Now, a trip to the Everglades in December is not getting out of the heat, but it's fun! It reminds us of the very first time traveling to southwest Florida, going down highway 41, Tamiami Trail to the Everglades...Back then, we visited Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary (north of Fort Myers) and saw our very first anhinga, a very common Florida bird with fantastic black and silver plumage. Sparky remembers seeing an anhinga drying its wings on a branch in Corkscrew Swamp, and saying to Eldy, "WHAT THE HECK IS THAT BIRD????" It was SO BIG compared to birds up north....  The first time we visited the Everglades, on the way down, we would watch the side ditches filled with water because the bushes and shrubs hadn't grown up yet, and there would be alligator after alligator after alligator sunning themselves along the banks. We stopped a BUNCH of times, because you know how Sparky LOVES to take photos. And, there were TONS of egrets, herons, and anhingas in the trees. We were AMAZED!

This week we took a day trip back to our favorite stopping points along the way to the Everglades....the Big Cypress Visitor's Center, (the manatees start to hang out there in the winter), the U.S. smallest post office in Ochopee, FL....a 7 X 8ft. building...It used to be an irrigation shed for a tomato farm. It is at milepost 72, on highway 41 and worth a stop. Get a pre stamped postcard from the smallest post office in the U.S.! Population of Ochopee is about 11 people or so....

We stopped at the HP Williams Wayside Park, another great place to talk to a ranger or naturalist and look for gators and birds....There was a BIG gator under the boardwalk, but Sparky is now sort of "meh" about gators, she sees them ALL the time in Sarasota and Bradenton....But they ARE bigger in the Everglades, she will say that! :-) We saw Florida gar and bowfin fish in the water...the gators didn't seem to care about the fish at all...guess they weren't hungry!
bowfin fish
Sparky saw the usual anhingas and gators....But then, in the underbrush, across the water canal, she saw a little green heron...his colors were terrific! The green herons are also known as chuckleheads, or little green herons. They like to stay hidden in swampy thickets, which is exactly where Sparky saw him. They are about one to two feet in length, so not very big birds compared to other FL birds like the white herons, wood storks and great blue herons....


As we came out of HP Williams Wayside Park, we saw an alligator that had been hit by a car, mangled in the road, the first time we have ever seen alligator road kill here in FL. You'd think we see that more often, but guess there are plenty of fences around to prevent that from happening. Too bad they can't help keep the panthers fenced in down near the Everglades, because a record number of panthers continue to be hit by cars, increasing in numbers every year. There were 26 panthers killed by cars in 2015, and the last number we saw in the newspaper for 2016, was over 30. :-(  They won't be around much longer if this keeps up!

One thing we were happy to see as well, at the different visitors' centers, was this.....

On to the Oasis Center in Big Cypress Preserve, between Miami and Naples, THE best place for viewing VERY large alligators, some as big as 12 feet! That one, the 12 footer, was not in the canal the day we went, but we did see some biggies....Sparky loves taking closeup photos from the boardwalk, where it's nice and safe to do so. The last time we were there, Sparky saw a young limpkin taking a nap in a tree, and a little green heron walking the swamp edge below the boardwalk..Today it was big gators snoozing, big soft shell turtles sunning, alligators swimming, just a beautiful day to be out and about...Temps in the low eighties by mid afternoon with a nice breeze....There's a ranger or naturalist here as well, to answer your questions
Gator claw
Sparky wanted to head down to Shark Valley National Park to do the long bike ride, but it was getting later in the afternoon, and so we decided to head back to Bradenton. Lots of Christmas and Etsy preparations to still take care of.... We hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season, wherever you are...Sparky's tee says, "let it snow"...But we know, it ain't gonna happen in Bradenton...Last record cold temperature was 28 degrees in 1983,  on Dec. 25-26th or something like that...That will never happen again! (Sparky needs to go to one of those fake snow events they have every so often down here so she can pretend to be a kid again, says E..... ) Send photos of snow, folks, that helps!
Sparky, blog author
Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays 2016 from beautiful Bradenton to all our friends and family...May the coming year bring you peace, love, joy, and good health....

                                                                    Sparky and Eldo

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Monday, November 14, 2016

The Beautiful 2016 Chalk Festival in Venice, FL

Sparky apologizes in advance for the heavy photo post, but that's the only way to appreciate the AMAZING artists this past weekend, who took to the pavement at the Venice Airport to share their awesome abilities and artwork. Over several hundred artists each year have competed in the chalk festival which has been going for nine years now. Chalk art is believed to have originated in where else, none other than Italy...no surprise there. The Italian artists were called "madonnari". Chalk art started to become popular here in the US in the 1970's.....Each year the festival attracts over 100,000 visitors to the area. If you've always wanted to be a madonnari, there is a section for novices at the festival, too...a chalk wall to leave your graffiti, and individual squares for your personal designs, too!

Drum roll, please.....The 2016 Chalk Festival, here we go....

The theme this year was......
Love and peace.....and lots of hippy dippy stuff....rose colored glasses popped up on more than one artist's site....
Janis Joplin....
A fitting tribute to veterans...
LOTS of 3D work this year....You looked through special magnifying lenses to see the depth or climbed up high from an observation platform to get the special effect...The 3D designs are anywhere from 12 feet to 100 feet tall. They appear to sink inward right into the pavement, or rise upward and out.

Sparky was more interested in the regular squares of art. So interesting to see the artists' depictions of this year's theme of peace and love.
And the tools......This artist had a brand new set....sigh...Sparky always loved chalk and the Crayola 64 box of colored crayons....
With chalk in hand, the artists go to work, taking anywhere from just a day to over a week to complete their work, but the festival lasts for just four days....They all have sketches or photographs that they work from, making a grid on the pavement and working from their drawings, square by square, the metamorphosis is truly AMAZING!

Here is the artist working from the photograph to the pavement.....

Another sketch and another piece of art in the works....


Some of the artwork goes from the pavement and continues up a wall....

The themes range from serious and thoughtful, to artful whimsy...Not sure who this is...
And then there are random pieces of art strewn all around.....
A giant mosaic circle....a portion here....
Sparky loves how the outfits complement the artist and the drawings....
The details are incredible....
And last, but not least, Sparky thinks the best is saved for last.....Her top two favorites...This is #2....

And here's Sparky's #1 favorite of all......
Every November, about the second week, usually, you can see the Chalk Festival here in Venice, FL.....It's truly one of the best festivals in the area....Thanks for stopping by today to have a look...

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Sparky Takes up Golf and Other Stuff

Eldo thought it would NEVER happen! Sparky had insisted she had no interest in taking up golf for quite some time now. BUT---things change, and Sparky decided since we were off the road now, might as well find another activity to be able to do things with her better half. :-)  So, golf it is! And hey, it's not as bad as she thought...Yes, it's hot! But we go out early early in the morning, just as the sun comes up, and it's really nice...The course we live on is beautiful....There are always beautiful reflections in the ponds in the early mornings, wood storks,  egrets, limpkins, herons, and the occasional gator.

AND---one morning we saw a BOBCAT! Right on the course, waiting to pounce on a mouse or a rabbit, we thought.

Is Sparky any good? NOPE! (Hey, now, says E., you had a 140 yard tee shot last week. You're just getting started!) Yes, but on the next shot Sparky whiffed the ball three times in a row! :-( But it's just enjoyable being out with Eldy in the early morning hours and getting just a little exercise. We're not walking that much because you can't walk and push a cart unless you play at the end of the day. We prefer the early morning before anybody is really out there besides us and before it gets too hot. Sparky worries about holding people back as it takes awhile for her to get the ball to the hole, haha.

Sparky is riding her bike several times a week, trying to beat the heat...Lots of beauty in nature in Sarasota and Bradenton...something blooming every single month of the year....This is a climbing cactus that is about 40 feet up in the air in a neighbor's yard. Sparky thinks it's possibly a night blooming cereus cactus, but whatever it is, it's gorgeous!
Here are some more shots of the beautiful nature here in Sarasota and Bradenton over several bike rides.....

Nothing special to report....we had the hottest summer on record, but there were a lot of places north, where they had a record number of days in the 90's...several times it was hotter up north than it was down here in Bradenton! But you folks have relief now...we are still having WEEKS in the 90's still. However, temperatures are coming down a tad, to be in the upper 80's starting next week. Still hot and humid.....

Sparky is biking about 10-15 miles at least three times a week, and swimming laps in between working as a substitute teacher. She LOVES her job...The kids are wonderful and she gets LOTS of hugs every day....Eldy is playing golf two to three times a week and looking forward to seeing his northerner friends come down soon. He is experiencing tiredness a lot, but three of his medications have fatigue as a side effect, so no wonder! (Eldy had a quadruple bypass in February this year.) He tries to get some walking in every week besides golf. So life is good, and he is much healthier now.....We are very thankful for that.... A few more nature photos by Sparky before we go.....
Mockingbird, baby bird, baby moorhen chick, and bottom--black bellied whistling duck

P.S. Does anybody know how to get our blog list back that used to be on the right side of the blog? It's disappeared....It was a great way to go visiting other blogs of our traveling friends, but Sparky has no idea how it disappeared nor how to get it back....

Bye for now......

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Beautiful Botanical Garden in Our Midst

Sparky just LOVES botanical gardens....Everywhere we went on our travels, if there was one, Sparky had to go see it. Sarasota has an AMAZING one, it's called Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and it is right downtown Sarasota.

What's so special about this place? Well, let her tell you! First, it's a bayfront setting...yachts and boats and fishing boats on the bay on one of the sides of the gardens...Second, it's a world class facility for research, education, and conservation. Third, it's got a conservatory that is like being in a tropical rainforest. It's got some VERY cool plants in it. Last month, it had the corpse flower, a nasty smelling flower that blooms very seldom. More about that in a minute. Fourth, it has an epiphyte garden (air plants) with a koi pond and a waterfall with a Japanese gong that people love to ring. BONG! Sparky does, too. :-)

Fifth, a tropical rainforest environment for kids and grownup kids like Sparky. LOTS of cool instruments to play,

Another instrument.....

Play areas in general...LOVE these frogs!

Wandering areas to explore all about the rainforest for families with kids and grownup kids--a suspension bridge, an exploration laboratory with a staff member, waterfalls, boardwalks in and among huge oaks... Sparky could have spent HOURS in the gardens today, but rain threatened.  Still...LOTS and LOTS of the most amazingly beautiful plants and statues....
This one looks REALLY exotic..have no idea of the name of it, but the plants are labeled in the gardens....

Caladium blooming everywhere...You see a lot of caladium in landscaping here in Bradenton and Sarasota, but these specimens were extra beautiful.

A Japanese pergola with beautiful stain glass panels of birds....
Cool colorful sculptures...
"Seymour"
(HEY, SPARKY! What about the corpse plant? The main reason you went there today! reminds E.) Oh, yeah...that was really cool. The gardens spent a lot of time hyping up the corpse plant. It is supposed to have a BIG stench between rotting flesh and really awful sweaty sox. It got a big buildup in the local paper. Well-l-l-l-l..honestly? It wasn't that bad. Yeah, something smelled rotten in Denmark when you first walked into the conservatory but only for a second, and then the smell dissipated. But the worst smell is within 24-48 hours, so Sparky could have visited at the tail end of the worst. The corpse plant is very unusual in that it only flowers every 3-7 years, and Selby had not one, but TWO of them blooming at the same time, which was even more rare! They named them Seymour and Audrey, (from the Little Shop of Horrors, a great musical about a carnivorous man eating plant.)

The plant is over 6 feet tall! It comes from Sumatra, Indonesia. The flower heats up to about 100 degrees to attract bugs, flies, and other insects to pollinate.

See, Sparky told you it was a cool place! The gardens is a FANTASTIC place to spend many hours....and a terrific place for families, a first class facility. Don't miss it if you come to Sarasota.

Bye for now.....