Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sparky's Texas Visit

It was fast, WAY too fast....just for the weekend....

Sparky flew in...Sparky flew out, but what a time she had with her little grandson!

He's grown so fast....He's a little over two now and can he talk!

"Grandma? GRANDMA! WHERE ARE YOU?" and he came running down the hall to find her. That made Sparky very happy. She thought it would take him almost the whole two days to warm up to her, but it didn't take long at all. We quickly got into the business of playing...and being silly....

He's a typical boy...all about cars and trucks. He identified each car and truck by make and model AND color as he showed Grandma his collection. "This is Honda Civic.  Daddy's car is silver Honda. John Deere  tractor. Garbage truck. This is green car. Barron's blue car. This car goes fast. This car goes slow."  Then he'd demonstrate how slow or how fast.

He can count to 20 and not miss a number!  One to one correspondence (touching each object and counting them correctly) now that's another story---not quite there yet.

What's amazing to Sparky is how much he loves books and looks at them intently by the hour and pretends to read them....And of course, if they are about trucks, all the better!


Sparky made a little photo story book with photos of Barron on each page and a little caption about him. "Barron likes to go to the park with his mommy."  "Who came to visit Barron? Aunt Kelly." "Barron's favorite meal is Chicken Nuggets from McDonald's." And, "Barron likes to get wet at the water park." The last page had this....A photo of Barron asleep in his car seat and the caption, "Uh-oh! Barron is tired. He fell asleep. He's had a busy day. See you later!" Grandma read it to him ONE time, and just a little while later, he was "reading" his little book and parroting back what it said on each page! We heard a little "Uh-oh! Barron tired." There were 15 pages in the little book! Not only that, but from a very specific photo of JUST his car seat, he said that the car seat was in Daddy's silver car, which was correct! He's got an amazing memory, that little guy!


We had a lot of fun...We went to the playground....

Grandma got to babysit....Grandma got to wrestle....Grandma got tired, and so did Barron!

Sparky had a WONDERFUL visit with her daughter and little grandson....It went by way too fast...
Kerry
Hard to say goodbye to this adorable little guy....
Sparky is saving up for the next trip and hopes to come back soon, she's missing too much! Kerry says that he is now sounding out words! They were at the grocery store, went past the beer aisle and Barron says, "B-b-b-beer. That's Dadda's." Oh, what comes out of the mouths of little babes...... And, he's doing BLENDS! " Bl-bl-bl-black. That's black." Smart kid, that one!

Until next time.....

Friday, August 29, 2014

Getting Ready to Head to Houston!

Because Sparky's daughter, Kerry, wasn't able to make the family reunion, she graciously bought her mom a ticket for Sparky to come to Houston! Woo hoo! Sparky is headed there in just a few days to see her daughter and grandson, whom she hasn't seen since he was born. He's now just a shade over two years old.

In the meantime....Sparky is crafting up a storm. Head over to Millie's Girls to see what she's been making.

It's been too hot to bike ride for Sparky, but Eldo, now that's another story! Eldy has been upset about a recent uptick in blood pressure and a few extra pounds put on this summer, so he's on a roll, let me tell you, folks! He is riding his bike every day, even tho it's in the high nineties...out early in the morning before it gets REALLY hot! He's really watching what he eats...No more stick and a half of butter on a BIG bucket of homemade popcorn. And no salt this time....Sparky is impressed! He's making healthy smoothies in the morning, started eating oatmeal for breakfast, and watching meat intake. Way to go, Eldy? Is Sparky doing all that? No-o-o-o-o-o....but she's working on that Coke a day habit, cutting down. Sparky gets in the pool a few times a week and does some exercise and jogging in the water....That's all she can handle for now.....
Gulf Gate Cafe
So-o-o-o-o....we do some of our regular routines...like head to Anna Maria Island once a week to eat breakfast at Gulf Gate Cafe, check out the banana tree, which is growing right outside the restaurant, then we head over to the city pier see what's up.....

Today, there's a little boy fishing....He seems to know exactly what he's doing...We asked him if he had caught anything. He said, "Not yet. But I'm working on it."  A few minutes later, Sparky watched his line take a big curving dip, and she heard him say, "WHAT THE HECK?"  He caught a little fish, no idea what kind. You never know what people are going to catch at the pier. We've seen a ray get caught by accident, a pelican, and an egret tangle with the fishermen's lines.

We've heard people sometimes land a shark!

"What the heck!??!!!!

Sparky is always looking at the birds... A snowy egret getting ready to grab a fish....Not the best photo (iPhone) but look at those legs at perfect right angles!
Another egret that caught a fish.....

We saw a family looking very closely at this small turtle near the boardwalk...They were holding it and handling it gently, but Sparky wished they would place it back in the cover of the shrubs where we think it came from. People have been very informed about sea turtle nesting and turning around baby turtles towards the ocean if they find them in the parking lot but outsiders don't always know the rules. However, Sparky thinks this is a young gopher tortoise. (?)

And we always like to people watch....There are lots of old codgers at the pier, weatherbeaten, leathery, and burnt to a crisp. There's lots to see at the pier......

We've seen fishermen fishing with just a reel of line, no rod....We've had some great conversations with foreigners who speak a little English.... We saw a BIG manatee pass under the pier last weekend and much to the excitement of a French family who had two young children, we called it to their attention. First one they had ever seen, so they were thrilled to see it and thanked us. It had a huge wide scar on its back, so sad.....But it seemed to be doing ok....

Time to head home....Sparky might start subbing this week...She's been having fun volunteering over the lunch hour at the local elementary school, helping the little kindergartners navigate their way through the lunch line and learn how to punch their student number into the code machine to register that they bought a lunch. Some can't even match number to number from a card they have around their neck. But they are so cute! "I don't like that," "I don't eat that," said one little boy who said no to everything the lunch lady suggested. His teacher finally just plopped some food on his tray and told him he had to eat SOMETHING! One cute little blond boy asked Sparky, "Hey, wanna come to my party?" Sparky said, "Oh, are you having a birthday?" He answered, "No, I'm just having a party."  Sparky said thank you, but she had a lot of things to do that day.......One little boy remembered Sparky from last spring! "Hi, Mrs. Sparks! Do you remember me?"  "Uh, no, dear, I'm sorry I don't remember your name."  "Nathan!"   Oh, to have a memory like that once again!

See you later......

Friday, August 22, 2014

Last but Not Least....

Here's the REST of the story.....Where we ate in Traverse City, and some cultural stuff thrown in, too!

There are some AMAZING places to eat in Traverse City....and some too expensive for us to even think about...Like the Boathouse on the Bay Restaurant...Some of the family thought about going there, and we're sure it's excellent, but yikes---the prices! How about dinner for two--two 5 oz. Kobe beef filets, a one pound lobster with crab stuffing,  two salads, fingerling potatoes and asparagus--just 149.00!  What, no dessert at that price?????  Not for us....Here's the menu if anybody wants to take a look...
http://boathouseonwestbay.com/menu-2/dinner-menu/   There's always lunch.... but we didn't bite...heheheh.....

We ate one morning at Sparky's Diner, a little place in a strip mall and a VERY reasonably priced breakfast that was delicious! It better be, with Sparky's name on it!  A fun diner....reproduction cool '50's formica tables and chairs, cool record LP's on the walls, lots of locals eating here the morning we ate, so you know it's got to be good....Sparky bought a tee shirt with the diner advertised on the front....

We also ate a Peegeo's...a great snowmobile destination bar and grill in the winter and just as great in the summer--it had that type of atmosphere, VERY "up north"---dark wood throughout, noisy popular bar with the locals.....old looking...but GREAT pizza and sandwiches...We ate there twice.....

How about some ice cream? Eldo's absolutely favorite dessert of all....So we tried the Cherry Cone in downtown Traverse City. YUM! They have a terrific mission statement.

It didn't take much convincing to get Eldy to eat some ice cream, so we did! Sparky picked something similar to "Moose Tracks"---bits of Reese's peanut butter cups and fudge pieces. Lo and behold, they put actual peanut butter in the ice cream, fresh candy, and real fudge! And they mix it with two paddles! It was fantastic! (Yep, fantastically fattening, but we'll worry about that later, says E.)

At one point during the week we were going to try and eat at Apache Trout Grill which my nephew said was fabulous, but starting at 4:30 PM, the wait stretches out to over an hour and more, it's that popular. The family wasn't ready to eat that early so most of us never made it there....The family members who did said it was very very good! The atmosphere looked cool!

(OK, enough about food, Sparky..Everybody knows how much you like to eat out. What about the culture? asks E.)  Oh, yes...Sparky and her brother and family went to the Dennos Museum Center,  at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, where there was an Innuit exhibit this summer....It was interesting but small. It was a nice collection of art and sculpture from the Baffin Island area of Canada. Sparky REALLY enjoyed the neighboring exhibit in the room next door that was a Korean artist, Seungmo Park, who did portraits and landscapes entirely of mesh screening! WOW! VERY cool! Look at this.....

When you get up close, this is what you see (pictured on the left)...Back off, and this is what you see.

He cuts layer after layer of wire mesh and overlaps to create shadows and illusions....Here is a better description of how he does it...  http://www.dennosmuseum.org/exhibitions/current/wire-wrapped-park-mo.html.

There was a landscape where you could go behind the screens and become a part of the landscape, so Sparky did......It was a VERY interesting exhibit overall.....We really enjoyed it.....


We recommend going to the Old Mission Lighthouse at Mission Point, which we did. At the beach in front of the lighthouse, there are aquatic cairns--Usually you see those little rock piles that hikers make to point out directions of trails on land--only these were built in the water and there are probably more than a hundred of them sitting in the shallow waters. And of course, there's a small lighthouse there, too. We didn't explore that today, it was really busy there!
And we even got to play pickle ball one day with our friends, Suzette and Larry Kurfis, who we got to know back at Sun 'n' Fun last year....

It was a fantastic week with family. We are very blessed that everybody gets along well with everybody else, there's no family drama, and a great sense of humor abounds in this family.  We just really really enjoyed seeing everyone and talking to everyone. The campground was perfect for communicating with each other and keeping in touch while everyone was coming and going....Got to see lots of wildlife, kayak, eat well, laugh lots, and regain that family connection that is so hard to keep when everybody is spread out all over the country.....And if we needed space, we had that, too. The Windjammer on the Lake is a great setting at Spider Lake, Traverse City, for a family reunion if you like a more "campground" atmosphere and not so much a fancy resort type of place. No place for RV's, just cabin accommodations. The managers of the campground, Keith and Theresa, were absolutely wonderful.....A big thank you to them for all they did for us. We recommend this place to anyone looking for a wonderful, campground atmosphere, which was a little further away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Traverse City (it was about a 15 mine drive from the campground). Loons calling out every night and morning, a peaceful lake, and a shady campground for relaxing and connecting with family. Life doesn't get any better than that....except to be retired and healthy, maybe!  :-)

Bye for now.......

Monday, August 18, 2014

Nature Abounds at Spider Lake

Traverse City has LOTS of things to do....However, we found PLENTY to do just at the campground and between trying out some of the great restaurants Traverse City has to offer, and taking advantage of the lake activities, we were kept pretty busy and did not venture into town much....After all, the goal was to connect with family, and we sure did.....

My brother, Rich, from Massachusetts, generously rented a pontoon boat for the week for the family...The rental was from Blue Sky Boat Rental company in Traverse City. They delivered the boat to Spider Lake for us, and it was almost brand new.  Spider Lake is a terrific lake for exploring....it's got LOTS of little fingers spreading out, like spider legs, of course. So we usually had a full load, accompanied with beer and wine or pie from Grand Traverse Pie Company, snacks, or all of the above!Every night we went out for a "float boat" ride....And everybody just loved it!

Sparky went kayaking almost every morning....There are LOONS on the lake, at least one pair with a youngster....

We saw and heard them every single day. What a beautiful sound to hear them calling!

Sparky went looking for the loons almost every morning in the campground kayak.

She was lucky to be able to see them and watch the parents feed the young one more than once.

Here the mama (?) is coming to the youngster with a fish. Even though the young one seemed to be finding some fish on his own, the parents still came and took turns bringing him extra fish.

The loons weren't bothered by all the lake traffic at all. Jet skis whizzed by, water skiing boats zoomed around, and they just went about their business of feeding the youngster and swimming around looking for food.


Here's the baby, er, youngster, as he's getting quite big......

Loons weren't the only wildlife, besides the screaming kids on tubes and the noisy jet skis.  Sparky saw a family of ducklings that were all lined up on a log one morning, waiting for Mama's directions.

And of course, turtles...not sure of what kind this one is, but the shell is cool......

Sparky also saw a line up of ducks (female mallards?) that just called for a photo opp!

And guess that will about be enough for today....Have to stretch out this blog, ya know...because we aren't doing that much back home in Bradenton...We'll finish up the reunion next time...See you then!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Best Family Reunion EVER!

Once we got back from Virginia and the mountains, we had a little time to catch our breaths and to get ready for our (Sparky's) family reunion in Traverse City, MI. It's not easy to get a big family to agree on where to go, what time of year, and what activities do they want to be available, but somehow, we all managed to find and agree on Windjammer Resort on the Lake just outside Traverse City (ten miles southeast) for the first week in August this year. The campground/resort is located on the 450 acre Spider Lake just outside the city.

We had a total of 16 family members attend. Sparky was REALLY looking forward to seeing her daughter from Houston and her little grandson, but due to a major delay and engine problems on Kerry's flight, and her little two year old deciding he'd had enough after sitting for almost 3 hours in the plane on the ground at the gate, Kerry was not able to complete her flight,  and had to stay home.

However, once everybody got there, the fun began! But first, a little about the resort, which was really a campground.....There are 9 cabins at Windjammer. Some are VERY rustic, original, and still furnished with very old furnishings from many years ago. Some are modernized and quite pretty. The common area has three log cabins built in 2001, four original cabins and a two story cottage. Two of my brothers and their families stayed in the the largest cabin, up on a hill overlooking all the others. It's a big, log cabin house built in 2009 and was just gorgeous. This cabin, however, does not have a very good view of the lake, you can barely see it from the deck. The other cabins are organized in a sort of semi circle, which was really great for seeing where family members are if they are out and about. This arrangement was great for communicating with each other and gathering in the evenings on the different decks of the cabins.

So much better than staying in a hotel, where you don't know when anybody is coming or going, or what anybody is doing. Sparky loved looking out over our deck, seeing her sister across the way, having her morning coffee, or the cousins next door out eating a snack on the deck and knowing she could stop by any time and chat. It was great for communicating with each other, and having some great conversations with family members that you ordinarily wouldn't do easily if you were staying in hotel rooms.

The biggest log cabin, #9, set up on a hill (with only two bedrooms) were oddly appointed. Each bedroom had one queen and one double bed with a corner hot tub in each bedroom and a shower stall. For such a nice large cabin, you would think there would be a little more privacy for couples wanting to stay there and a little more space allotted instead of trying to equip the bedrooms to fit as many people as possible in each bedroom. But it's all about maximizing people capacity, for sure.

This cabin had a beautiful great room area, a nice long kitchen counter with cedar bar stools, and a dining table area for eating that seats 6. The living room had a hide a bed in the couch.

We congregated a lot on the big cabin deck.

It was also AIR CONDITIONED, which most of the cabins DIDN'T have. We got lucky with the weather on that one. In the high seventies low eighties during the day, it cooled down to the fifties at night. No rain, and even more amazing NO MOSQUITOES to speak of. Not all week! Whew! More amenities for the large cabin---gas fireplace, gas grill, washer and dryer.  $1780 for the week.

On to some of the other cabins available...We stayed in cabin #8, which sleeps 4-6 people and has one nice bathroom. It had the best view of any of the cabins, with an upper deck overlooking the lake. The managers of the campground reside in the separate, ground level cabin below.  Our cabin had one queen bed which completely filled the bedroom along with one chest of drawers, and the bedroom patio door exited straight out to the stair steps. There's one double bed sofa bed in the great room. Had Sparky's daughter been there, she would have had to sleep on it. It was in terrible shape. The foam in the cushions no longer supported the weight of anybody sitting on the sofa during the day, and once you sat down, it was difficult to get back up! We doubt that sofa bed would be suitable for anybody to sleep on as bad a condition as it was in. The other bedroom with the bunk beds was TINY! Again, the twin bunks completely filled the little bedroom and one chest of drawers took care of the rest of the space. There was room for only one adult in the room at a time.

The microwave was very old and the door was badly cracked in one corner. The gas stove was an old one, and you could smell the fumes from the burning pilot light. The refrigerator light kept going out even after an effort to fix it. Despite some of the cabin's limitations, the knotty pine paneling and the bamboo wood floors with a very spacious open, great room/kitchen plan made for a wonderful atmosphere. It was a beautiful cabin despite needing some new furniture and appliances. No AC, a couple of small fans are provided. We were not having much luck getting the cool night air to cool down the cabin, so the manager went out and bought another fan, a nice big box fan to help keep us cool. We really appreciated that!  We sat out on the deck every morning and every night. The wrap around deck also had a picnic table so Sparky sat and crafted a few times during the week.      $1280 a week, $200 nightly.

Some additional things about Windjammer Resort....They don't provide sheets and towels. You have to bring your own! Guess most people drive in from not too far away. Sparky's sister drove up from the Detroit area and filled one car with beddings and linens so we could have some. Thanks, sis! They DO provide plenty of kitchen utensils and pots and pans.

The managers of the campground were absolutely wonderful....Keith and Theresa. Whatever we needed, they promptly tried to provide or fix. They were just great to deal with. They have a lot to deal with with many groups coming into a campground, some with unreasonable expectations. They manage, not own the campground, so they are limited in what they can do.

The common areas of the campground were just wonderful....A deck overlooking Spider Lake, two big porch swings, a common fire pit area and one big sandbox of a lot, which the little kids absolutely loved.

The entire campgrounds are all sand, so you are in a losing battle all week with sand coming into the cabins. No problem, with all wood floors, easy clean up!

There is a beach, but it's very tiny....wide enough for one row of deck chairs, and your feet are just about in the water.

It's a clean sandy shallow bottom, so a great place for toddlers. There were LOTS of water toys---a pedal boat, FIVE kayaks and two rowboats. Sparky actually got out one morning to row for a little workout. But the rest of the time, Sparky got out and kayaked almost every day....There's a boat dock and two floating platforms which we used, too. The common areas where you can sit and picnic with family were just beautiful. Nice and shady...loved the two wooden swings and two gathering areas, one being the lower deck.

Overall, the campground resort was a terrific place for families....The only drawback, really, is that you share your cabin with seven other cabins in the common area, so you need to come with a good attitude---barking dogs, noisy children, and late night campfires and loud conversations are all possibilities here. Because our family took up several of the cabins, we didn't have to worry about that! (We didn't have any barking dogs and we all pooped out by 10:00 PM) Peak season is June through Labor Day, and mostly weekly rentals are available during that time unless there's availability. In that case, they have a three day minimum rental. They are open all year round. Nice breeze off the lake most days....plenty of shade to sit and read...The lake was wonderful and fun to explore. We saw LOTS of wildlife...More about that next time....We loved it.....

Time to start having fun! Come back and see what we did.......







Saturday, August 9, 2014

Back to Normal, for Now....

We're back home and it's hot....Sparky is trying to forget about those wonderful temperatures in the mountains...She's dreaming of a way to return next summer...She's dreaming of hiking...She's dreaming of a month in the mountains.....(Dream on, sweetie...that's gonna be EXPENSIVE! states E., just stating the facts.)

Hmmmmm....let's see....If I sub X number of days a month....If we cut out eating out...(THAT'S  not gonna happen! exclaims E.) Eldo is right about that...Sparky is the one who loves to eat out....If we play the lottery.....lol......Well, a gal can dream, right?

Seriously, we will look hard and work hard for a solution to get back to the mountains--some mountains, somewhere-- next summer, so Sparky can hike and we both can get relief from the hot, humid temps.....

Sparky went back to the Celery Fields in Sarasota.....A beautiful place with a couple hundred species of birds they say....Lots of marshy areas, lots of water...prime bird and duck habitat. Sparky met a lady photographer here one day, and she takes the most awesome photos. 'Course she has a really big lens and a super duper camera. She was kind enough to share some other locations in town where she looks for birds. Sparky will have to check those places out one of these days, when it's not so hot.

Usually the fields and marshes yield something interesting to see...but not today....Maybe over at Jigg's Landing, the pretty park that is on the Braden River?
view from the porch of one of the little fishing cabins
Yep! A baby moorehen chick or a common gallinule, not sure which. The two birds are VERY closely related and were just recently split into two separate family categories in 2011. The moorhen is also known as the "swamp chicken"! Whatever, this bird is, the baby chicks are cute, well, sort of....

The mom was supervising....
And keeping an eye on Sparky who was a little above the action on the nice boardwalk that runs through the park.....Sparky really enjoys riding down to this park, less than a mile from her house. This is where the horned owlets were earlier this summer....

Time to head back home and see what the yard birds are up to....the pileated woodpeckers are still at those carrotwood tree berries, which are coming to the end of their lifespan....
The carrotwood tree right in front of our house is a messy tree...we have to sweep the sidewalk twice a day while the berries are developing...The tree throws down little brown hard kernels at first. If you step on them, they release an orange fluid and it can stain the carpet if they come in on your shoes and you crush them, so we have to really watch that. But boy, do the birds love the berries when they come out! Sparky saw THREE pileated woodpeckers all munching on berries at the same time in the tree today!
And this little bird (Sparky doesn't know this species) had something to say about the pileateds eating all the berries.....
"Save some for me!"
And that's about it for now....

Sparky and Eldo are getting ready for another trip...time to head to Traverse City tomorrow for Sparky's family reunion....which will be a week at the Windjammer Resort on the Lake near Traverse. It's actually not much of a resort, but more of a campground. More about that later.....like when we get back! Sparky is looking forward to seeing her brothers and sister and enjoying cooler temperatures once again...Looks like the mid seventies during the day, and fifties at night. Woo hoo!  Until next time......