Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Days Go Slowly By.....

It's been really difficult these past couple of months, being away from the kids at school. Subbing kept Sparky filled with a purpose and out of Eldo's hair for a bit. Sparky is not sure if schools will ever return to the same model, if subs are even going to be needed, or what that whole scenario is going to look like, when school resumes. BUT---we have our house on the market here in Bradenton, FL, and we are hoping, hoping, hoping, that the house will eventually sell, and we can get back to traveling full time in a motorhome, because we really, really miss it!

Last week was Teacher's Appreciation Week, a poignant time for many regular teachers missing their students, who are attempting to keep things going with the educational process at home with distance learning under great duress and exceptional circumstances...You wouldn't expect substitutes to be given a shout out, but Sparky's school honored their substitutes with a ding dong dash--a great sign and a little gift bag placed on the sidewalk...Awwww...one reason she loves her school she subs at so much!

In the meantime, we have worked hard at staying home with minimal trips to the grocery, wearing masks, washing our hands a bazillion times a day, and working on yard work and inside little jobs. Sparky has been crafting up a storm making cards for her shop, JeanBeanGifts on Etsy.
Card in a box

Eldy is researching, researching, researching motor homes, costs, and RV travel videos on YouTube. We'll be ready if the times comes! Things are looking better and better as campgrounds open back up. It will be awhile anyway, till we might be able to do anything, so fingers crossed!

We'll see if cards make a comeback now that people have to stay apart more and can't visit as much. Sparky has also been walking Celery Fields and "the Hill" in Sarasota, (the Audubon nature preserve) almost every day for three weeks, and has lost some weight, due to not eating out. Celery Fields gets a LOT of walkers and runners due to the challenging "Hill", 85 high, the highest point in Sarasota County. The high schoolers cross country teams come out and train there several times a week.

Gaillardia-blanket flower
Celery Fields, besides the acreage and many marshes where many migratory species and native Floridian birds hang out, has a nice little butterfly garden that attracts painted buntings, sparrows, cardinals and many other little birds to its bubbling bird bath and plant oasis garden where you can sit in a gazebo and bird watch. Lots of beautiful flowers planted there to attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

Now that the beaches are open...they first opened last week for a defined two hour stay only, then one week later, it's now back to regular times. Sparky and Eldo headed to Coquina Beach, to break up our daily stay at home routine, a welcome break for sure! 

Today, Thursday, the picnic areas under the shade of the pines were mostly empty, the beach--definitely not. There were quite a few sun worshippers, but they were spaced out and were following social distance guidelines. 
Sparky walked the beach for a bit.....

We stayed in the shade for about two hours, then headed back
home. It was a beautiful day! But LOTS of wind.....We always tell ourselves, "We need to come here more often!" And we will....


Bye for now......

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

It's Hamsterkäufe Time!

What a great word--Hamsterkaufe--a German word for a hoarding, panic shopper. I'm sure you have seen plenty of that all over the country as of late. I wanted to do a blog about this time in our lives, because it changed so fast, it was mind blowing.

We put our house on the market around January 10 of this year, and immediately had LOTS of interest. We had 19 showings in less than 6 weeks. We had an offer the first week. Wifey overruled her hubby. He wanted a house on the golf course, she wanted a newer one. Wifey won. Round 2, off and running again with the sale. We were planning on buying an RV and hitting the road again once we got a sale and closed. As the showings increased, we got more excited and started RV shopping--just looking. The buyer wanted a closing date within 3 weeks. We said yes. It was getting closer and closer to closing, and then--coronavirus hit and the stock market dropped like a rock. The buyer backed out. 

Corona virus, or Covid-19 first came on the radar around December. The first case has been traced back to an elderly man in Wuhan, China in November. Come to think of it, we weren't even aware of the virus at the time we put our house on the market in January. But as February came and went, the virus exploded with all its ramifications. And here we are now, with everyone else, wondering when the lockdown is going to happen, if there is going to be a lockdown nationwide, and Sparky is wondering if she will ever get back to subbing this year before June. Schools here in southwest Florida are currently closed for three weeks, but some in other states, they are closed for the rest of the school year. Schools are going to provide drive up meals here in Sarasota, and restaurants are being forced to shift their focus from inside dining to carry out. The fall out is going to be huge. Many small businesses won't make it. Parents will lose their jobs because they have no day care for their school age kids. My grandson's school sent extensive emailed daily instruction plans to his mom for instructing him at home. Some schools have shifted to "E-learning". Some schools are just in a holding pattern, lacking the resources to provide learning at home. There are many fabulous sources for school age kids having to stay at home on extended break on the Internet right now...virtual field trips, great reading lists, great activities--(many we used to do when we boomers were little kids--imagine that!) Here's a link to start the ball rolling...
https://fordhaminstitute.org/national/commentary/resources-learning-home-during-covid-19-school-closures

And now, we have "social distancing". It was already bad enough that society is extremely fragmented and fragile right now with the current political scene, and cellphones have overtaken eye to eye contact and the ancient art of conversation and listening skills, but now we have to socially distance ourselves from each other. No groups of more than 10 should congregate anywhere, and when in the presence of another person, stay 6 feet apart.  So sad...but necessary to stem and level off the curve of the rapidly expanding virus.

mid day at Costco on a Monday
Back to Hamsterkäufe time.....As the virus escalated, we decided along with everyone else, that maybe we should stock up a bit on groceries and necessities like toilet paper and paper towels, just in case we were going to be housebound for a bit. And that's where the panic buying started....We just wanted to find a pack of toilet paper, and there was none to be found. Why is toilet paper to be in such short supply? Hand sanitizer is understandable. Chlorox wipes are understandable. Buying multiple packs of toilet paper to stock up for 8 months is NOT understandable. It's not like it's a diarrhea virus going around or that there is a truckers' strike. At our local Costco, the line for toilet paper and paper towels was over a 100 people, being tightly controlled by employees and there were so many people coming into the store, they had to shut the doors for awhile during the day, having reached total allowable capacity. We encountered empty shelves devoid of not only toilet paper, and paper goods, but the also meat and canned goods everywhere we looked. As fast as stores could restock, they were emptied out again and again. And this continues to be the case, day after day after day. We are into only the first week of social distancing and the strong recommendation to STAY HOME, but if you have to shop, as fast as the stores restock, they continue to run out unless you get lucky and get there at the right time.

Why are so many people panic buying?  Sparky culled some of the theories out there, and here they are....
1. When people are stressed, their reasoning is stressed. They look around to see what other people are doing, and it's the "herd" mentality that kicks in, with a snowballing effect. When we don't know what to do, we look to others to see what to do.
2.  This is a virus we know nothing about. When there's a flood or hurricane, people know what supplies to buy. When it's the unknown, people panic and become a little neurotic, so they gravitate towards larger objects to make them feel more in control. Large toilet paper packages make people feel more secure. (BWAHAHAHAHAHA....Eldo is rolling on the floor, laughing his you-know-what off. Hey, Sparky is just reporting generalities here, nothing very scientific.)
3. People are having an overabundance of fear, so in order to rationalize that, the need to affirm they are doing the right thing by stocking up, overwhelms the thought that they don't need to be doing that. Or something like that....lol.

Therefore....All that = a shortage of toilet paper (and hand sanitizer).  Maybe it's because there's a lady in Australia (true story, not fake news) that accidentally bought 48 boxes of toilet paper instead of a 48 rolls online.  She failed to notice the massive credit card bill until the pallets started arriving to her home in Queensland. The name of the supplier?  "Who Gives a Crap?"   And Sparky is going to end with that.....

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

It's Been a LONG Time, How the Heck Are Ya?

We're doing great....Sparky and Eldo are getting the hitch itch...so it's off to the Tampa RV show tomorrow (Thursday). Sparky has been super busy subbing, Eldo has been super busy golfing. Today, Sparky went off to Matlacha to see her sister, who is down there for a few weeks. Sparky is just like her sister, we both love Matlacha.
It's a little ocean town full of quirky shops and equally quirky paint colors for the many, many home rentals there. It's a very SMALL town with one main drag, and parking is at a premium. That being said, you can walk all over town to get to restaurants and shops if you have the legs for it. People are very polite and friendly about letting you out onto the main drag after coming out of a restaurant parking lot. AND, they actually stop for pedestrians crossing the street! (A Florida law, but not all the tourists are aware of that.)
One of the shops
We decided to go kayaking, and we picked the perfect day to go. Sparky's sister is 77 and still loves to kayak and do stuff! Sparky hopes she will be that energetic in about 8 years from now! It couldn't have been a better day. Waters were calm, not a cloud in the sky, a slight breeze blowing.

We didn't see any wildlife...wrong time of day, we thought, for dolphins, which are usually hanging out around the main bridge.
Correction...we did see one pink flamingo....haha. Looked pretty real, until you got up close.

We were out for about two hours, exploring and talking up a storm. 
My sis has been through a lot...breast cancer three times, and a heart attack. She's doing better than ever and I'm so proud of her! She works hard to take care of herself and has a wonderful sense of humor and a wonderful, funny husband who looks out for her, too. We had a terrific time....we got back and decided to go for lunch on the water....
a nod to Florida's Spanish heritage
We ate at the Yucatan, which is a newly named restaurant in the old Sandy Hook (?) building on the island. It was delicious. Sparky highly recommends the Yucatan bread which is like the local "beach bread" that many of the restaurants serve--sort of a cheesy garlic bread with chopped tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and some delicious seasonings. Sparky also had clam chowder which was good, but not fantastic (a little too "gummy" for her taste)...and a nice house salad. Sis had clams in wine sauce which she really liked.
one of many murals--this one as you pass by on the water

Soon, it was time to head back to Sarasota/Bradenton....If you have never visited Matlacha and like quirky little artist colony/towns with lots of little shops to browse in and lots of choices for on the water dining, you will love Matlacha. (pronounced Mat-la-shay). 

Sparky and Eldo are headed to the Tampa RV show tomorrow. We are just looking....But we do miss RVing very much so we want to go see the latest and greatest at the show...

Bye for now!

Sunday, March 31, 2019

A Beautiful Hike at Emerson Point, Palmetto FL

Sparky found another gem of a park...Emerson Point....This is a Manatee County Park that has all three designations listed in the photo above. It's a pretty special place! Sparky has been hiking all this past week at different birding spots in Sarasota, and so far, this one is her favorite. It's actually in Palmetto, but close enough and easy to get to. The actual location is the west end of Snead Island, on the north shore of the Manatee River, and Terra Ceia Bay is to the north. The address is: 5801 17th Street West, Palmetto, FL. The hours:



Terra Ceia Trail
Having been there a couple of times now, Sparky is really happy to have found this preserve....There are beautiful shaded areas to walk, a nice trail along Terra Ceia Bay, and MOST of the trails are flat except for the Terra Ceia Bay one. Lots to see along the way....The scenery changes from shady woods to open areas, to slight elevations, to wide open spaces. There are LOTS of birds in the marshes by the mangroves.....Yesterday's walk, Sparky spotted at least 20 snowy egrets, several tricolored herons, two great white egrets and several ibis in the thickets of the mangrove roots.
Emerson is evolving...they are trying to rebuild and restore the wetlands, marshes, and fields in some of the areas so there are signs saying, "STAY ON DESIGNATED PATHS" everywhere. That's ok...there are so many paths that wind in and around the preserve, it's great! There's an Indian Mound there, beautiful staircases and bridges, AND an observation tower. There are many places to sit and catch your breath and see the views of the water. Lots to learn about the local history of the area, too. This would be a great place for a family hike or get together.
Sparky is always amazed at the tangled web of mangroves in some places....Here you can really see how the mangroves' roots help protect and preserve the soil from erosion from storms.
In other spots of the preserve, the mangrove roots are more spread out.....Well, sort of....
Whoever the stewards are of this property, (owned by Manatee County) they certainly do a wonderful job of maintaining this preserve. There are other parks and preserves in the county that you cannot say the same. They even have bee boxes at Emerson! This one was very busy!
Here's a closeup with a zoom...Sparky is glad that the zoom is on her camera....Happy to see many bees from far away, knowing that colonies are collapsing and the bees are in trouble, which means we are in trouble.
It was a beautiful morning this day....If you are a birder, you would probably see many more species of birds up in the trees and canopies of the palms, but Sparky has trouble spotting birds high up. Such a wonderful place to walk and reflect!
Sparky plans to return many more times to this wonderful preserve....Bye for now....


Monday, March 25, 2019

Duette Watershed Preserve

OK, all you birders out there...here's another suggested "hot" birding spot in Sarasota County from the little red book the Audubon Society of Sarasota puts out, (available for purchase at the Celery Fields Visitor Center). This place is called Duette Preserve, or officially on a GPS navigation probe, the Duette Watershed Preserve. It is located 26 miles east of I-75 on SR-64, north on Duette Road, 6.6 miles to the west on Rawls Rd.  There are two entrances and the preserve is open 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM on Fridays, Sat. and Sun. 8:00-4:00, and Mon-Thurs, you pre-register at a check station. According to the brochure put out by Manatee County, you can hike, fish, horseback ride, and view wildlife here.

about a 1/2 mile in on the trail today
Sparky is starting to think "hot birding spot" simply means there is very little shade and the trails are out in the open, so it's going to be a hot hike, haha....This is a park/preserve out in the boonies, near one of the Mosaic Mining facilities...It was a beautiful day, but this is  not a beautiful place to hike or bird watch in Sparky's humble opinion. It is 22,000 acres of pine flat woods, hardwood swamps, oak scrub and dry prairie. The preserve has 16 trails and Sparky found out later from a county worker that the trails are just roads that are go in and around the preserve. 

According to the birding book, you might see belted kingfishers, egrets, herons, white ibis, Florida scrub jays, burrowing owls, wild turkeys and sandhill cranes. Sparky saw none of those today...but she doesn't have binocs so that hinders the search a bit. And she only went down one trail, so this is not a particularly good review of this place! Sparky is just not a fan of scrub brush birding and scratchy, dry prairie. The part that Sparky explored today was boring and down right ugly looking...Burned out patches of foliage, tangly brush and not a whole lot else. Sparky thought this might be another trail, but it was probably some kind of service road, path, ATV trail?

BUT--A couple of butterflies, so that means there must be pretty flowers somewhere, right? Sparky didn't see them. Just some cool lichens (?) growing....

Oh, wait...one little tiny wildflower bush trying to survive.....

This preserve does have a nice picnicking/camping area, but it's primitive camping, no water or electric at the sites.
Overall, it just didn't do much for Sparky, so she headed out after about a mile in....It's a good thing she did. Along came a country worker in a truck, and he informed Sparky that the preserve was closed today as a turkey hunt would be going on tomorrow! There was no notice at the gate entrance where Sparky drove in, so it was a good thing she was on her way out! For some, with good eyes and a lot of patience and time, exploring this preserve further might yield some great birding experiences, but this gal will pass on this preserve for now.

If you want to see something more up Sparky's alley, come back and read about Emerson Preserve. It is now Sparky's favorite go to place for long walks and beautiful nature. See ya later, alligator!
happy to be coming out of this preserve!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Birding in Sarasota--Rye Preserve

Sparky has been on a mission this week, her spring break. She decided to try and visit several different birding sites, one each day. The sites were chosen from this book--Birding Hot Spots in Sarasota and Manatee Counties--a little red book put out by the Sarasota Audubon Society and it's available at the visitor's center at Celery Fields. Forgot what the price was, though.... It's a nice little book. It has the name of about 22 different spots to find the migratory birds that come to Florida this time of year, the best places to see the birds that stay all year round, and descriptions of what you MIGHT see when you go, depending upon the season. The back of the book has maps for each site, and a checklist/chart that tells all the names of the birds and visiting birds for this area and a designation of abundant, common, uncommon, and rare AND what time of year they might be expected in the area.

Now, Sparky is NOT a birder...she likes taking photos of birds, but she doesn't use binoculars or scopes. She just likes to get out in nature, and if she sees birds-great! If not, that's ok, too... so this is not exactly a birding blog..it's just a personal experience of visiting one of the sites in the birding book (which some people might find very helpful) from a walking/hiking perspective with a camera in tow, just in case.

Rye Preserve--145 acre property just northwest of the Lake Manatee Dam. There are 4 distinct ecosystems--sand pine scrub, oak scrub, oak hammocks, and a river community. There is a piece of history here as well, the Rye family cemetery. You can tent camp here as well, and there is a nice children's playground. No RV's permitted.

The address is 905 Rye Wilderness Trail, Parrish, FL.  Keep your eyes peeled for the gopher tortoise and the Florida Scrub Jay. There could be an Indigo snake as well...ewwwwww! No, thank you! At sunrise and sunset, sometimes larger animals are spotted such as deer, a possible bobcat or gray fox. But Sparky didn't see any wildlife today....

All the trails are very short but can be combined for longer distances...Each of the trails are less than one mile. Here is a little map of what's available, but you can download one here, using this link from the Manatee County website. Sparky was not impressed with the campsites or the trail signage. Except for the playground, the campsites were very rustic, the picnic tables looked a little worse for wear and tear, and trail areas were somewhat overgrown.

Sparky  walked one trail, the Red Trail. It was not well marked and was confusing to her, but then again, Sparky gets confused easily on lots of trails! It wasn't easy to see where the other trails were without the map. The main posting at the preserve that showed the map was clouded over and you couldn't read the map. At this point in time, Sparky was out exploring and didn't bring a map ahead of time. 

Here, she didn't know which way the red trail went. 
As you can see, it's out in the open, but later on, the red trail passes thru some nice shade. Sparky was glad for some shade along the river as the sun was quickly heating up this nice cool Florida morning.
There was a kayak launch at the Rye Preserve as well, but you had to go down some stairs and turn to get to the river bank. You might be whacking some bushes with your kayak on your way down, it looked a little tight to get down the stairs....but just a few stairs and you are there....
Overall, Sparky was disappointed with the trails and the atmosphere of the park....it's definitely "old Florida", not in the best kept condition, except for a new playground and possible restrooms but the trails were not easily found. 
main sign at the reserve
On to the next park/preserve birding hot spot!  See ya later!

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Robinson Preserve in Sarasota

It's been awhile since Eldy or Sparky has been to Robinson Preserve. So Sparky headed out there for a hike....Located in northwest Bradenton, it's a really beautiful 679 acres with a LOT of options for hiking, kayaking, and enjoying nature. There is a 2.5 paved trail, and more than five miles of shell and coastal trails. It is within the boundaries of Tampa Bay and Perico Bay, so you can kayak there as well as hike. There are lots of bridges and boardwalks there....It also has a 40 foot observation tower where you have an unobstructed view of Tampa Bay. Nice!

There are two entrances, one on 9th Ave. NW, and the other at 17th Ave. NW. The preserve now encompasses 682 acres of mangroves, coastal wetlands, tidal marshes and some agricultural land. There's a new 2.5K rubberized trail (which Sparky missed somehow), and a section called the Nest, which is an educational facility and event space.

If you are looking for a shady hike, much of the trails at Robinson are in the open, but you can find shady spots to cool down and little alcoves by the water in front of Tampa Bay as you hike. 

As Sparky walked around the perimeter of the park, she kept seeing these little underbrush trails that weren't marked. So she would follow them just a few feet, and tada! A little private beach spot with a little bit of sand, shade, and a place to put a couple of little chairs and sit and eat lunch.
There were spots that were shady for awhile, and then out in the hot sun for awhile. It seemed as though there was more open hiking than shady hiking, but that's a matter of personal preference and if you have a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen, no problem! There are quite a few little bridges and boardwalks as well.
visitor's center

The visitor's center was not open, which was a little surprising on a weekday,  and the park being busy with snowbirds, but guess they can't staff the center as much as they like. Sparky would have liked to ask questions about kayak rental (thru a separate vendor--surferbus.com) and a few other things, but maybe next time. There are plenty of benches to sit and catch a break, and shaded benches along the trails. (There seems to be a recurring theme here of Sparky preferring shady hikes and not in direct sun hikes...you would be correct!) A few beautiful little wildflowers here and there...

Sparky had not seen butterflies for awhile...but she did see this one on some pretty orange flowers on a side trail....You have to look close to see the butterfly!

A good place to see mangroves....Mangrove roots help stabilize beach sand during humongous wind storms and hurricanes and provide nutrients and safety for marine life. A wonderful preserve and a wonderful place to come-- hike or bike or come sit and enjoy Florida's coastal life for awhile!
Bye for now.....