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.....

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Sight for Sore Eyes

Living in southwest Florida, in Sarasota and Bradenton, there are an amazing number of great places to visit and learn about. The tourists know about the major ones-- Ringling Museum, the circus museum, Mote Marine Laboratory, Siesta Key Beach, Benderson Park, (home of national and world rowing events), Anna Maria Island, the fishing, the boating, the kayaking and much more. Tourists soon find out about our wonderful cultural events, music events, and quirky events.  Anything and everything you could think of, it's probably here. No wonder we settled down here as permanent residents!

One of the coolest places Sparky has visited since she's been here is the Southeastern Guide Dog Institute, located in Palmetto, FL on a 33 acre campus. The institute is internationally accredited, and one of the most respected guide dog schools in the United States. The institute is totally self supported by donations and fund raising, and receives no government funding. Visually impaired students are paired with trained guide dogs at NO CHARGE to the students. The institute not only offered guide dogs for a variety of situations for the visually impaired, but they also have dog training classes both private and group.

Puppies are born and bred at the institute. At four weeks, they are sort of like in a preschool for puppies. They introduced to sights, sounds, and tactile experiences. They learn introductory commands. Then at 10 weeks, they leave for "boarding school", sent to homes of volunteer puppy raisers here in the nearby communities where they are taught socialization skills and obedience just as you would teach your own puppy. At 14-18 months, they come back to the institute and their personalities are assessed for what type of dog companion they will be best suited for. They have a "major", just like human students do, depending upon their temperament. The majors are: 1) guide dog, 2)  service dog, 3) facility therapy dog, 4) breeder dog and 5) "gifted and talented" with three subdivisions--a public service dog--bomb, arson, firearms and drug detection dog, a canine connection dog--companions for kids with visual impairments or an ambassador dog--going into the community to teach others about the Southeastern Guide Dog Institute. Each major has specific training levels and requirements.

Guide dog major: 6 months of formal harness training plus 26 days of student/handler training. This is where the student comes to campus to live and work with his assigned dog before returning home with the dog, at NO CHARGE to the student.

Service dog major: six months of formal training, 12 days of student handler training..support vets with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Facility therapy: Dogs live with military staff members and provide therapy services to veterans and families in military facilities.

Genetics and reproduction: Dogs spend some time during their reproductive years with volunteer host families. The dogs belong to the institute until they retire as a breeder dog, then they can be adopted. Each host family has a breeder dog, loves and care for them, and watches for when the dogs go into heat. Then they are brought to the campus for breeding, to return back home with the family. Veterinary care is provided on campus at no charge for the host families during the dog's reproductive years. Wow!

Within the Guide Dog Institute are individual programs for specific types of visual impairment. There is Paws for Independence, where dogs have learned over 40 commands and the dogs and new visually impaired owners work and train together for 26 days on campus. By the time their training is complete, they will have walked around Tampa and Sarasota, navigated city streets, stairs, buses, malls, elevators, and lots more.

There is Paws for Patriots, with lots of support for post traumatic stress disorders, wounded soldiers or family members in veterans' medical facilities, and emotional support dogs are available for companionship and emotional support in the home.

The Gifted Canines are for visually impaired kids from 10-17 and for other community purposes. There are talented dogs for search and rescue in this group as well, and this is where you find the dogs used for bomb detection and arson and the dogs you see accompanying volunteers in hospitals and schools and other such places.

Right now, the campus is under major renovation and construction, so some tours and experiences are not available for the public. They are building a Puppy Academy and a Splash Park among other things. Normally, there are more experiences available such as puppy kindergarten adventure tours (25.00) and tours of the facilities. For right now, the only option was to take a guide dog experience tour, for ages 12 and up, which Sparky signed up for. You have to reserve in advance, no walk ins.  It was very cool! For a nominal charge of 15.00, (which helps them feed the puppies) you learn all about the guide dogs,  and get to walk a blindfold walk with a guide dog and volunteer.


It was really cool...You don't go very far with the dog, but immediately you get a sense of having to trust the dog. The "blindfold" glasses make it completely dark, completely black. It was a very unsettling experience for a few seconds. The dog stops when there's even a crack in the sidewalk. The dogs are of course, wonderful...sweet...and eager to please. Sparky truly enjoyed her guide dog experience today. It was about an hour, and she would have loved to have seen more. Going to have to come back another day and do the puppy kindergarten experience! These dogs are truly superheroes. And just to prove that, Sarasota has dogs displayed all over town to celebrate this terrific place and their wonderfully trained dogs.... Hope you enjoyed hearing about the dogs today...

                                                                      "Sparky"






Friday, August 5, 2016

Hot Bodies--A Florida Lifeguarding Contest at Hot Siesta Key Beach


You know that Siesta Key Beach has been rated #1 in the U.S awhile back? It still continues to get first class accolades from all kinds of places. It's got fantastic white sands, upgraded parking and upgraded facilities this past year, so it's a really hoppin' place for tourists. There's a wonderful playground for kids....
And interestingly, these concrete chaise lounges...Wouldn't think they would be very comfortable, would you?

It's a HUGE beach as well, the perfect playground for adults, too! And, the home of many special contests and events...Sandcastle competitions, beach volleyball competitions, and of course, lifeguarding competitions.

However, we don't go there much because there is ZERO shade other than a few concrete pavilions. Of course, silly Sparky, you don't go to the beach to sit in shade, but we do, because of skin concerns. We are of that age where spots are starting to have to be removed and we've both had  pre-cancer spots removed. But when Sparky heard that there was a LIFEGUARDING contest at the beach, she just HAD to go! (Sparky was a lifeguard for many years in her teens and twenties).

The U.S. Lifesaving Association Southeast Region Lifeguard Championships were being held. The purpose is to build camaraderie and competition and public awareness--"Swim Near a Lifeguard" bumper stickers were being given out. Smart advice! Sparky would swim near any of these lifeguards any time! There were over 200 participants from all over the state of Florida.


Competitions included a surfboat race, Ironman and Ironwoman, a surf ski race, a run-swim-run race and more. A team representing Sarasota County was among the lifeguards participating. Just think of all those hot bodies that were going to be in attendance! Yep, gotta go....Never mind that the temperature was record breaking hot as well--mid nineties...ugh....

Sparky only stayed for a short time, it was so hot! Where was Eldo? Playing golf that day, which now in hindsight, he is sorry he missed it. :-) Sparky texted him updates, like this one...Sparky thinks the Volusia team had the best suits and the best bods...lol...Heck, they ALL looked good to this 66 year old!


Once she got there, she observed that there were a TON of women there as well. Somehow, she thought it would be far more men than women. Nope! It was about 50-50 as far as gender. She observed the men's rescue boat races, several heats. 


And the women's...
All the competitors wore these colorful caps so they could be identified by their team as it was difficult to identify who's where in the water! Sparky was glad to see suntan lotion used, but not on a lot of these kids...tch! tch! (That's Sparky, clicking her tongue and shaking her head) 

Minimal suits needed....For increased speed and performance in the water, don'tcha know!

And yet, functional....

The oldest competitor was 81!!!!! And he looked pretty darn good for his age! His name was Tommy Hogan, and he was from the Town of Palm Beach. (That's the name of the town.) Sparky was trying to get his photo, but didn't want to be too obvious. She missed it...and then there were some REALLY young kids competing...

The participants looked like they were really enjoying the contests....
The boards were cool....


The swimwear was awesome...and sometimes interesting...Guess the guy is wearing the midriff tank for skin protection? Sparky was trying to read his swim trunks from a respectable distance, haha...

It was a fun couple of hours at the beach this morning...With the water temperature of the gulf approaching 90 degrees, Sparky didn't want to get in the ocean today....But, it was another wonderful day in paradise, even if it it too dang hot in the summer! Bye for now.....