Saturday, January 31, 2015

Never a Boring Bike Ride!

Off again on the bike, Sparky goes late in the day....Down I-70 along the sidewalk about three miles, turning right at River Club Blvd., which takes you all the way down and out into Lakewood Ranch, that beautiful residential community with all the wetlands, ponds and bird life....On the way through River Club subdivision, Sparky spots a spoonbill & company....

The spoonbill is wary, but stays put......
Looks like he's talking to the others, doesn't he?
"Hey, fellas....How's the eatin'?
On through more of the beautiful roadway and ponds through the subdivision and back out on the main boulevard.....Woodstorks! Lots of them.....They are still on the endangered list, but there are plenty of them here in the Sarasota/Bradenton area.....This one looks OLD! His grizzly head, grey feathers, but he looks wise....He's wise to Sparky, he starts walking away.....
Sparky stopped by a pond to see a heron and great white egret preening and fishing. They are such big, beautiful birds...You can see why their plumage was so valued back in the day.
This one had an itch....

A moorhen swimming around in a maze of rushes....Loved the patterns of the plants' reflections....

An anhinga up in a tree squawked and warned everybody at the pond that Sparky was there...
And then, Sparky saw a fairly good size alligator on the far side of the pond, slide into the water with a great big SPLASH and head across to the other side, the side that she was standing on. Sparky wasn't worried....Gators normally head into the water when they see someone coming. Besides, Sparky saw two big carp or catfish, and thought maybe the gator was heading for them.
The gator kept coming, closer and closer to the shore, and it was evident that he was NOT interested in the fish. He definitely was watching Sparky.
She was standing on the high bank right above him...She looked around for options just in case he decided to come out of the water. There was a set of three small trees right beside her. That was good enough for her. She really didn't think he was going to come out of the water until she saw his forefront legs starting to pull himself up to the bank. At that point, she was about two feet from the water's edge, so she backed off and went to the trees, waiting to see if he came out any further. He didn't. But he would have been right there at her feet had she stayed there. So she went to the sidewalk which was three feet further out from the bank, gave his resting spot a wide berth and slowly came up behind him, but not too close. She used the camera zoom to get this photo....

She decided it was probably a good time to leave.....Sparky thought this behavior was bold for an alligator, as many times as she has seen them. They NEVER have come toward her and as close as this one did. Perhaps this one might have not eaten for awhile and was just checking things out. Who knows? Sparky lacks a fear of alligators which is probably not a good thing. (SIGH! says an exasperated Eldo. I keep telling her, YOU DON'T HAVE TO GET SO CLOSE! Does she listen? NOPE! She actually texted me and said she was three feet from a big alligator!) But Sparky kept a close eye on the riverbank and didn't turn her back as she hopped back on her bike to head home. Guess the lack of fear comes from biking the Shark Valley Nature Trail in the Everglades where the gators were sunning themselves less than two feet from our bikes as we rode down the trail, counting ten gators or more that time, their heads pointed AT the bikes, not the other way!

It was another great ride in Paradise today.....  :-)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Never Underestimate the Power of Persuasive Second Graders!

A different sort of blog today...Sparky is on hiatus, and Jeannie is in her place. (the one and the same of course....) I decided to go back to the first person and report on my subbing experience today...I do a lot of it on Facebook, but today's story is a little too long for Facebook....

So today, I had a third grade in the morning, and a second grade in the afternoon. At lunch time, I hike over to the portable to meet my second grade class. (Many Florida schools have many outbuildings or portables, and the kids get some nice walking from here to there to get to their specials--art, music, lunch, etc. Sometimes you really feel like you are "out in the back 40".) The kids are just coming outside to head to lunch at the cafeteria, some distance away. They see me...

"MRS. SPARKS! Are you our sub?"
"Yay! Will you eat lunch with us?"
Since my morning hadn't been too hectic, I said, "Sure!" The boys wanted me to eat with them, the girls wanted me to eat with THEM! A dilemma. As I brought my tray to the table, the boys are pointing, sit here, sit here, so I plopped down between a couple of them. Four or five of them say, "Yay!" and give me big grins.

Now there's something you need to know about elementary school kids and their lunches. School lunches aren't too swift. Some things never change. The other day I got broccoli and cheese. The broccoli was green, the "tree tops" were huge, and there was a nice cheese sauce on it. Only one problem--the broccoli was very crunchy and no way could you get a small enough piece in your mouth to eat it with good table manners. The only utensils available were a plastic spoon and a plastic fork. If you tried to cut the broccoli into more manageable pieces, you broke your plastic ware. Needless to say, not many kids ate the broccoli and left it on their trays. But I digress...A really big thing with elementary kids, especially the Hispanic kids, is a salty snack that comes in a bag called Takis. Takis are hot chili pepper flavored tortilla chips/strips and they come in a very distinctive purple bag. You see these purple bags all over the lunchroom at my school. They bring them from home. (Note: I do not speak Spanish, so "fuego" was not in my vocabulary. I thought it was a company name or a word for "chip". HA!)

A little boy at my table held one out and said, "Have one, Mrs. Sparks."  I said, "Uh, no thank you. I've heard they are VERY spicy and I don't like things that are too spicy."  He says, "No, they aren't. Have you ever had one?" I say, "Nope." He says, "Try one. You shouldn't say you don't like something if you've never tried it." (!)  I ponder for a moment. I said, "Well, I need something to drink if I'm going to try one."  The boys around him perk up, and a carton of fruit juice mysteriously and suddenly appears in front of me. They are smiling. I wonder why. All the boys are watching.  I say, "OK...I'll try one."   He hands me one taki chip. I take a bite. "Not too bad," I say,  adding, "These aren't so bad."  The kids are watching me very carefully for a reaction. You know that saying, "You can't scare me, I'm a teacher"? I don't give them a reaction. I take another bite, a big one. All of a sudden, the heat hits.  "OH, MY GOSH!" I'm frantically fanning my mouth, I'm trying to drink big gulps of fruit juice from this little itty bitty carton that's smaller than a kids' milk carton, the juice is spilling down the front of me and the boys are laughing their heads off. I'm not joking around any more. Those takis are HOT! Those takis are SPICY! The boys are laughing so hard they are almost falling off the cafeteria benches. My eyes are watering, my nose is running,  and the boys are having a heyday.

I mop the juice off myself off, and say, "Guys, no more takis for me!" And they laugh their heads off some more.....I look up the word "fuego" later, and discover it means "fire."

It was a fun day at school today....Even if that same group of boys were rascals all afternoon.....I love my job!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Who Knew Frisbee Golf Could be This Much Fun?

Boy, did we have a good time with friends the other day!....the Kurfis's, from Vermont, who are snowbirds at Sun 'n' Fun RV Resort, where we used to spend a couple of seasons and where we got to know them, took up our invitation to go play disc golf (the more official sounding name for frisbee golf) at the Tocobaga Disc Golf Course in Pinellas County. It's right outside St. Pete's Beach, about a 25 minute drive from Sarasota and is located inside Maximo County Park. It's a fabulous, 18 hole golf course in a fabulous park. Their friend, Delaware Sue, came along to play, too, and graciously drove her van to transport the five of us to the park. Disc golf is a blast...You get good exercise, each hole has a chain link basket that you are aiming for with special discs designed to throw for certain types of shots, there's par and similar golf names for getting under and over par, there are even handicaps figured in for the serious players who play lots. There are water hazards and there are plant and tree hazards. Disc golf has an association and a website, and courses are rated. We played some marvelous ones out west. They are all over the United States!

There are other certain essential things you need to know about disc golf as well. When you know you are going to play a rather challenging course, you need to bring at least one or two extra discs in case you lose one. And here's the first hint that you are going to need extra discs at Maximo County Park.....We (Sparky and Eldo) usually each use two--a driver and a putter, but lots of serious players travel with beaucoup discs in a shoulder bag while trekking the course.

Here's a second and third hint you might need extra discs....Sparky was the only one whose disc dropped below the surface of this awful smelling crick but she gamely retrieved it.

When you play frisbee or disc golf, there's a lot of skill involved (or not) and a lot of luck for less skilled players, (not necessarily us, guys) and a lot of determination helps, too. Here's Delaware Sue demonstrating nice form....
Biting your lip is optional......Suzette says it helps....
Larry likes the three finger form....
And Eldo likes the "offering to the disc golf gods" form....He's praying the disc doesn't go into the thicket.

It's great to have more than just the two of you playing as it usually is in our case...Lots more eyes to spot where the darn disc went.....And stimulating conversation, too..."Where is the basket?"   "Over there."  "Where?"  "OVER THERE!"

Extra people are good for helping you aim in the right direction....
                                                  "Naw.....she can't hit me from there......"

And just as in regular golf, you have to play the disc where it lands. "Yep, gotta play it from there, Sparky!" Although you can take a penalty shot, Sparky likes the challenge and took the shot from here.
"Sure hope there aren't any chiggers in here!"
We got very silly after awhile...."Bet you can't hit me, nanh, nahn, na nah nah..." Or the guy with the camera....
We took a break after watching some VERY good throwers, a trio of guys, get the disc to the basket in two to three throws, (our average was 4-5) so we let them go ahead....Does this look like a motley crew or what?
As Sparky is a little ADHD, ( a LITTLE???? asks an incredulous Eldo), she got sidetracked with the occasional flora photos....And straggled behind the group a bit at times...
Disc golfers have a WONDERFUL sense of humor...At least the ones do that are not hitting trees constantly. Near the end of our play, we came upon this upon a picnic table.....

After hitting several trees, Larry and Eldy seriously considered trying this "machine". What you don't see is underneath the table there was a cup very carefully taped so as not to fall over, for a coin to drop into. See the slot? There was even a fake coin laying on the table!

After 18 holes, we were hungry! We all had brought a picnic lunch for afterwards. Maximo County Park has some beautiful views of Tampa Bay with lots of picnic benches, an observation tower, and just plenty of wonderful places to relax and enjoy the beautiful park. We certainly did today! It was great to be with friends on a perfect weather day to play one of our favorite sports, disc golf.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Bevy of Birds on the Bike Ride Today

It's back to bike riding now that the holiday feasting days are over....Sparky found another route to take all around the neighborhoods of Bradenton and Sarasota. This one was sixteen miles from Sparky's house to Lakewood Ranch, one of the largest planned communities in the nation. Something like the 9th largest. What's so pretty about these rides are the wetlands everywhere and the large ponds and lakes. Almost every residential area has one or more large ponds or wetland areas. This particular route has large lakes on both sides of the street in one section and TONS of wetlands along the way, guaranteeing bird sightings every time on a ride.

On her way to the Lakewood Ranch area, Sparky saw a Cooper's hawk....So hard to hold the camera still on a zoom stretched all the way out! She should take her little Gorilla tripod with her on her bike rides.
Sparky saw a wood stork...He was very cooperative having his photo taken......
He just posed and posed.....
And stood still for the longest time....
Such a prehistoric looking bird, don't you think?

She saw this cool interplay of shadows on a large palm leaf from the late afternoon sun. Doesn't it look like a bird flying?

Further down, Sparky saw two pairs of hooded mergansers! She had never seen these before.....Because it was so late in the day, the photos of the ducks are a little blurry, but they were so cool the way they mirrored each other!

Sparky kept moving around the pond trying to get a little closer, but they kept moving around, too!
Finally, the light was rapidly diminishing and the photos were getting worse, so she took one more and headed back home....

Onn the way home, there were some gorgeous flowering trees that perfumed the air with an intense scent. The flowers were actually a deeper, rosier shade of pink, but the setting sun gave them and orangey tone....The smell was wonderful!

Sparky continued to see birds along the way home......a tri colored heron....
A crane preening....They seem to be doing that all the time around here... And they are always in contorted positions as they clean their feathers!

A little blue heron (?) fishing for something.....

A female anhinga drying herself off....Good thing the water fountain wasn't running today!

And Sparky was just about back home...Quite the views today....She was a happy camper....Until next time......

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Gather Round All Ye Fair Maidens and Gentlemen!

It's the Medieval Fair in Sarasota, one of winter's highlights not to be missed, according to everything you read in the local papers....For three weekends in November, people were encouraged to come out and drink ale or mead, dress like a peasant, and participate in all kinds of medieval activities and see how the peasants and nobles entertained each other back in the day....No torture involved....But live jousting! Sparky was intrigued from the descriptions.

Sparky had never been to a Medieval Fair before, so she went to check it out. Eldo declined as he had other things to do....It was fun! But it was a hot day....So Sparky didn't last as long as she would have liked. This couple was appropriately (?) dressed for the weather. There were TONS of kilts worn by the guys all over the "village".
On to the festivities!  The Knights of Mayehm, a group of modern day Lancelots and Galahads performed a variety of staged acts to sports performances. Wearing 130 pounds of armor, they charged at each other with hemlock lances wearing helmets with 1/4" slots for vision. Yikes! Sparky didn't get any photos of the "battle", but she had fun watching the pre joust performances and heckling of the audience by some of the knights.

If you wanted to buy period clothing, it was here......There were artisans crafting pine needle baskets, doing ironwork, making jewelry and crafting leather work (bustier, anyone?) There were elephant rides. (hunh? ELEPHANT rides?? Yep!)

If you wanted to see the only traveling carillon in the United States, it was here at the fair--a showman/organist wearing a scary looking mask (which reminded Sparky of Phantom of the Opera) playing awesome bells totaling 4 TONS, it was called "Cast in Bronze".... The music was played by Frank DellaPenna, a nationally recognized performer of the carillon. The music was AMAZING! If you've never seen a carillon player before, he uses his fists to touch the "pedal" like keys and the most amazing sounds come from the bells. Lake Wales in Florida has the Bok Tower Botanical Gardens, another place to hear beautiful carillon music....

If you wanted to hear some ribald humor, the Washing Well Wenches were here to entertain....Sparky missed the show but heard it was hilarious! Guess you had to watch out if you were sitting in the front row.

There was a human combat chess match....It looked like great fun!
There was great entertainment besides the carillon player....Cu Dubh, (Koo-doo), a bagpipe and tribal drum band that played on Turkish war drums and Highland bagpipes, and a group called Acrobellum--composed of tumblers, acrobats, dancers and fire performers. There was a daredevil act called "Wheel of Death"...But Sparky didn't see that. Everything was family friendly and lots of families were out enjoying this bit of medieval times this day. Lots of food as well, humongous turkey drumsticks were the order of the day.

Sparky will definitely head back next year to see more of the groups she missed....And go earlier to avoid the heat! We'll be back soon with more 2014 highlights....Stay tuned!

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Holidays Have Come and Gone....

Wheweee! Where does the time go? Another year has come and gone...Can't believe Sparky and Eldo have lived in their Bradenton home now for 1 1/2 years! Florida has been a bit of adjustment for Sparky...She didn't realize the summers were as bad as they come some years. The first year we were here, the rains came every afternoon, and cooled things down. This isn't so bad, she thought! This summer, the rains didn't come....and it was extremely hot and muggy, hotter than normal, drier than normal. But we got through it with a couple of trips north--to Alaska and North Carolina, and that helped a LOT!

Family came.. Eldy's son and his family came just recently over Christmas....Grandkids sure grow fast, don't they!? Trevor is taller than his sister now, and he's about four years younger!

Cate is a fantastic natural athlete having just started golf in August as a high school freshman, and making the varsity team AND lettering in the sport! We had lots of fun showing them around....A tour of Anna Maria Island.....Naturally, we had to stop at the Gulf Drive Cafe and get a snack on the beach....A lot of silliness when posing for photos...

A lot of fun taking the family to our favorite local Wasabi Hibachi Grill and Steakhouse in Bradenton...For the adults they squirt saki wine and see how long you can keep your mouth open, along with cracking corny jokes and for the kids, they squirt just water using a baby bottle...Trevor had fun trying to catch broccoli thrown at him, too.

Trevor got a bottle of Japanese soda. It was very interesting! It was called Shirakiku Ramune Drink. The bottle came sealed with a little marble on top. You smack the top of the bottle and a little stopper of some kind plops the marble down into the narrow neck of the bottle where it rattles around as you drink the pop. It's supposed to aid in keeping the carbonation in the drink, we think. Kind of gimmicky, that's for sure. The drink is also known as "marble soda" outside of Japan.
Trevor is still nuts about lizards...He always asks where they are when he comes to visit, and even now that he's 10 years old, he still hopes to catch one. Sparky is glad he didn't while he was here!

The visit was over too soon, and time for family to head home...Sparky and Eldo will be getting back into their habits of bike riding (hopefully!) and watching ahead for some events coming to the area....Time for quiet reflection on another wonderful year here in Bradenton...We are truly blessed with yet another year of good health and prosperity, and our families are doing well.....Here is Eldo and Sparky with the grandkids, Trevor and Cate.
Sparky and her bare feet, becoming a true Floridian!
Happy New Year 2015, everyone! With love and best wishes for a great new year from Sparky and Eldo....a.k.a. Jeannie and Eldy