Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sometimes Blogger Stinks!

You know that post that Sparky talked briefly about the Winn Dixie ad and fuel perks and her crappy cooking? Which has now been deleted because it looked so awful when it published...There was a cute photo of a dog named "Sparky".  Sparky, the dog, was experiencing gas from the dog food, and the headlines read, "Now, Sparky's dinner give you gas".…..Sparky thought the whole picture was there when she published! Darn that Blogger! It was really cute! Oh, well….But wait…Where there's a will, there's a way…A picture of a picture…..And Eldo reassures everyone that Sparky's cooking isn't really THAT bad…Right, honey?  Eldy? Now where did he go?

What's new, Sparky?  Sparky has been busy subbing….First grade…yikes! Second grade, YEAH!…Cute kids, one special class that Sparky keeps getting asked back to sub in and they are in love with Sparky. Sparky loves them right back. How could you not love a class that when they walk in the door, every single time they see you, it's "MRS. SPARKS! THE BEST SUB EVER! OUR FAVORITE SUB! YAY!" Then they told me, "We took a vote, Mrs. Sparks. Everybody voted for you except Lee. " That's ok, Lee….He's a sweetheart, too, and he felt bad for the other sub who didn't get any votes except for his lone vote of confidence. They have so much enthusiasm, it wears Sparky out by the end of the day. Sparky will be back in their classroom this coming Friday….Full moon this week…four day long weekend for the kids with M.L.King's birthday on Monday, and teacher training on Tuesday. They were bananas! But we had fun…

Sparky has been playing pickle ball at least once a week….LOVE LOVE LOVE this game…Great exercise, not as much chance of injuring something as it is a shortened up court game that combines a smaller  than a tennis size court with a ping pong type squarish paddle, a wiffle type ball, doubles play instead of singles play, fast reflexes and lots of strategy on where you should place your ball and how you play. Sparky is hoping it will keep her mind a teeny bit sharper having to keep score (which is a little different in pickelball), and keeping track of that fast moving ball. The only problem is, after playing an average of three hours at one time, Sparky can hardly walk for the next 24 hours, she's so sore. It's that all or nothing mentality--play like a weekend warrior!

What else have we been doing or thinking about doing?…Looking ahead to visiting with Pam and Vic Matthews (Big EZ Travels) in the near future, seeing our friends Ritchie and Nick Boersma who are snowbirds, who are in the Orlando area, Sparky's GOT get her kayak into the water, Sparky's best friend is coming the last couple of days of January, and there is lots of stuff going on in Sarasota and Bradenton during the tourist high season, which is now.

Like the six painted pianos that were placed in and around downtown Sarasota this week…..It's part of a public art project. Six spinet pianos were decorated by seven local artists, and outfitted with dehumidifiers to help them deal with Sarasota's humidity. From now until the end of May, you can tickle the ivories, but please don't play "Chopsticks", which is PROBABLY what the local merchants wish when someone sits down at a piano in front of their shop.

Sparky had five years of piano lessons, but do you think she could play anything if she sat down at one of these? Did anything come to mind? Nope! She hasn't touched a piano since 1964, so that's probably part of the problem. The other part is that when taking lessons, Sparky did NOT practice diligently each week, but relied on learning the music by ear, so reading the music is much harder for her. But she sure wished she could have sat down and knocked something out to impress Eldy. The artist happened to be at the circus piano he painted but we didn't get a chance to talk to him. What a cool thing to see and hear and interact with on the street today!

This piano, painted by local artist Jack Dowd, is located in front of Mattison's City Grille. It is decorated with famous musicians who left us too soon….
A lady came and sat down at one of the pianos while we were walking around town today in the beautiful weather, and darned if she didn't whip out her iPad, which had her music on it, and she started to play…not just any little ditty of a song, but a complex piano concerto of some sort. It was BEAUTIFUL! And what a treat to just be walking around town, and hear an impromptu concert outside on the sidewalks of Sarasota! If you head over to Facebook, Sparky posted a short video of this lady playing if you're interested. It's on Sparky's timeline…She was very very good!
Sparky was on a mission to see all six. Unfortunately, because it was a holiday today, two of the pianos were housed in shops for the day and inaccessible to the public. But we managed to see four in all….
in front of Louie Modern
The pianos are supposed to be in the following locations if anybody local is interested in seeing them: In front of Madison's City Grille, Main Street Traders, and Bohemian Bliss Boutique--all on Main Street, in front of Louie's Modern Restaurant on Palm Avenue, at the corner of DiFilippo Kent Gallery on Palm Avenue, and in front of the Sarasota Opera House on Pineapple Ave. These are all in downtown Sarasota within a short walking distance of each other. And if you must, you can play "Chopsticks" or that other piano duo favorite, "Heart and Soul".

See you later…….

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Beautiful Bok Tower Gardens

Theresa and Chuck like botanical gardens so we thought we'd revisit Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales….That's such a beautiful place to go see a 260 foot Neo Gothic architectural 60 bell carillon tower and some beautifully designed informal gardens. Perhaps we'd see a live concert by a carillon player from a video cam in the gardens.  Bok Tower is located between Tampa and Orlando, and it is about an hour and a half drive from Bradenton. A carillon is a musical instrument that has at least 23 cast bronze bells. Because of the weight and size of the bells, it's one of the largest musical instruments. You play it from a keyboard and it takes some very specialized musical skills to play it. The bells weigh from 16 pounds to almost 12 TONS! There are four carillons in Florida, and 200 in North America.

The tower itself is AMAZING! It's been called "America's Taj Mahal"…..

At the very top are 8 marble heron statues….
internet photo of tower top
The tower is composed of many sculptures of plants and wildlife and birds. You can see cranes, eagles, herons, jellyfish, seahorses, flamingoes, swans, fish, pelicans, foxes, tortoises, baboon, geese, Adam and Eve and the serpent, and other biblical references.

The upper balconies have doves carrying oak and laurel branches symbolizing peace and strength. There's some beautiful wrought ironwork in the fencing and gates on the property as well….There's a beautiful brass door on one side of the tower and it shows the Book of Genesis, starting with the Creation of Light.

There wasn't a live concert, that's only on Thursdays and we were there on a different day, so we didn't get to see the talented bell player this day…..but recorded concerts play at 1:00 PM and 3:00 PM daily, and the gardens are open all year round, 365 days a year. There is an admission fee, ($10.00 for adults) but coupons are available on the internet to print out and offer considerable savings.
Stokes aster
You could spend hours here, the 7 1/2 acre gardens are designed for wandering and meandering around….It's a lush, informal woodland setting with the most amazing selections of plants and flowers that take your breath away…..

There are little recessed places for sitting and reflecting…There are beautiful ponds and pools and wildlife to be seen……The grounds are designated as a Florida Great Birding Trail site.

A beautiful visitor's center has a unique pebble pathway with an air plant hanging display of more than 30 different species of air plants and the history of the gardens and it's originator, Edward W. Bok. Some interesting history about this Dutch founder and his views on the world of his time can be found at the visitor's center. Bok presented this tower and gardens to the American people as a gift for his gratitude at being given opportunities to become a successful businessman in America. It's a fantastic place and well worth the drive to go see it…

Theresa and Chuck loved their visit to Bok Tower Gardens today…Here they are in front of the Pinewood Estate, which is on the garden grounds and is an example of a 20 room Mediterranean style mansion/estate that is on the National Historic Landmark list. It is decorated at Christmas time and is available as a separate tour. We just toured the outside today…..

By the way, Sparky thinks the food at the little cafe is outstanding. Best chicken salad sandwich with dried cherries she's ever had! Yum!

We look forward to heading back to Bok Tower again some day, maybe when the next round of company comes!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Visit to Mote Marine

Sparky LOVES the Mote…Mote Marine Laboratory/ Aquarium...It's a combination aquarium and research facility where the public can view scientists and researchers doing experiments,  talk to researchers while they are working, ask questions, watch volunteers test and take care of sick animals, experience first hand marine life through "touch tanks", of which there are several throughout the aquarium, and learn about the Mote's efforts to preserve marine life.

Theresa and Chuck, Eldy's sister and brother-in-law really enjoyed their visit today….Theresa had her hands in every touch tank in the place! :-)  She especially liked the cow nose rays that are in one of the touch tanks. We saw about FIFTY cow nose rays the other day swimming back and forth along the Anna Maria Island pier….That was so cool!
And so did this little girl….the looks on the little kids' faces are just priceless…They are so excited to touch a living thing!
Sparky always sees something new she didn't notice before on her last visit. Like this certain kind of sea horse that had little appendages that looked like reef branches or seaweed that was actually growing out of their bodies!
It's cool to see the researchers doing their jobs right in front of the public…..
The turtle tanks had a new turtle besides the usual loggerheads swimming around…Sparky thinks the volunteer said it was a Kemp Ridley turtle….one of the world's most endangered turtle species.
As you stand at the edge of the water tanks to watch the turtles, they also have viewing windows down at the BOTTOM of the sidewalls so little kids can get a REALLY up close view of the turtles swimming by, and the turtles seem to enjoy looking right back at you!

Sparky learned some new things from the Mote today….(Depredation is when an animal has dug into the nest and destroyed some eggs….)
How to read turtle nest signs that you see at the beach….There's an exhibit that explains what all the terms and numbers mean on the nests. Not all the numbers here are explained, but here are a few. Initials are the staff member or volunteer who's reporting about the nest. A "V" means it's a verified sea turtle nest. "GMD" means the island address. A "DEP" means depredation--predators have gotten to the nest and destroyed some of the eggs. This nest lost 10 eggs to a predator, maybe a raccoon or ghost crab. An "REL" means the nest has been relocated for any number of reasons by the staff.  A "D" on the sign with a date means there's a depression or drop in the sand on the nest. That means the eggs have started to hatch and the baby turtles are coming out of the nest soon. An "H" on the nest sign means that baby turtle hatchling marks have been observed around the nest so the hatchlings have come out. "DIS" with a date--"disorientation" means baby turtle marks have been observed moving away from the water. NOT good! And finally, a circle with an "x" inside it means approved volunteers and researchers have excavated a nest after the hatching to determine and record the number of hatched and unhatched eggs.

Sparky also learned that when the baby turtles come out and make it to the water, they swim for 24-48 hours nonstop! This is called a "swimming frenzy". They are heading for ocean currents and an offshore feeding grounds called the sargassum weed line. They survive on egg yolk reserve and don't eat until they get to the weed line, where they will be safer from predators…..

There's a new exhibit coming February 1st to the Mote: Survivors--Beautiful and Extreme Adaptations. Gonna have to go back and see that…..We had a fabulous time at Mote Marine today! Tomorrow, the Bok Tower at Lake Wales, FL…..

Monday, January 13, 2014

"Families are Like Fudge…"

"Sweet, but with a few nuts…." (Sparky, are you saying my family is a little nuts?! asks a concerned Eldo.) Nope, just saying they can be a little goofy at times…Which is true of both Eldy's and Sparky's families…They have lots of wit which is a WONDERFUL thing when you are entertaining family members. It makes being host and hostess a whole lot easier when there's lots of laughter on a family visit….And laughter we had, when Chuck and Theresa, Eldy's brother-in-law and sister arrived recently for a visit.

We've had visits from  both sides of our families over the past six months, and it's been so much fun showing them our newly adopted towns --Bradenton and Sarasota. Of course, everybody wants to see the stuff we've had in the blog, Myakka River State Park, the Ringling Museum, the Mote Aquarium, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, the drum circle, Ocean Blues--the bar and grill on Hillview Street that has entertainment 7 days a week, the Sarasota Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings, breakfast at the Gulf Cafe in Anna Maria Island, Sarasota polo, the Bok Tower in Lake Wales and so on and so on….

So when Theresa, Eldy's sister arrived for a week with her husband, Chuck, the day after Christmas, we were ready to be the host and hostess with the mostest! Not necessarily in the order we did them, here we go….First, the Marie Selby Gardens which had their nighttime Christmas light spectacle going on. Nineteen dollars for adults, children four to eleven are six dollars. It's gardens, a tropical conservatory, a museum of botany and the arts, and a garden shop. The gardens are open 10-5 every day except major holidays. Unfortunately, we arrived the very next day the night lights display had ended, but we still got to see some wonderful things there during the day time. They've developed a new children's rainforest section which was MARVELOUS and a wonderful opportunity for kids to walk a suspended bridge and learn about the rain forest.

One of Sparky's favorite things at the gardens is the Wishing Tree…..People write wishes on strips of fabric…
If you look a little closer, you see all kinds of interesting and wistful wishes…..
You see amazing plants and beautiful flowers at the gardens….Sparky gets a kick every time out of seeing the wild coffee tree plant and its accompanying scientific name…."psychotria nervosa"…Too funny….(I'm glad she's not a coffee drinker, that might just put her over the edge, explains E. She drinks enough Coke as it is!)

And how about some beautiful orchids….WOW! There's the conservatory there filled with all kinds of exotic ones….Marie Selby Gardens has over 6,000 species of orchids, there are bamboo and banyan groves, and a mansion on the register of historical places that houses botanical art and photography exhibits. They have different kinds of classes and many different styled gardens. This is quite the place!

And how about some beautiful bromeliads?  The center of the bromeliad had filled with water from a recent rain and these little lavender flowers were growing inside. This is so cool with the little tiny plants inside the main one, like a mini cistern! Amazing!

It's such a beautiful place Sparky is thinking of becoming a member so she can go there often for free to work on her photography skills….And on to the next place…..Mote Marine is scheduled for tomorrow…..

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Batman Comes to Bradenton!

We've been watching the Nuisance Wildlife Removal truck visit our street regularly for the past two months, and we were wondering why…Well, now we know…BATS have come to the neighborhood--well, they've always been around due to the insects and other tasty bat (insect) food around all the ponds here and in the trees, but  they are getting up into the tile roofs in the neighborhood to roost. First, the truck came to a house a few doors down the street, then another house and another, coming closer and closer.…At least three houses on our street alone had bat problems.

Bats can fit into openings less than one inch! Bats are protected, so you can't trap them and kill them. During the bat maternity season, April 15 to August 15, bats cannot be handled at all. However, the quicker they are managed, the less damage they can cause. Bat guano (bat poop) is very acidic and can eat through roof underlayment as it starts to accumulate, and also stain and damage painted surfaces. It also smells really strong and it's an awful smell. The guano carries spores for the disease histoplasmosis, a disease that affects people's lungs. The guano is very toxic to humans.

Eldy goes out to get the paper every morning, and we were starting to heave a sigh of relief that they had moved on out of the neighborhood, when SWOOSH! SWOOSH! SWOOSH! A cloud of bats surrounded his head and they were flying all over the place, over 50-100 of them! SLAP! against the tile roof on the garage. SLAP! Another one flew and hit the garage roof. They were trying their darndest to get into small openings at the edges of the tile. They came flying in like jets coming into an aircraft carrier. They almost seemed to take turns working their way in. We found out later, that they poop just as they come in for their landing. We watched in shock. We couldn't believe how many were flying around. We saw three or four manage to squeeze into a narrow opening and disappear into the tile. CRAP! Time to call Nuisance Wildlife Removal…This was the company that had done the work for three previous houses on the block.

They came out and proceeded to show us where the bats were getting in. Bats go for the highest point on the roof at the peak to start. They said we had jumped on this and caught it early. They estimated about 50-80 bats had already taken up residence in the tiles of the roof and had been there for a month or two. They could tell this by the amount of bat guano droppings on the roof tiles, our garage, and driveway. It's tiny stuff. Sparky thought it was just insect residue. It looks like specks on the garage door. The colony will continue to grow and continue to deposit bat crap all over the place inside where they are unless we have something done. Both the young man and the lady assistant manager of the company said they could hear the bats as soon as they walked up the driveway. "Can you hear that?" she asked. Eldy, who is much harder of hearing than Sparky, said no. And Sparky was reluctant to admit, she couldn't hear the bats, either. It's a very high pitched sound. (The first frequency to go in elder hearing, don't you know….) Sigh…When the guy walked around on the roof, the bats really kicked up the complaining, she said. We still couldn't hear it.

The company first seals off all possible entries except for the one that appears to be getting the most use, they can tell which one by the amount of visual bat guano, like black and grey stains on the tiled roof and soffit area. They use a black Scotch Brite type scouring pad material in big sheets cut into wedge sections, then jam them up and under the roof tiles at the roof edges. Then they use a type of mesh netting hung with metal clips clip it over the one remaining opening.

The bats that are on the outside trying to get in, can't, but the netting allows the bats that are inside to get out. We hope! The company also puts up more modern screens and covers on all roof vents, and uses special materials for sealing all entry ways where bats can get in except for one exit. They also use caulk sealant around some of the roof tiles to tidy up the closures that the bats could possibly get in. There were several entry holes that they showed us. The main one was at the peak of the garage roof right in the front. They leave up the special screening for a week to ten days at the lone point of exit, depending upon the daily temperatures, and the bats eventually all exit through that one opening. Then the company comes back out and seals up that last entry/exit. They guarantee their work for a year…Any sign of bats, and back out they come to take care of the problem. Sparky asked, "How do you know if the bats are all gone?" And they said, well you don't for sure, but this method seems to take care of the problem. We just have to watch for bat activity like them flying around and bat guano specks on the garage door and driveway.

They told us different stories about people who ignore the problem and try to take care of it on their own, like pressure washing under the tiles to try and wash the bats out, which is illegal. One house where the homeowner refuses to properly eliminate the problem has over 300 bats in the roof! Within a few months, the acidic bat poop will eat through the underlayment of the roof and that homeowner's problems have only just begun.

Nuisance Wildlife, a local company, guarantees their work for a year, and the professionalism and knowledge that they possess and demonstrated to combat the bat problem along with their reasonable fee was a winner for us, so we hired them!

So here we are….It was almost a full day's job….The installer is placing the "Scotch Brite" pad wedges under the side roof tiles….After sealing all the other openings, covering the roof vents and placing the screen at the front opening, he was done. He'll be back in a week or so to take down the screening and we should be ok.

Here's hoping the bats move on!  Sorry, neighbors, you might be next!  Up and coming, a visit from Eldy's sister and brother-in-law, and they want to do everything we've posted in our blog! But they will only be here a week…so we'll see what we can jam in…..Until later…..