Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Back to Normal, Sort of…..

The wave of visitors have come and gone…..Family came and went, more family came and went, and just recently, Eldy's nephew came for one day and a night, and then it was back to normal, just Sparky and Eldo. No more wonderful pickle ball with friends over at Sun 'n' Fun. Our friends have left for cooler temperatures. Sparky is still subbing right up until she leaves for Washington, D.C. next week, to see her oldest daughter, who is being deployed overseas in June. But she sure misses pickle ball! She will have to try harder to find some outdoor places to play in the Sarasota/Bradenton area. There are some indoor facilities, but indoor pickle ball is not as much fun as outdoor, Sparky just likes outdoor better. But as it gets hotter, Sparky will start playing now and then indoors. Those hotter temps are coming, it's been in the mid eighties this week!

We're back to investigating garage sales and estate sales, now that most of the snowbirds have left town, we're looking for things we can't live without, or some yard tools that of course we sold when we left Indiana, thinking we wouldn't be needing anything like that! You never know what you'll see…Sparky really loved this lemonade stand, she was such a cutie, and look how professional the parents made her lemonade stand!

You never know what you might see at an estate sale/garage sale in this area. How about this Old Town antique canoe? It was very cool!

We are true Floridians now….complaining at the height of the season that parking is at a premium, fussing at having to stake a seat out for Happy Hour way before happy hour begins anywhere. We should just have our own happy hour, right? Quit complaining, Sparky!  Even the estate sales have cleared out as far as having to get a number to wait in line to get in the door. We don't do waiting in a line for 45 minutes or more in the heat in the peak of the season. We like going in the off season, it's fun to look to see what's out there. Even though we've pretty much got the house the way we want it decorated for now, there's always SOMETHING that we can find to add to it. (She's managing to add all kinds of things, folks, we're running out of room already, fusses E. And we haven't even picked up our storage shed stuff back up north yet!) Now it's the big projects that will have to wait down the road-- like replacing bathroom cabinets and sinks, and something different in the kitchen in the way of lighting, and maybe carpeting in a couple of rooms, and…..Good thing Sparky is working! We've got all kinds of stuff coming up…a family reunion this summer in Traverse City, a visit seeing Sparky's oldest daughter, and who knows what else?

So….weekends come and go….Farmer's Market in downtown Sarasota….This is Siesta John and his woodie…..heh heh heh…..Notice he's playing in his bare feet! Always great music at the Sarasota Saturday morning Farmer's Market.

And always, fabulous organic fruits and veggies, and wonderful things to sample and eat...

We visit the beach sometimes, usually Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island and the city's island pier…Sparky saw this really cool sea grape (?) leaf. She swears that's an imprint of a regular oak leaf on it, a double imprint at that. You sure don't see very many regular oak trees around, especially at the beach! As a matter of fact, Sparky hasn't seen a single oak tree at the beach.
We always like to visit the Anna Maria Island Pier. There's always LOTS going on…We've seen a dolphin lazily swim very close to shore, chasing the fish in just yards from the swimmers, we've seen a whole bunch, herd, whatever, of brown cow nosed rays---over 60 of them swim back and forth for over a half hour alongside the pier, dolphins stealing fishermen's bait, an angler accidentally hooking a ray, another hooked a pelican and today, it was another ray just swimming along by himself.
Sparky couldn't resist taking a photo of these two cute young anglers…Usually the fishermen or women are lots older and more grizzly looking, skin baked by the sun.
We like to go get pizza at the Main Street Trattoria in Lakewood Ranch and eat it outside….
There are so many places to sit outside at cafes in Sarasota and Bradenton, it would take you a year to sample them all.

Sparky rides her bike at least a couple times a week. Sparky likes these birds of paradise blooming shrubs.
She's always looking for gators, or the elusive bobcat which residents have seen quite a few times in the nature preserve on the back nine and whom we saw cross the road in our subdivision one day…Today we saw a red fox moseying around the golf course just outside our backyard!

And the days fly by…...

Saturday, April 19, 2014

An Awesome Adventure!

Last year Sparky and Eldo went on a wonderful dolphin hunting adventure….It was called Dolphin Racer Speedboat Adventure Tour.  The boat tour leaves out of St. Petersburg. We got a Groupon coupon last year and went for 12.00 a person. This year was early for us to be going, too early for Groupon coupons and since Kristi and Connor were here visiting, even though we didn't have a Groupon coupon, we wanted them to experience the cool tour. So we booked--24.95 for each adult, and 14.95 for kids, kids under 2 are free.  The very young kids didn't seem to enjoy it as much. Maybe because it is too windy, and the boat engine is very loud if you are at the back of the boat. This little gal spent almost the whole time hanging dearly onto her hat!

We went on a weekday, and even though it was a week day, it was spring break. We had to contend with a LOT of boat traffic that slowed our speed down several times.

The trip did NOT disappoint! Even though you can see dolphins out in the waters of the Gulf on a regular basis around here, it's tough to spot them with a camera, and the sightings are not as often as they would be if we were at the ocean's shores more. And they are usually farther out, making a nice photo tough to get. The boat tour gives you a chance to get some wonderful shots close up of the dolphins playing in the boat's wake. And, the captain gives informational stuff about famous people who live in the area, and tidbits about the history of the islands and waterways. We are two out of two times seeing dolphins up close and personal playing in the waves of the speedboat on this same speedboat tour. The dolphin action started almost immediately.....

Sparky started fiddling around with her camera….Decisions, decisions…Use the iPhone burst setting? By the way, holding down the photo click button shoots an incredible number of multiple photos just like the burst setting on a regular camera. Don't hold down the "home" white button on the phone, or you will get a puzzled Siri. (Ask Sparky how she knows that.) Should she use her little Canon Powershot? After missing a couple of fantastic shots by fiddling with devices, Sparky said, aw, the heck with this! Just watch the "show"! But she did get a couple of shots….Here comes the first wave of dolphins…..

There was one dolphin careening through the boat's wake on his back…He'd come up for a bit, and slice back through the waves on his back…The captain said we had to make a TON of noise, cheering, clapping and whistling. He said the more noise you make, the more the dolphins will play. We weren't sure if that was really true, but it made sense. However, we did not have a full boat or even half full, so the captain said we were "wimpy" on the noise making. The dolphins came to play twice, but they didn't hang around long. Maybe because we didn't make enough noise? Eldo is wisely keeping quiet on that last statement. (Sparky has been known to be quite vocal on lots of occasions, and that's all I'm gonna say about that! says E.)

Man, can these dolphins swim FAST! Here comes another one slicing through the water…..

But it was tough to get to the back of the boat where all the action was. Three young women, who evidently worked for the tour boat company or a related tourist attraction in the area got on the boat for free and positioned themselves at the back of the boat where the best sightings are and best photo opportunities were and never moved.

We were annoyed that they were allowed to take the places of paying tourists, and that they didn't take turns letting others have a chance to see what was going on in the wake.

The biggest event of the hour and a half cruise was a 60 pound tarpon got in the action with the dolphins and jumped clear out of the water at the back of the boat. The captain saw it and exclaimed he'd never ever seen anything like that in all his time out on the water. He was VERY excited! Did Sparky see it? No-o-o-o… too busy fooling around with her electronic devices trying to get photos along the side of the boat. Did Eldo, Kristi or Connor see it? Nope…All looking in a different direction….But others saw it happen and marveled at it along with the captain…..

Kristi got a couple of terrific shots--thanks for sharing these with us, Kristi!
Here's the best for last….

It was a beautiful day but for some reason, the boat was lightly loaded. The day before, it had rained and was very very windy. The boat was full that day, go figure that one! On our beautiful day, guess everybody decided to hit the beach as spring break week was winding down. That made for a terrific trip out on the water today with plenty of room on the boat to move around. Connor loved seeing the dolphins, Kristi did, too, and there was LOTS of action. And of course, Sparky LOVED it! She'd go again in a heartbeat!

We highly recommend this dolphin tour!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Birds of a Feather Flock Together

Sparky loves riding over to Jiggs Landing in Bradenton, just about a half mile from her house to see what birds are there…This past two months, it was a great horned owl family that flew the coop recently (an osprey nest they overtook from the ospreys who built it) and the ospreys came and claimed it back….It looks like the ospreys might be incubating some eggs up in the tall pine tree. Sparky captured one of the parent ospreys feeding on a fish it recently caught. The tail was still flopping around when Sparky started taking photos.  Ew-w-w-w-w! But that's nature. Sparky had another photo where the osprey had taken an internal part of the fish and had it in its mouth. Double EW-W-W-W-W! So she decided it was too gross to publish.

At Jiggs Landing, there is a boardwalk, and out at the end of the boardwalk is a nice little viewing platform. There were some pretty little marsh plants blooming today…

Sparky sat down to watch some least terns, the smallest members of the tern family, who were congregating on the boardwalk.

They sat in a row on the boardwalk fence…..

They took turns getting ready to fly one by one in search of a meal. And pooping….

When they got something, back they came, chattering with the fish in their mouths, like "Look guys, I'm telling you, there's food out there, you just gotta look for it!"

And off one would fly again to catch another skinny little fish…..
"I'm not impressed," says the buddy.
It's a beautiful little park with a kayak launch. Sparky went out kayaking once so far on the Braden River from Jiggs Landing, but it's time to get back out again, she thinks!

Sparky has been watching all over town for baby sandhill cranes. They've been very elusive…They seem to be born about March, so they've already hatched and are growing. FINALLY--a pair spotted while we were out garage sale shopping….and with only an iPhone to capture the moment….sigh…Gotta start carrying the little Canon Powershot everywhere!

Bye-bye little birds…..

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Here Comes Trouble!

In the form of a little person about nine years old and a boy. Time for another family visit…this time it's Eldy's daughter, Kristi, and her nine year old son, Connor, Eldy's grandson. They are down for spring break. Right away, before they arrived, Sparky started planning how to keep a nine year old occupied and entertained in a neighborhood that severely lacks in anyone under the age of 75 for supplemental entertainment. ZERO kids. Nada, zip, none. At least none that we have ever seen. The only kids in our neighborhood are the four legged ones, and some are even in strollers. What's up with that? At the risk of offending someone, Sparky does not understand walking dogs in strollers. Are they too little to walk by themselves? She knows, she knows, they ARE some people's kids…It was just a rhetorical question that doesn't need an answer.

As far as trouble, Connor is no trouble. He's just full of questions and wanting to learn lots of different things, like how to make bracelets, and how to knit, and how to make stuff like Sparky does, and why this and why that, and "why can't we????……"  Whew!

So-o-o-o-o….a trip to Caspersen Beach in Venice to look for shark's teeth….Caspersen Beach is a much more rugged beach with a rocky shoreline in part of it, and the sand is very dark.

Caspersen Beach in Venice

That was a GREAT place to meet other kids. Connor quickly met two brothers close to his age, and together they plotted and planned sand castles and fortresses. The kids were a riot. When Sparky asked Eldo why wasn't he walking the beach looking for bikinis, Connor asked, "Yeah, why aren't you, big boy?" being a little cheeky.  When the kids' sand tunnel/bridge collapsed, one of the boys said, "Oh, the pain!…" and the other little one launched into the very old song, "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen…." How the heck did he know that? He was about six years old!

Connor and Kristi had a ball looking for the elusive shark's teeth which used to be plentiful at the beach, but are getting harder to find. The word is getting out about the location and it's on every tourist "to do" list, we think! We've even invested in one of those strainer basket "shovels" to find them. (Walmart 18.00) Connor did a great job of looking, but no sharks' teeth to be found today…..
Sparky gets mad when she sees this….Dad with a hat, son with a hat, blonde baby girl, NO hat… She looked hot and was starting to look like she was getting sunburned. C'mon, parents, please protect your kids' precious fair skin!

Connor checked out Papa's pool every day along with Kristi, getting some exercise and some short laps in. What is it with kids, especially the boys giving bunny ears in photos all the time? Both grandsons do it, one's in second grade, and one's in third.

We headed to the Mote one rainy day, but the parking lot was overflowing, and the line was down the street for tickets. Too crowded! Maybe another time….Off we went to sample some frozen yogurt and hit the stores that day for some summer clothes.

We visited the always wonderful "Embracing Our Differences" art in the park…It's the 11th annual art in the park with billboard sized posters from student artists and writers all over the world with representation from local students as well. The message is "enriching lives through diversity" and it is a juried art show. The posters are amazing!

The thoughtful messages are wonderful! So glad kids are thinking about these things…

The artwork, photography and messages are very inspiring and moving….And what a fabulous location to have it, in sunny Sarasota at the Bayfront Park right at the marina and waterfront skyline of Sarasota.

And then, wander just a little farther out of the park, and here comes a row of seasonal sculptures along the parkway beside Tamiami Trail (highway 41) in the downtown area…..Sarasota Season of Sculpture…..It's a non-profit group that sponsors these large scale sculptures every year during the spring. They are cool and are very visible from the road, but we like to walk the "promenade" to see them up close and personal and learn more about the artists who create them.
Interesting, eh? Or not so much, depending upon your taste in art….Sparky likes 'em….There were several more to see, but these two were Sparky's favorites…..

One last expedition to St. Pete's Beach, and the kids will be headed home….Think we are going dolphin watching tomorrow! See you later…...

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Mish Mash of Stuff and the Mote

Sparky is going to be all over the map today, not as in traveling the U.S., but as in catching up with all things Sarasota and Manatee….She's been subbing a LOT lately….Heartwarming experiences, funny tales, and frustrating experiences at times, but always rewarding with many hugs received each day she subs….

Kindergarten several times….A little boy studied Sparky intently one day, checking out her glasses and her ears. "Do you wear a hearing aide?" he asked. "No, why, do you think I need one?" Sparky replied.  At which point, the little boy mouthed the words, "Can you hear me?"  And Sparky, ever on the ball said, "Of COURSE I can hear you!" His mouth dropped open, and he said incredulously, "How did you do that?"  And Sparky, not wanting to give away any teacher secrets, just smiled slyly and moved on with her lesson.

Had lunch with an ornery bunch of second graders today….Sparky's class asked if she would eat lunch with them. Knowing this class was a little on the ornery side, Sparky said, sure! But they had to have a good morning….and they did…So Sparky ate lunch with them. A little girl with dreadlocks asked, "Would you be my mom?"  Sparky was a little taken aback. "You have a mom, don't you?"  "Un-hunh," she replied, "but I still want you to be my mom." Sparky had a feeling that maybe her mom wasn't in the picture. Hard to tell what prompted that request….

"How old are you?" is a popular question. "How old do you think I am?" is the usual response. And then the fun begins…"Twenty-five."   Kid, you win the most popular kid of the class contest, hands down, and an A++.  "Aw, she's not twenty-five, she's fifty-five." That kid gets second prize for sure! And one more kid goes, "I think she's seventy." That one gets the booby prize. For the record, Sparky is going to be 64 in July.

A comment heard from a little kindergarten girl…"I'm just really rockin' it today!" That little one has some self-confidence. You go, girl!

When Sparky's sister and brother-in-law were visiting, we headed to the Mote Marine Aquarium and Research Center once again. The Mote never fails to deliver an interesting and informative experience no matter how many times you go. There's always something new going on, or something you missed the last time you went. This time it was the "Extreme Survivors" exhibit in a new wing of the aquarium. Very cool unusual animals who protect themselves from predators and who are VERY dangerous to come in contact with….like the bumblebee dart frog…Poisonous toxins are secreted from their skin and  paralyze respiratory muscles causing death to their predators.

Here is the blue ringed octopus. When it is calm, it's grey. When it gets riled up, it shows rings of blue, then watch out!  It is one of the most venomous animals on the planet.

Their bite contains tetrodotoxin venom and just ONE MILLIGRAM can kill a human. They are not aggressive, but people have been bitten and killed through their carelessness.

The peacock mantis shrimp, sometimes known as the "thumb splitter", has some amazing qualities. Its claws can deliver a blow that has 200 pounds of force! Its punch is the fastest on record, at 50 mph. It can shatter glass and splinter crab shells. Their claws are so hard, scientists are studying them because they can deliver 50,000 blows between molts and not get cracked. Scientists are interested in applying this knowledge to the study of body armor.

"How about them sea apples?" Sea apples not only secrete a foul tasting toxin, causing problems and killing some species, but they also can expel their internal organs, giving their predators a meal, and allowing them to make a getaway. EWWWWW!  ---But interesting...The internal parts grow back within a few days….They are very beautiful, aren't they?

Sparky loves the viewing tank where the turtles are. There's a lower viewing window at kid level so you can watch them up close. Or they can watch you. And they do…..
Did you know they now track some sea turtles with satellite tracking devices? Some turtles have a transmitter epoxied to their shells and when they surface to breathe, up pops the little antennae, and a signal transmits to a satellite which bounces back their location to Mote Marine Laboratory. Amazing!

And that's the latest news from the Mote….All good things must come to an end…Sparky's sister is headed to Matlache, another wonderful, quirky little artist colony village/town south of Bradenton…or is it north?….(Eldo is sleeping or he'd set Sparky straight)…Nite every one….Till next time….