Sunday, October 22, 2017

What Floridians Do on a Balmy Night....

Well...some of us anyway...Sparky was at the store the other night picking up a few things, so she thought she'd call home and see if Eldo needed anything. She WAS going to get him ice cream from Culver's for a dessert treat and was on her way there.  "No, can't really think of---OH MY GOD! THERE'S AN ALLIGATOR WALKING THROUGH OUR BACKYARD!!! yells Eldy on the phone.

"GET A PICTURE, TAKE A PICTURE, GET YOUR PHONE OUT THERE AND TAKE A PICTURE!" Sparky hollers back and hangs up fast. And she boogies home as quickly and as safely as she can, damn the ice cream, a gator is walking through our backyard!

Now, alligators are common in our neighborhood. We see them all the time---in PONDS, with their heads above water...We see them on the pond riverbanks in the neighborhood occasionally. Most of the time if they see you coming, they skedaddle right back into the water. We have NEVER seen one walk through the back yard in the four and a half years we have lived in Bradenton. There is no pond that is very close to the house, although one pond is halfway down our street. So to see a good sized gator waltzing down the golf course fairway and sauntering through people's back yards is something new. This one was about 8 feet long and he had a company of three sandhill cranes with him. The cranes appeared to be protective of him. Sparky was at first walking towards the cranes and the gator, and they promptly went into a warning dance, jumping up and down, flapping their weeks and making a racket. They were close to the gator and he wasn't interested. He looked like he had had a recent big meal, his belly and throat were distended and full. She didn't know if they were warning to stay away from the gator, or they were just alarmed at Sparky being on the scene. The cranes  in our neighborhood are quite tame and will come up very close to you if they think you might have food. Sparky and Eldy quickly hopped on the golf cart and started following the gator.

Sparky was texting a neighbor friend and told her about the gator. The neighbor was eager to see a gator, as she hadn't seen hardly any since she moved here earlier this year. Eldy graciously hopped off the cart so the neighbor could come along for the ride. Sparky went and picked her up on the golf cart. She was so excited! Sparky says, "Wanna get closer?" And game friend that she is, "SURE!" So we did. And then, "HE'S UP WALKING! OMG, OMG!"  She was SO excited to see this!
We picked up a second neighbor and continued to follow at a safe distance. The gator headed for the sand trap and then plunked down for a rest.

Can you imagine hitting your ball into a sand trap and then coming up over the crest of the hill to see the alligator in the trap?  Don't think anybody would go after their ball, do you? :-) With him deciding to take a rest, and it starting to get dark, we headed back to our house, just a few doors away......

It was a fun way to end the day...and interesting to see the cranes' behavior and how close they stayed to the gator as he walked down the fairway.

Bye for now!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Hurricane Irma Part 2

Monday morning.....we awoke....turned on the news and Irma was passed Bradenton...It had blown through, rather slowly at a less than category 1 storm...winds gusting from 45-90 mph. Sparky had a website called Next Door, where neighborhoods can set up a little private network of their own for neighbors to check on neighbors. You can request information about the best service people to use, what companies are good, and one of the best requests, "We are out of town, but how does our house look after the storm?" Because it's just your neighborhood and neighbors, it seems like a safe site to use. Sparky sent out a request, and a neighbor walking her dog was kind enough to report back, "Your pool cage has a branch through the screen, but it's just a small hole. Everything else looks ok!" Whew! Dodged a bullet there! It could have been really bad...the southern part got hit much harder than we did.
Sparky was anxious to get back home. Eldo, not so much. He was thinking, "Why not just stay here in Myrtle Beach, play a little golf, and wait for all the hubbub to die down?" But he knew how much Sparky missed school and the little kids, and how much she wanted to get back as soon as possible, just in case school resumed quickly. So we left late Monday morning. With no decision made on school other than it was closed Monday and Tuesday, Sparky was ready to go. There was just one slight problem. The outer bands of the hurricane were scheduled to pass through South Carolina close to the time we would be making our way back in the direction of Florida. Let's see what happened....

We drove and drove and drove....through bands of strong winds and heavy heavy rain. Just when we thought it was a bad idea to have headed home, the winds would calm down and the rain would completely stop. We kept going. Things started to get a little alarming once we got into Georgia. All the ramps were closed getting off I-95 through Georgia. We didn't know why....Apparently, the exits were closed due to the exodus of people leaving Florida, and the hurricane headed northwest tracking through Georgia and they hadn't opened back up yet. As the night deepened, the highway remained extremely dark. There were no overhead lamps illuminating the exits, there were no lights to be seen along the exits, where the gas stations, convenience stores and restaurants were. There were no gas stations open. There were no restaurants open. NOTHING was open. The area was without power. Uh-oh...we started worrying about gas, hearing that gas supplies were available. There was no electricity for miles and miles. We had kept our tank filled and topped off after having a terrible time getting gas once we were in the southern part of South Carolina. We started seeing lines and lines at the gas pumps and the gas pumps were closed off. We realized this was going to be a problem the rest of the way home.

Once we hit the border of Florida and Georgia, we were wiped out. It was about midnight. We pulled off the I-95 exit and interchange at I-75 in Wildwood, FL, deciding to see if we could find a place to spend the night and finish the drive the next morning. The most surreal scene greeted us. (Sorry for no photos, time of day and sheer exhaustion caused us to go into survival mode). Picture this...a major interchange with cars strewn all over the place in and around the gas stations....People sleeping in their cars in gas lines, lines of cars 25 or more deep, waiting for gas deliveries the stations said would be coming by morning. People sitting on the tops of their cars, parked willy-nilly all over in parking lots, on hillsides, like a demolition derby had just taken place and everyone had climbed out of their cars to wait the rest of the night out or choosing to sleep in them. People with children and babies trying to get some sleep, wondering where and when the gas would come. Others walking aimlessly around, talking to strangers. There was a motel right there, a Days Inn. A sign on the door said, "Sold Out" and it was locked. Sparky had to go to the bathroom, BAD! So she knocked on the door. The night clerk motioned to a little side window and Sparky explained her need. Sure, said the lady, and unlocked the door to let her in. After Sparky used the bathroom, she asked if she and Eldo could park the car in the back of the motel and just rest for a few hours. The lady took one look at Eldy, head down in the car and said, "Actually, we have a handicapped room still available. Would you like that one?" and Sparky WANTED  to say, "DOES A BEAR SHIT IN THE WOODS????" but she mustered up an effusive, "OH, YES! We WOULD! Bless you! Thank you SO MUCH" And we took it. Guess they were holding the room for anyone handicapped. At midnight, it had not been claimed, so we took it. They could have charged us an arm and a leg for it under the circumstances, but it was 116.00. That was all right. it was doable. Eldo climbed into bed and within 5 minutes was snoring logs. Sparky had her shower, and then she collapsed, too.

At 5:00 AM, we were back up and ready to roll. The thought of making it home on a low tank of gas was worrisome, but we had enough to make it. We headed for the highway entrance ramp for 75 south which had a line of 50+ cars in it at a dead stop. Nobody was moving. We couldn't figure out why until we saw a cop directing people AROUND the line of cars and it turned out the ramp was blocked because people were in a gas line that wrapped around the corner from the highway. We suspected that some people might have run out of gas in that line, but we didn't know for sure. We had to do a U-turn and come back the other way to get on the highway. As we got on I-75, there were cars after cars after cars on the shoulder. They had all run out of gas. We arrived home at 7:00 AM or so, and saw that the gas pumps were all out of gas in and around our exit as well....Unreal.....We have never experienced that nor seen anything like this ever!  We are old enough to remember gas rationing back in the early 70's but this was a lot worse....

Triple hurricanes 9/10/17

And wouldn't you was cancelled for the rest of the week! Sparky owes Eldo, BIG time! :-) As we recovered from our ordeal, many emotions hit us the first couple of days back from having evacuated. Sparky was very emotional and tried to figure out why....(she's normally calm as a cucumber and very little gets her upset). Having missed a terrible storm, seeing others be not as fortunate, makes you feel guilty a bit. The Florida Keys got hammered. We felt terrible at the losses some RVing friends suffered from the damages to the Keys.

It was really really stressful....It took time to calm down and get back to normal, whatever that was and is...We learned some things about hurricanes in the process and being ready for the next one. We are not sure if we would stay or go the next time, but we do know how to prepare and how to be ready. We don't think we would stay in a shelter. There were some real horror stories about how people treated the shelter facilities in Sarasota. People left dirty diapers in children's desks in some of the schools that served as shelters. There was animal feces and other awful junk left behind.

We aren't blasé any more. We have a much more personal connection now with the weather here in Florida. We will have better supplies on hand next time. We will keep a "go" bag ready and packed a few days prior to having to evacuate if we do. We saw the power of a tropical storm, almost hurricane force winds, and we have a greater respect for the power it does have. It's been a busy hurricane season this year, THREE in the Atlantic basin at one time, Katia, Jose and Irma, something our weatherman says he has never seen. However, we are blessed to be in a location that has VERY few hurricanes actually come into the area. We are not worried. BUT--we will think about some new windows and we really should think about a new roof!

Until next time.....(not hurricane time!)

                                                             Eldo and Sparky

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Hurricane Irma Part I

We've never really worried about hurricanes here in the Sarasota/Bradenton area in the four years we've lived here. We are about 30 miles inland from the coast on the west side of Florida, an hour south of Tampa.We knew there was always a possibility, but 1) they hadn't had a direct hit hurricane in the area for about 90 years, and 2) we are not in a flood plain. We don't even carry flood insurance. We don't have hurricane shutters. Very few people in our neighborhood have hurricane shutters.

So in the first few days of last week, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, Sept. 4-6th, we were
watching the weather, in particular, our favorite weatherman, Denis Phillips of ABC10 News as he talked about a newly named hurricane by the name of Irma. He wasn't too worried. The system was well out in the Atlantic, and he was going to watch it very carefully....As the week progressed, the storm developed into a category 4, then a category 5, still out in the Atlantic and he was now watching it VERY carefully. A little note about Denis Phillips, Tampa Bay weatherman. He is probably THE most calm, non-excitable weatherman. He's cute, and always wears suspenders. He doesn't sugarcoat any bad weather news, he gives you all the probabilities and a very measured opinion and he doesn't hype up the storm like other weather stations do. And he doesn't do stupid stuff like go out in the raging hurricane gust winds and show you hard how it is to stand up in the wind with palm fronds and tree limbs flying by past you. (Really, Weather Channel? How stupid is that?) He has a favorite rule, rule #7--Don't freak out unless Denis Phillips freaks out. So we felt safe and secure....We continued to watch...and started to prepare. The stores started emptying out of basic hurricane supplies, water, food, plywood, etc. It appeared people were taking notice of the weather stations to prepare, prepare, prepare, and they did.

Around Wednesday, the spaghetti models and predictor models from several different sources were saying that the hurricane was a category 5, and it was a monster storm, one of the largest ever to form in the Atlantic.  What is a spaghetti model? It's a method of viewing data to visualize possible flows of weather systems. It looks just like spaghetti! But--according to Denis and other weather reports, the hurricane was going to hang over Cuba for a couple of days, it would weaken, and then take a turn northEAST around Saturday and head up the EAST coast. There were a few strings of spaghetti showing going up the central and west coast but the majority agreed it was a east side storm side for FL. So far so good. Remember, we're on the west side. The worst side of a hurricane to be on is the EAST side---the worst winds, the worst chances for developing tornadoes.  Eldy started looking at Pensacola, FL, up in the panhandle for rooms--plenty of rooms....

Thursday, the spaghetti models changed a bit. They were now showing lots of strings moving up more to the central part of the state, covering almost the entire state and a turn still happening around some time Saturday. We weren't worried. Denis thought that although the storm would make landfall at the southern tip of Florida, things were still pointing to the central, north central direction of the state. We decided to hang in there and see.....we got sandbags. Sparky prepared TONS of containers for the freezer in case we lost power. She got all her Tupperware containers and recycled plastic tubs and made ice. We bought bagged ice, Sparky cleaned out the perishable side of the fridge down to some basics and turned down the fridge to as cold as it would go. Sparky started preparing for a possible evacuation. If it was a category 3 or higher, we were definitely going to leave....Sparky talked to everybody she knew, and now the conversations at work were, "Are you going? Are you staying?" School was in session thru Thursday and they finally called it off for Friday.

On Friday, Denis was still thinking the storm was going to take a turn and although he predicted the storm was going to be coming thru the central part of the state, we would not get the worst hurricane winds, at most, perhaps tropical wind force winds with hurricane gusts...He did say the hurricane had shifted just a slight bit to the west, but it could shift back to the east overnight. All week it had wobbled back and forth like windshield wipers. Sparky packed some coolers with remaining perishable foods. She packed bread and peanut butter, snacks, pop, and cleaned out the right side of the fridge completely. She turned down the thermostat to the fridge to as cold as it would go. Fridge was ready.....Sparky was almost ready. Eldy was holding off. There were now NO ROOMS anywhere north in the panhandle, southern GA, or Pensacola area.

Sparky packed some more things, just in case...she looked around for what were THE most essential things in case the hurricane hit our area. H-m-mmmm...her dies for her die cutting machine, the Big Shot--they were expensive! Got to take those...Gotta take her big collection of knitting needles, medicines, check. Extra clothing, check. Important papers and photos, check. Bag anything in the craft room that might get wet should we lose our 1990's roof. Bag clothing in the closet in case water leaks through the roof. Pack the computer and tablet. Pack season 2 of the Outlander, one of Sparky's favorite TV shows. Check. Eldy went to bed early in case we had to get up early to leave. Sparky continued to pack. Updates for the hurricane were every day at 11:00 PM and 5:00 AM.  Eldy had said, if there's any change, we could leave in the middle of the night to avoid a big exodus of traffic. Sparky continued to pack. Then she went to bed. At 2:30 AM, something made her wake up, oh, right, the bathroom called. She got up, turned on the TV and there, blasting away, was Irma coming up the WEST side of the coast, hitting the Everglades and the Keys and heading straight for Sarasota, Bradenton, and Tampa in a few hours, forecasted as a category 3. NO TURN.....OUR AREA. We are in-between the 4 and the 1, an hour south of Tampa. It didn't look good.

"ELDY, WAKE UP! IT'S COMING STRAIGHT FOR US!" perhaps a little overly dramatic. Eldy was dead asleep, but it didn't take long for it to sink in, and he got up. We turned off the AC, the pool, and the hot water heater to reduce electrical load should the power go off and surge back on. He packed, we loaded up the car, and decided to hit the road at 3:30 AM. Traffic was very light...Since the hurricane was now heading up the west coast, we decided to head up the east coast. Eldy's brother had a place in Myrtle Beach and kindly offered it to us as long as we needed....a BIG thank you to him and his wife Shell. We drove away from the storm. It was an easy drive, with very little traffic EXCEPT for one thing. Two hours into the drive, in a rainstorm, WHAM! A car sideswiped us on the passenger side, and kept driving, a hit and run driver. We sped up and flashed our lights to try and get the guy to pull over, but he sped up and exited at the very next exit. There was no way to stop and call the cops until exit 358 on I-75. We sustained some minor damage and passenger Sparky wasn't traumatized.

This is a photo of traffic before the storm, heading north on I-75. Internet photo.

The remainder of the trip out of FL was uneventful. There had been two previous waves of evacation the past week, one was on Wednesday, and the second one was on Friday. Seven MILLION people had been ORDERED to evacuate Florida, the largest evacuation in U.S. history, according to the news.

We left in the middle of the night Friday, so we were in good shape. We stopped in Charleston, SC (remember that town for later on the way back) and stayed at a wonderful Best Western in Charleston.

We continued to watch the news....and Denis Phillips...He was saying on Saturday that it would not be a category 4 but a category 3, and landfall would be around the Naples area, so by the time it came to our area, it may weaken a bit. Still, winds and wind gusts were formidable. By Saturday afternoon, we were in Myrtle Beach and safe.....By Saturday night, the turn had NOT happened, but because Irma would make landfall south of our Sarasota/Bradenton area in the keys and possiblly a second landfall further north, it would weaken as it moved up the state and they were now talking category 1......Wind gusts of 74-95 miles and hour with hurricane gusts of over 100 m.p.h. We went to bed Saturday night with hopes that our area would not be too badly hit.....

Sunday, we watched the news off and on all day....One of the most interesting things to happen which is a very rare occurrence, before the hurricane hit Florida full force, was a reverse storm surge. The winds sucked the water out of Tampa Bay and other low lying coastal areas. The winds would continued to circulate and eventually the water flowed back in. Manatees were stranded and people went out to rescue them, which was a heartwarming but dangerous thing to do, because nobody knew when the water would flow back in. People were out walking in Tampa Bay and the beach areas where all the water had disappeared, on the sand which is normally under water. (The winds out of Tampa were southwesterly, which pushed the water from the bay into the Gulf of Mexico. The surge is maximized when the tide is low and the bays are shallow.) It was weird seeing this!

The day went seemed like forever.....Friends were texting from Florida, giving us the latest news. Then cell service from our area became interrupted and intermittent. We watched anxiously as the storm moved north...Friends were moving into shelters.

The storm was HUGE! It covered the entire state of Florida. No one would escape its wrath, it appeared. As it passed through familiar areas to us, we saw that although the winds were fierce, the storm was not pushing through the 100 steady sustained winds that had been previously forecasted. Our area of Bradenton/Sarasota ended up getting tropical storm force winds with gusts of over 95 m.p.h., down from a category 1 forecast.....We heard our residential area still had power....We started talking about going home and trying to beat the millions of Floridians that had evacuated this past week. It was with a great deal of relief and feeling blessed as we headed to bed Sunday night. We would make a decision in the morning as to whether to stay or leave SC.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Sparky Hikes the Deep Hole

Sparky has always wanted to hike the Deep Hole in Myakka River State Park. It's a deep watering hole in the middle of the state park, and there are USUALLY hundreds of alligators sunning themselves and swimming around. The rangers only allow 30 hikers at a time to hike back to the hole and you have to register in then check back out when you leave.

The timing has to be right to see a lot of alligators. The ranger says they don't like cloudy, windy days.  You don't want to go when it's an extremely hot day as more gators will probably be in the water than out, so a day in the coolest part of Florida's hot, hot, hot season which are the winter months of December, January, and February and a little later, are best. Sparky had some time one day, not too long ago and the day was starting out in the sixties, with a high in the eighties. This might be a good day to go even if it was a little outside of the optimal viewing time. It was during the week, less foot traffic at the park probably. She wasn't subbing, and anyone else she knew that might be interested was working, so on a whim, she decided to go it alone. She called ahead to see if the hiker list was full. Nope, the ranger said. Not very many were out on the hike today.  Hot dog! Sparky decided to head over to the park. First--supplies---hat? check! Water? check....sunscreen? check. And off she went.

Now....if you have been following the blog for awhile, you know that Sparky is directionally challenged, even with GPS. What's worse, is even after visiting a local place many times, if it's out in the boonies, Sparky can still get lost. She thought she knew the way to the park so didn't have her GPS on. Sparky got off at the wrong exit off I-75 and proceeded down a certain road, saw a sign that said Myakka River State Park and thought she was on the right path. Forty-five minutes later, she still hadn't arrived at the park, and the park was nowhere near to be found. (it's normally about a 20 min. drive from the house). Sparky turns on her GPS  on the phone, and discovers she has a half hour drive to return back to the park, which she overshot. (Sparky wastes a lot of time continuing to drive thinking she can see something familiar eventually that will give her a clue as to what direction to go.) Ah, nope...ain't gonna happen, says a knowledgable Eldo. Needless to say, Sparky was clueless that day. She finally arrives at the park at 11:45 AM, when the heat is beginning to build.

She checks in and she's off! Sparky was glad she had on athletic shoes. The ranger checked for that before she left, saying that people hike the trail in sandals or flip flops sometimes. BAD idea! The trail is 2.5 miles one way on a deeply rutted sandy tractor trail. Hard on the ankles, hard on the feet if you are not wearing the proper shoes. And hard, if you have a bad ankle with tendonitis, Sparky learns.
It was breeze...There is VERY little shade along the way. Sparky should have brought TWO bottles of water, she was thinking....On she trudged....

Not much to see along the animals, some farmland.....Sparky encountered two people hiking back, but saw NO ONE along the way, a BIG clue that this was not the best time to hike the trail because of the heat baking the sandy trail. Sparky trudged on....
There are no places to sit along the way, no stumps, no rocks...Sparky was getting tired....But almost there...Once you get there, the trail opens out into a clearing and you see a big pond ahead of you. There are some bushy plants that form a mound in one spot in the clearing (remember that for later) and then, you see the gators.....Sparky apologizes for poor photos today...the camera lens was foggy or dirty, not sure which, and Sparky was so hot and sweaty, she forgot to clean the lens. She was also a little dehydrated and not the steadiest on her feet while snapping a few photos.
It was quite the letdown....Sparky only counted about 55 gators. There could have been more, they were all tangled up in each other. While she wanted to walk around the outskirts of the pond to get just a tiny bit closer with her lens, there were two BIG gators swimming in the pond, heading her way. Sparky could tell they were very interested in what she was doing. Being the SOLE hiker at that moment at the Deep Hole, with no one ever joining her in the half hour she was there, Sparky backed
off to the mound of rushes in front of the pond and stood behind them. The gators kept coming. At that point, Sparky decided it was dumb to be at the Deep Hole, by herself, and that wanting to get better pictures was a bad idea. So, with an eye on the two gators that were swimming to the edge of the hole towards her, she headed for the return trail 2.5 mile hike, disappointed that there weren't more gators, and that she couldn't have gotten better photos for the day. Mid day is a terrible time to take photos, you've got that glare from the sun on everything.

The only birds she spotted was a great blue heron at the hole, and the usual egrets fishing at the pond with the gators.

Sparky would like to do the Deep Hole again, but thinks she might want to come in by kayak. The only problem with Myakka River State Park is, that sometimes the water levels are so low, you can't kayak back there. There has been a drought in Florida this spring, so water levels are extremely low at the park. Right now the boat ramp is closed, and there are no airboat tours because of the drought. It's going to take a LOT of rain for the park to recover.

Sparky has seen videos on Youtube about kayaking to the deep hole, and you are REALLY close to the gators if you can navigate your way back there. It just goes to show, with nature, you never know what you are going to see. Sparky was happy she did the hike, but recommends that you go EARLY in the morning to avoid the heat. Wear proper shoes, bring plenty of water, clean your camera lens and BRING A FRIEND.  :-)

                                                                          The End

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Jungle in the Middle of Sarasota

Eldo and Sparky had a visit this past month from Eldo's daughter and grandson...We decided to go visit Sarasota's Jungle Gardens while they were here. Sparky had always wanted to go, but thought it was your typical tourist trap, dated, and not all that interesting. Today, she decided to check it out with family to see if her perceptions were accurate, and was glad she did! It's a cool place!

Although it has been open since 1939, Sarasota Jungle Gardens has been updated and refreshed to stay current. It has a wonderful, jungle like atmosphere--10 acres of lush tropical landscaping, free roaming flamingoes, a gift shop, a playground, and a cafe. The paver walkways are beautifully landscaped with over 3,000 different species of trees and shrubs. There are rustic little bridges over lagoons so the scenery is gorgeous as you walk along the paths thru the gardens.

There are mini shows on the premises that last about 20 minutes and they are very entertaining, funny, and informative. There is a reptile show, a jungle bird show, and a wildlife wonder show. You can stop by after the shows and pet or hold birds, snakes, reptiles or alligators and lizards. thank you! says Sparky. But somebody would love that!

There are LOTS of exhibits...Here is a list:

  • Jungle Experience Studio
  • Tiki Gardens
  • Butterfly Gardens--(from February to summer, butterflies are migrating thru FL)
  • Bird Interaction Area
  • Alligator/Crocodile Exhibits
  • Reptile World
  • Birds of Prey
Semi private walkabout tours are available besides the usual walk through, and there are events and promotions going on all year.  Current price of admission in spring 2017 was 17.99 for adults, children 4-16 was 12.99. Hours are 10-5 PM daily. the parking lot is small and fills up fast, but you can park across the street in overfill parking at a church across the street.

Sparky LOVED the jungle birds and the flamingoes.

She always thought flamingoes were kind of ugly in photos, but once you see them in person, they are one of the coolest looking birds!

You can walk right up to them and feed them at the Jungle Gardens. Some of the parents were not closely supervising the feeding, and at one point a small child got pecked by the bird's beak, and started to cry. There was one other instance where a little toddler was scared to death by a flamingo walking up to him. The look of terror on his face made the adults laugh, but seeing a tall flamingo walk up to you as a two year old would be a very terrifying experience!

This little kid was trying to see into one of the pond areas where turtles were walking around....It's a great place to take your children or grandchildren. It really wasn't all that cold out, but maybe this is to a little local guy from FL. Sixties is very cool to Florida natives, lol.

You see all kinds of wildlife here in the gardens, some intentionally displayed and some not. This was an unusual looking spider to us, and it just happened to be on a web between some trees as we were walking.....

Overall, it was a wonderful experience to be at the Sarasota Jungle Gardens today...We highly recommend visiting this marvelous place, and Eldo's 11 year old grandson thoroughly enjoyed it, as did his mom and Sparky.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Bike Riding Beauties

Sparky had been riding her bike in between subbing days, averaging anywhere from 12-20 miles a couple of times a week until she was sidelined with severe tendonitis on an ankle. No idea how that happened except thru ignoring a slight twist that must have happened months ago, then dancing her booty off a couple of months ago, then wearing not enough shoe support while subbing....all of the above, probably. It got to the point where she could hardly walk at the end of the day after subbing. Can't have that, so off to the doctor. The ankle was taped for a few days, and Sparky was told no bike riding (that is one of the worst things you can do for a bad ankle, the doctor said) and no swimming for three weeks. That was tough, following the doctor's orders. Then Sparky got a Trilock ankle brace which was great, and that helped a great deal. It's a little bit of an ordeal to put on, but you get faster at it after a few uses. TONS of velcro everywhere on it, always catches in the wrong place, so you have to keep unpeeling it until you get all the straps on layer by layer. After a month, the ankle still hurts now and then, but physical therapy is about to begin, so that should strengthen it, MAYBE.

Back to bike riding...YIPPEE! And here are some of Sparky's favorite photos from recent bike rides....All the photos are with a Canon SX530, a little point and shoot camera, currently just under 200.00, and it has a nice 50X zoom. If the pictures are with an iPhone, Sparky has captioned them as such.  Red lilies....

An osprey on the nest.....She's feeding two little ones and has a bit of fish caught on her beak.

Here's the dad preening....

March was the month for many sandhill crane hatchings in the area...Sparky took LOADS of photos of the mama and the babies, and here is ONE of her favorites...That's the mama's leg on the right.

Sparky was thrilled to catch a yellow rump warbler sitting still long enough to get a photo.
Blackbirds are a dime a dozen around here, but isn't this one beautiful with the iridescent shades of blue in its feathers?

Sparky's favorite Florida bird, the roseate spoonbill. This one was chosen to be featured in a weekly newspaper in our area...

Sparky likes the bottle brush tree...There are always little busy bees on them....This photo is with the iPhone 6S.

And finally....a limpkin or glossy ibis...It has the head plumage of a limpkin, and the body of the glossy ibis...But Sparky thought it was gorgeous....

Hope you enjoyed today's nature show!  Sparky will be back soon with tales from Sarasota Jungle Gardens, a very cool place to visit if you are in the area....Bye for now....

Monday, April 3, 2017

A Trip to Quaint and Quirky Matlacha, FL

Sparky went to see her sister in Matlacha, (pronounced Mat-la-shay) recently. Her sister comes down every year in March, and has come to this delightful town for over 30 years! They always find a lovely rental to stay in...

post office mural created by Leoma Lovegrove, local artist
Matlacha is a very very small tourist town, population 735 or so. It is located on Pine Island, 17 miles long and 2 miles wide, and is one of five very small communities on the island. If you are interested in Matlacha as a vacation destination, you will not find sandy white beaches and you won't find high rises. What you will find is a quirky, quaint little town with artsy shops,  galleries, some fabulous murals, great restaurants, and a one main street through town. Don't blink or you will miss it and then you are off on a journey to the next fishing village/community.

typical colorful storefront on the main drag

Matlacha has an interesting, relatively new local history chapter. Up until 1992, it was an "old"
Florida fishing village. In 1992, voters passed a ban on net fishing to protect other fish from being caught with the popular mullet. That didn't sit well with the fishermen.  They shot holes in their boats and then set them on fire in protest.  Guess it was quite the fire and was seen from as far away as Sanibel Island. That was the end of the fishing industry in Matlacha! So Matlacha reinvented itself as an artist community, and it's very well known for its bright funky colors and cute little shops that line the one street through town....Even the telephone poles have murals on them! However, if you want to fish, there are charter boats that will take you out for a terrific day out in the gulf.
another interesting looking shop
There are a few small motels, and quite a few vacation cottage rentals. They are pricey, but that's southwest Florida for you....Here is one rental my sister and brother-in-law found while they were here this year....

And another little cottage rental....situated on the docks!

The tiny island has six galleries..In February, there is a Fine Art Festival, and art lovers and collectors come from all over the world to browse...If you love the island life, this is the place for you! Plenty of kayaking, no stoplights, no schools on the island, and it's "island time".....that means NOBODY is in a hurry to get anywhere... As an additional little known fact, Matlacha also has supposedly SEVEN Civil War shipwrecks in and around the waters of Matlacha Pass and Pine Island. Divers, anyone?
Bus stop in park bench

If you love to kayak, just keep in mind that "Matlacha" in Calusa native American means "shallow waters"...Sparky kayaked with her sister, and you could have easily walked beside your kayak in a LOT of the areas we were in. Of course, the tide was out, too.... :-) There are several kayak rentals places in the area if you don't own one. It was so shallow, we saw crab traps with decent size crabs in them. If you look hard, you can see one in this trap.

As far as dining, Bert's Bar is a required stop for ANYONE visiting Matlacha...fantastic views of the water, great beach bread, (sort of a garlic cheese bread with mayo and garlic and other stuff) and terrific seafood. That one just happens to be Sparky's favorite. Bert's Bar will be remembered this year because Sparky leaned over the dock to check for fish, and her sunglasses fell off her head and  into the water, down, down, down they went. Oh, well...not expensive ones, just about the tenth pair of "fit over" sunglasses from Walmart....She should get prescription sunglasses! Maybe....
At Bert's Bar
In surrounding communities, there are many more restaurants with good food. The Lazy Flamingo in Bokeelia, a nearby community, is another great restaurant where we had a wonderful lunch. On the way back, we stopped at a little art shop in Bokeelia...and saw this mailbox in front of the shop. Oh, my! Told you it was a quirky place! :-)

The only drawbacks to this destination, Matlacha, is the constant flow of traffic thru the one street town surrounded by water on both sides. The traffic is TERRIBLE during season. You just crawl at about ten miles an hour or less to get through town. Parking is at a premium, there is not enough on the island! and involves backing out of tight spaces onto the one main street and hoping somebody will be on "island time" and let you out, stopping and holding up the rest of the traffic while you exit your parking place. Despite the lack of parking and the jockeying to find a place, my sister plans to come back again next year. They already have their rental picked out! Sparky is happy because sis lives so far away in Michigan that this is a great time to see her and get together.....It's a little over an hour's drive from Sarasota. Wonderful! See you again next year, Sis!
Lyle and Sparky