Sunday, March 31, 2013

Deja Vue All Over Again

Sarasota, FL       High:  71    Low:   48

Ever feel like you are in the movie "Groundhog Day" (that one with Bill Murray) where you keep repeating the day over and over? That's sort of what we are doing this week...We're out and about checking neighborhoods and home models in Sarasota again. It's too cold to do anything else! Although it is warming up, today didn't get to 71, it was only in the mid sixties, so we went looking at more neighborhoods. We checked out Englewood, FL and liked what we saw there....Rather than bore everyone with the names of this subdivision, that subdivision, we will only say that the number of active lifestyles communities in this area is mind boggling. And trying to figure out the amenities fees balancing out the prices of homes, what makes it too expensive or rules it out for us is confusing, to say the least. There are many different fees in different communities in this area and it's a real job to figure them all out, what's included with the taxes, what's not. Eldy is really great at that, so Sparky lets him "do the math".

You have your community development fees, you have your homeowner association fees, you have maintenance free neighborhoods which the homeowner's fees covers, you don't have maintenance free neighborhoods. You have little clubhouse with little pools, big clubhouses with little pools, big clubhouses with bars/restaurants, no restaurants. You have minimum club dining fees or no dining minimums. You have golf clubhouses with no pools but there are community pools. Activities? Lots or NOT! What!??? NO PICKLEBALL??? Our heads are spinning like crazy so we'll probably take another break from all the looking soon....Sparky lets Eldy do the major research, she does the "I like it! Let's get it" approach on just about everything she sees, then a little while later, she says, "Mm-m-m-mm, I don't think this will work." All she knows is, she loves looking at how the homes are decorated.  :-) Sunny and bright!

Again, we went past the lake/pond in Lakewood Ranch where the pelicans are roosting for a few days before they move on.....

They seem to be congregating in the same pond for the last couple of days.

Sparky loves the way they swim together, first one way, then another. They swim around together in tandem so to speak, like all one body, like a school of fish. People would come along, or a mean driver would honk, and they would take off together en masse for the opposite side of the pond.
We also saw several sets of cranes. They are an endangered, protected species of bird, so they certainly don't hesitate to cross the streets in Lakewood Ranch and meander around wherever they feel like it!

We looked for the two roseate spoonbills with their little one that we saw yesterday, and at the last minute we saw them mingling in with the pelicans in the pond. Sparky's battery went dead on her good camera so we couldn't get a shot of them today, but we are going to try again tomorrow.....The Great Blue herons were out in full force, Sparky counted five on the bank in one area. This one was her favorite. He was the closest and didn't spook when she walked nearby.
Although it was cold, it was a lovely day...Had fun looking at houses, had fun looking at the birds, even saw large gators in the ponds in the community of Lakewood Ranch and finally, we enjoyed a meal out for supper. We finished out the evening with a very reasonable "happy hour" dinner at the Pineapple restaurant in Venice (11.99 for a prime rib dinner) and then stopped off to get some frozen yogurt at Earth Fruits Yogurt. Yummy stuff!

Time to take a rest...We'll see you later!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

They are Here!

Sarasota, FL       High:  78     Low:  61

Eldy's son, Brian and his wife, Lori, and their two kids, Cate and Trevor came down for spring break.  Their friends and their three children drove down with them, and everybody is here for the week at Sun 'n' Fun. Brian loved Sun 'n' Fun so much when they were here for Christmas, they booked a park model home for spring break. It didn't take long for the kids to hit the pool right after they got here, like twenty minutes after arriving.
They had a ball the first few hours they were here....Happy to be out of northern Indiana weather, happy to be in sunny Sarasota, happy to be back at Sun 'n' Fun.
Eldy's grandson, Trevor
It didn't take long for the adults to find the bar and grill for Happy Hour. It had been a long two days traveling in the car with kids! Eldy thought he'd join them and buy them a beer or two for having survived the trip!
Eldy, Steve, and Eldy's son, Brian
Sparky took all the kids to the pool in the evening so the moms had down time....Brooklyn had a ball diving for coins that Sparky threw in.....Some guy at the pool threw in a couple of quarters for her, as it reminded him of when his little girl used to dive for coins. He told me Brooklyn could keep them.
Sun 'n' Fun has a jumping pad, and after some more time at the pool, we headed over to the jumping pad to wear the kids out some more.
Sparky was worn out just from watching everybody have fun! Time to head home, guys! We'll see them all tomorrow....Happy Easter, everyone!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Bird Bonanza in the Middle of a Subdivision

Sarasota, FL          High:   71      Low:   47

After we got done looking at houses yesterday, we were driving through the burg of Lakewood Ranch,  don't know if that's an annexed part of Bradenton/Sarasota, or just a huge subdivision/community. Whatever it is, it's the 9th largest master planned community in the country. We were just kind of looking around and WHAM! We saw a TON of white pelicans and other birds in one of the lakes in this community....There are LOTS of lakes in Lakewood Ranch, but these birds were all congregated in ONE small lake today.
"Maybe if I skulk down, they won't see me."
And wood storks....

BUNCHES of wood storks, an endangered species....
And Sparky's favorite Florida bird, the roseate spoonbill--TWO of them, Mom and Dad. AND JACKPOT--their little one! Not so little at this point. Their offspring is on the far right. He doesn't have the ruby red plumage yet.
Here's a better look at the little one....Awwww, isn't he (or she) cute?
"Oh, Great One...Do you have any advice for me?" "Well, sonny, it's like this....."
We saw them flying and landing...
And having conversations with each other....
"Promise you won't look?"
Maybe a tri-colored heron?
A young (?) sandhill crane with beautiful brown plumage....

Fantastic variety of birds today....all hanging out at a little lake in Bradenton/Sarasota....
All doin' their thing.....
What a fantastic day!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Chinese Drywall

Sarasota, FL           High:  64    Low:   43

Man, was it windy today! Steady 30 mph. winds!  It only got to 60 so we decided to head back to Lakewood Ranch to look at houses with our very capable realtor, Brenda Wilson of Keller and Williams. We've been looking hard for a couple of weeks, then we took a break for a couple of weeks for awhile, just not sure if we are ready to think about settling down and coming off the road. We're still not sure, but we decided to go looking once again.....It's fun! And it's a great thing to do when it's too cold to go to the beaches and too cold to sit outside and read a book, and no good movies at the movie theater. If we find the right house at the right price, we might change our minds! But first, the researching, and remember, Eldy researches things for a long time before deciding to do anything. So no worries, mate. We are still fulltiming, and planning to leave April 7th for other parts of Florida.

No photos today except of ones from the Internet relating to Chinese dry wall. This is an informational blog today!

We saw some great houses...We saw one awful one... We had a good laugh when the minute Sparky walked into the house, she said, "That's it for me, let's leave." It was dark, it was filled with heavy, dark, ornate furnishings and humongous oil paintings covering the walls, and brand new deep burgundy carpet in the bedroom. Dark, dark, dark. Brenda said, "Hope there's no audio with the security system" as we exited the house rather quickly....We laughed....

One house that caught our interest had no furnishings in it. It appeared totally new on the inside...but the cabinetry in the kitchen and bath was awful, and cheap looking. This house had had Chinese drywall in it. There was full disclosure sitting on the kitchen counter for prospective buyers. Apparently, there are all kind of health hazards with drywall in Florida homes installed from about 2001-2007 when Florida had a total of 7 or more hurricanes. The builders couldn't keep up with demand, so they imported drywall from China. Florida has 56% of the drywall claims, the most of any state affected, the rest being in Texas, Louisiana and a couple other states. Apparently, the drywall gives off sulphur fumes that smell like rotten eggs, especially when the doors and windows are closed and the chemical reactions with the drywall and surrounding electrical, plumbing, corrosion of metal components and copper lines cause rapid deterioration and failure of electrical appliances. It creates an ashy grey residue on air conditioner coils and any copper lines in the walls, and other appliances and wiring that have ground wires.

The drywall can cause health issues--breathing, respiratory problems, bloody noses, persistent sore throats, sleeping problems, allergies and asthma. Yikes! Now we have something else to think about when looking at houses....the date the house was built or remodeled....It is not clear anywhere on the internet that Sparky could find, what regions in Florida are most affected, but she is assuming it's the hurricane prone east and west coasts of Florida. It is also very unclear which builders used this, but a couple are suing the manufacturers of the drywall from Asia. There are websites (mainly lawyer ones, naturally) that tell you what to look for inside the home if someone is concerned about this. Drywall gets painted, plastered, and covered, so the tip about looking for "Made in China," or look for "China" stamped on the board, or "Knauf", the German builder that imported this drywall, is probably not the most helpful tip! We bet there are a ton of scammers out there willing to test a home for Chinese drywall and charge a ton of money for doing it, and a ton of lawyers ready to take someone's money on this issue.

We actually gave some serious thought to this one particular house. It had been gutted to the studs and totally redone. It would be like purchasing a new home at a FAR lower price. It had had an inspection by an engineering firm that the house was free and clear of the offending drywall. BUT--the homeowner fees were high for the neighborhood--those HOA (Homeowner's Association fees) were 360.00 a month...too high for us...That does cover a swanky clubhouse, maintenance and landscaping. But there was ZERO view in the backyard, what little backyard there was--a high retaining wall blocked the view of a major thoroughfare through Lakewood Ranch, the area where we've been looking lately. Not the best lot....So, we'll keep looking.....And watching out for Chinese drywall.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Jazz Jam Monday Night at Ocean Blues

Sarasota, FL        High:  59  (Record low for Sarasota for this day!)   Low:  43

Sparky kept busy playing pickleball this morning, while Eldy went exploring the Englewood area...
Six games later, Sparky was worn out...Sparky was informed by better players this morning that she can no longer claim "newbie" status playing pickleball. She's got a MEAN, fast forehand that managed to slam just over the net past her opponents many times this morning. Yay! That's a good thing! Guess she's an intermediate player now.

These past few days have been like riding a roller coaster.  The temperatures are down, the wind is up. So is the surf! Hardly anybody is hanging out at the beaches, so we found other things to do...The old retiree standbys...Read a book, surf the web....For Sparky, making something. Here's her latest project....a hat for her youngest daughter. It's selling for 93.00 on Etsy, and Sparky knows how much work goes into something like this, but we can't afford to spend 93.00 on a hat, even if it is really cute. So, Sparky is off and running to find a pattern and crocheting a beret to be attached to the visor. She thinks she can do this!

Off to Ocean Blues this evening for Jazz Jam....Our appetites for great music were whetted by the Give Hunger the Blues event in downtown Sarasota yesterday. We know from previous trips to Ocean Blues that great talent is here in Sarasota and we weren't disappointed this evening. Our musician friend Steve Arvey, a wonderful guitarist, was there, he always gives a great performance and a little bit of silliness to go along with it. He was channeling Dustin Hoffman's "The Rainman" there for a little while.

Steve's got a great sense of humor...And now he's selling hot sauce!

So naturally, Sparky had to buy some for her other daughter who loves hot sauce! Arvey is following in the footsteps of the "Sauce Boss" Bill Wharton, we think! Hope he does well with his sauce line...

One thing that's cool about Jazz Jam on Monday nights at Ocean Blues (8:00 PM-11:00 PM) you never know who's going to show up besides the usual cast of characters...Steve Arvey, Shane Chalke who plays fantastic trumpet, another fella who is an awesome trumpet player, (you're going to have to start taking names, Sparky! chides E.) ........
the OTHER trumpet player with a cool shirt
Shane Chalke, the trumpet player sure fires up his horn every time we hear him. He's talked to Eldy a few times about his trumpet.
He has a special trumpet, made in Oregon, that he played this evening. It was a beauty!
Eldy always love to see the brass instruments up close. He made trumpets, trombones, flugelhorns, marching instruments, baritones, mellophones, herald horns for the Olympics, rotor trombones, and French horns all his working career, for 43 years. He loves to see the instruments up close and personal. You never know, he may have buffed one of these horns that these retired guys play.

We saw Bryan Pope (?), the drummer, and a fantastic keyboard player, who will have to remain nameless for a little while longer. We'll have to get his name, too. Bryan, the drummer, talked to us for awhile. He's quite the tennis player, and he said that's how he keeps in shape after Sparky asked him if drumming gets harder as you get older. He playfully acted like he was going to pass out at our table when Sparky asked him that as he came off the floor. :-)

A guy came up to the stage to sing Ray Charles's "Georgia". His name was Carlton. He blew everybody's socks off with his version. His range of vocals was incredible on this song!

He got a rousing ovation at the end. Steve Arvey, the organizer of Jazz Jam, even said in shock, "Where's this guy been for the past seven years down here?????" Carlton was AMAZING!

We LOVE Ocean Blues...the atmosphere is like a cozy supper club...The musicians come around and actually talk to you. You really get to know them.. The owner, Scott, always has a warm welcome for his patrons. He remembers us every time we come, and he reads the blog! We think Sarasota has a lot of retired musicians who used to play for big bands and groups and have settled here and that's why there is so much talent and so many musical venues in the city. Jazz Jam is Monday nights, blues are on Friday nights, and on Saturday nights, there is a BIG group of 11 musicians, called Ocean's 11 that play at 7:00 PM. We'll be back again and again while we are here, that's for sure!

Sarasota has a LOT of culture, it's a wonderful town and there are so many different things to see here, and not just music. There are a lot of artists, there's the circus community, opera, ballet, two or more state parks nearby, the beaches, shopping, it's just a wonderful, wonderful city....We'd really love to live here....But for now...we are visitors who love, love, love this city!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Giving Hunger the Blues 2013

Sarasota FL       High:   65     Low:  50

You know, there are so many charitable causes around that are begging for your hard earned dollars. We found one today that was really wonderful and one close to Sparky's ever lovin', teachin' heart. It was called "Giving Hunger the Blues" and boy, what a combination--great music and feeding hungry school kids! Sparky thinks it's great when people want to donate their time and energy to causes of all kinds. We try to do that, too, but we should do more! Sparky does her best to contribute to the local economy, does that count? Just a little joke! Sparky has a special wish and hope that more people donate time, energy, and monies to where people hurt right here in THIS country. How about right here in this county? FIFTY percent of all school age children in one of the wealthiest counties in Florida, Sarasota County, are on free and reduced lunch and are going hungry on the weekends.

Downtown Sarasota had a terrific block party today to raise funds for All Faiths Food Bank, to provide backpacks and food for the county's hungry kids. The food bank provides 88,000 meals a week for hungry families who can't make ends meet, elderly seniors, and parents in minimum wage jobs.

The donation to get in today, was just 5.00, enough to buy FORTY meals...(Sparky needs to find out where they shop, laughs E.) She knows. :-)   The food comes from a huge portion of donations from the public, from the US Department of Agriculture, surplus donations from restaurants, etc. All the donations today went to fund children's food programs--Cooking Matters, Kid’s Cafe, The Backpack Program and Growing Healthy Kids.

Sparky knows all about hungry just about every school corporation she taught in, there were hungry kids in her classrooms every day. It didn't matter whether it was Mishawaka, IN, Grayling, MI, or Angola, IN, kids came to class hungry. Sparky used to keep a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter (before peanut allergies became so prevalent) in her classroom and fed kids who didn't get enough food at home.

We had a great time today and so did a BUNCH of kids that came out with their families.....Lots of arcade type activities for the kids, great food from local restaurants, and awesome music.

Did we say the music was wonderful?...Lots of rockin' the blues, bands, ensembles and entertainment all afternoon long. The threat of rain held off and Sparky got her mojo on, first seated, but that didn't last long.

Then, she was up, standing close to the front of the stage, dancing in place. Fogt's All Stars played some awesome blues and rocked the stage. Love that green trombone, but Eldy says that coating a trombone like that affects the sound in a negative way. The trombone player sounded pretty darn good, though!
They had a couple of sax players and a trombone player that were really movin' to the music on stage, and you could tell they were having a ball playing with the group. Fogt's Music store had several of their guitar teachers in the loosely organized band for special occasions, numbering around twelve musicians. 
We've seen several of these musicians playing at Ocean Blues supper club in downtown Sarasota on Monday night Blues Jam nights. If you're gonna sing the blues, you need blue shades, right?

Eldy was caught checking out the Aveda "HAIRstream", ...Maybe he thought he could get  haircut today! Haha...It was more a makeup trailer than a salon...
They had another stage devoted to youth bands...The louder, the better! We didn't stay long at this end. There were some great young performers out today.....
We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves for a great cause today.....Less kids will go hungry this year due to the wonderful support of the many folks who turned out today in great numbers.....Great food, great music, great times!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Much About Matlache

Sarasota, FL      High:  76    Low:  61

Had a WONDERFUL visit with my sister, Lyle today, in Matlache...Matlache is a cool, artsty, fartsy little village with lots of little colorful boutiques, shops, bars and restaurants.

We went kayaking...
My sister in her cute little hat
Saw a dolphin while we were out on the have to look hard to see the fin....He played around us a lot before moving on....

And walked through the shops of this kitschy fishing, artsy boutique shopping town....Some talented artists..Here's a lady that makes fish from palm leaves..

Some scenes from some of the cool little shops.....
Some more really cool little shops.....and items outside the shops.....Very colorful buildings, cool stuff for sale, wonderful galleries, lots of jewelry places, and touristy little boutiques, too. But they are always fun to go into and check out anyway.

Came back to her cute little rental place....right on the water in Matlache.....

Ate some wonderful Chinese food for supper, and called it a terrific day spent with my sis! All the more precious as she has battled breast cancer three times and is a survivor. She had a double mastectomy in January to try and beat this disease with a vengeance.  With a great sense of humor and a loving husband, she makes the most of every day. Love you, sis, and thanks for going kayaking with me!
Lyle and Sparky