Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Beautiful Botanical Garden in Our Midst

Sparky just LOVES botanical gardens....Everywhere we went on our travels, if there was one, Sparky had to go see it. Sarasota has an AMAZING one, it's called Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and it is right downtown Sarasota.

What's so special about this place? Well, let her tell you! First, it's a bayfront and boats and fishing boats on the bay on one of the sides of the gardens...Second, it's a world class facility for research, education, and conservation. Third, it's got a conservatory that is like being in a tropical rainforest. It's got some VERY cool plants in it. Last month, it had the corpse flower, a nasty smelling flower that blooms very seldom. More about that in a minute. Fourth, it has an epiphyte garden (air plants) with a koi pond and a waterfall with a Japanese gong that people love to ring. BONG! Sparky does, too. :-)

Fifth, a tropical rainforest environment for kids and grownup kids like Sparky. LOTS of cool instruments to play,

Another instrument.....

Play areas in general...LOVE these frogs!

Wandering areas to explore all about the rainforest for families with kids and grownup kids--a suspension bridge, an exploration laboratory with a staff member, waterfalls, boardwalks in and among huge oaks... Sparky could have spent HOURS in the gardens today, but rain threatened.  Still...LOTS and LOTS of the most amazingly beautiful plants and statues....
This one looks REALLY exotic..have no idea of the name of it, but the plants are labeled in the gardens....

Caladium blooming everywhere...You see a lot of caladium in landscaping here in Bradenton and Sarasota, but these specimens were extra beautiful.

A Japanese pergola with beautiful stain glass panels of birds....
Cool colorful sculptures...
(HEY, SPARKY! What about the corpse plant? The main reason you went there today! reminds E.) Oh, yeah...that was really cool. The gardens spent a lot of time hyping up the corpse plant. It is supposed to have a BIG stench between rotting flesh and really awful sweaty sox. It got a big buildup in the local paper. Well-l-l-l-l..honestly? It wasn't that bad. Yeah, something smelled rotten in Denmark when you first walked into the conservatory but only for a second, and then the smell dissipated. But the worst smell is within 24-48 hours, so Sparky could have visited at the tail end of the worst. The corpse plant is very unusual in that it only flowers every 3-7 years, and Selby had not one, but TWO of them blooming at the same time, which was even more rare! They named them Seymour and Audrey, (from the Little Shop of Horrors, a great musical about a carnivorous man eating plant.)

The plant is over 6 feet tall! It comes from Sumatra, Indonesia. The flower heats up to about 100 degrees to attract bugs, flies, and other insects to pollinate.

See, Sparky told you it was a cool place! The gardens is a FANTASTIC place to spend many hours....and a terrific place for families, a first class facility. Don't miss it if you come to Sarasota.

Bye for now.....

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Sight for Sore Eyes

Living in southwest Florida, in Sarasota and Bradenton, there are an amazing number of great places to visit and learn about. The tourists know about the major ones-- Ringling Museum, the circus museum, Mote Marine Laboratory, Siesta Key Beach, Benderson Park, (home of national and world rowing events), Anna Maria Island, the fishing, the boating, the kayaking and much more. Tourists soon find out about our wonderful cultural events, music events, and quirky events.  Anything and everything you could think of, it's probably here. No wonder we settled down here as permanent residents!

One of the coolest places Sparky has visited since she's been here is the Southeastern Guide Dog Institute, located in Palmetto, FL on a 33 acre campus. The institute is internationally accredited, and one of the most respected guide dog schools in the United States. The institute is totally self supported by donations and fund raising, and receives no government funding. Visually impaired students are paired with trained guide dogs at NO CHARGE to the students. The institute not only offered guide dogs for a variety of situations for the visually impaired, but they also have dog training classes both private and group.

Puppies are born and bred at the institute. At four weeks, they are sort of like in a preschool for puppies. They introduced to sights, sounds, and tactile experiences. They learn introductory commands. Then at 10 weeks, they leave for "boarding school", sent to homes of volunteer puppy raisers here in the nearby communities where they are taught socialization skills and obedience just as you would teach your own puppy. At 14-18 months, they come back to the institute and their personalities are assessed for what type of dog companion they will be best suited for. They have a "major", just like human students do, depending upon their temperament. The majors are: 1) guide dog, 2)  service dog, 3) facility therapy dog, 4) breeder dog and 5) "gifted and talented" with three subdivisions--a public service dog--bomb, arson, firearms and drug detection dog, a canine connection dog--companions for kids with visual impairments or an ambassador dog--going into the community to teach others about the Southeastern Guide Dog Institute. Each major has specific training levels and requirements.

Guide dog major: 6 months of formal harness training plus 26 days of student/handler training. This is where the student comes to campus to live and work with his assigned dog before returning home with the dog, at NO CHARGE to the student.

Service dog major: six months of formal training, 12 days of student handler vets with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Facility therapy: Dogs live with military staff members and provide therapy services to veterans and families in military facilities.

Genetics and reproduction: Dogs spend some time during their reproductive years with volunteer host families. The dogs belong to the institute until they retire as a breeder dog, then they can be adopted. Each host family has a breeder dog, loves and care for them, and watches for when the dogs go into heat. Then they are brought to the campus for breeding, to return back home with the family. Veterinary care is provided on campus at no charge for the host families during the dog's reproductive years. Wow!

Within the Guide Dog Institute are individual programs for specific types of visual impairment. There is Paws for Independence, where dogs have learned over 40 commands and the dogs and new visually impaired owners work and train together for 26 days on campus. By the time their training is complete, they will have walked around Tampa and Sarasota, navigated city streets, stairs, buses, malls, elevators, and lots more.

There is Paws for Patriots, with lots of support for post traumatic stress disorders, wounded soldiers or family members in veterans' medical facilities, and emotional support dogs are available for companionship and emotional support in the home.

The Gifted Canines are for visually impaired kids from 10-17 and for other community purposes. There are talented dogs for search and rescue in this group as well, and this is where you find the dogs used for bomb detection and arson and the dogs you see accompanying volunteers in hospitals and schools and other such places.

Right now, the campus is under major renovation and construction, so some tours and experiences are not available for the public. They are building a Puppy Academy and a Splash Park among other things. Normally, there are more experiences available such as puppy kindergarten adventure tours (25.00) and tours of the facilities. For right now, the only option was to take a guide dog experience tour, for ages 12 and up, which Sparky signed up for. You have to reserve in advance, no walk ins.  It was very cool! For a nominal charge of 15.00, (which helps them feed the puppies) you learn all about the guide dogs,  and get to walk a blindfold walk with a guide dog and volunteer.

It was really cool...You don't go very far with the dog, but immediately you get a sense of having to trust the dog. The "blindfold" glasses make it completely dark, completely black. It was a very unsettling experience for a few seconds. The dog stops when there's even a crack in the sidewalk. The dogs are of course, wonderful...sweet...and eager to please. Sparky truly enjoyed her guide dog experience today. It was about an hour, and she would have loved to have seen more. Going to have to come back another day and do the puppy kindergarten experience! These dogs are truly superheroes. And just to prove that, Sarasota has dogs displayed all over town to celebrate this terrific place and their wonderfully trained dogs.... Hope you enjoyed hearing about the dogs today...


Friday, August 5, 2016

Hot Bodies--A Florida Lifeguarding Contest at Hot Siesta Key Beach

You know that Siesta Key Beach has been rated #1 in the U.S awhile back? It still continues to get first class accolades from all kinds of places. It's got fantastic white sands, upgraded parking and upgraded facilities this past year, so it's a really hoppin' place for tourists. There's a wonderful playground for kids....
And interestingly, these concrete chaise lounges...Wouldn't think they would be very comfortable, would you?

It's a HUGE beach as well, the perfect playground for adults, too! And, the home of many special contests and events...Sandcastle competitions, beach volleyball competitions, and of course, lifeguarding competitions.

However, we don't go there much because there is ZERO shade other than a few concrete pavilions. Of course, silly Sparky, you don't go to the beach to sit in shade, but we do, because of skin concerns. We are of that age where spots are starting to have to be removed and we've both had  pre-cancer spots removed. But when Sparky heard that there was a LIFEGUARDING contest at the beach, she just HAD to go! (Sparky was a lifeguard for many years in her teens and twenties).

The U.S. Lifesaving Association Southeast Region Lifeguard Championships were being held. The purpose is to build camaraderie and competition and public awareness--"Swim Near a Lifeguard" bumper stickers were being given out. Smart advice! Sparky would swim near any of these lifeguards any time! There were over 200 participants from all over the state of Florida.

Competitions included a surfboat race, Ironman and Ironwoman, a surf ski race, a run-swim-run race and more. A team representing Sarasota County was among the lifeguards participating. Just think of all those hot bodies that were going to be in attendance! Yep, gotta go....Never mind that the temperature was record breaking hot as well--mid nineties...ugh....

Sparky only stayed for a short time, it was so hot! Where was Eldo? Playing golf that day, which now in hindsight, he is sorry he missed it. :-) Sparky texted him updates, like this one...Sparky thinks the Volusia team had the best suits and the best, they ALL looked good to this 66 year old!

Once she got there, she observed that there were a TON of women there as well. Somehow, she thought it would be far more men than women. Nope! It was about 50-50 as far as gender. She observed the men's rescue boat races, several heats. 

And the women's...
All the competitors wore these colorful caps so they could be identified by their team as it was difficult to identify who's where in the water! Sparky was glad to see suntan lotion used, but not on a lot of these kids...tch! tch! (That's Sparky, clicking her tongue and shaking her head) 

Minimal suits needed....For increased speed and performance in the water, don'tcha know!

And yet, functional....

The oldest competitor was 81!!!!! And he looked pretty darn good for his age! His name was Tommy Hogan, and he was from the Town of Palm Beach. (That's the name of the town.) Sparky was trying to get his photo, but didn't want to be too obvious. She missed it...and then there were some REALLY young kids competing...

The participants looked like they were really enjoying the contests....
The boards were cool....

The swimwear was awesome...and sometimes interesting...Guess the guy is wearing the midriff tank for skin protection? Sparky was trying to read his swim trunks from a respectable distance, haha...

It was a fun couple of hours at the beach this morning...With the water temperature of the gulf approaching 90 degrees, Sparky didn't want to get in the ocean today....But, it was another wonderful day in paradise, even if it it too dang hot in the summer! Bye for now.....

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A Quick Trip to Virginia

Sparky wanted to see her daughter in Virginia......After two weeks at home, after returning from Alaska, Sparky was ready to go again, trying to get out of the FL heat...HA! It was just as hot in Virginia as it was back in Bradenton, but she still had fun....Four days went by so fast! Kelly has a sweetheart of a dog, Moxie, and she is the best behaved dog ever...

The first full day, Sparky went on a bike ride on the Washington and Old Dominion bike trail, one of those rails-to-trails she loves. Sparky, Jr., (Kelly) had work to do, so it was a solo bike ride in the morning....Kelly lives in a beautiful area, full of trails and forested areas with plenty of hiking available...But it was too hot for that, so a bike ride sufficed...

The Washington Old Dominion Trail is 45 miles of paved, 9 foot wide asphalt with a painted yellow center line. It follows power lines overhead for much of the way, which always makes Sparky wonder if that could be hazardous to your health over a long period of time. Just 'cuz she worries about stuff like that. But it's beautiful.....Parts of it are very shady.....And there are long parts out in the open as well....Parts of the trail run through busy town centers, with busy street crossings, and other parts you can go for miles and not see as much city life.

There's a horse path alongside for much of the trail as well, so you see signs like this:

But Sparky didn't see any horse riders out today......She did see a fawn...Which was quite surprising as there were lots of residential and business areas right along side this portion of the trail.

There are lots of stopping points along the way for food and drink. Sparky's favorite is the Carolina Brothers Pit BBQ restaurant which has THE best pulled pork sandwich, but when she went by it, they weren't open yet. Phooey! It's a popular stop for riders along the trail. The last time Sparky was here, there were TONS of riders lined up and waiting outside for tables. It's that good!

There are candy shops, taverns, and plenty of rest stops and cute little town stops along the way....In Herndon, there's a terrific bike shop where you can rent bikes, but it's a little on the pricey side, 40.00 for four hours, but hey, it's near D.C. It's called the Green Lizard Cycling Shop and they are terrific! They also have terrific smoothies and by the time the weekend was over, Sparky had had three of them. Sparky stopped plenty of times to take photos of things that caught her eye, like this giant dandelion, a lowly weed, but she thought it was beautiful!
On the weekend, we went to a farmer's market....It was terrific! Sparky had fun taking photos of all the veggies and the flowers...

Sparky, Jr. just kind of rolled her eyes. What do you do with all those veggie photos? Delete 'em later....But Sparky is very into textures and filters that other people use these days, so who knows? Maybe she will dabble in digital arts more....She only has 3,000+ photos on her computer...That's not too bad, is it? :-)

The rest of the weekend....We went to a Washington Nationals baseball game with a bunch of twenty somethings from a local brewery....They were already drinking heavily by the time they got on the bus. That was quite an initiation for Sparky after living in a golfing community of 80+ year olds for three years. At the time, we were both thinking, "What WERE WE THINKING?" but it turned out ok...kinda amusing, actually. A couple of the people on the bus weren't at the ball game, as far as we could tell, we think they spent a lot of time in the bathroom, missing a great game. What a terrific stadium! Lots of cool music and sound and light effects. Kelly made friends with a neighbor baseball fan who was some sort of scientist/brewing engineer (?) for a brewing company who was great company during the game. She had fun. Sparky had fun, too, and she doesn't even like baseball all that much! It was raining hard when we got there, and then it quit, and a rainbow graced the park....And the Nationals won! Sparky enjoyed the game very much...and the food! Lots of choices!

Another bike ride, the next day, this time Sparky and daughter together...Yay! It was beautiful...We went past a city or county park, not sure which, and off to the side, you had to be looking, was the most beautiful marsh FULL of lotus flowers...Oh, my gosh, HUNDREDS of them! One of the most beautiful nature scenes Sparky has ever seen.....We did 16 miles together...It was awesome!
Sparky's last day visiting her daughter was a quiet Sunday...We got some Duck Donuts, which are by far, the VERY BEST DONUTS EVER! because they make them from scratch, while you wait. Cake donuts... And they are well worth waiting for, warm, fresh out of the oven. YUM!

We binge watched "Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries" on Netflix together, what a great show! Takes place in the twenties or thirties, not sure which, strong female lead..It's a cute show.......Too soon, it was time for Sparky to leave....Time to get back to Eldy, who was holding down the fort back home, and that wonderful Florida summer weather..   HA! but really, it's been abnormally hot all over the US, so Sparky doesn't whine as much as she used to...(Really? says an incredulous E. You could have fooled me...haha, just kidding...she's been pretty good lately, folks, not complaining as much.)

Sparky says, "It was a fabulous visit, we had some great meals, some great exercise, and it's always wonderful to see my girls....I miss them very much, they are so far away, both of them!"

OK, one last photo from the lotus marsh....

Next up, a lifeguard contest at Siesta Key Beach! Hot bodies, galore! Bet THAT got everybody's attention..(Sure got mine! laughs E.) He had to play golf and missed it...You might have to wait a few days, Sparky is crafting up a storm, but check back and see us soon...More fabulous nature happening in Bradenton, FL, too! Bye......