Friday, December 31, 2010

The Cold Takes Hold…

The morning after Janice had come down with a sore throat, I woke with a sharp pain in my Sinuses. I played volleyball anyway and the sinuses never bothered me. It was when I stopped that it came back with a vengeance. We went and got stocked up with some Nyquil/Dayquil for Janice and some Extra Strength Sudafed for me.

It was sunny but crisp so we decided against an invitation for a bike ride and, instead, took a drive to Tampa’s Apollo Beach where a lot of Manatees are reported to hang out. They usually make an appearance because of the warm water emitted from a huge power plant there.

Apparently a lot of other people had the same idea because, as we approached, there were cars lined up a mile or so each way from the entrance to the parking lot. As we approached the parking lot a woman indicated to me that there was a spot ahead and, when we got into the parking lot, there were, indeed, lots of parking spots. There's little else to tell about the excursion because, as it turns out, Manatees are docile to the extreme. We watched them hover and surface, ever so slowly, for a few minutes and then saw some Stingrays and a few sharks swimming amongst them. Apparently Manatees have no natural predators. Even so, they’re endangered - I can see why - they likely die of boredom.

Pictured are the Manatees at Apollo Beach. We still may seek them out again in a more natural environment.

For dinner that night I made a Caesar Salad with four big cloves of garlic. A salad designed to decimate The Cold germs within - to kick that cold right on out in a heap - slamming it to earth, heaving for breath.

By morning however, not only had The Salad failed to vanquish The Cold, but the power was out too. Luckily for us we have propane heat and a propane stove.

I turned down another invitation to golf with the guys because of my sore sinuses and instead, Janice and I went for a short bike ride in the sunshine, which was followed by Janice making Margaritas for Jim and Rose and The Other Jim and Cheryl.

Neighbour Jim paid $1,500 for his recumbent bike a couple of months ago and the tires have already split, so the dealer, which is in Floral City, agreed to replace them at no cost. We said we'd go with them and planned on a ride at the same time. Jim and I played volleyball for an hour in the morning and then we all drove to Floral City. The bike shop replaced the tires while we lunched on cheeseburgers at the Shamrock Café, before riding to Inverness and back - about 17 miles.

Pictured, through the windshield, is the entrance to Floral City.

By the end of the ride Janice said she felt she had pretty well shaken the cold. That means I should be cold free too, by tomorrow.

Pictured are the four of us at the lake at Inverness.

On Saturday we’re moving to Homosassa Springs about fifty miles north. Because of the New Year holiday we have to return our Cable and Internet devices today before 1:00pm. Some other neighbours, Tom & Sharon, have offered to by us lunch at their favourite mexican restaurant. Later we‘re going to The Other Jim and Cheryl‘s for dinner and then New Year's celebrations. We have to fit volleyball and other stuff in there too, and tomorrow morning we’re moving on, so I’m sending the blog now. We’ll likely be out of touch for a few days, so…

Here’s wishing everyone a Happy, Healthy and Wealthy New Year.

Monday, December 27, 2010

'Twas The Season...

Christmas Eve was sunny and warm. I played volleyball while Janice walked and then went for groceries. Later, while I was playing music, Janice swam some laps before we headed to Randy and Mary’s for a backyard cocktail party.

Pictured are some of the musicians on Christmas Eve. The only woman, Pearl, is a Newfie and, except for Randy, the upright bass player, who’s from Michigan, the others are from Ontario. From left: Newt, in the orange; Alec and Palmer.

After the cocktail party Janice and I went to Los Chicos Mexican Restaurant in Zephyrhills for dinner, where we had Chile Rellenos and then pulled pork with Salsa Verde and Cactus. We’d never had cactus before so it was both unique and delicious. JR, you were right, it’s from the Prickly Pear Cactus, which can be found around Kamloops.

Back at the park, still on Christmas Eve, everyone had lined the streets with plastic milk jugs lit from within by candles. Kind of like luminous white pumpkins every eight feet. It was very cool, with the odd camp fire glowing, and groups of people wandering around, some singing carols.

Christmas morning was warm and sunny again so I played volleyball while Janice walked and swam laps.

It seems that most Americans do Thanksgiving and Christmas Dinners early in the afternoon. Our neigbbours, Freya and Ken, (relatives of our other neighbour’s, Jim and Rose) had a sit-down Christmas Dinner for fourteen, and we were placed right at the centre, fully engaged with turkey, ham and all the fixings by 1:00pm. Everyone who contributed to the dinner contributed their take on the traditional Christmas meal resulting in an unusually large number of different dishes. It was all very gracious of them because, except for Jim and Rose, we hardly knew anyone.

Pictured are: Christmas Dinner with hosts Ken and Freya. Ken is Roses's dad - pictured at bottom. Most of the people at the dinner play and sing gospel music.

Janice and I went for a miles long walk after the dinner but that had a minimal effect on the turkey hangover. Later we played Newfie Bingo with Jim, Rose, and more of their relatives, Cheryl, and The Other Jim.

Boxing Day, (which Americans don‘t recognize) we woke to spotty rain and brisk winds. After a cool, wet and windy walk around the park, the idea of lounging around, taking it easy while watching a little football, became more and more attractive.

We went for another less bitter walk at halftime. Janice went out for a couple of things while I caught the whole of The Jets loss to The Bears.

Before dinner I took two out of three games of Eight Ball from Janice. Later, we laid low, Janice getting a scratchy feeling at the back of her throat. By morning a full blown sore throat was the reality.

I had scheduled an appointment at the Ford Dealership for new tires for the truck. I asked them to look at the brakes at the same time because, at speed, they were chattering slightly. The good news was: The tires, which have to be ten ply and load rated for a one-ton truck, including mounting and balancing as well as a wheel alignment, came in at just $557.00.

Of course Jim had insisted on giving me a ride to the dealership. It was still cold so he asked us to choose an activity or destination to eat up some time while we were without a vehicle. Jim’s just one of those guys that would give you the shirt off his back and is always there for everyone.

By the time Jim and I got back, Janice decided that she could handle a bit of bowling. Jim and Rose were up for it too. The lanes turned out to be of the Ten Pin variety, which none of us had played at for the past thirty or so years. Turns out that Ten Pin is actually easier than Five Pin, especially for Janice, who pretty well sucks at Five Pin. She finally backed her claims over the years that she’d do better at Ten Pin. Jim was the ace though, winning two out of three games.

Janice and Rose show their form bowling.

While we were bowling I got the call from The Dealership - The Bad News: The truck needed new rotors in the front; the rear rotors needed to be turned; of course it needed new brake shoes and whatever else they do when they do a brake job; it was also time for a power steering flush. All-in all it was another $950.00 on top of the tires.

Jim and Rose suggested we celebrate with fish and chips at The Chowder House - Rose had a coupon. Why not? When you take that kind of kick in the wallet, what’s another fifteen bucks?

Pictured are Jim and Rose at The Chowder House. Jim retired from thirty-one years as a Production Worker at GM Canada while Rose worked fourteen years in a plastic factory. They've been together since early high school and have grown kids as well as a bunch of grand kids. Jim tells his kids that if there's anything left when he goes, he's made a mistake somewhere.

As I write this, Janice nurses her throat on the couch while Jim and I wait for the call to go back to The Dealership for the truck.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

30th Anniversary in Florida

Pictured is one of the units here at the park, with the full moon above.

Sunday was our 30th Anniversary. A lot of couples might spend such an occasion going out for a nice dinner or perhaps celebrating with family.

Not us.

To my surprise Janice suggested that we attend the Tampa Bay Buccaneers/Detroit Lions NFL game. Of course I wasn’t opposed to the idea but I threw out a couple of other suggestions anyway, like: We could go to Tarpon Springs for a bike ride, where the Greek immigrants have been diving for sponges for decades and where we could go for authentic Greek Food; we could also go to The Dome Imax Theatre in Tampa where The Hubble documentary is reportedly an amazing show.

Janice went on to convince me that the NFL game might be a one off chance to take in the spectacle of an Amercian football game and, that she might get to take in a tailgate party at the same time. Some of you ladies, no doubt, are thinking, “What was she thinking? An NFL game on a 30th Anniversary!?” Any truly devoted wife would happily do the same.

Janice went online to The Bucs website and was almost finished the on-line purchase of the tickets, at $121.00 each - I know, pretty expensive - but when she tried to ‘Complete Purchase’ the site wanted an address to send the tickets to. That wasn’t going to work and so, a little frustrated, we went to bed thinking we’d call in the morning and reserve the same tickets that were now probably somewhere in no man’s land because Janice hadn’t cancelled the purchase.

In the morning, contrary to the forecast, we woke to pouring rain. It was also foggy and cold in Tampa so we decided to cancel the purchase and go to the Imax theatre instead. By the time we checked the schedule for the Hubble show however we had already missed it too.

We ended up going for breakfast at the Two Minute Restaurant, so named because the ever-present owner is a little Thai guy who notes the number in your party and then, holding up two fingers, proclaims, “Two minutes." Two minutes later he returns and says again, “Two Minutes." In our case we only had to wait two ‘two minutes’ spells. Inside the restaurant are all kinds of John Wayne memorabilia including a picture of the two-pint Thai owner in a ten gallon John Wayne hat.

I’m not going near the meal pricing issue because my buddy Bill Lyle is back home. Following is some of his commentary resulting from my earlier jibes. I don’t know what I was thinking when I threw out the bait - I’m no match.

Alright........I've had a bit of counseling and some very long reflective hikes. I can say without reservation that I will change my ways and try to embrace your new obsession. Your reaction to my mild criticisms surprised me and I can only guess that that constant Florida sun has peeled a layer of skin from you. Your petty put downs directed my way, meant to embarrass me in front all the blog readers, have worked, but also reminded me of the power of a man with a captive audience. Now that your readership has grown, remember to use your power for good Tim, and don't go all Jim Jones on us.

Bill then detailed every meal he had on his recent trip as well as what it cost. Funny guy.

Our neighbours, Jim and Rose, were with us at the Two Minutes Restaurant and suggested, considering the rain, that maybe we should visit the huge Big Tent indoor flea market not far from us. There Janice bought two different Chipotle hot sauces and some Stone Crab. The Stone Crab was the first we had seen since our feast at Robyn and Dales’ in Key West.

While we had planned on going to dinner in Tampa for our anniversary, by the time we got back from the flea market we decided instead to pick up some tenderloin and a good bottle of red wine - Seven Deadly Zins - and have dinner at home. The white wine, that Mark and Heather had brought us for our anniversary, we paired with the Stone Crab and then had the Zin with the tenderloin and salad with cranberry, walnut and blue cheese dressing. The meal was undoubtedly much better than we could have found in a restaurant.

On Monday morning I accepted an invitation to golf at nearby Bernadette Hills with a few guys from the park. I’m pretty sure that they took me for some kind of sand bagger when my first drive outdistanced any of them by thirty or forty yards and my next shot landed the green from a hundred-and-eighty yards out. When I two-putted for a par I saw them look at each other like, “Sure, now he’s gonna, ask to play for money.” They learned on the very next hole though how quickly the wheels could fall off of my game when my ball caught a branch on a tree and ended up in the jungle. It got worse from there and I ended up taking a nine. I then proceeded to thoroughly stink up the other seventeen holes. I was a real hit with the guys though.

Tuesday was relatively quiet. Following volleyball we washed the truck, went for a swim, had a drink for Happy Hour with Jim and Rose and then watched the folks parade their bikes and golf carts around the park.

Pictured are: The golf carts get ready to parade around the park and then Cliff posing as he waits for the parade. Later he rolls by.

On Wednesday we went with about twenty other riders to the Pinellas Trail near Clearwater. Janice and I peeled off from the other riders after an hour though so that we could make it to Tarpon Springs for Greek Food before attending a Christmas affair at Art and Helen’s - Art being one of the golfers. At Mikinos restaurant in Tarpon Springs we had Saganaki and then split a house special, I forget the name, but it was a lamb shank baked with Okra and it was really very good.
Pictured are the riders on the Pinellas Trail as well as the bakery at Mikinos Greek restaurant where we ate.

We walked around the town of Tarpon Springs, which is renowned for being the Sponge Capital of the World. Sponge dive boats line the harbour and I’d have a couple of excellent shots of them except that I accidentally deleted them after a few drinks at Art’s.

Today, after volleyball we rode with our neighbour Jim to Wire Grass to check out a Mexican restaurant that one of the people here had claimed to be of the authentic variety. Not so. It was kind of cafeteria-like and there wasn’t a single Mexican working there. Our plan is to go for Mexican food on Christmas Eve but it will be at the one we’ve seen in Zephyrhills.

We're starting to feel slightly complascent here and will be moving on as of January 1.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Winter Garden and warmer weather...

It had gotten cold enough while we were away to freeze and split the hose on the shower that I left hanging out of the back of the trailer - damn.

On Tuesday we went for a bike ride at Winter Garden, about an hour’s drive from Zephyrhills. We left at 11:30am, not having had lunch beforehand, assuming that there were plans in the works for something to eat along the way. That was not to be the case. I had had a bowl of cereal hours before while Janice had had a piece of Papaya.

Janice was riding in Jim and Rose’s vehicle while I was riding with Don, who was pictured on the Rat Bike in the last blog. Don is a Vietnam Vet who saw a lot of action and has, over the years, built himself a twenty-three store strip mall in Michigan - nice retirement fund. Mark and Heather followed.

Pictured is the town square at Winter Garden.

When it became clear that the lunch plans were slated for after the bike ride, I slipped into a little bakery at Winter Garden and grabbed a couple tiny pieces of Biscotti for Janice and myself. Biscotti was the least sweet thing on display but still, was far from what we would have chosen under normal circumstances.

The ride itself was fifteen miles and was one of the more interesting we had been on. It even had a few hills, or should I call them inclines? By the time we had ridden back to the vehicles, loaded the bikes and driven to the restaurant, it was 3:45 - we were getting pretty hungry.

The restaurant selected had been visited by some of the riders previously. It was nothing to look at, situated in the middle of a little strip mall, advertising Pizza and Greek Food, in a greasy window. I had a sinking feeling that Janice and I were in for a let-down. The others had already passed on the Thai Blossom Restaurant in Winter Garden that had won numerous awards, including The Best Thai Restaurant in the Orlando Area. To our surprise, none of the other riders had ever had Thai food and none seemed inclined to try it.

Inside, the Italian/Greek restaurant was dull looking and pretty well devoid of ambience. The brash, fifty-ish, waitress, chewing gum through her deep southern drawl, produced plastic covered menus offering lasagna, spaghetti, pizza and other pedestrian stuff that you’d expect to find in such a place. The other riders had mentioned several times that the portions were large, and that most everybody had taken home doggy bags the last time they ate there.

While we were hungry, for us, quantity is not the yardstick by which we measure value. One couple said that the last time they ate there they had ordered a large pizza and had to take a lot of it home, so Janice and I decided to split a medium pizza, which topped our tanks to the limit. The other people ended up with huge pasta dishes, which all came with their choice of dinner-size bowls of thick, homemade chicken/rice or bacon/potato soup, or Greek salad, which wasn't anything like what we know to be Greek salad, but was over the top generous, and topped with a thick layer of Jack cheese. All the pasta dishes also came with three pieces of garlic toast! Of course, Mark, the skinniest guy at the table, finished all of his,

I can tell you that the price for the pasta dishes was just $8.95 or $9.95, depending on the dish. I report on the meal prices without fear of reprisal from Bill Lyle, because right now he’s otherwise occupied hiking somewhere deep inside either The Grand or Zion Canyons.

On Thursday we went for a ‘hike’ at Hillsborough State Park, just a few miles from here, with three other couples. Because it was so flat, and we were on well maintained trails, it was really more like a stroll. Still nice though, with huge Cypress and Oak trees overhead and lots of different kinds of Palms underneath. We saw three Armadillos as well as the biggest alligator we’ve encountered so far.

Pictured below is the Armadillo that was busy rooting around and just wouldn't face us - it seemed oblivious to our presence; the 'smiling' Alligator and the suspension bridge where, if you look carefully, you can see some of the walkers.

Today, for the first time in a while, the weather felt like you’d expect it to be in Florida. After we got all set up for the tailgate party we had to move all the stuff to the shade because it turned too hot for sitting around in the sun. Janice had made lots of good stuff and a few guys showed up with their guitars so, all in all it made for a nice afternoon. The only trouble was, we forgot to take a single picture.

It’s supposed to rain tomorrow so the timing for the party worked just right.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tampa, Chicago, Vancouver...

Last Wednesday we went for another bike ride along the Van Fleet Trail, eleven miles, to Polk City. There were supposed to be more people on the ride but it ended up being just seven of us because most of the other riders feared the cold. It turned out to be perfect for riding though - about 50 degrees and cloudless. By accident, we got to see a rocket launch too. Well, we didn’t actually see the launch itself but we did witness it streaming it’s vapor trail as it shot into space. Watching the news later we found out the launch was a private enterprise - not nearly as spectacular as the space shuttle, but still, a nice surprise.

At Polk City we stopped in at the Country Angels Café for lunch. I’m not going to tell you what we ate at the café, or what it cost, because it causes my buddy, Bill Lyle, to get all agitated. I thought it might be interesting for people to know how little restaurant meals cost here, in the land of the Golden Agers, in comparison to Canadian standards. To my surprise though, these kinds of reports seem to cause utterly inexplicable email outbursts from Bill. Janice and I have pondered our friend’s inappropriate reactions to some recent blogs and have come to several possible conclusions: It could be he’s ultra-sensitive about aging, (he is approaching sixty) or, he may be harboring some deep rooted anger management problems, or, he has too much money on his hands, or, it’s just so hard for him to fathom that the Yankees are outdistancing us Canucks in this department. We just don’t know. Bill, we hope it’s not causing too much inner turmoil and we both sincerely wish for you to find some peace - let it go Bud…

Pictured is one of the riders, Don, on the recumbent Rat Bike that our neighbour here in the park, Jim, built. Also pictured is somebody's shrine we saw along the way. We're not sure what the theme is - there's an oriental guy seated, the Virgin Mary hovers above him - there are dragons and goats on the roof and other odd assorted items. Weird, but cool too.


Anybody who knows me also knows that flying is not one of my favourite things to do. Consequently I had a terrible sleep the night before we left for Vancouver, via Chicago. The flights themselves were uneventful except that we sat next to a very attractive and intelligent young woman named Marley, from Tsawassen, who was on a volleyball scholarship to Tampa Bay and who’s team had just won the US national championship. I guess I should have taken a picture for the boys - sorry.

Janice was picked up at the airport by her mom, Rhelda, at the same time as her sister Corrine, who had flown in from Kamloops, so that the whole family could spend some time together in North Van. My sister, Lisa, picked me up so I could stay at her and BJ’s place in the West End, and so that I could spend time with my mom too, who also lives in downtown Vancouver.

Lisa and BJ are temporarily staying at The Sheraton Wall Centre because of a flood they had at their penthouse. The suite at the Wall Centre is on the thirty-fourth floor and has floor-to-ceiling windows. The view is impressive of course but still not quite as spectacular as the view from their thirty-seventh floor penthouse, which they’re hoping to be back in by the end of January.

BJ, who's a Scout for the NHL’s Central Scouting, was at a game, so Lisa and I walked around downtown for a long time looking for someplace to eat that wasn’t so crowded and noisy that we wouldn’t be able to carry on a conversation. Due to my Tinnitus I can't hear anything except a roar in a room with music or other loud background noise -too many years of rock&roll. We stuck our heads into several restaurants that were too crowded and raucous before stopping for a drink at the Fairmont Hotel. I was on East Coast time, which by this time was about 1:00am, so I was getting pretty hungry. We checked out a couple of places on Granville Street that were full when Lisa remembered there was a new restaurant on Richard’s Street called Quattro. We finally sat down to dinner and ordered the signature dish, black bean and garlic pasta, which was excellent. I wolfed mine in record time while BJ, who showed up after the hockey game was over, finished Lisa’s for her.

The next day, Saturday, I met my brother, Mark, at my mom’s place and took her out to lunch at The Hurricane Grill, (no prices Bill), and then helped her organize some of her limited edition prints. When Mark left, Mom and I sat and had a couple of drinks before I walked back to Lisa’s. Lisa and BJ were going out to a Cirque De Sole themed party in West Van. I declined, again due to my Tinnitus, I wouldn’t be able to hear anything anybody says in a party atmosphere. I was also still a little beat from the travel the day before so I took a walk in the rain with their tiny dog, Puff, tucked into my jacket. I found some pizza and some wine and then watched the Canucks get beat at home, for the first time ever, by the Tampa Bay Lightning. By the way, a Lightning ticket can be purchased for $5 here when you buy a Subway Sandwich. I think we will.

On Sunday Lisa and I walked around downtown again doing a little Christmas shopping while BJ was at another game. Later on we picked up Mom and drove to North Van where Rhelda, Janice and Corrine had prepared a full blown Christmas dinner - turkey with all the trimmings.

Pictured below is the crew at dinner: From Left: Janice’s brother Alan peeking out from behind his son Blake; our long-time friend Charlene (Charlie) Jenneson, my sister, Lisa; me; my Mom, Dorothy; BJ; Alan’s other son, Scotty; Janice’s brother, Gordon; Janice’s sister, Corrine and her mother, Rhelda, who turned seventy this year, doesn't dye her hair, and just returned from a trip to Australia and New Zealand.
Also pictured: Gordon, Alan, Janice, Rhelda and Corrine.
Also pictured: My Mom, Dorothy, and BJ. I’d say Dorothy looks pretty damn good for someone who’ll be eighty-eight in a couple of weeks and is suffering from a sinus infection. She just had a couple more art cards published by Unicef with all proceeds going to help children around the world born with AIDS. You can check out her art at

I stayed at Rhelda’s on Sunday night and she drove us to the airport in the morning. I’m unhappy to say that I went drugless for both flights (no Lorazapam), and both flights had bloody rough landings. On the flight to Chicago Janice sat beside a famous chef named Vikram Vij, owner of Vij’s restaurant in Vancouver, who was on his way to meet Anthony Bordaine, Rick Bayless and some other famous chefs in Chicago. When I asked if Anthony Bordaine of No Reservations and other Food Network fame was as wild as he portrays himself, he confirmed that, yes, that is definitely the case. He said he, "Does all things, all the time". He went on to describe him as, “The Keith Richards of cooking.”

Pictured is Janice with Vikram Vij. Also pictured is the causeway at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

On the flight from Chicago to Tampa there was a young girl carrying a huge trophy with 'US Dance Team' embroidered on the back of her jacket. When she got off the plane there was a big, cheering, welcoming committee for her.

Our neighbours Jim and Rose picked us up at the airport. It’s still frigid here but we’re planning to have a Tailgate Party this Friday and have invited about twenty people. It’ll be an afternoon affair and anybody else ambling by will also be invited to share in some holiday season libations. Janice is cooking a bunch of stuff and we’ll have a couple bottles of booze, a box of wine (mulled if it’s still cold), and a twenty-four pack of beer. A two-four here costs about $15. Bill, let it go…

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Southern Charm

Pictured: Downtown Zephyrhills.

Settling in at one place, as we have here at Southern Charm, calls for far less planning, pulling up stakes and travel time. I’m happy to report though that there’s no Spanish Moss growing on us yet.

I play volleyball on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings and we go for extended bike rides on the other days. Janice usually swims laps for twenty minutes or so in the afternoon. There’s no way I can keep up to her so I just dog paddle around in her wake as she does the crawl for twenty laps and then side strokes for twenty more.

Pictured below is Tim making spaghetti. Yes, Tim cooking is unusual and therefore warrants a picture. Try a healthy dose of Chipotle pepper in your sauce next time. It was really good.

The Patriot Flea Market, which is not far down the road, is right next to the Zephyrhills Airport where dozens of skydivers take the plunge daily. The airport is reportedly one of the biggest parachute drop zones in the states as well as a popular soaring/gliding spot.

Zephyrhills is a Mecca for snowbirds and other retirees. There are 154 RV parks in the area, so the restaurants and other shops cater heavily to the ’wrinkle ranches.’ We’ve seen ongoing offers at local restaurants for: $5.00 New York strip loin steaks, $6.99 all-you-can-eat fish fries and $10 fill-your-face buffets. We tried the Cuban place called Flaco’s and were rewarded with an excellent tamale, a ball of deviled crab and a Cuban sandwich. Throw in two coffees and the bill was $11.00.

On Saturday we visited Ybor City, the former cigar making capital of the US, which is actually part of Tampa. It’s a bit like Gastown with lots of old brick factories, and cobblestone streets. Cigar shops abound, accompanied by restaurants, galleries, bars with live music and an outdoor market. We strolled around for an hour or so before descending on the Green Iguana for lunch, pictured below.

Later the same day we went to the Festival of Lights Parade in downtown Zephyrhills. It was a refreshing slant on the regular Santa Parade because it’s a night time affair with all of the floats lit up. It almost made us feel all festive-like. Yes, we saw Santa - the real one.
Pictured are a fire engine in the parade as well as some whirling dervishes.

The next day, along with two other couples, we biked a new area called Wiregrass. Following the fifteen mile ride we stopped for lunch at Texas Roadhouse. It’s one of those places that, as soon as you walk in, has a big barrel of unshelled, salted peanuts. Customers are encouraged to discard the peanut shells on the floor and pick from one of the gargantuan steaks on display while waiting for a table. At the table there was another bucket of peanuts and everybody got a dinner roll with cinnamon butter to start. None of us had steaks but the meals were all Texas-sized so, when we met the same people in the evening to play Mexican Train (Dominoes), nobody had bothered to have dinner. Janice and I, being first time customers to the roadhouse, were also sent away with a branded bag of peanuts and a coupon for a free onion blossom.

Pictured are some tropical type Christmas ornaments we found on one of our bike rides.

We’ve been experiencing, by Florida standards, a real cold snap. Temperatures are dipping into freezing overnight and, when we start volleyball at 9:00am it’s only 39 degrees, or so, Fahrenheit. We're going to have to go back to The Patriot Flea Market for a couple of touques and some mitts if it doesn't warm up soon.

Pictured: Despite the cold snap the flowers are still growing and the crops are unharmed at the vegetable stand down the road where we buy freshly squeezed orange juice.

We’ll be leaving for Vancouver this Friday and returning on Monday. Our generous neighbour, Jim, who we bike ride with, is going to drop us off and pick us up at the airport.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Half Way…

Now that we’ve been without internet for a week or so, readers are going to have to blog through a few different events…

We’re now officially half-way into our trip because I have to be back for business by May 15. I’m relieved to say that we just squeaked in on budget, and that we still like each other enough to go for another five-and-a-half months.

I know I concluded the last blog by stating that we were hitting the road but, before we left Bonita Springs, we decided to take in the annual Tastes of Bonita Springs, which was being held just down the road from our park. It started at 11:00am so we figured we could sample a few things and be on the road by noon. Food tickets were $1 each and most menu items cost two to four dollars. We bought twenty bucks worth of tickets and had small portions of: baby back ribs, crab cakes, coconut shrimp, a beef slider, chicken wings, a slice of charcoal roasted pizza and frozen, chocolate key lime pie on a stick.

Pictured are the Tastes of Bonita:

Later we pulled up stakes and drove to Pleasant Lake RV Park near Bradenton. As advertised, there’s a lake in the middle of the park and a large, heated swimming pool too. We took a long walk and a swim before Janice made Pulled Pork Tostadas and something akin to a Waldorf Salad, only better, while I watched the Pats beat the Colts, barely.

We rolled into Fort Desoto County Park about 1:00 and headed straight for the beach, which won The Best Beach in America award in 2005. It’s a nice beach but not as nice as some we’ve seen. We spent the afternoon walking and getting wet before heading back to camp for Country Style Ribs, (we’re not really sure what they are either) but Janice put them in the crock pot and finished them on the BBQ. They were fall apart delicious and were accompanied by mixed greens with blue cheese, cranberry, walnut and red onion salad, topped with maple/balsamic dressing.

Pictured is North Beach at Fort Desoto State Park.

In the morning we went for a long walk around Fort Desoto Park, which is an 1138 acre island. Later we drove to St. Pete’s Beach, where Tweetie and Art’s condo is, and then to Madeira Beach, Dunedin and Palm Harbour, all the while scouting potential RV parks that we might want to make a prolonged stay at. There was only one that was up to snuff, but a little expensive for our tastes, so we’re going to give Zephyrills, north of Tampa Bay, a try to see if we can find the park that is famed for having a lot of Canadian musicians who hang there for the winter.

As soon as we got back to camp we headed for the beach and made a couple of calls. One to Charlie, who isn’t going to be able to make it down here, and the other to Tweetie to let her know we were going to have to pass on the offer pf the condo, however much it would have been appreciated. If Tweetie and Art had been there it would be a different story.

Pictured below are: St. Pete’s Beach and Tweetie and Art’s condo.

Our camp neighbours at Fort Desoto are a large family with teenagers. The parents were out the other night and, as we were sitting outside after dinner listening to some quiet music, suddenly the hip hop music at the teenagers’ got cranked so loud we couldn’t hear our music at all, and we were sitting right next to it. Janice, like Frank Zappa’s mother in Joe’s Garage, yelled, “Turn it Down.” When nothing happened she marched over and turned the ghetto blaster down herself. A sullen looking male of fourteen or fifteen years of age said, “Hey, don’t touch my music.” Janice, hands on hips, stared him down - that was the last we heard of it.

Not long after I met Janice she took up kick boxing. Every time she’d drink Tequila, she’d go up to the biggest guy in the room and give him a shot in the Solar Plexus. Gasping, they would look unbelievingly at the five-foot-one, hundred-and-ten pound female in front of them and, as their composure returned to them, start laughing. Sometimes these encounters would end up in friendships, while other times it got us into trouble. Fortunately the trouble was never too serious, but I eventually gave her an ultimatum: Either give up kick boxing or give up Tequila. She gave up kick boxing.

The morning after the teenager’s music incident, it was sunny and hot as I made a few calls to parks we’d found in Zephyrhills via the internet. A woman at Southern Charm RV Park said that she believed that hers was the musical park. We pointed the truck north and drove through Tampa Bay, which is not very memorable on a drive-by, and kept going another twenty or so miles to Zephyrhills.

As soon as we pulled in to Southern Charm, and booked our spot on Lucky Charm Way, a woman named Suzie walked over and introduced herself. She immediately predicted that we were in for a prolonged stay at the park. “Mark my words,” she said.

Later, as we walked around the park, we found a lot of outgoing people that confirmed that, yes indeed, this was the park where there were a lot of resident musicians. There were also four volleyball courts, a big bike riding group, a canoe and kayak group, a bowling club and of course a shuffleboard league. In the clubhouse, next to the pool and hot tub area, there is a library and a billiards room with three new tables.

In the morning I played volleyball for the first time in about seven or eight years. There were twenty-five players of all skill levels. We drew numbers to form teams and I ended up on a kick-ass team that none of the others could touch. That only lasted three games though as numbers were re-drawn and I ended up on a team that lost three in a row. Good fun and exercise but, man, was I stiff the next morning when I showed up for men‘s volleyball.

Janice, who’s never been much for volleyball, either walks or swims laps.

Some of the volleyball players were musicians and I was invited to jam that afternoon. The host of the jam is a banjo/guitar player who, it turns out, was mentoring some less experienced guitar players, so it was a little dull for me.

When we asked at the office what price they could offer for us to stay for the month of December, our jaws almost dropped when she said, “We have a December special of $199.00.” The reason we were so surprised by the $199.00 is because there regular rate is $38.00 per day or $399 a month. The parks on the coast, twenty miles away, charge anywhere from $800.00 to $1,200.00 per month. Our cable TV and high speed internet connection is going to be another $115.00, but that still only brings our total to $315.00 for the month, so the cable/internet connection is already ordered for November 30. The busy season down here is January/February, thus the December special.

Suzie was right - we’re staying.

On the Saturday morning we joined a group to go on a twenty-five mile bike ride. We rode the first half to a great little restaurant in Florida City and had breakfast before heading back as a group. Again there are all levels of riding ability, and stamina, but we were pleased to be able to keep up to the lead pack. Janice and I decided that we actually rode an equivalent thirty or thirty-five miles because of the smaller wheels on our fold-up bikes.

Pictured is the bike group at the trail head. Almost all of them ride twenty-seven speed recumbent bikes that are easier on the arms, wrists, back and butt. They wouldn’t work so well in hilly BC though. Also pictured is Janice's shot of a spot along the trail.

On Sundays there is an open jam at Zephyrhills Community Park, about two miles from our resort. Janice dropped me off and there were half a dozen groups formed wherever there was stand-up bass. Small crowds surrounded each group. The idea is that you can sit in with any group and anyone can join your group as they choose. It’s mostly bluegrass and old-time country, which is not my bag because the old time country is pretty boring for a drummer and any kind of a backbeat is poison to bluegrass players so, again, not a good fit so far. I did stay at the jam and play for an hour or so but it was pretty boring.

Readers might be able to tell that I’m starting to miss playing music on a regular basis. Just s few months before we left on our Intermission I was lucky enough to get together with some really good songwriter/musicians who happened to like my Cajon playing. They are: Songwriter, Chris (Doc) Dougherty on acoustic guitar and vocals, whom I’d played with a few times in the past; Songwriter, Gary Neilsen on acoustic guitar and vocals, whom I’d never met before; James (JR) Adam on lead acoustic guitar and Dobro, whom I‘ve played with in rock/funk/blues bands for the past thirteen years; Sylvie Johnson on mandolin and vocals, whom I’d never met before and Perry Tucker on electric stand-up bass and vocals, whom I’d seen around town but usually when he was heading his own band, on guitar. The band had only played a few gigs by the time Janice and I left but we were having a lot of fun with our weekly practices, and with regular make-shift get-togethers called Safety Meetings on Friday evenings, where a large cross section of people bring appetizers and either just hang out or play music.


Another bike ride this morning. It was promoted by our neighbour, Jim, to be an easy seven-mile loop where we would stop in the middle at Pannera’s Bread for lunch, or whatever. We did stop for an iced coffee and a bagel but the ride ended up being twenty-two-and-a-half miles because they decided to go around a few more loop trails. It seemed easy today compared to the ride the other day though. Most of these paved bike trails in Florida are abandoned railroad beds that the counties take over and convert to non-motorized traffic trails.

Pictured is the bike group at Pannera’s Bread.

By the way, did you know that Microsoft dictionary doesn’t recognize the word ‘blog’? And Janice felt bad when she discovered that she’s older than the word ‘Astronaut’!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Bonita Springs...

Some of you know Sam Stewart who worked with a bunch of us at the North Shore News so long ago. Sam and Fiona moved to Saskatchewan a couple of years ago so that Fiona could accept a position teaching at a university there. Sam is originally from Saskatchewan but, still, he emailed this morning to say that it’s getting painful to open my blog because it was minus twenty-seven there and he shoveled snow twice the day before.

Janice says, “Bummer Sam.”

Here’s a picture of what the holiday season looks like in the tropics.

We experienced a great little Tortilleria that we had spotted on our walk the other day. Like a couple of other small Mexican restaurants in the area, it was tucked away unobtrusively. Besides ourselves, the only other people eating there were Mexicans and, as we suspected, the food was very authentic. I had a spiced pork taco and a fish taco while Janice tried the Gordita with spicy Mexican sausage and a tongue taco. She coerced me into trying the tongue but it was too beefy and meaty and had way too much flavor for my liking. The bill totaled $11.81 for the food and two bottled waters.

Now that we’ve taken in most of the area on our morning walks, we’ve discovered that our RV park is situated pretty well smack in the middle of an almost exclusively Mexican neighbourhood. The locals encountered are mostly shy and retiring, not usually making eye contact. As soon as we say "Hi", or "Olah" though, their faces light up with big, warm smiles and they become welcoming and courteous.

Okay, so we’re now officially Snowbirds. Yup. We’ve played outdoor shuffle board on several occasions and I recently succumbed to an invitation to play Corn Hole with the guys. I know! Who named it that anyway? Actually, the old guys here call it Bean Toss. You score points by tossing a bean bag at a board with a hole in it. There’s a little more to it than that, but three games only take about a half hour or so,which makes it quick enough to particpate in. Alright, I admit it - lately, Janice and I have even been playing shuffleboard in the evening, under the lights.

We went to the beach to watch the sunset last night. Pictures of the sunset at Bonita Beach follow as well as a couple of bird shots. I know that the two silhouettes are Pelicans and I'm pretty sure Steven Hornstein can fill us in on what the other one is.

We have a couple of options now facing us about how to spend the next few months. Janice’s old friend, Janice Doyle (Tweetie) and her husband, Art, have invited us to use their condo in St. Petersburg for the month of December. While that offer is very generous and much appreciated, it kind of depends on whether our friend, Charlene (Charlie) Jenneson, would be able to join us there. Its looking kind of unlikely but we should know the answer to that in a day or two. If that doesn't work out, our original intention was to go to Mexico, and we found out today that there is a three-unit convoy of people from Kamloops and Agassiz leaving for La Penita on the west coast of Mexico on January 3, from Mesa, Arizona. There is also another alternative - just keep touring around the southern states and fly into Mexico to meet friends who are doing the usual two-week vacations. Hmmm…

We also need to book back into Canada within the next few months because BC Medical has this inane policy that, once you’re sixty years old, you have to report back into the country every six months or they cut off your medical coverage. I call that Age Discrimination. Anyway, it gives us an opportunity to see our families for a few days sometime during the holiday season, so we need to book some cheap flights to Vancouver - but from Tampa or Mesa?

We went to a local bar/restaurant the other day called Buffalo Chips, which is just a long block away from our RV Park. We had a draft beer each and six big, award winning chicken wings, all for $6.00. The wings were even better than claimed and the sports memorabilia adorning the walls, including a signed warm-up cloak worn by Muhammad Ali, were captivating.

Pictured is Tim scoffing wings and beer at Buffalo Chips.

It's been a week already since we booked into the park here, so it's time to move on. Yesterday we drove to Sanibel and Captiva Islands, about an hour from here. They're very upscale, with mutli-million dollar homes lining the waterfronts. Sanibel Island though has a huge bird sanctuary where we saw all kinds of exotic birds, including a Spoon-billed Rosietta which resembles a pink flamingo, until you get closer, in which case it looks like a long-legged pink duck.

Today we're heading north, with no particular destination. Tomorrow though we'll book into Fort Desoto Civic Park where we hope to encounter some Manatees...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Everglades and the west coast of Florida…

We left Bahia Honda about 3:00pm and drove the two hours north to Homestead, to the same RV Park we had stayed in on the way down. It was only an hour or so from The Everglades.

It was Saturday and the parking lot at Everglades State Park was full so we had to park the rig out on the highway and walk into the park. Highway 41 is the northern border to the park and is known as Alligator Alley for good reason. We weren’t in the park five minutes when we spotted the first one. Not two minutes later the monster you see floating down the river in the picture below appeared. Driving west from the park entrance we saw dozens more gators.

Pictured are some gators and some wild birds spotted at Everglades State Park.

We stopped at Naples on the West Coast of Florida and stayed the night at The Neapolitan RV Resort.

Pictured are pelicans on some pilings at Naples Beach. There's also lots of white sand at Naples Beach but I didn't want to keep rubbing it in...

All of the RV parks around Naples are expensive so we drove north to Bonita Springs where we’ve booked into Bonita Lake RV Park for a week.

Pictured is the pool and the 'lake' at the back of Bonita Lake RV Park.

We went for a long walk our first morning in Bonita Springs and were finding it too weird to see all the Christmas wreaths and other decorations down here in the tropics, and so early. Yesterday, riding in the truck in the heat of the afternoon, with the windows wide open, we heard Brenda Lee's Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree!

Today we visited the sand castle exhibition at Bonita Beach and I'm glad we didn't go a couple of days earlier when there was a fee to get up close. Compared to the sand sculptures we saw at Harrison Hot Springs a couple of years ago, it was lame.

Pictured is one of the sand castles at Bonita Beach. We only included it to show you how well janice's new camera works. She dropped her old camera in the sand the other day and it stopped working. We were told that it would cost more to fix than replace, so she's now the proud new owner of a Nikon Cool Pix.

Later we stopped at Hickory Park Beach, pictured below, and did some body surfing - not pictured.


We had a request for Janice’s recipe for crab cakes so, here it is:

1 egg lightly beaten
¼ cup mayonnaise
3 tbsp flour
¾ cup Panko bread crumbs
¼ cup finely chopped red onion or four green onions
2 cloves fresh garlic crushed
1 to 2 tsp of hot sauce or Sambal - depending on tolerance
¼ cup of Cilantro or Parsley chopped
1 lb Crab meat, picked over for shells

Mix egg, flour, mayo and hot sauce until well blended
Stir in everything else
Shape cakes using about 1/3 cup of mixture for each cake
Refrigerate for at least an hour
Melt equal parts of butter and olive oil (about 2 tbsp each) in a pan and cook cakes over medium-high until crisp and golden brown

They taste great with Mango Salsa.