Friday, April 6, 2018

Winter/Spring Activities in Florida

Just not sure how much traveling we will be doing anymore, we do have some trips in mind for further into the year.  So whether I will continue to write on this site remains a question.  Sometimes the idea of settling down here does not seem too bad-  given especially the news we have heard about the brutal weather up north in the past weeks.  However, we still have the hot summer and hurricane season facing us in the months ahead.  There is no heaven on earth, maybe just pieces of it!
In March our son Michael visited us and we visited the Museum of Fine Arts in St.Petersburg with him.  A most beautiful sight we encountered outside of the museum was a blooming kapok tree.  It was fully covered with bright red blossoms.  An Asian tree, the kapok is a gigantic tree of the tropical forest canopy.  Also known as the Java Cotton tree, it is known for its cotton-like fluff from its seed pods which are buoyant and used in the filling of life jackets.
We have learned to avoid crowds and festivals down here because of the large numbers of winter visitors who attend, and the distance required to get there.  A few weeks ago we decided to try again and visited a parade in the town of Oldsmar, a municipality near us.  Parking was no problem, and we had close seating to the parade, as you can see in the picture above of Clarissa watching the floats passing right in front of her.  Our grandchildren did not have to work hard either, to get the beads and candy thrown to them. 
We also visited the Lowry Zoo in Tampa.  Pictured above is a Marabou stork, sitting on her nest with her chicks.  Even though we are in Florida with its tropical-like weather, signs of spring can be seen without too much searching.  We are now seeing osprey high up on light poles building their nests, and the Tampa Bay Times posted a beautiful picture of two horned owl chicks cuddling in their nests on Honeymoon Island.  Also heard at night are the whip-or-will singing out to their mates.  I am certainly wishing for you people up north that the beauties of spring will be coming to you all soon!
Our Easter weekend was a bit cool with some rain coming down (at least we did not have snow).  The weather did not stop the many Easter egg hunts from happening!  In one of the eggs, which our grandson Nathan found, was a prize ticket.  He won an Easter basket which contained a water gun that he so badly wanted.  Strangely enough, playing with that gun in our park pool seems to improve his swimming skills!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig

John was itching to go on a road trip.  For a variety of reasons we needed to visit my brother Jared in Texas, so a road trip  seemed possible.  This was not a one day trip, because it just takes one day to get out of Florida!  As we traveled north we saw quite a bit of the signs of spring, which has already started in Florida.  From the road we saw yards displaying many colorful azalea bushes, and in the forests an occasional blooming redbud or dogwood tree.
John and I have toured a variety of mines, caves, battleship and prison museums- to name a few.  However, I do not believe that we have been on an oil rig.  On one of our train trips across the country I met a gentleman who worked on an oil rig and the description of  of his life and work on the rig certainly caught my interest.  On the Ocean Star, which was decommissioned in 1984, we toured the drill and pipe decks, as well as the recreation, galley, and sleeping quarters. As battleships, the men living on the rigs are there for months at a time and all of the staff's needs have to be accommodated.
Pictured above is the Galveston Port, and off in the distance are oil rigs which are need of repair.  After being repaired they are then loaded by a hydraulic system on barges to be used again.  The Gulf of Mexico has a prolific petroleum system, according to the Ocean Star museum 100 billion barrels of gas and natural gas equivalents have been discovered on offshore and onshore portions of the Gulf ( this covers the United States Mexico and Cuba).  Apparently there are still 50 billion barrels still to be drilled.  Since 1918 over 56 wells have been drilled in the United States part of the Gulf.

Pictured above are the layers of bedrock which have to be drilled into for access to the oil.  Core samples are initially removed for analysis.
And in the picture above are the pipes reaching down to the oil, a drill bit can be seen at the end of one of the pipes.  There are a variety of drill bits which are used, depending on the type of rock is being crushed or scraped.  The bits are pictured below.  Once an oil well is completed and started up it may produce oil or gas for many years, flowing through pipes to a refinery. Or the product may go into a floating storage system.
 What I am relating to you here regarding oil production is just a little smattering compared to all the information on the subject provided by the Ocean Star Museum.  My brother Jared and I completed our tour of the museum long before John.  My brother and I were quite content wandering around the Port of Galveston and checking out the bird life.  Both brown and white pelicans could be seen resting or feeding in the water near the museum.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park

John and I have now spent a good deal of time in Florida and never have visited this park until this past Monday.  We have to admit that the mermaid shows offered in this park sounded a bit cheesy, until we read in the newspaper how the mermaids have to prepare for the shows- they must be scuba certified and train for a year.   The shows have been running since 1947, and initially the mermaids were without tails, they were called "Aqua Belles".  The first mermaids received hamburgers, hot dogs, publicity, but no pay.  They waved at passerby along the highway to lure drivers into the attraction.  In the mid-60s they got their tails.
The park has a 400 seat submerged theater for the shows.  Fish and turtles swim among the mermaids, and a park employee reported that manatees have also appeared among the ladies of the sea.  A Weeki Wachee mermaid once said that to dive into the strong current of the spring was like trying to swim up into a waterfall.  Sixteen to twenty feet below the surface the current runs a strong 5 miles per hour  Over the years synchronized ballet movements underwater were developed using hidden air hoses. Underwater stunts and illusions were also included.
The show we saw was Hans Christian Anderson's the Little Mermaid.  Pictured above is the mermaid with her prince charming.  When the curtain falls for each scene bubbles fill the tank, which was just as thrilling for our one year-old granddaughter as the show!
We enjoyed our whole day at Weeki Wachee park.  A low admission price includes, besides seeing the mermaids perform, a wild animal show and a river cruise.  In Seminole Indian language Weeki Wachee means "little spring" or "winding river".  The 12 mile long river flows into the Gulf, which is why the manatees make their appearance here during the winter months.
The emergence of the mega-theme parks in Orlando took its toll on this state park.  However, attendance is steadily rising and the shows are often filled to capacity.  Thirty mermaids are currently employed by the park.   Certainly the show was good, but the park and the river were equally enjoyable for us!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Kumquat Festival

This past weekend was the big yearly Gasparilla pirate festival in Tampa.  We have as yet to attend it.  An article in the Tampa Bay Times challenged readers to attend the Kumquat Festival in Dade City instead of doing the other festival in Tampa, just for a fun experience with small town ambience.  Dade city is about an hours drive northeast of Tampa.  With a one year old and a child almost turning four it sounded like it was not that far of a drive.  However, by the time we reached the town limits of Dade City, the younger child, Clarissa, was screaming and quite literally trying to pull her hair out!
It was necessary to park at the fairgrounds, a distance from the festival, and board a bus.  The big purple astro-themed bus totally charmed the little ones and for the rest of the day we had some very happy children.  It also helped that it was a cool overcast day, and we did not have to deal with the brutal heat, which had been a downer for us at other festivals. 
Just maybe you are wondering what are kumquats.  From our travels in Texas and Florida we do know that they are a small citrus fruit similar to the orange.  As we walked around the festival grounds (located in the heart of downtown Dade) I chanced upon a lecture as to how to eat them.  They are too small to peel, rather it is best to pop the whole fruit in your mouth.  DO NOT try to separate the peel from the fruit while chewing because then you will only taste the bitter peel.  Taken together it is possible to get a burst of sweetness in your mouth.  I tried to eat one some time back and I did not care for them and am unwilling to try again!
John liked the kumquat pie, and had already taken a bite before I could snap the picture.  The pie is made with the same ingredients used in key lime pie.   For cooking purposes the whole fruit is pureed and then strained.  At the festival we saw many products made from the fruit: dressings and marinades, jams, soda, wine, and ice cream.  I noticed bits of the peel in both the ice cream and pie, which is a turn-off for me.  Just the reason that I do not like orange marmalade.
As I mentioned previously, we had a very pleasant day wandering the many booths scattered over several streets.  And we happened upon one celebrity- the Queen of Pasco County who is pictured above.  We found a wide selection of food to choose from, including a hot dog with no black grill marks for our picky grandson Nathan.  There was musical entertainment for our dining pleasure, as well as available chairs, at the large lawn located in front of the courthouse.  We listened to many fine classical/operatic musical offerings from the local music store while our little ones found other children and toys to play with.
We stayed much longer than we thought we had planned and bought a variety of local craft items.  Clarissa was able to get her afternoon nap in also, so our trip home was fairly pleasant.  It also helped that we took major highways and moved a bit faster than our earlier trip.  For our trip then, John wanted to see some of the countryside between Tampa and Dade City.  Unfortunately young children do not appreciate rural beauty!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

An Evening with Harry Belafonte

The Tampa Bay Times (Jan.11) had a interesting article on this singer and social activist.  He was interviewed by Piper Castillo who asked him why he was speaking in Florida when just last year he was to have said that he was making no more public appearances.  His talk was to be given at USF this past Tuesday, and he said since it was a university he "simply wanted to accept it".
I am so thankful that John and I had the opportunity to hear him speak.  It was part of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. week at the University of South Florida.  Mr. Belafonte was an adviser to MLK.

It was a good hour hours drive from our home into Tampa, during rush hour.  Getting into the university and through the campus was another story (a very large school with close to 50,000 students).  However, Marshall Student Center Ballroom was fairly easily found and a few parking spots were still open.  We grabbed a quick bite of supper in the student union and then joined the long lines waiting to get into the ballroom.  Students got first priority, the "community" had to line up behind them.  Turned out there was no need to fear about not getting a seat, after everyone was seated there were a few empty rows left.
 Mr. Belafonte needed some assistance with climbing the step onto the stage.  He will be turning 91 years of age in March.  Had a stroke a couple of years ago which he said affected his inner ear and equilibrium.  He started his talk mentioning his childhood in Harlem.  Spoke lovingly of his mom who kept her dignity despite the family's poverty.  He is very thankful that, at the age of 4 and again at twelve, she took them to her place of origin, which was Jamaica.  There he found a "sense of humanity" not found in Harlem, and spoke of it as creating another "dimension" in his life.  He also mentioned having a Scottish grandmother.  Nurtured by that community in Jamaica he was helped  to understand African Americans-  the rage that is over-whelming, the indignities of racism like no where else in the world.  And he decided to deal with life from the Black perspective.
Mr. Belafonte was not ashamed to brag that he has met some of the greatest men and women of the 20th century.  Eleanor Roosevelt "gave me the ability to move in the white community".  With her friendship, and that of many others "I am by far the winner".
In young adulthood Belafonte entered acting school and started a life-long friendship with Sidney Portier.  It was the role Belafonte had in the play Of Mice and Men ( a part written for him which required musical  talent) that started his singing career.  Lester Young (American jazz tenor and saxophonist) heard him sing and encouraged him to begin a singing career.  Folk singers Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie were some of his influences in his singing career.  Belafonte found his singing career to be a powerful platform for social activism.  "Being an artist was not my intention".  He mentioned one singing gig he had in Florida, where the KKK harassed him for singing to white women.  He found out fast that America does not look too kindly on people of color trying to make a difference.
In the 1950s he met Martin Luther King who invited him to join him.  He commented that MLK had a brain with so much information, a humanity steeped in religion.   He spoke with such insight and "had an impact on me"-" I found reason to be engaged in their mission".
 He stated that we need MLK now as we have been run over by commercialism and materialism.  We are to busy making money, getting so careless that we do not care about the abused and poor.  We, as Americans, have a chance of loosing our vision altogether.  We have to resurrect our humanity.  It is in only in America where Blacks have to live in the "belly of the beast".  They went from slavery to years of segregation and discrimination, all equally cruel.
Our institutions have failed us.  Too much emphasis in schools on STEM courses, less on the humanities and arts.  Belafonte mentioned a couple of times that he has been involved in the criminal justice system- meeting with young people serving years in prison for non-violent acts.  What a waste of talent.
 As to current times- he commented that it is "curious" how our 45th president got elected, how the other candidate received the plurality of votes and lost.  Donald Trump has called certain nations "s-holes", he has no sense of how white Europeans created the problems those countries have today.  Belafonte made mention a couple of times on the importance of the United Nations, especially for third world countries.  That is the only platform or recourse they have for their issues.  Current administration of our country wants to dismiss the United Nations as it is irrelevant, but it is relevant- it is made up of us.
That was about the gist of what he said.  Time listening to him was about an hour and a half, it went too fast for me!  I felt very fortunate to have heard him.  

Monday, January 8, 2018

Wintering in Florida

Yes, it is cold here, but every time I complain about that I have to realize that while it is 56 degrees for daytime temperatures here, it is 20 degrees or below further north!  We are flirting with freezing temperatures at night- and I have brought my outside plants in for the time being.   Last Saturday we revisited the Florida Botanical Gardens and it was such a joy to see so many blooming plants!  That is what is so wonderful about Florida- we may have a cloudy sky with no sunshine, but bright colorful plants are always around!
Pictured above is the flower of the aloe plant, in case you have ever wondered what its flower looks like.
 I found this corner of the garden quite pretty with a blooming powder puff tree.  It is in the foreground of the picture.  In front of it is a bougainvillea bush with a purple variety of the flower coming out of the middle of it.  And speaking of blooming plants, there is a hibiscus tree that blooms pretty much year around near our daughter's driveway.
I took a picture about a year ago with our granddaughter Clarissa being held under that blooming pink hibiscus tree.  In the picture below I caught her running below the blossoms.  Certainly she is an infant no longer!

Now to turn the calendar back a bit to last fall.  John and I attended our church retreat, which was located outside of town about 150 miles. John found some time on his hands, so he assisted the ladies with making blankets.  No sewing required,  just some skill in tying strips of cloth together!
Will end this with a picture of our Christmas morning.  Our son Dan and his wife were with us.  In the picture above Dan and Melissa are assembling a marble maze for the little ones.
We are now well into the new year.  John and I will probably be here in Florida for a few more months.  Where we head out after that remains uncertain.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Selby Orchid Show

Selby has a Tropical Conservatory where the orchid show was ( I believe it ran until Nov.22).  They still have a goodly amount of orchids on display year around, however.  There are 27,000 species of orchids, which have adapted to life in the trees where they are better positioned to receive light.  Seventy per cent of them are in that category, the other 30 per cent are terrestrial.  I have seen the yellow lady slipper in hikes through wooded areas.  Another terrestrial is pictured below.
Before I go any further I first need to say that I am not all that knowledgeable regarding orchids.  Information in this posting is from interpretive signs in the conservatory.  Pollinators for orchids are bees, butterflies and birds.  One exception is the Darwin's orchid from Madagascar.  In the garden's Museum of Botany and Arts in the Payne mansion (another fascinating place in the park) is on display a moth nearly identical to the subspecies that pollinates that orchid.  It has a long nose to reach down into the flower.  The tiny seed of orchids are dispersed on air currents to suitable germination sites.  Pictured below is King Serendipity, one of the many gorgeous orchids on display.
The theme of this orchid show was "Science and Splendor of Orchids Through the Four Elements of Nature"  A garden docent challenged us to figure it out for ourselves while touring the show.  I could understand water, earth, air- but fire?  We soon discovered that there are some terrestrial orchids that respond well to fires occurring on a regular basis.  Looking at the display (pictured below) with all of its red highlights I immediately got it!  Most of those flowers are not orchids, but the colorful display was a clue to look at the interpretive sign regarding fire and orchids.
From the book The Orchid Thief I learned that in the latter years of the 19th century there were many avid lovers of orchids who traveled to areas heavily populated by the flower and remove them for a variety of reasons.  There is one swamp in the Everglades where this happened.  I have seen an occasional orchid in our tour of swampy areas, maybe there would be more had that not happened.  .

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

We were in Sarasota this past summer.  However, as the temperatures were then in the 90 degree range, we decided to wait on seeing these gardens until cooler weather.  Time has passed quickly for us since then and we forgot about the gardens until we learned about the orchid show.  I had recently read the book The Orchid Thief  by Susan Orlean - which told me everything I would ever wish to know about orchids.  After reading that book I just had to see an extensive display of orchids!
Marie Selby and her husband built the above home in 1939 and lived in it until 1970.  She left her home and property to the local community with the aim of forming a botanical garden.  That was established in 1973.  The gardens grew over time into the surrounding properties and now covers about 15 acres.  Mrs. Selby had an extensive banyan grove which has always been a part of the gardens.  It is a fig tree that begins its life as an epiphyte when its seed germinates in the crevice of a tree.

A cousin of the banyon is the ficus tree.  In the gardens is a walkway bordered by those trees, they have such impressive names as the "lofty fig" and the "council tree".

Selby Gardens is a leader in the conservation and display of epiphytes, or plants that grow on other plants.  As we walked through the gardens we saw many plants hugging their hosts.  A beautiful example is pictured below.
Another category of epiphytes are the bromeliads.  Some of them grow in trees, other in the ground.  Examples of this family is the pineapple plant as well as Spanish moss.
Also in the family of epiphytes is the orchid.  I will feature the orchid show in my next posting.  The gardens does also have a very diverse collection of other tropical and subtropical plants from many regions of the world.  Pictured below is the dessert area of the park.  I cannot begin to cover all beautiful flora in these gardens, but I must say it is one of the best botanical gardens we have seen!

Monday, November 13, 2017

St. Cloud, Florida

Previously I had written that we had visited Lake Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee.  We learned that northeast of it is East Lake Tohopekaliga, located above the city of St.Cloud.  I do not remember anything particularly interesting at that lake, we walked around its park and then drove into St.Cloud.  It is a small town noted for quite a few murals which can be found on the outside walls of its downtown buildings.  Pictured below is one of the first ones which we found.
Apparently the amaryllis is the town flower.  Many of the murals spoke to the history of St.Cloud.
The picture above is soldiers returning home after a war.  St.Cloud became important to soldiers after the Civil War when the Grand Army of the Republic established a veteran's retirement colony through the Seminole Land and Investment Company.  In 1909 35,000 acres of a defunct sugar plantation was bought and called St.Cloud.  Veterans arriving in this town could pick up deeds at the Seminole Land Office.  They began arriving in 1909, some started living immediately on their plots in tents.  The first home built belonged to G.W. Penn, it still stands in the town today.
While we were in St.Cloud it was Halloween and the trick or treaters were flowing into the downtown streets.  Local businesses had opened their doors and were handing out goodies.  So I was dodging all that activity while taking pictures of the murals.  Am sure we were a curious sight!
People, costumed or not, lined up in front of the mural waiting for candy while I quickly took the picture.  No one seemed to notice me,  maybe they are use to tourists in their town.  The mural depicts a town fire in 1917.  It was a suspicious arson fire which started in a storeroom and spread to businesses and apartment buildings.  Volunteers formed a bucket brigade to put it out.  Townspeople removed contents of two grocery stores, other businesses, post office, and residences before the raging fire forced them to stop.  Quite different from today when the most likely people to show up and remove items from buildings are looters! 
I think I will always remember St.Cloud not so much for the murals but for the fun of being in on a small town event!  Everyone knew each other and yet were very gracious to us strangers.  The fun continued in a local diner where we purchased a delicious supper.

Shells and Swans

It is hard to believe that two weeks have passed since I made the trip to Kissimmee.  A lot has happened for John and I since then, which is why I have not continued writing about that trip until today.  John had a medical issue which required hospitalization.  All is well now.
On Monday of that week my sisters and I drove to Cocoa Beach, about an hours drive east of Kissimmee.  So we are now talking about the Atlantic Ocean and not the Gulf.  That does make a difference, as I have written before, in the shells as well as wading birds we see.  It was a very cool day when we were there, jackets were needed for our walk on the beach.  Many shells could be seen scattered on the beach, which I had also noticed on the Bonita Springs Beach, a week before.  I think  that the hurricane had washed up many onto the beaches.  We were quite pleased to find a pile of conch shells, a few of which we added to our private collections.  I was also surprised to find quite a large olive shell.   Maybe you shell collectors know what I am talking about.
The pier at Cocoa Beach is privately owned, we chose not to pay the fee to walk on it.  Guess that we perhaps should have eaten at the restaurant at the end of the pier had we wanted to take in more views of the ocean.  We had a good lunch somewhere else, found a good movie to see, and then headed home in time to get Julia to the airport.
My sister Julia had to return home that Monday evening, John came to join Linda and I on Tuesday.  We continued to take short trips around Kissimmee. as well as one foray into downtown Orlando.  John remembered that he and I had once visited Eola Lake Park, a lake famous for its fountain and swans.  Strange, the first swan we saw there was a black one!
The park's lake was once a sinkhole.  A fountain (Centennial Fountain) was placed in the lake in 1912, it was replaced in 1957.  At night it changes colors like a light show.  Set against the backdrop of the city skyline, it is also quite pretty in the daylight.  Notice the swans in the foreground.
We made an interesting trip on Halloween day to St.Cloud.  More on that later.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Pioneer Village at Shingle Creek

Trying to drive around Kissimmee is a challenge because of Disney World- and this time of the year is not yet even its peak season!  We felt rather smug about avoiding that place and finding other attractions to visit, certainly ones much cheaper.  One such place is Pioneer Village.  This village is a recreation of life of the Seminole, settlers and cowmen from the period of 1880 to 1916.  In 1988 Lt. Col. William Cadsman of Yorkshire bought 8 acres of orange groves in Florida.  His wife was ready to return home to England upon seeing the Seminole Indians- but did stay.  Pictured below is their home, which had an outdoor kitchen, and bunkhouse for their boys.

James Tyson, another Florida cracker farmer, had 21 acres of land; 10 acres on which he raised vegetables.  In 1889 he married a 16 year-old girl and they had 11 children whom they raised in a modest one room home. Seems he could have built a bunkhouse too!
The village also has a replica of a Seminole settlement.  The native Indians of Central Florida lived in the Kissimmee River Valley on elevated hammocks or islands.  Their shelters, "chickees", were built from pine logs and palm thatch.  Floors were elevated to prevent flooding in the home.
We saw more early settler's homes as we hiked along Shingle Creek.  The creek is the headwaters to the Everglades, flowing 23 miles beginning in the north near Orlando and ending in Lake Tohopekaliga.  And it is interesting how the creek received its name- it is actually a simple explanation   Pioneers used the cypress trees from the creek to shingle their roofs.
Pictured above is the Steffee cabin, built in 1880, it is along the trail in Shingle Creek Regional Park.  The trail is multi-use and located in one of Florida's busiest urban areas.   As we found in other areas of Florida, the water level is high in the creek and brush has piled up because of Hurricane Irma.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Kissimmee, Florida

My sister Linda had her time share moved to this town, which is very close to Disney World.  She, along with my other sister Julia and myself,  then planned a rather spontaneous weekend to check out her new resort condo.  We had a wonderful visit there, and no time was spent at Disney World or the other affiliates of the company located in Orlando.  By the way, I have often wondered about the unusual name of Kissimmee, and finally learned of its origin.  It means "Heaven's Place" in the Calusa Indian language.  The city started out as a small trading post, its first name was Allendale.  It was located on the northwest shore of Lake Tohopekaliga.  One of the first things we did on Saturday was to visit the lake,  located in downtown Kissimmee.
It makes a big difference in Florida whether one is on the Atlantic side or Gulf side of the state- or in the central part of the state,  as to what kinds of wading birds may be seen.  We were in the latter, and saw limpkins as well as the black ibis along the shores of Lake Tohopekaliga.  Two birds which we have not seen so far in the Tampa area.
Pictured above is the limpkin, busily searching for his meal among the marshy greens.
While walking the pathways of the park we came upon the Monument of the States.  In 1942, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dr. Charles Bressler-Pettis decided a statue was needed to show American unity.  He wrote to every governor of the lower 48 states asking for a rock from their state.  Upon receiving them he had them mortared into a 50-foot-tall pyramid of colorful concrete slabs.
Pictured above is a section of the monument.  Over the years more rocks have been sent from corporations, 21 foreign countries, as well as Hawaii and Alaska.  Them have been placed in nearby walkways.  Another feature of this park is a rain garden, which is lush with many plants and grasses.  Florida has recently had a lot of rainfall, and the garden now is now showing off its' full beauty.