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.


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Fall Happenings In Florida

It is finally feeling like autumn here in Florida!  Last night the temperatures dropped into the 40s and today it is in the mid 70s.  So nice to feel a break in the brutal temperatures of summer.  Migrating birds are starting to be seen again.   Prior to this past week we saw an occasional lone white egret.  Now the ibis are here as well as the spoonbills and a few wood storks.
Our daughter Melissa was anxious for her children, Nathan and Clarissa, to experience the fun of pumpkin patch, going on hay rides and drinking apple cider.  There are a few farms which do offer that experience here in Florida (although I would venture a guess that the pumpkins are trucked in from the north).  Saturday we drove to Sweetfields Farm in Brooksville Florida- about an hour north of Tampa.  Clarissa found the pumpkin she wanted immediately after wandering into the area.
We had a wonderful afternoon at the farm.  There were plenty of activities, including a playground for the little ones.  And animals to see as well as pet, also ponies to ride. Adults could pick a variety of squash which are still in the fields.  A field of sunflowers provided a beautiful backdrop for such a fine sunny but cool day.
Now that the weather is cooler we are making the rounds of parks and playgrounds with the little ones.  Eagle Lake Park use to be a citrus farm, it has a playground with equipment that looks like what one may find on such a farm- like storage sheds, orange crates and even a tractor.  It was also fun walking on one of  the boardwalks where we saw egrets, one alligator, and about a dozen turtles.
The turtles and alligator came up to us in the water near the boardwalk.  My guess is that people have been feeding them, which is very harmful to wildlife.  After our trip to Eagle Lake we needed to stop for supper and the Mellow Mushroom pizza restaurant was our choice.
  It is a chain eating establishment located in parts of the southeast which has the most delicious pizza crust.  They are also family friendly, an important detail when taking little ones out to eat.
This weekend I am traveling to Kissimmee Fl. to meet up with my sisters.  You never know what excitement we may find next in the fair state of Florida!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Corkscrew Swamp Revisited

This was about the third time John and I have visited this swamp.   Our expectations of what we would see there this time were low because of the damage incurred by Hurricane Irma.  Sections of the boardwalk had been destroyed by large trees.  There was only one small loop on which we could walk to view the swamp.
According to a park ranger whom we met while there, the water level in the swamp is the highest he has seen in about 15 years.  At 4 feet not many wading birds are eager to be here at this time as the fish are harder to find.  However we did espy one blue heron.
As I mentioned earlier, many large trees had fallen in the swamp.  There was a blessing to be found in that,  because it opened up the swamp to a lot more light.  We noticed quite an array of wildflowers which seemed to be taking advantage of the extra sunlight.
We also saw patches of purple morning glories, blooming pickerel weed and water lilies.  My brother Marcus declared that it all was still quite beautiful, and I would have to agree.
We had lunch in the small town of Immokalee, which had also experienced a lot of destruction from the storm.  In the town were many buildings with blue tarps on the roofs, an indication that they had to either be replaced or repaired.  After lunch we drove over to Lake Trafford in search of an air boat ride over one of the many marshes in the area.  We had neither the time or desire to drive further south into the Everglades as we would continue to find many more parks and preserves closed due to storm damage.
We had a wonderful boat ride through a swamp, thank to the Air Boats and Alligators Company.  Our driver stopped at different places to point out flora and fauna.  Pictured above is a swamp lily, the one white spot in the mass of green foliage.
He also stopped the boat to allow the bittern in the picture above to give us a close look over.  Many herons, and egrets, took to the sky from their watery havens as our noisy boat approached.  On the lower branches of trees and shrubs we saw a few anhinga drying out their wings.   And hanging out in the high tree tops were the ever watchful osprey.  There were also many sightings of  alligators in the water.
Our driver pointed out an alligator nest, it is in the lower left corner in the picture above.  It was a brownish mass of twigs and grass.  That organic mess serves to keep the eggs warm and covered until the babies are ready to emerge.  He said that about a week ago there were about 30 hatchlings swimming around in this area.
That was our two day trip to southern Florida, we certainly saw and experienced a lot.  It was a good trip, and if you are a Floridian you should certainly get out and explore the wonders of your state! 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Visit to Southwestern Florida

Last spring my brother, Bishop Marcus Lohrmann, became Interim Bishop for the Florida Bahamas Synod.  We promised him that while he was in this area we would take him to our favorite spot in the state, Corkscrew Swamp.  Marcus had a busy work schedule last week with the synod assembly and thought that after that, and the election of the new bishop was accomplished, he would take some time off and go on a road trip with us.  We knew that Hurricane Irma had hit southern Florida hard- even had learned that Corkscrew Swamp had only part of its boardwalk open, but still decided to visit that area anyway.
After driving a couple of hours Sunday afternoon we were ready to stop for the night, and most fortunately chose Bonita Springs.  We happened upon a wonderful beach there where, after securing  a spot for the night ( we soon learned that most hotels were full and should have had reservations because disaster crews are still present taking care of damages from the storm) we chose to walk.   The beach was quite busy with many people in the water, in the picture above two fishing poles are hanging out at the water's edge. Not sure how successful is that mode of fishing!  The beach was quite littered with a few varieties of shells,  but we were interested only in a good walk.
A lot of the beach houses showed some damage from the storm.  The one pictured above looked like it had some kind of reconstruction work going on the inside.  Most of the homes and condominiums along the beach are not quite as ostentatious as that one!  For supper we ate at a restaurant which gave us seating at the water's edge.  One small alligator in the bay eyed us sleepily as we ate our meal.
Would you believe that we started our day at a church Monday?  Remember, we had the Bishop traveling with us and he felt a need to check out the local Lutheran church (ELCA).  Christus Victor is the name of the church, and Pastor Tom Slater was in the office.  We had a good visit with him and toured the park next to the church, which the church owns.  In the park there is a small lake with plaques noting the stations of the cross around it.  The park also has an outdoor worship area which still has a lot of brush laying around from the storm.  Our adventures of the day continues in the next posting on this blog site.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Hurricane Irma

Just an update on the past week or so.  We did make it back to Tampa and this posting is to share with you the damage that Irma did in this area.  However, when reviewing the pictures on my camera I realized that I have not shared with you something fascinating which happened on our trip home from Panama City.  We were on highway 98, called the Big Bend Scenic Highway- essentially a coastal road.  Just outside of the harbor town of Carrabelle we noticed many butterflies, of all sizes and colors hitting our windshield, and of course dying instantly.  It was like going through a very colorful snow storm.  To think of all those beautiful butterflies dying like that was too much for me and I tried to avoid looking out the windshield as much as possible.   By the way, the butterflies were in such large numbers along the roadway because of the presence of many blooming wildflowers.
John needed a break so we found a spot along the road to park our rig in Carrabelle.  I went out in search of a patch of wildflowers.  I found the wildflowers, as well as many butterflies.  Hiking further around a motel I saw a row of hibiscus bushes.  The butterflies were also active there.
Later arriving in Tampa at our rv park we could immediately see the damage that Irma had done.
Pictured above is a very large live oak which Irma (probably a category 2  at this point) had uprooted out of the ground.   The tree was located by a ditch full of water,  probably the tree had a shallow root system which made it vulnerable to strong winds- the story of many trees around here which were uprooted by the storm.
The pine tree threatening our daughter and her husband's home was finally cut down.  It was not high on the priority list, as the tree company explained.  They said that of greater priority were the homes which actually had trees on them!  Pictured above is the backyard of our daughter's home- now minus a beautiful ficus tree and bougainvillea bush.  It looks quite desolate now!
There are always blessings to be found.  The hibiscus pictured above may be leaning a bit but it is still standing and kept its beautiful pink blooms.  It is in the front yard of their home.
Not sure when another posting will be forthcoming.  I am back to the mode of babysitting and enjoying my grandchildren.  Clarissa is now one years old and is about as active as her brother, especially now that she is walking.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Eden Gardens State Park

  The Wesley was built in 1895, and had elaborate Victorian trimming as well as a wrap-around porch.  Lois G. Maxon  (newspaper woman by trade) bought it in 1963 for $12,500.00 and reconstructed it for one million dollars.  The original building had a kitchen and dining room outside of the home.  They were added into the reconstructed building, as well as bathrooms and closets.  The style was changed from Victorian to an antebellum plantation home.  Pictured below is the backside of the house, the lawn leads down to Tucker Bayou, part of Choctawhatchee Bay.

Miss Maxon came from German royalty on her mother's side and was desirous of having a home for her families European antiques.  We toured the home, it is quite plain and simple on the inside, however Miss Maxon not only gave the house but also her furniture to the state of Florida.  She owned a collection of Louis XVI furniture, which is quite beautiful with tapestry pictures on them.  One bedroom has crown royal furniture, which gives an elegant flair to that room.
The park has been the venue of choice for weddings.  Pictured above is the reflecting pool.  Live oaks on the property vary in age from 500 to 600 years old.  One of them, in the background of the picture above, is known as the "wedding tree".  On the grounds are a variety of gardens.  There are camellia as well as azalea gardens- needless to say the best time of year to visit this place is October to May.  And right now the rose garden is at the end of its blooming period.
Currently the butterfly garden is n full bloom, here the butterflies are quite active.
Before closing here I want to share with you a picture of a statuary which we found down by the bayou.  Needless to say, we enjoyed our visit here very much!

Today we are driving back to our rv park in Tampa.  It fared the storm all right and has power.  Unfortunately our daughter and her husband have not been able to return to their home in Clearwater.  There is a very tall tree in their yard which is leaning precariously and threatens to topple on their home.  Their house has power, but many in southern Florida continue to be without it.  For many the horrors of Hurricane Irma (as well as Harvey) continue on for weeks afterwards.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Panama City Beach

First a note here, this is not to be confused with Panama City, which is across the bay.  It was the promise of a ten star rv resort which brought us here- which we needed after the last park we stayed in.  Lovely as this place is, however, there is not much to do here.  Well, this city and Panama City, are on the gulf, so it is all about fishing and swimming in the ocean.  We did spend one afternoon on the beach.  This time of the year it is quite warm so, unless you keep your feet in the ocean,  you could get a bit uncomfortable.  Fortunately Hurricane Irma cooled things down a little bit for a day or two.
Speaking of that hurricane, it did not hit the building above.  We walked about 5 miles down the main drag of the city Wednesday evening and took in the usual attractions of a beach town.  Pictured above is an amusement house, Wonder Works.  Across from it is Ripley's Believe It or Not, and near our park is a small zoo.  There are also many miniature golf parks.   We had to look elsewhere for entertainment.
Pictured above is a Cracker Turpentine Still, located in St.Andrews State Park.  The park is a pristine barrier island on the Gulf  of Mexico.  Near the still is the Grand Lagoon, a salt water marsh with oyster reefs.
John found the still a bit more interesting than I did.  Well, I did discover why certain pines are called slash pines.  Those pines with high amount of resin in them are slashed for production of turpentine.   There are interpretive signs around the still describing the whole process.  I will try to distill it down for you.  The still was in operation from the 1900s until the mid 1930s.   After the rosin is tapped from the trees it is placed in separating barrels where the turpentine rises to the top.  It is then siphoned, and strained to removed debris.  The barrels are pictured below.
A hot fire is required during the entire distilling process.  In the sill an oven is kept burning with wood.  It flows hot air in a cavity around kettles of rosin.  Rosin quality is determined by the shade of the final product- the lighter the shade the higher the grade of turpentine.  Do not hold me to the accuracy of my interpretation of the whole process.  That was our excitement in St.Andrews Park.  Too hot to walk the pine flatwood trails and dunes of the park.
On Thursday we visited Eden Gardens State Park and home of the Wesley House/Maxon Museum.  It is located about 25 miles west of Panama City Beach and proved to be a very worthwhile trip.  More on that in my next posting.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Andalusia, Alabama

As I said previously, this town is about 18 miles from where we were parked.  Tour books had nothing to say about Andalusia, but we were looking for something to do Sunday afternoon so we drove into the town.  Local people only spoke with us about the shops and fast food places on the out-skirts of town, like that was what we were interested in seeing.  However, we wanted history, not shopping.  Andalusia is the county seat and the biggest city  in the county (population of Andalusia is 9,015 as of 2010).  A faded sign pointed us to the downtown area.  Here there were a few small shops which seemed to be doing well, but the majority were empty buildings.  Typical story of small towns in America.  Then I saw a mural on one of the buildings.  Maybe there was something interesting here!
Near the mural was a plaque stating that in 1976 the Rotary Club's bicentennial project was a Domino's Tournament.  That project has continued annually since then, with many celebrities in attendance.  In the picture above one of the men is Coach Bear Bryant.  Continuing our drive through town and into the historic district we found more murals.
On the Pirate Graphics store is this large picture of Hank Williams, a legendary country western singer.  Here he married Audrey December 15, 1944.  In the building once was a garage where they were married.  We slowly found more murals on a variety of building and could piece together some of the history of the town.

From the interpretive signs with the murals we figured out how Andalusia received its name.  It was possibly due to the town's connection with the region's chief trading center, Pensacola, which was then under Spanish rule (here we are talking of the early 1800s).  The mural above is called the Legend of Andalusia.  A Spanish soldier is confronted by Native Americans who are awed by the white stallion which he had brought from Spain.  The soldier convinces them that he was on his way to give the horse to their chief, and his life was spared.  The above mural is just a small piece of the total picture.  Very well done.
We had been seeing cattle farms along the roads here in Alabama.  The cattle were longhorns, which we generally had seen only in Texas.  It was the Spanish who brought this particular breed of cattle to America about 200 years ago.  The cow pictured above is only a calf,  other cattle with long horns are pictured in the mural.  The art depicts a young boy salting his family's free-ranging native cattle

One last picture here, which celebrates the arrival of utilities to Andalusia at the turn of the twentieth century.  In the mural children are observing a washer and stove being delivered to their home.
We did find a street in this town called Historic District Road, it led to the old train depot which houses a museum- it was closed.  
That was our interesting afternoon in Andalusia, we certainly enjoyed it more than we expected. It was good  that we had made the trip because on Monday we were forced to stay inside because of the wind and rain caused by Irma.  The one time I ventured out my feet sunk into sandy muck from which it was hard to step out of.  I immediately returned inside.  By Tuesday the ground had dried enough so we could move our rig from Alabama to Panama City Beach, Florida.  The worse of the storm was over.