A Christmas vacation in February

Saturday we picked our friends Lance and Janice up at the airport - refugees from an Illinois winter! They had decided to make this trip as their Christmas present to themselves. And that makes sense - it was 20 degrees when they left Illinois and mid-60s where they landed here. It was afternoon when we got home so we "snacked" on the antipasto tray and bread, before going to The Villages to hear a band. To our surprise, the band who was playing was the same band how played The Villages the last time Lance and Janice were here! They're not bad, but a cold wind picked up so we didn't stay late. We were still full from the antipasto so we just got some deli meats for dinner, instead of the steaks Randy had for dinner. And we ended up skipping dinner anyway!

Sunday we all went to church together, then came home for a lunch of deli meats. The forecasted rain came in so it wasn't a good day to do outside things. Lance and Janice like touring wineries so we went to Lakeridge Winery. And they were still having their 2-for-1 case sale! They bought some that we will store for them until their summer trip back. Later we discussed watching the Superbowl but none of us cared much about it; Lance would have been if the Vikings had made it, but as it was, no interest. So we had steaks for dinner, then Janice and I went over to Donna's to chat and borrow her Mexican Train game. After dinner we taught them how to play, and they learned so good that they both won several times!

Monday the weather changed to what people come to Florida for - high 70s and mostly sunny. We spent that good weather going to see the manatees. Lance and Janice have been to Florida many times but usually in warm weather, so the manatees were new to them. In spite of the upturn in temperature, the springs were full of manatees. There were over 200 there today!
It's good to see so many here, and less and less have prop scars. Although boats are still a danger to them, nowadays the cold is more of a threat. They live in the warm water during the winter but cannot eat there - there are no leafy greens in the springs. So they have to travel out to eat. And there is something called "cold stress" that can kill them. A docent told us that recently about 35 were found dead from cold stress. Not here, fortunately, but it's a very real problem for them everywhere.

Lots of babies are here with their moms. Since the babies stay with mom for 2 years, it's common for a mom to have a baby calf and an adolescent with her. 
A trip to watch the manatees is always so peaceful!

Good times with friends from church

Friday we had some folks over for dinner. Carlo and Ana told wonderful stories about their trip to Israel, Gary and Rich gave Randy some good advice about how to change the living room wall, and Erin, Kim and I talked about everything else. Good times! 

Randy had decided to do one of my favorite meals - antipasto. He creates it with several kinds of meats, peppers, cheeses, olives, tomatoes and grapes. I love this so much!
One of our friends isn't supposed to eat a lot of beef or pork, so Randy added a big shrimp tray. 
I don't think Randy can serve a meal without actually cooking/baking. At any rate, he baked true French baguettes to go with it all!
And he created my new favorite cheese dish: baked brie in a hand-made crust.
He spread the top of the cheese with fruits before baking. AWESOME!

Good Day and Super Moon

Today was the last day that Chris and Milt were in our area, so we all went to Silver Springs State Park and took a tour on the Glass Bottom Boat. Our tour guide this time was a little difficult to understand and he seemed to hurry through a bit, but it's still a lovely tour. We followed that up with dinner at Mojo Grill in Belleview - still good!

I have been studying how to take night pictures - and tonight the moon cooperated by being extra big and bright!

Osaka Steak House

Wednesday Chris and I had a girls day out, so naturally we went to Goodwill in The Villages. That, and a stop at I-Hop, took several hours. Later in the evening Chris and Milt took us out for dinner at the Osaka Steak House. Our waitress was a charm-school dropout named Britteny, and our chef was a Mexican named Mario. Not exactly Japanese, but Mario knew his way around that grill! He served fried rice first, which was so good that I ate it all and didn't have room for the vegetables, meat, and noodles that followed. Leftovers for lunch!

Tomorrow morning they will drive further south, towards the Miami area. They will be staying at a campsite without hookups so they are leaving their 2 little dogs with us for a few days. Pita used to be Shorty's good friend but they haven't seen each other for a while, so they will need to get reaquainted. Poco is totally a mama's girl but we will try to make sure she has a good time here. 

The Manatees of Three Sisters

It's cool weather in Florida, which means the manatees are swimming up the creeks to find warmer water. Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River has a lot of them now, so we drove Chris and Milt over there. Along the way we stopped at a roadside stand that looked good. They had Honeybells, which is my favorite citrus. These were full of juice and fairly sweet; they could be better but they were good enough that I got some. Randy liked the Red Oranges and Chris went for the Plant City strawberries. 
Then we drove onto see the manatees. Today they estimated there were 200 in the springs! I actually think there were more than that; in some places they were packed in like sardines. 
When we arrived, there were between 40 and 50 manatees in the large, shallow pool that connected to the river by a small canal. Here they lay almost motionless on the bottom. When manatees are at rest, they tuck their head down, so they look just like big underwater rocks. Manatees can hold their breath up to 20 minutes, although they generally come up for a breath every 3 to 5 minutes. When they want to take a breath, they just slowly rise from the lake bed with no discernible effort, like a slow-moving balloon, and break the surface with their nose. And they almost immediately sink back down; it doesn't take them long at all to get a deep breath.  These critter have amazing buoyancy control!
They look like they have a big layer of fat, but the docents said they don't. Their internal organs are large enough to fill those fat-looking bodies. 
There were a lot of calves here today. Calves stay with their mom for 2 years, and everyone we saw stayed right next to its mama.

While we were there the tide was going out, which caused the manatees in the large pool to head towards the rivers edge. They didn't rush over, of course; I don't know what it would take to make a manatee rush. But as they felt the water's pull, a few at a time moved along the small canal to reach the big group in the river.
This whole area is so peaceful. In a field nearby were a pair of Sandhill Cranes. These birds mate for life, so we usually see two of them together. 
Eventually we had to leave, but before we went home we went to Crackers Bar and Grill for a light lunch. To our delight, they had oysters! 
One of the perks of eating here is watching the show when the fishing boats come in. When they show up, the pelicans come flying in from all around! They know the fishing guides dress the fish they caught and throw the scraps out to the birds. 
One bird gets to stand on the nearest pier, and the guide shows off his aim by tossing scraps directly at it. This is where I leaned how flexible those webby feet are.

Finally, another day on the boat

Sunday Chris and her friend Milt arrived for a visit. They came in Chris's RV and had planned to stay at the Lake Griffin State Park, where we parked our RV while we were moving into our house back in 2016. But the park didn't have a site open that would fit their rig. So they parked it by the Clubhouse in Lake Griffin Isle and we drove them around to find another park. Eventually they found one about 10 miles from us and moved their RV there.

The next day they came over to our place for a boat ride. Their two little dogs stayed home because Randy likes everyone on the boat to have a life vest, and naturally Chris doesn't have life vests for her Illinois dogs. But Shorty has one, so we suited him up and we all took off. It turned out to be a nice day; Shorty and Milt took turns napping in the sun. 
First Randy steered us down Haines Creek, which was full of fishermen searching for Crappie. Next he headed to Pirat's Oasis (it's spelled that way) at the north end of the lake for some gas and food. Randy and I split a grilled fish lunch while Chris and Milt shared cheese sticks. 
Afterwords we split up to do our own thing for a while, before getting back together for dinner at La Palmas.

A close call for Shorty

Saturday morning Randy put Shorty into his harness and leash and took him for a walk. A few houses down from us there was a truck parked in the street with an open door. Suddenly a large, unleashed dog jumped out of the truck and grabbed Shorty in it’s mouth. Shorty yelped hysterically, while Randy grabbed him up and held him against his chest, to keep him away from the other dog. The dog then lunged at Randy, biting through his jacket.

Randy carried Shorty home where we found a bloody puncture wound on his side where the dog had grabbed him. Since our vet is closed on the weekend, a neighbor suggested we take him to Buffalo Ridge Animal Hospital in The Villages. They were able to get us in, although we had a bit of a wait. Shorty was sedated and treated, and it required 3 staples to close the wound.
Shorty seems to be OK, although he's pretty drugged up on pain meds now. Randy is another story; he gets the horrors thinking of how bad it might have been. I think Randy needs some Scotch.