December 27. 2011

On Christmas Eve we served about 130 people at Silver Palms, and everything was perfect.  Instead of a big heavy dinner, Randy served appetizers, so everyone could have as much or as little of whatever they wanted.  And there was plenty to choose from:  Caesar salad, lettuce wraps, smoked salmon dip, stuffed mushrooms, Swedish meatballs, spinach artichoke dip, crackers and cheese, strawberry cream pie, pecan pie, eclairs and cream puffs, fresh fruit, carrot-ginger soup, broccoli soup, dollar sandwiches with turkey or ham, deviled eggs, strawberry cream pie, pecan pie, eclairs and cream puffs, fresh fruit and chocolate peanut clusters.  Everyone said they had a great meal, and goodness knows they ate a lot!
Since Randy needed to be in Okeechobee to serve the Christmas Eve dinner, we knew we wouldn’t be able to visit family on Christmas Day.  So we joined Clyde and Nancy and spent Christmas in Sanibel!  Sanibel is about 2 hours away, and traffic was light.  The purpose of going to Sanibel was to go shelling; I am in love with seashells and want to create jewelry from some of the prettiest ones.  Fortunately for me, Clyde, Nancy and Randy are willing to spend their day searching for shells.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the only place to do shelling is on beautiful sunny beaches.  We started out at the beach by the lighthouse.  Nancy had told me that there were more shells than I could pick up, but I didn’t really believe her.  So I was astonished at the number of shells - more than I could pick up, and that is a lot!  We spent an hour or so there, then moved to another beach further north on the island.  More sunshine, more waves, more shells.  What a great way to spend Christmas!
One of our goals was to see the sunset from a beach.  Nancy heard that the sunsets at Captiva’s beach were great, so we drove there as it started getting dark.  And yes, the sunset was beautiful.

Then we went looking for a place to get dinner.  Not an easy task, on Christmas day. The one or two places we found on Sanibel were absolutely packed.  Eventually we stopped at a gas station to change out of our wet clothes, and the guy there said that Perkins was open.  So we went there; turns out everyone else had the same idea, because although we didn’t have to wait to get a seat, the frazzled waitress said they were out of almost everything.   They weren’t quite out of food, but the meatloaf they had left was pretty dry.  But we were tired and hungry and glad to find a place to eat, so although it wasn’t the best meal, it was appreciated.  

It’s a good thing we had a relaxing Christmas, because the day after Christmas was hectic.  Randy has been putting in unbelievable hours to plan, organize and create wonderful meals, and his staff has worked really, really hard.  And there has been great feedback from most of the guests.  However, there have been a lot of issues with management, which Randy has tried to work through.  But what is unacceptable is that the manager treats Randy and the rest of the kitchen staff with a total lack of respect, and it gets worse every day.  In spite of our efforts to make this work, it became a choice between going along with this behavior or leaving, so we left. 

So the day after Christmas we packed the RV up and drove out of that park.  Clyde and Nancy had traveled a long way to spend time with us here, so they left with us.  We need time to plan our next move so we moved to another RV park in Okeechobee and will spend a few days here.  But since we are unemployed, what the heck, we headed back to the beach!   East this time, and back to the Jupiter area.  On the way we stopped at King Neptune restaurant for lunch.  It’s small - they only have 7 small tables, and it’s not fancy, but every thing they make is fresh and well prepared.  We shared conch fritters, Bimini bread and fried conch, and ordered scallop salad and mixed platters.
After lunch we went back to Blowing Rocks Beach, and it was so wonderful to spend another day in the sand and surf.  The water is still a little too cool to swim in, but it felt great on our feet as we climbed around the rocks.  This area has gorgeous orange shells that I just love; fortunately everyone was willing to help me gather some.  A lot of shells were in the holes where the surf sprays up through the rocks - Randy was especially good at searching those.

December 20, 2011 Part 2

It turns out any day spent with Clyde and Nancy is a good day.  We usually don’t start too early, but once we get going, it’s great!  Today was another fine example; we started out looking for alligators in the wild.  Nancy checked online to find out where Nubbins Slough was located, and we discovered that it was where we went gater-searching yesterday, with no results.  But since it was warmer today (mid-70s), there was a better chance the gaters would be out.  It took awhile, but we did see one lazying about in big canal that runs into the lake.  He (I’m assuming it was a male, but who knows?) was out in the middle of the water with only part of his head showing.  It was too far for my camera to get a good picture, but with Clyde’s binoculars we could see him pretty good.  The pelicans that were diving for fish didn’t pay him any attention, but they didn’t get too close, either.  In another part of the canal were a lot of big water birds called Anhingas.  They are the ones that stand on the river bank and spread their wings out to dry.  Apparently they don’t have oil in their feathers, so they get water-logged and need to dry out occasionally.  And a couple of Great Blue Herons were there also, fishing and sitting in the sun.  They are so beautiful - very large with distinctive markings and wispy decorative feathers.  

Next stop: Arnold’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.  It’s a small wildlife care facility that is located about 13 miles out of town.  They get a wide range of animals, for a lot of reasons.  Some are pets that are no longer wanted - there were a lot of cockatoos, which surprised me, because those are expensive animals and they make good pets.  Some of the birds they get can be adopted out, which is great.
Some of the birds are obviously recovering from bad health, like Ruby, who has beautiful scarlet head feathers but is missing a lot of her body feathers.  Apparently she has already regrown about half the feathers that she lost from bad food and indifferent care before she got here.  Besides adopting out pets when possible, the people who run the place release wild animals (who are usually here because of an injury) whenever possible.  The animals to be released are not on view to the public so they don't get too used to people.  But a lot of animals can’t be released; sometimes because their injury prevents it, but usually because by the time they come to the Center they are both used to people and dependent on them.  These are animals that should never have been pets, but somebody tried.  Like Fennec Foxes.  They are unbelievably cute because they are the size of a small cat and have ears as big as their heads.  But they are wild animals and don’t make good pets, even if they are raised with people.
They have a couple of Lynx, with slender long legs and tufted ears.  And  three cougars, which certainly looked healthy, but even if they can be taught to feed themselves, they cannot be taught to defend themselves against other cougars.  And they have Serval Cats, which surely have the most beautiful spotted coat of the entire cat family.
One of the Bobcats was stretched out against the fence, and the temptation to tickle those furry toes was almost more than I could resist. . . but I did resist because he just looked too comfy to bother.  Plus I was sure he could take my finger off pretty fast.   
It's a shame to see these animals in enclosures, but it was obvious that the staff gave them as much space and care as they could; the animals had significant room to move around, they had places to jump up onto, and they had areas where they could get out of view whenever they wanted.  Plus there were usually more than one in an enclosure, which meant there was someone to cuddle next to, like the Servals were doing.  A couple of the big cats (not sure which ones) started fussing at each other.  Honestly, they acted exactly like our two housecats at home.  One lay on her side, staring up at the other with one paw raised and sort of growled.  The other sat right next to her with one paw raised and growled back.  They would raise their voices a bit, give a tentative swipe at each other, and then ignore each other.

There was a nice setup for the two otters, with a little waterfall and a deep pool.   The otters kept standing up on the rocks to get a good look at us, while we were looking at them.  They have a couple of skunks here and an albino hedgehog, a walleroo and a porcupine.  And several marmosets, which are the tiniest monkeys ever.  And a Capybara (which is the largest rodent in the world), and a few Sulcate Tortoises, who were chasing each other around at top turtle speed.
A couple of tame deer roam the lawn.   One deer only has three legs, but he gets around just fine, and likes to be pet, too.  
A small deer was resting in the shade, and I was sure she would jump up and run away when I got close.  But she didn’t, and I got to pet her!  They liked to lick our arms and legs - they have soft tongues, like a dog.  They were so beautiful and very gentle with us, and it was like a dream to be able to pet them.  But those gorgeous eyes don't really connect with ours, like a dog's eyes would.  I think that's a sign that part of them will always be wild; they can adjust to us, but they don't really belong to us.
The butterfly garden has paths lined with flowering bushes and shrubs, and butterflies like this Zebra-Striped butterfly just flit around the ones they like best.  It was so peaceful to wander around there.  
And everywhere are beautiful Peacocks and Peahens, including an albino Peahen who was a little shy - she would scoot away when I approached. 
But the Peacocks weren’t shy - they practically ignored us while they socialized with each other and showed off for the peahens.  I certainly could not ignore them!
We wrapped up the day with a trip to Dairy Queen for dessert, followed by dinner at Clyde and Nancy’s RV.  No, that’s not backwards, that’s just right!

December 20, 2011

Florida is more than I expected.  For starters, I didn't expect to have cows as our neighbors.  But we do - there is a small herd next door.  The cows are not de-horned and could do some damage.  But of course, I don't go into their fields.  I stay on my side of the fence and feed them celery tops, and we get along fine.  This guy is the young bull.  He does't have horns yet, but he's already almost as big as the cows.  
There are a ton of palm trees here and lots of fields, but there are also big stretches of land near the roadway that are not cultivated, and they have a lovely, primeval look to them.  I don't know what kind of tree this is, but I love the way they look.   
For anybody who knows our dog Sugarbaby, this will come as a surprise - he's made a doggy friend!  A couple in the park asked me to keep their little Yorkie/Poodle mix while they were gone for the day.  Because she's just a few months old, they asked if I would keep her in our RV, so she wouldn't be alone all day.  Of course Julienne and Sugarbaby both were unhappy about that, but I took each one on long walks with her, and eventually they got used to her. By the end of the day Sugarbaby decided he liked her. . . a lot.  He followed her everywhere, sniffing her and bumping up against her.  She got a little tired of it but she was very patient with him. A couple of days later they met again in the Park, and he not only remembered her, he still liked her!
And for the reason we are in Florida . . . things like Jupiter Beach.

December 18, 2011

Last night Randy’s kitchen fixed a big dinner for the RV Park.  They served Greek Salad, Relish trays, Tomato-Basil soup, Amaretto Carrots, Seasoned Peas, Pork tenderloin, White cake, Coconut cake, Chocolate cake and Bread Pudding with Vanilla Sauce.  All for $9.00!!!   This morning they followed it up by serving a great breakfast -  Bacon, Sausage, French Toast, Biscuits, Toast, Fresh Fruit, and an egg station where they fixed omelets to order.  And that only cost $6.  Basically, for a little bit of cash, people can eat very well here. 
But it’s a lot of work so this afternoon we needed to do some non-restaurant things.  Clyde and Nancy came to the rescue, driving us out to see some of the local stuff.  For starters, we went looking for alligators.  They are around here somewhere, so we should be able to find them, right?  Not so fast...For starters, Lake Okeechobee is simply huge.  When you stand on one shore, you can’t even see to the other shore.  That’s a lot of area to look for gaters in.  But Nancy asked someone at the local computer store, who recommended Lock 7.  We assumed that would be a big lock-and-dam, similar to the one we saw at Alton, Illinois.  But as far as we could discover (by driving around and asking people standing on the bank), it’s a marshy area not too far from our RV Park.  There were no gaters there today because half a dozen air boats were roaring in and out of the marsh.   But we drove around a little, and found a great view of the lake.  

The computer lady had mentioned a second gater-viewing spot, not too far from Lightsey’s restaurant, where we had a great seafood dinner a few nights ago.  We went there, and once again, no gaters.  A local fisherman told us that it’s too cold for them to be out today.  Apparently they have dens in the river bank (or lake bank), and the dens have air pockets, like beaver dams.  When it’s cold they dive underwater to their den and lie there, out of the cold water, and don’t show up for the tourists.  Silly gaters.  But at that point I quit caring about gaters, because being in that area was like stepping into Audubon-Land!  There were large water birds everywhere.  All kinds of beautiful, amazing birds.  
There were a lot of Wood Storks - I didn't know about these birds before now.  They are very pretty except for their heads, which are very ugly.  It looks like a vulture head got stuck onto an egret’s body.  They have wicked-looking beaks, and the other birds tended to move out of their way.  
A young Brown Pelican sat in the middle of the Wood Storks; all of the time we were there he kept his head down and never lifted his beak; maybe that’s Pelican for “I’m not a threat to you".  

A couple of other pelicans who like their own space sat on top of a nearby boat; the adult has a lovely white neck.

A Great Blue Heron, with it’s distinctive black shoulders, stood on the dock, watching the rest of us.
A couple of large Sandhill cranes flew in; they are easy to recognize by their cap of red feathers.  They are usually found in pairs, and that seems to give them confidence; they walked fearlessly among the other birds, and occasionally would rush at the others to get them out of the way.  
The reason all these birds were here is because there is a fish-cleaning station.  A couple of successful fishermen were cleaning fish and the birds were lined up quietly all around them, hoping for scraps.

And on top of the cleaning station stood a Great Egret, watching for something that would be worth coming down for.  What a wonderful place this is!

December 13, 2011

Amazing day yesterday - it started with a tornado and ended with a double rainbow!  Clyde and Nancy recently joined us at Silver Palms RV Park and yesterday we all drove east to find a beach. The day started out sunny but after awhile it got cloudy and as we neared Jupiter, we saw a small tornado.  For some reason it didn’t seem to matter to us - it was off to the side quite a ways, and the weather wasn’t too bad where we were, so we just kept going.  
We intended to take Clyde and Nancy to King Neptune restaurant in Port Salermo, but when we got there we found out it was closed on Mondays - bummer.  Nancy quickly checked the internet for other restaurants and we ended up at The Whistle Stop - a tiny, tiny little restaurant with just 8 chairs (most of them at the counter).  A customer recommended the steak sandwich so we all ordered it, and it was really good - we would go back there.  We also stopped at Importico’s Bakery for a treat - chocolate bread, chocolate covered eclairs, almond cookies and bear claws.  What can I say? Life is good.
The lady at the restaurant recommended the beach at Jupiter Island. Jupiter Island is one of the richest areas in the country; people like Celine Dione, Greg Norman and Alan Jackson have homes here, as did Tiger Woods, although he doesn’t live there anymore, not since a certain car accident.  Like Jensen Beach before, it was windy and fairly cool, but perfect for walking in the sand and looking for shells. I will try to make jewelry later with some of the shells we found.  
We found something else, too - lots and lots of tiny Portuguese Man-o-War. Technically they aren’t jellyfish (they’re something called a siphonophore), but they look like jellyfish and they sure sting like jellyfish. Sometimes that sting can kill, but we were careful and didn't get stung. They look funny - like little blue plastic bubbles. The bubble part is the bladder that makes them float. The tentacles were not easy to see on these little ones, but they would be more visible on the mature ones. 

After walking all over that beach for over an hour, we got in the car and drove a mile up the road to the Blowing Rocks Preserve. Beautiful and very rugged rocks - old Anastasia limestone - fringe the coast here. The rocks are set up from the sand a little bit, and when the tide is in, the surf comes splashing up through holes and crevices in the rocks. Another beautiful spot, and of course, I got a few more shells.  
Endangered turtles (loggerheads and leatherbacks) lay eggs on both of these beaches but it was the wrong time of the year for that so we didn’t see any.  We talked to a young man who was trapping sand fleas (aka mole crabs). These critters are about an inch long with a hard shell on one side, and their underside is the part that looks like a flea, with jointed legs folded up under the shell. For a moment I was afraid he was catching them to cook, but it turns out they are used for bait.
We had plans to go out to dinner, so eventually we had to leave the beaches and drive back to Okeechobee. Along the drive we saw a brilliant rainbow, with a lighter rainbow beside it.
For dinner we met some other couples from the Park and went to Cowboys, where they serve all-you-can-eat baby-back ribs on Monday, and mighty good ones, too. Because they are “all you can eat”, I felt obligated to have a second helping - well, I didn't want to insult their cook! But next time (and there will be a next time), I’ll try to limit myself to one rack.