Off-line again

Well, the time has come for me to go visit Mom. That means several days without a computer, much less wifi. So I will live off the grid for awhile, while Randy stays in Florida. Hope it's not too cold in Illinois!

Fire Ants

This is the first day I didn't get bit by fire ants while I was working. A fire ant bite really hurts - it feels like getting stabbed with a needle, with something on the needle that burns.

Fire ants are passionate about defending their home. Unfortunately that backfires for them; because they are so ready to bite, we kill them when we find them.
A couple of weeks ago the ornamental grass was trimmed and the new growth is thriving. In this row I saw something unusual.
In the second grass, fire ants have built a huge nest.
It's actually well camouflaged! This is such a great nest that I hated to do anything about it. 
But there are little children running around here, not paying any attention to where they are going, like children do on vacation. So the ants had to go. I wasn't going to kick this hill. Instead I got one of the other workampers to sprinkle a little something on it that should do the trick.

Happy Easter!

Easter morning we joined workampers and guests for breakfast. Management provided drinks and breakfast casserole, and everyone else provided a side dish. Randy contributed some excellent chocolate covered strawberries.
It didn't rain this morning, which made it special, because it rained last weekend and it's raining again this weekend. Florida is supposed to have over 30,000 lakes; I wonder if they are counting the little lakes that appear when it rains, like the one outside our RV this morning?

First day off!

Wow, I forgot what "work" feels like! We are taking care of the grounds here at the lovely KOA. Florida greenery grows around every site, so there is a lot of work to do. We are not the only ones working here, of course, but there is enough for everyone. Randy does mowing and site prep, while I am triming and cleaning out winter's fallen leaves. These aren't little maple leaves, these are big, heavy palm fronds, many of them taller than me. I sort of love this kind of work, but I am so very sore! Hopefully I'll get used to it. 

Today was a day off, so we went out to see what's around here. For us, that means finding grocery stores. We stopped at a Sam's Club, Costco, Walmart, Publix, Sedona's, and a Farmer's Market, where we finally got a couple of Strawberry Onions. Their name doesn't refer to their color (which is usually white) or their taste; they are grown at the edge of the big strawberry fields. And they are really big.

Something new

Well, we are officially working at a Florida RV park. We will be working outside on the grounds...during the summer. Gonna get real hot here soon. So we made a quick trip to Goodwill so I could pick up some I-don't-care-what-happens-to-them shorts. 

Tonight something special occurred: a rocket launch, 44 miles away but visible across the RV park's private lake. It was scheduled for 11 pm (why so late?) so it was a late night for us. But right on time, we saw a glow on the horizon, then a bright light rising up. We couldn't hear any of its noise, but we could see the rocket as it climbed, its glare reflecting on the lake. 

This rocket will rendezvous with the International Space Station. Pretty amazing!

Toll Road surprise

Since our new battery fixed our car problem, we went out today to a flea market. Our path took us on one of Florida's many, many toll roads. We paid $3.50 along the way, then, at the exit, we had to pay again. But we ran into trouble there; the "cash" line was backed up. Tomorrow we will have a working Sun Pass, but we didn't have it today so we couldn't go through the Sun Pass lane without incurring a big fine. After several minutes Randy got out of the car to see what was going on. It turns out a car had quit working at the payment booth. Then a van tried to squeeze past and got stuck. Now nobody was going anywhere. 
Eventually a policeman arrived and while sorting things out, he gave out some pre-stamped envelopes so people could go through the Sun Pass booth and just mail in the 75 cent toll. No cash is allowed through the mail, so yes, we will have to send in a check for 75 cents. And while we were talking to some of the other motorists, my ankle started hurting; I was standing in a hill of fire ants!

A short, difficult journey to Orlando

It's just 115 miles from the RV park in Homosassa to our next RV park, southeast of Orlando. Even allowing for driving a modest speed to avoid accidents with all the yahoos who like to pull in front of RVs and slow down, it should have been a 2 hour drive. Instead it took us over 4. Over half the road was under construction. And populated with about 200 stop lights. And it's Saturday. And it rained the whole way. 

When we finally arrived, we hooked up the RV and got into the jeep. It took several tries to start the Jeep; when it finally did start we drove straight to Walmart to get the battery replaced. We tried to do that a couple of weeks ago but the Walmart in Homosassa assured us the battery was fine. 

It all made for an exasperating day. We closed it by ordering a Pizza Hut pizza, renting "The Martian", and relaxing at home. 

One year ago: ant tracks
Two years ago: Jeannie Robertson
Three years ago: Creme Brûlée French toast

Go with the Stuffed Grouper

Tomorrow we will drive to Orlando, so tonight we said goodbye to Brenda and Woody. Hate to do that! But we all made is as easy as possible by going back to everyone's favorite restaurant, Peck's. We've heard that the blue crab sandwich is pretty good here. How good? So good that the blue crabs are eating each other!
The last time we were here, Randy and I both got grouper stuffed with crabmeat and served on a yummy sauce; it was easily the best stuffed grouper we've ever had. This time we ordered one of those and one almond-crusted grouper. The almond-crusted grouper was really good, but the stuffed grouper was still the best. 

The Village of Golf Carts

Brenda played the role of tour guide again, driving us all to lunch at Olive Garden, then on to The Villages. The Villages is a huge planned community for retirees, an "age-restricted community" with a population of about 114,000. It's a huge area, of course, with several different neighborhoods and shopping centers. Someone described it as “a landlocked cruise ship. It's got everything you want to do, 16 hours a day. But then everything shuts down at 10 p.m.” Brenda took us to the local Goodwill (which is the best Goodwill I've ever been in), then to one of the quaint areas, with cute stores full of nice things. But the most eye-catching thing are the golf carts - they are everywhere. Along every road runs a golf cart road, big enough for two golf cars to pass each other. This road even goes under the highway, so carts can get everywhere cars can go. And even regular roads have parking spaces for both cars and golf carts. 
 And they love their golf carts here; many of them look like awesome little cars. I admit it  - I want this!

Alpacas, Cuban Sandwiches, etc

Yesterday we had lunch at the Monkey Cafe with Brenda and Woody and their friends Larry and Linda. Later we went over to Brenda’s RV for a long talk by the campfire, with pauses to pet every dog that walked by. 

Today Brenda drove Randy and I out to visit an Alpaca farm. We were led into the fenced-in area where they fed the alpacas, who ignored us and focused entirely on the food.  
The guy in charge made it very clear "this is not a petting zoo". I think he liked the alpacas but he acted like we were morons; we all agreed that he had a terrible personality. But perhaps some of that was because there had been a tragedy here recently. A couple of weeks ago three pit bulls got into the pasture and killed 7 alpaca and seriously injured another 20. Many of the ones we saw had ugly wounds, stapled shut. 

This little cutie wasn't part of the disaster; he's only one week old. They named him Maverick, which is a macho name for such a skinny little thing.
These guys were not at all like the fluffy teddy bears you see in the Alpaca ads, but I really liked them!
Soon we had enough of the grouch, so we left to go to lunch. Brenda took us to the Museum Cafe, a charming little one-man restaurant across from the old Sugar Mill ruins. His specialty is Cuban sandwhiches, which he does very well.
And he's a fan of lagniappes, too; he brought us a little rasberry pastry, sliced into 3 pieces. He has turned the other half of the building into a printing museum. He has some amazing machines like this linotype, and keeps them all in working order. 
After lunch it was a short walk to the Sugar Mill ruins. David Yulee built this in 1849. It processed sugar cane by squeezing the juice out, which was heated until it grained into sugar. Then it was cured for up to 30 days to drain out the remaining juice, leaving a course, light brown sugar. The mill survived the Civil War, but eventually it was abandoned.
After lunch Brenda and I went out for some girl time, which involved shopping, talking, and eventually, a little drinking. We went to Cory's Roadhouse where they were offering two-for-one drinks. So we each ordered a drink. Instead of bringing us each one drink, the waitress brought us each two! Somehow, we managed.
Later Randy and I went to Brenda and Woody's again, where she fixed us something she calls Mountain Pies. She put bread and pizza toppings in the cast iron gizmo, set it in the fire, and it came out great.
And for dessert, she filled the next one with cherry filling!

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park and bent forks

Today we had to move the coach, but just across the road. We had decided to extend our stay, and apparently our site wasn't available. That's OK - we were parked behind a crumbling sign, so any move is welcome. 

Brenda and her friend Barb came by to take us to the nearby Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. The first thing we did there was take a boat ride up the river. This place looks a lot like it would have centuries ago, which is beautiful.
There are a few man-made influences here. They have build nesting boxes for ducks, and recently did a controlled burn of some of the undergrowth. But generally they try to keep it natural. Our guide pointed out a big Osprey nest in one of the trees. Ospreys are not very large but apparently they build huge nests that can weigh between 200 and 300 pounds. That might be because they mate for life and return to the same nest every year. 
After the boat ride we followed the boardwalk to the Fishbowl. Sections of this lake are very deep and the water is clear. We could see some really big fish down there, especially in the deeper sections. But the amazing thing was that we could walk downstairs to an underwater viewing area! The walls are glass, and the fish we saw from above were crowded next to them, moving slowly and keeping in a big bait ball formation.
The reason for that may be that just around the corner were bigger, carnivorous snook. 
But nobody was aggressive; they all just kept to their own kind and drifted quietly near the glass. I love this place!
When I finally left the Fishbowl, we continued along the boardwalk. The claim to fame here are the manatees that come up the river during winter. The spring-fed river remains at 72 degrees, which allows them to live through winter. Now it is warm enough for the wild manatees to head out to the gulf, but there are at least 3 tame manatees that live here year round. We could see them but they didn't feel like getting their picture taken. They stayed below water, looking like huge blobs.

There is a famous hippo here, named Lu. When the park was remodeled in 1989, it was determined that only native species would live here. Hippopotamuses are, obviously, not native, and there were efforts to find another home for him. But the efforts didn't pay off and locals campaigned heavily to keep Lu, so eventually, in 1991 the governor made Lu and honorary citizen of Florida. He's 50 years old now, fat and contented. His enormous pond is frequented by all kinds of birds, several docents visit him daily, and he seems to know the crowds are here for him. 
In the area across the boardwalk are some big, lazy alligators. Their metabolism really slows down in cooler weather. The docent said these were last fed in November, and it's almost time to feed them again.  
The staff have built large, healthy-looking outside displays for a big variety of animals. The otters have a very large lake with a little waterfall, and there are bird sanctuaries everywhere for vultures, flamingos, whopping cranes, spoonbills, burrowing owls - everything. There is an island in one of the ponds with wooden crates which the pelicans use for nesting.
Many birds of prey are housed here. Most, if not all, are injured birds that cannot live successfully in the wild. The Bald Eagle area has an American flag strategically placed against the back wall, and one of the eagles posed for us.
We went to Margarita Breeze later, where we got dinner and a show. Barb, who had been here before, asked the owner to show us his fork-bending trick. I don't know how he did it, but he lightly shook the fork, and the tines bent. Then he had me hold it by the handle, twisted it very, very lightly, and the handle twisted around. Seriously, I want to know how he did this!

Southern Flea Market

For breakfast today, Randy put some of those strawberries into crepes, along with a little Nutella, and served them with sausage. What a great way to use strawberries!
Then we went to a local flea market. This particular one is fairly big on guns. And coins. And more guns. And it's the first flea market where I've seen little goats and pigs for sale. We passed on the livestock and bought some pretty crystal items and laundry detergent. We also got a couple of hats with netting attached to the back - these should come in handy during a Florida summer.

Outside we saw people lining up; when we checked what they were lining up for, it turned out to be corn dogs. I love the south! 

Strawberry Festival

Saturday we went to the Plant City Strawberry Festival. It's about 2 hours away, but Brenda drove us all so we had good company. We found the usual array of fair food there, but we were looking for strawberries. And the first strawberry treat we found was the best - little doughnuts, fresh from the cooker and rolled in sugar and cinammon, covered with strawberries, covered with more doughnuts, covered with whipped cream, and drizzled with strawberry sauce. This was so good we almost ordered seconds!
But we wanted to try other strawberry treats, so we didn't. Instead we went through the rest of the vendors and tried strawberry shortcake (just OK) and strawberry pizza (no good at all). We probably should have gotten seconds on the doughnut one, but you never know until you try!

We saw how strawberries are planted - a big machine packs dirt up into a mound and wraps the mound in plastic. Later each of the little strawberry plants are hand-planted along the mound. Apparently weeding has been eliminated.
We saw the usual array of cookware, jewlery and junk for sale, but in addition to those, there were a lot of unusual and interesting items here. One of my favorite was the Polish dishware. Each one is hand-painted in exquisite detail, and if I had won the lottery when it was a couple billion, I'd get these.
Another area was full of more historic crafts, like hand-made brooms and blacksmith items. I liked the little shaker boxes, made from thin, curved wood. 
Eventually we wanted something more than strawberries to eat. We found the "real food" vendors and I got my favorite fair food - corn dogs. Woody got an elephant ear, while Randy and Brenda were more adventurous - a steak and mushroom pita sandwich. They loved it, even more than I loved my ketchup-covered corn dog.
Time to go, but we had a bit of a wait. Earlier Woody had found a Verizon vendor who would upgrade their phones, and they kept putting him off about when they would be ready. Eventually they got the job done and we all headed back home, but not before buying two flats of strawberries. Every vendor who sold strawberries was also selling big onions. We learned that it is common practice to plant onions along the edges of the strawberry fields. I think the original thought was that the onions would keep critters away. I don't know if that's true; I suspect it's mostly just tradition now. They are often called "strawberry onions" and they look great. Wish I'd bought some!
Along the way home we passed fields where more strawberries were being picked. They are harvested in the same manner that they are planted - one at a time, by hand. 
We appreciate their efforts - our flats made the car smell so sweet on the ride home! It had been a long day, especially for little Princess. She wasn't allowed on the fairgrounds but she got a lot of exercise and play today, and konked out on the way home. 

More fun

When we were at the rally and talking about visiting here, several people suggested we go to The Freezer, a ratty-looking restaurant with a reputation for great food. Brenda and Woody go there regularly, in spite of the fact that there is always a long line, and they always order the shrimp. We enjoyed their last suggestion (at the Pier) so much that we followed suit here. I added a small cup of chowder, which was good, but Brenda's was better. The shrimp were excellent; not as spicy as we expected from all that color, but good enough that Randy and I ate a whole pound. 
Since Princess had surgery yesterday, Brenda wanted to keep close to her today. So when she and Woody picked us up to go to the beach, she brought Princess, and we brought Shorty and Julienne. The dogs aren't allowed on the actual beach, but they enjoyed walking along the boardwalk. And we thought maybe it would be OK if they were on the beach, as long as we held them. 
They sure were happy little dogs! 
I think we were at the Fort Island Gulf Beach. Across the water is the Crystal River Nuclear Power Plant. According to Woody, it's not actually nuclear anymore, it's coal powered.
Later Randy fixed us a light dinner: smoked sausages, chips, home-made cheese dip and pickles. With bread pudding and vanilla sauce. 

Relaxin' in Homosassa

Today we went to a small diner for breakfast, and Brenda and Woody met us there after they took their puppy to the vet. Today is the day Princess gets fixed; since that takes a few hours, they offered to show us around. First stop was Shelly's, where they sell very fresh seafood. 
Just a short bit down the road we got a look at Monkey Island. This is a small man-made island where, a few years ago, someone released a few monkeys. I counted 5 of them, and they seemed to be having a good time, swinging around or sunning on the roof. They are fed daily but are not tame, by any stretch. 
I like Florida's coastal communities. The constant presence of waterbirds is just part of the charm, but it's one of the things that appeals to me the most. 
Randy got a brochure from a realtor and we went out to see a couple of places for sale. Nothing looks right so far, so we will keep looking. 

We went over to Brenda's for dinner, where she treated us to clam chowder, salad, and a yummy New Orleans pasta dish, loaded with chicken, shrimp and andouille sausage. She had cake, too, but we were so stuffed that we had to take a short walk and wait almost an hour before we could have any! 

Princess is doing well after her surgery; she's a 6-month old miniature schnauzer, and such a sweetie. She whimpered a little bit, and that is all it took for Randy to scoop her up. He tried very hard to spoil her completely in one evening, and he did a pretty good job. She ended up sitting on his lap while getting hand-fed by her mommy, Brenda!