Cutting the Bird of Paradise

While visiting Oceanside last year, we found a lovely stand of White Bird of Paradise. I was pleased to see that the KOA where we are staying now has a couple of big White BOP plants. As always, the blossoms are lovely.
But the plants here are full of big wads of dead and decaying stuff. It turns out that when Bird of Paradise flowers pods die, they don't fall off. They stay attached to the plant, looking like abandoned rat nests. Not very nice. 
I decided to trim these, happy I could restore them to a much lovelier state. 
But there were some weird moments. First, the flowers pods are quite heavy and there are usually several pods joined together. So when I cut one off, it fell with a big thump. I felt like I was running a guillotine, and lifting severed heads to put in a basket.
But the really weird thing is what a Bird of Paradise pod looks like right after the pretty white petals fall off. I have seen trees that bleed, but nothing like this. The pods look like the jawbone of some animal, with broken teeth set in bloody sockets. Seriously, this is nasty!

Orlando area

We haven't spent much time in Orlando, but we have seen a bit of the area around it. Mostly the toll roads. This, I think, is the official sign of Orlando:
Orlando has turned every major (and some minor) road into a toll road. I think there are some places you really can't get to without going on a toll road, and when you can avoid them, it doubles the miles and time.

Another surprise was how rural it is here. It is very common to see a herd of cattle grazing right next to the main highways.

In one area we see wild turkeys every day! They stay a little further away from the road. Good thing - we think about Thanksgiving dinner every time we see them.

We haven't been to Disney yet, but there is no mistaking the impact Disney has on Orlando. They even have their own power line poles.

And it's easy to see why Andy's wallpaper in Toy Story looks like it does. Here in Orlando, tall, fluffy clouds with flat bottoms line up every afternoon. 
The reason we haven't been to Disney or anywhere else fun in Orlando is because the work at this campground turned out to be full-time jobs. This is a beautiful park but the grounds are very high maintenance, and by the end of our shifts we are pretty much worn out. We came to Florida to look for a little house and soon realized that this job won't allow us to do that. Randy gave notice about 5 weeks ago; it took me a little longer to catch on, but I did and gave 3 weeks notice. And it's the right thing to do; when we wanted to investigate a place near Donna and Pete, we had to take the day off to do it. Management was accommodating, but we can't do that every week. With the extended notice, they were able to find someone, so the park won't be impacted. Our replacements pulled into the park today, so Sunday we will head to Ruskin. It's close to the Tampa area, which is one area we want to investigate as a possible home. 

The Villages Town Squares

Many years ago we attended church in Wood River with Donna and Pete. They recently retired to Florida, and today we drove to Fruitland Park to visit them. They have a beautiful home there; we would love to have one like it some day. We look at a few homes in that area, then Pete drove us all to The Villages. In March Brenda and Woody showed us part of the Villages, but because we went to Goodwill first (which was an excellent decision), we didn't see the whole thing.

I don't actually think it's possible to see the whole thing in one day, so today Pete just drove us to the town squares. It turns out there are three town squares in The Villages. Each one is designed with a different theme, but all are based on the past. Brownwood Paddock Square has a Western motif. The movie theater is a great example; it's a barn, and the marque is an old-style water tower. 
And the performance stage in the center of the square is a log cabin!
The second town square is Lake Sumter Landing Market Square. Its theme is an old-fashioned waterfront landing, and the retail buildings are painted in soft beachfront colors of blue, pink and yellow. And although it's not near the ocean, it does have a waterfront landing, on Lake Sumter. To make the scene realistic they anchored some small boats in the water, and even crashed one of them against the dock.  
The attention to detail here is amazing. Even the power lines have old-fashioned glass insulators.
The third square is Spanish Springs Tower Square, representing an old Spanish town. Very pretty.
Our thanks to Donna and Pete for a wonderful day; they seemed to enjoy it even more than we did!

Best Food on the Road - Chicken update!

Randy Reddick, a faithful blog reader who debuted here in January, reminded me that Castelli's Restaurant (aka Moonlight) has legendary fried chicken. He's right, it definitely belongs in a "Best Food" list, especially with a side order of fettuccine.
Thanks for the input, Randy. Keep reading!

The Best Food on the Road

We love food. Randy makes the best food I've ever tasted, but we both like to go out to restaurants, too, looking for something good. There are a lot of disappointments out there but occasionally we find something so good that we pretty much always order it when we are at that place again. We haven't been everywhere or tried everything (yet), but this is the list of thing the best food we have tried so far.

Artichoke Hearts: Pia’s in St. Charles, MO. Lightly battered, fried crispy outside and tender inside, served with plenty of melted butter, and enough to make a meal.

Belgium chocolate: Leonidas, made in Belgium. This rich chocolate leaves Godiva far behind.

Banana Cream Pudding: Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House in Savannah, Georgia. After eating the fried chicken, BBQ pork, beef stew, meatloaf with gravy, dirty rice and sausage, chicken and dumplings, squash, white rice, mashed potatoes with cheese and onions, candied yams with raisins, creamed corn, okra and tomatoes, snap beans, cucumbers, lima beans, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, black-eyed peas, butter beans, cornbread and biscuits, and all the sweet tea I could drink, I still found room for this banana pudding. 

Blueberry jam: A Petra Canada gas station in Nova Scotia, located where Road 2 joins Highway 2. It has a small restaurant attached. A local lady cans fresh blueberry jam and brings jars to the restaurant for the customers. If your table doesn’t have a mason jar of jam, ask the friendly waitress and she’ll fix you right up.  
Calamari: Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville in Cozumel. Maybe all Margaritaville's have tenter, tasty fried calamari, but the one in Cozumel is where they gave us a free appetizer portion, and it was so good we bought more!

Crab-stuffed Grouper: Peck's Old Port Cove in Crystal River, FL. It's all good, and light sauce puts it over the top!
Diet Coke: Coke Cola Light, from Mexico. It just tastes better.

French Fries, International: Any vending cart in Delft, in the Netherlands. Find one, get the hot french fries with fresh mayonnaise to dip them in, and enjoy. 

French Fries, USA: Old Ebbitt Grill’s in Washington DC serves the best french fries I’ve had in the US, with the exception of the fries Randy made in the Snack Shack. But I can't put those on this list!

Fried ChickenCastelli's Restaurant (aka Moonlight) in Alton, Il. Exactly what fried chicken should be, and the side dishes are just as good as the chicken. (Thanks for the reminder, Randy Reddick!) 
Macaroni and Cheese Eaton's Beach Sandbar and Grill in Weirsdale, Florida. Made with three creamy cheeses, flavored with spicy Andouille sausage and Tasso. Randy's is still tops, but this is the best I've found on the road.
Muffuletta: Johnny’s Po’Boys, New Orleans, LA. I keep meaning to try their po'boy, but I can't go there without ordering the muffuletta, and that's so big that I can't order both!
Nepalese, Korean and Indian buffet - Mount Everest Cafe in St. Louis, MO. I generally don't care for these cuisines so every time we go, I think I won't really like it, I'm just going because Randy likes it so much. And every time I stuff myself.

Oysters: May River oysters, served at the Bluffton Oyster Company Family Seafood House in Bluffton, South Carolina. Or anywhere that serves May River oysters, as long as they are really fresh. Just so good!
Pastrami: Carl’s deli in St. Louis, MO. No contest. One sandwich is enough for us to share, and sometime we still have to take some home!

Pizza: There is nothing more subjective than pizza, and we've had a lot of great pizza. But you never outgrow your first love, so Avanti's, in Peoria and East Peoria, IL, gets our vote.

Ribs - Dry rub: Corky’s in Memphis. If you’ve tried them at one of the other locations and don't believe these are the best, try them in Memphis. For years I skipped these because I don't usually like dry rub. When I finally tried them, I ate most of Randy's order! So from them on, I order a full rack of ribs for myself! 
Ribs - Wet: Oklahoma Joe’s, which is not in Oklahoma, it’s in a Gas Station in Kansas City.  Don’t let that put you off, these are perfect.

Scotch Oatmeal Cookies: Dad’s Original Oatmeal Cookie in St. Louis, MO. This is a crunchy cookie, so the best way to eat them is to let them melt on your tongue. I can't stop.

Shrimp and Grits: Another dish from Eaton's Beach Sandbar and Grill in Weirsdale, Florida. Perfectly cooked shrimp and grits flavored with a white wine cream sauce, all topped with bacon and chives. So good that Randy orders this every time he's here.
Water: Skagway, Alaska. It's fresh from the glacier, so it’s hardly fair to compare any other water to this. 

A trip to Largo

Through the magic of Facebook, Randy connected with a friend from his past, and today we drove 2 hours to Largo for a visit. Randy and Jerry have not seen each other since they were 12; today they spent a few hours driving around and walking on the beach, catching up.

It is soooo good to be home!

I have worked every day since I returned from Illinois. It's hot outside and the work is fairly hard - weeding, trimming bushes, cleaning out last winter's leaf debris. But none of that matters - Randy is baking bread!
It is soooo good to be home!

Back in Florida!

11 days in Illinois! Of course 2 days were spent getting there and back. Thursday Randy got up early to get me to the airport at 6 am.  A couple hours later I was on my way!
I got to St. Louis by 9:40 where I was met by Aaron, who took me to the car rental office (Enterprise, of course!). It turned out that I was picking up a car at the only rental branch that requires proof of insurance. Of course I didn't have any with me; I had to guess which insurance company we have. They called the insurance office and it turns out I guessed correctly, so they let me have the car. From there it should have been a 3 hour drive to Washington. I've made that drive countless times and it always takes 3 hours. But this time it took almost 5 hours. I stopped once to eat, and another time I stopped for a 40 minute nap. Apparently I'm not as young as I used to be!

But the reward for all that was that I got to spend the next nine days with Mom. This was the longest time we've had together since I got married. The only thing I didn't enjoy was the weather. Friday morning I took Mom to a doctor appointment, to get her new hearing aids. I went outside to start the car and discovered the windshield was covered with frost. Yikes! It has been so long since I had to deal with this that I didn't even think to check the trunk for a scrapper; I just used my Costco card. I remember how to do this, after all.
And another day, it hailed! No wonder I moved away from here!
No matter, we had a great visit.  We followed our usual pattern of going to Walmart (almost) every day, having lunch at DQ, and shopping at Goodwill and Etcetera thrift stores. No matter what else happens, we always do those things. 

Mom has been volunteering at the library since she retired, which is over 25 years. When she started, the library was 1 block from her house. Now it's on the other side of town and Mom hasn't driven in years (which is a good thing). But she can still volunteer because every week someone from the library picks her up, then takes her home afterwords. They are so good to her! And Saturday they had a surprise party for her at Busy Corner in Goodfield. It was my job to get her there on time, without giving it away. Not the easiest thing to do but it all worked out, and she had a wonderful time.

Tuesday I drove Mom out to pick up her friend Kathleen. For years Kathleen has been driving into town to visit Mom, but her concussion last year stopped that. I was so glad to help them get together again. And what did they want do do? Go shopping at Goodwill and have lunch at DQ, of course! 

Thursday was Mom's day to volunteer at the library, and this time I was her chauffeur. Right after that was her monthly Red Hat meeting. She dressed up a little extra special this time, and I borrowed a purple top and red flower hair combs and went with her.  
Friday night Mom, my sisters, my niece and I all went to a big Chinese buffet for dinner. Now nobody in my family eats Chinese food; the idea was that, since buffets serve a lot food, there would be something for everyone. There was, but it wasn't something we particularly liked. For example, the "Carved Ham" station had this:
Saturday my sisters and I gave another surprise party for Mom. We invited her Red Hat friends and the friends who live around her. We set out cake, cookies, flowers and decorations, I took a zillion pictures, and everyone had a lovely time. 

Sunday Mom and I went out for lunch one last time with Kathy and Becky. To nobody's surprise, we went to DQ again.

In between the running around I did a few tasks for Mom. My sisters get to help her throughout the year but these weekly visits are my only opportunity so I always ask her to make a list of things for me to do/fix. This years' list was easy, except for the shutters. The shutters on one side of her housed needed to be painted (I did the ones on the other side in 2014). I got them down and cleaned them, but painting should be done in at least 50°. What with the frost and sleet, I couldn't get that. When the weather finally hit 45, I went ahead and painted them, then put them in the garage to dry, hoping it would be a few degrees warmer there. They turned out fine, but then I needed a decent day to put them back up. The only time I saw the sun shine was Saturday at 2:00 as we drove Mom to her surprise party, which was no help at all. By Sunday I was out of options, so I brought the ladder out and Becky and I installed the shutters in the rain.

Monday I drove 150 miles back to St. Louis, had a great lunch with Kris who drove me from the car rental office to the airport, got back on another plane, and made it home by 10:30 at night. 
I had a wonderful visit, but I have never been so glad to be home in my life; not even when Randy and I came back to the States after spending 7 months in Spain. The difference was that he was with me a lot of the time I was in Spain, but this time I was without him. And I don't ever want to be without Randy for that long, ever again.