The Orange Blossom Cannonball

This is the last weekend that the Orange Blossom Cannonball will run during the summer, so Saturday Pete, Donna, Randy and I used our Groupon tickets and got on board. It's a 1907 wood-fired locomotive, what they call a 2-6-0, based on the engine's wheel arrangement.
This is known as "America's Favorite Movie Train" because it's been in 20 movies, starting back in 1964 with "This Property is Condemned". The most recent movie was "Walt Before Mickey" in 2015, and in-between it found its way into "North and South", "O Brother Where Art Thou", "3:10 to Yuma", "True Grit" and a lot more. It's a handsome looking train.
They advertise "Ride in the actual coaches where Robert Redford, Johnny Cash and George Clooney performed". The passenger cars were built in 1915 and look like nothing has changed, except that someone stapled a bunch of tacky little Christmas lights on the walls. But the overhead transom windows will open, providing what the conductor called 100-year-old air conditioning. The main windows are also open but not too steady; one slammed down, apparently jostled by the train's movement. Fortunately Donna wasn't leaning out at the time!
These back of the seats are attached to the armrest on a swivel. They can be flipped over, to change the seating configuration as needed. The seats can all face front, back, or a combination.
We boarded at Mt. Dora and rode to Tavares, along Lake Dora and through part of Tavares. The first thing we did there was get lunch. Randy wanted to try O'Keefe's Irish Pub, which fortunately was within walking distance. Most of us got sandwiches but Randy went for something a little more Irish - Bangers and Mash, topped with brown sauce.
We had a little time to kill before our train ride back to Mt. Dora, so we walked over the lake shore. This is a seaplane base as well as boat dock. We thought the benches were pretty cute.
The guys watched seaplanes take off and return, but Donna and I were distracted by a nearby heron. He was foraging in the mud, and when he caught something he'd walk onto the grass, beat it on the ground, then swallow it. We realized he was eating small snakes. One wrapped itself around the heron's beak to avoid being lunch, but the heron shook it loose and gobble it down. But a moment later the snake reappeared, crawling out of the heron's mouth! They went through this routine 3 or 4 times, but eventually the heron was able to swallow it completely.
We walked back towards the train station, stopping at the children's water park to watch kids play in the water. It's got fountains everywhere, even spraying out of the plane's propellers. 
A few minutes later the daily rain showed up. The water park emptied out and we huddled under the train station awning a few minutes before dashing to the passenger car. 
It didn't rain long, just enough to break the heat a little bit. Another fun day - so glad that buying a house hasn't stopped our exploring!

Sitting in the sun

Missy, being a cat, loves to sit in the sunshine. She's an inside cat, so she has to enjoy it from our windows. But in this heat we generally don't open the window shades; anything that keeps the heat out and air conditioning in is a good thing. Fortunately our kitchen ceiling has a sunlight, so Missy can still sit in the sun. 

Sometimes we all need a little help

Julienne is getting up there in years and some days she finds the jump from the floor to the couch just too high to manage. So we got her something to help. She doesn't need stairs to get on the bed - we always lift her up there - but this helps her get around in the living room more comfortably. 

Spending some time on the Gulf side

Another day to explore! We told Pete and Donna they needed to try Peck's restaurant, so today we went there for lunch. 
It's about a 1 1/2 hour drive to get there, but some things are worth it. And that definitely includes the blackened grouper stuffed with crab meat, on a light shrimp sauce.  This dish is on our "Best food on the Road" list. They don't make it in a lunch-sized portion, so we had to order the full dinner.  Bad luck, but what can you do?

Next Donna suggested we visit Fort Island Gulf Beach, about 25 miles away. It's a lovely stretch of land, with a boardwalk that gives a great view of the gulf. And off in the distance is that nuclear power station that was converted to use coal.
Nearby is a pretty little strip of sandy beach, cordoned off for swimmers.  Pete and Randy moved the car over there, while Donna and I walked to it via  the boardwalk. 
Our third stop of the day was Rainbow Springs State Park. When we parked and got out of the car, immediately to our left was a big spider. Then we noticed that there was another one....and another one... and a bunch more!
Pete gave me a heart attack by pretending to push me into this mess; he doesn't know how lucky he is that he didn't actually do it! But soon I quit screaming and we moved on. And found one of the most beautiful waterways I've ever seen. The main area looks a lot like a pool, but only the dock is man-made. The bottom is sand and rocks, and natural springs supply water that is always around 72 degrees. 
Just a few yards over is where the dock ends and the natural shore begins. The only thing that separates the swimming area from the rest of the springs is a rope with buoys.
This is so pretty that I almost (but not quite) quit looking for spiders.

Cruising around Lake Griffin

Hot today, but the daily rain agreed to hold off until the evening. So it was a perfect day to take the boat out. Our canal that leads to Lake Griffin is small and quite narrow in places, so it's important that the waterway is clear. 
The recent storms took down a tree in this area, and it fell right into the channel. Most of it was submerged but fortunately a few branches poked out of the water, to alert us to the danger. Randy shut off the motor and used the oar to pull us safely around the mess. 

We turned to go under the bridge onto Lake Griffin and said hello to a gator. He was pretty large, probably around 8 foot, but camera shy. Right as I snapped a shot, he submerged, then resurfaced when I lowered the camera. We did this a couple of times before we were past him. 
We cruised around the lake awhile, then ate the lunch we'd packed: lunchmeat sandwiches, chips and grapes. Then we went looking for another canal. Our boat runs smoothly in surprisingly little water and we cruised right along in just 5 feet of water, but in some places the lake bed was even shallower. In one area, as we maneuvered towards a canal opening, the water was just a couple of feet deep. We got a great view of the sea weeds but it was getting a little too shallow, so Randy turned around. 
Then Pete took the wheel and we headed home, across Lake Griffin. 
Any day on the water is a good day!

Cocoa Beach

As tour guides go, Pete and Donna are doing an excellent job. Today we stopped by to talk about the fact that the water has been turned off in the park again (yesterday a main water line broke). Suddenly Pete said "How about we drive to Cocoa Beach?" What a great idea! It takes 2 1/2 hours to get there but with good company it didn't seem like a long trip at all. 

The part of Coco Beach town we went through is a sunny ocean tourist town, with lovely soft beach colors and lots of t-shirts for sale. We drove past the mecca of surf, Ron Jon's. This is the main building but there are 3 buildings now, all painted bright yellow and blue. Who knew there was so much money in surfwear? 
But the first thing we did was eat lunch! Pete and Donna recommended the Florida Seafood Bar and Grill. 
They serve some good platters here but even though we were hungry, the platters looked like too much food. So Randy and I ordered a couple of po'boy sandwiches to split. They cover their shrimp and oyster sandwiches with pickles, which made Randy happy - he always gets a double dose of pickles because I don't like them. But the sandwiches were good and filling.  
After we got the important stuff done, Pete drove us around to find a beach access. And he found a nice one, just the other side of a leaf-covered walkway.
This is Cocoa Beach, a lovely long stretch of sand running as far as the eye can see. A few people were enjoying it today but in the fall this place must be packed!
The water was so warn and tempting. I think Randy may have been thinking about diving in. If we were in our car he may have done it, but we didn't want to get Pete's car all wet. But we should come back, better prepared, with swimsuits, towels and beach chairs. As long as we do it before the snowbirds arrive!
Then we thought it was time to head back, hoping to miss traffic. After the food, sun and beach, I fell asleep in the backseat. 

Keeping pretty busy, considering how hot it is

Monday we went with Pete and Donna to the little town of Webster, where every Monday they hold a flea market. It's much larger during "the season" but they keep going all year. A lot of what's here now is merchandise, like sunglasses, hats, toys, etc. There were a few stalls with real flea market stuff; that's what I like to go through. And a few stalls were selling vegetables. The coconuts that I saw in Ruskin are here, too, still on the stalk. 
It remained in the mid-90s so we were glad the small restaurant on the grounds had air conditioning. Better yet, they had great food. They offered a small buffet with fried chicken, pot roast, spaghetti, lots of side dishes and dessert. Very satisfying, especially after a morning of walking around in the heat. 

Yesterday Randy and I did some cleaning in the RV, and then since we were already a sweaty mess, we put up a workbench at home, near the front of the enclosed area. 
Today Randy and I sorted through some things and moved some things out to the bench. Even that much time outside made it necessary to take a shower before going to lunch. Randy joined several guys from the park for the monthly Men's Luncheon at JB Boondock's restaurant, while the ladies when to Olive Garden. There were 18 of us there, which made for some lively conversation. Afterwards Donna and I went thrift shopping again. I managed to stay out of the heat until we got home, when Randy and I re-did the reflective insulation on the windows. More sweat.

In praise of donkeys

Near our park is a farm that grazes cows, and among the cows are a few donkeys. I wondered about this, because I don't usually see them together. Eileen told me the donkeys are used as guard animals. Apparently if you raise a donkey with other animals, the donkeys will consider them as part of their herd. And apparently, donkeys do not take it well when a critter tries to attack or bother one of their herd. These donkeys are expected to fight off dogs, coyotes, and perhaps even bears. Good donkey!

A good day at Mt. Dora with Esherick and Nakashima

Today we joined Pete and Donna to visit Mt. Dora, where the first order of business was lunch. We decided to try the Cuban "Las Palmas" restaurant, mostly because it was close to where we parked. Donna's cheeseburger and Pete's and my Cuban sandwiches were pretty good, but Randy got the best lunch. The sweet plantains, fried onion rings, and mixed rice were tasty, but the pork hiding under all those grilled onions was amazing!
Then we went to the Modernism Museum, where I was very disappointed that they don't allow pictures. Bummer. We were there to see their display of Esherick and Nakashima wood pieces, with a little Wendel Castle in the corner. 

Wendel Castle didn't move me. My thought was that they would fit right into the movie Beetlejuice, either as furniture or as Delia Deetz's "art"

Wharton Escherick considered his wood pieces as art first and furniture second so I don't know how practical they were, but they were all very beautiful. He made a lot of chairs and cabinets, but he is probably most famous for his big staircases.

George Nakashima's pieces were a little sterile looking, except for his big tables, which were absolutely gorgeous. He used large book-cut slabs of beautiful woods with natural shapes, joined them with perfectly-inserted butterfly joints of contrasting wood, and polished the whole thing to a natural-looking shine. They were amazing!

Afterwards Donna and I walked through part of the town, looking into the cute shops, but we didn't find anything we couldn't live without. So we met the guys back at the car and went home, stopping at Sonic for something cold to drink along the way.  What a good day.

First trip in the new boat

We paid for the boat last Thursday but didn't receive delivery until yesterday afternoon. Then we had to get the title transferred and pay for insurance, so we didn't get to take it out yesterday. But today we unhitched from our dock and headed down the canal to Griffin Lake. Our canal is smaller than the ones we traveled last Thursday, with more growth. We had to go carefully through this section. 
But soon we arrived at Lake Griffin, where Randy could open it up and move
We prayed for guidance about getting a boat, just as we did about the house, and this particular one practically fell into our lap. It's a wonderful boat, in great shape, and very reasonably priced. I know a blessing when I see one; my cup runneth over!

Another new adventure

Today we took a boat out on the canals, and my assumptions about what a canal would look like were quickly challenged. Most of the ones we went on today were waterways through thick undergrowth and tall cypress trees. 
Some were more primitive than others, and the thicker the vegetation, the more I liked it. 
The canals opened into big lakes with wide open skies. There are a lot of waterways to explore here, and they all look wonderful. 
But the best look today was on Randy's face, because he was driving our new boat!

I guess we fed the gater . . .

The past two couple of evenings Randy has caught a big fish, but he's only out there long enough to catch one a night, and one or two fish don't make a great meal. So he put them in the fish basket and hung it off the dock, where they can live just fine for a couple of days until he catches the rest of the meal. This is standard practice back in Illinois. However....this morning he pulled up the fish basket line, and all there was at the end of it was this:
We know there is an alligator nearby because we have heard him.  I think he might spend time under the dock right from us. There are some water plants growing under there, and I suppose he could hide in them. But I can never see him, even with binoculars, so maybe he's somewhere else.
We didn't think about him getting the fish because not only does he not come near us, he doesn't even show himself. But I guess in the night he decided to go for it. He probably thought "if they aren't going to eat that, I will!".  My first thought was that I hope he didn't eat the whole basket. My second one was "Wow, is he big enough to eat the whole basket?" Either way, we won't do that again.

The water is so beautiful today!
And tonight Pete drove us to Venetian Gardens park to watch fireworks. We got there early and picked a spot without knowing the area, and got a perfect spot!

A day off

We agreed that since we already have several bags of yard waste and dock pieces ready for the next trash day, we would take today off. We went to a local flea market, then 10 miles further down the road to the "Market of Marion Flea Market and Farmer's Market". It's a big one, advertising over 1,100 booths of stuff. A lot of it was cheap stuff that, as we say, fell off a truck: perfume, rugs, sunglasses, etc. But they also had a lot of good ol' flea market junk, which is what we prefer. I got some paperback books and Randy bought some vegetables. A few booths offered samples, such as boiled peanuts, a Southern staple. I just can't get into these, but they seem popular here.
Later at home, just before dusk, Randy went fishing off our dock and, just like yesterday, quickly caught a nice big fish! He looks like he's deciding how to cook it! "A couple of fillets, saut├ęd in butter...."

Working and playing on the dock

The dock behind our house has two sections; one where the boat will sit (as soon as we get one) and one where people could stand and look over the canal. That second part was not in good shape so Randy took it out today. To do that he tore off one plank, braced it from the bank to the outside plank, walked over to the outside plank, and started tearing off the rotted pieces in between. I would have loved to get a picture of him doing that, but my job was to watch out for the alligator. He likes to hang out under the docks across from us and we hear him every day. Somehow I didn't think Randy would be happy if I left my post to go get a camera! But no gator appeared and Randy got the rotted pieces off. Later we will replace the whole section with a floating dock.
After we cut the planks up, we had several more full trash bags, before they had a chance to pick up today's trash! Next he had a look under the house; for years people have been stuffing odds and ends down there. Nothing worth saving, of course, just stuff they couldn't bear to throw away. Fortunately we can throw it away.
So it was another hard morning of hot work. But there are compensations...tonight Randy stood on the good part of the dock, threw a line in, and caught a catfish!