Crepe Myrtle

When we bought our house, it came with a badly-overgrown crepe myrtle tree at the edge of the front yard.
One of the first things we did was trim the tree and pull out all the Spanish Moss and Ball Moss I could reach. It had not been trimmed in so long that it was way too tall to get all the air plants out, but it started blooming again so we decided to wait until February to cut it back to a better height. 
However, as the rains made our neighbors' trees flourish, our tree started going downhill. The Spanish Moss and Ball Moss were multiplying like crazy, taking over. Only the edges of the branches had green leaves; everything else was dead and filled with moss.
Rather than just let the tree die, we decided to cut it down to a manageable size now. For a few weeks it looked like a big dead stump. Fortunately crepe myrtles love to re-sprout from branch cuts, so a few weeks later it started to come back. 
I don't know if this new growth will make it through the winter, but the tree is healthy enough that come spring,it will be lovely! 

Happy Thanksgiving and a very Merry Black Friday

This year Randy didn't cook for 70 people (Hilton Head Island Motorcoach Resort) or 121 people (Mission Village RV Park), or 10 people (Vista, CA), or cook 15 turkeys (Community Church in Riverside, CA). This year he just cooked for ourselves and Brenda and Woody, who drove all the way from Homosassa to join us. He brined the turkey the day before so it was juicy and tasty, and served it with dressing, sweet potato casserole, corn, deviled eggs, and yeast rolls, from an old family recipe. 
 And from a new family recipe (his own), he made that wonderful cranberry relish. 
We tried really hard not to eat ourselves into a food coma this year. But after dinner we had pumpkin pie, fudge, pecan clusters, and Brenda's pecan pie, so we didn't have much of a chance. 

The next evening Pete and Donna went with us to downtown Leesburg for their Christmas Stroll. The city blocked off several blocks and filled them with food booths, games, and vendors. They even have a snow run for sliding down on a round sled!
A local farm brought in a lot of animals for a petting zoo, and a few extra just for show. A large white goose with curly feathers was a big hit; he's a Sebastopol goose, and I think he's adorable.
A couple of Christmas Elves were walking around on stilts. When they stopped to talk to children, they would somehow lower themselves to a sitting position. I don't know how they did it, but the kids loved them.
In the town square was a 24 foot tree of lights. The lights kept changing colors as different dancing groups danced around it. 
The side streets were full of activities like wall climbing, pony rides, tractor hay-rides, a kid's "rock and roll" band made of very young volunteers, and a juggler who put on a good all-around show.
Leesburg is very proud of the fact that they have "snow". It's really tiny soapy bubbles, but they have the consistency right so it floats down like a soft snowfall. And it's not cold, so it's enjoyable as well as pretty!
The highlight was Santa Claus. He showed up at 6 and from that moment on, he was wonderful. He understood that the parents wanted great pictures; this guy was ridiculously photogenic.  He would swap hats or glasses with a child to make them smile. When he couldn't make a baby smile, he would put on a wonderfully goofy face, to make the picture memorable. But best of all, he spent time with each child, talking to them, holding their hands, giving hugs. He would look them straight in the eyes while they talked, as if they were the most important person he knew. As Donna said, this guy makes you feel like you've actually met Santa Claus!

Big Birds on the water

It's finally getting cooler now. Sometimes it's in the high 60s in the early morning, and it never gets up to 90 degrees during the day. A welcome change! We took the boat out again for a quick trip into Lake Griffin. So lovely!
On the way back through the canal to our dock I tried to take a picture of the lovely great blue heron standing on the bank. I didn't even notice the HUGE alligator in the water. Just his head was visible, but it was big enough to impress me!
We don't see alligators this big in our part of the canal, but the herons visit us. One likes to stand on the dock across from us and watch what's going on. It's hard not to feed him but so far I've resisted. I'm glad he comes fishing here!

One year ago: Rock Gardens and Smudge Pots
Two years ago: Preparing Thanksgiving dinner
Three years ago: Mom vs the tornado
Four years ago: Meet Shorty
Five years ago: Windy Florida
Six years ago: Pawn Stars, Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon
Seven years ago: Relaxing in Arizona

Silver Springs State Park

Thanks to Groupon, we got a good deal on tickets to the Glass Bottom Boat ride at Silver Springs State Park. This is billed as Florida's oldest tourist attraction, which is probably true since they started in 1878. The water here is crystal clear - you can see all the way to the bottom, even when it's down 30 feet or more. This beautiful water made a great movie set - they filmed a lot of water scenes here for films like "Tarzan the Ape Man" and "Creature from the Black Lagoon". Our tour guide showed us the cave that the Creature was filmed coming out of. 
This is a shallow cave, but another one goes down really deep. Divers made it down 80 feet, although they had to remove their tanks to squeeze through. The vent continued down, but they couldn't go further.
Since this spring is so old, there are a few artifacts at the bottom. And since the water is so clear, the artifacts are visible. The large rock formation looked enough like a possible dinosaur backbone that divers investigated it (it's just a rock), and found an ancient boat section next to it. 
River otters were having a great time playing in the water, but they are much to quick to photograph. But Randy spotted a little alligator near the shore that decided to swim right up to the boat, then swam next to us for awhile. 
We enjoyed the boat ride enough that we may come back sometime for the longer ride offered on the weekends. 

After the ride we had lunch (included in the Groupon), then decided to walk around the area. There are miles of walkways in the park but today we stayed on the boardwalk near the springs. When the guide gave us directions to get to it, she said we might see the monkeys today, but it's a good idea to leave them alone. Monkeys? Yes, there is a feral troop here. The story is that in the 1930s a few monkeys were brought in as an attraction on one of the islands. The owners didn't know monkeys can swim; the monkeys did, so they left the boring island and took to the treetops along the springs. And although they are not seen very often, we saw them today. In fact, one walked along the boardwalk handrail right towards us. I wanted to get closer, but Randy's wiser head prevailed.
Soon it joined the small troop that was jumping around in the treetops and they all disappeared. And we walked on. It is so beautiful here, so unspoiled. The forest looks wonderfully primeval, and the sounds of birds and monkeys makes it even better. 

Breakfast of Champions

Little Julienne's arthritis has been acting up, making her want to sit around and not do much. I thought we should give her a little bit of aspirin but when we checked with our Illinois vet, he said glucosamine would be more effective and less dangerous. So glucosamine it is. Now every morning she gets a special breakfast. It starts with her anti-seizure medicine, which she has been taking every day since September, 2013
Then we add a little ground-up glucosamine. Randy used his lightweight cooking scale to determine the dosage, and it turns out to be a "pinch", according to the cutesy measuring spoons we never thought we'd find a use for.
Then a little olive oil, because olive oil is good for everyone and mixes everything together.
And lately we have a couple more things to add. This week we took her to a local vet and he prescribed some pills to help manage the pain as her joints heal. So one half of a round pill,
and one half of a long pill (she gets the other halves at night).
The olive oil probably tastes ok and the seizure med is butterscotch-vanilla flavored, but I imagine the glucosamine and pills taste awful. So to encourage consumption, we add a bit of a treat. (Plus, treats were the only way Julienne accepted getting her meds for since 2013, so I don't think we can quit now). 
Since we can't play favorites, Shorty gets a striped down version - just olive oil and treat. And then they both enjoy their breakfast!

Florida Museum of Natural History

Time for another road trip - this time to the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. Most of the exhibits are free, reminiscent of the great museums in Forest Park, St. Louis. This one started off with one of my favorite things, a huge Wooly Mammoth skeleton.  And nearby was a Mastadon skeleton! I have never seen a whole Mastadon skeleton before. I just love these bones. 
The staff here has done a wonderful job of creating the exhibits. The cave exhibit was a perfect replica of many of the caves we've seen, including the wet look from seeping groundwater.
A lot of space is given to Native Americans of Florida. One large exhibit portrays communication and gifts given between two tribes. 
Donna and I were amazed at the attention to detail on the figures. They look so life-like!
Next was a room filled with amazing skeletons. The predator here is called a "False Saber-Toothed cat", but I'll bet it seemed real enough to the other critter.
And this giant meat-eating bird is called Titanis Walleri, aka Terror Bird. Yep, I'd be terrified of it. 
But my favorite was the Glyptodont, a big, extinct armadillo. 
His bony shell was beautifully pattered with rosettes,
while his skull looks like folded sheets of metal. 
The museum has some paintings by Charles R. Knight. This guy made the paintings that illustrated the dinosaur books I loved as a child, and made a huge impression on many people, including Ray Harryhausen. The fact that later research revealed that dinosaur tails didn't drag on the ground does not lesson his impact. But I noticed that the museum doesn't have any pictures with dinosaurs; they stuck with later-period subjects. No matter, it was great to see some of these.
A large area was filled with butterfly displays under glass and butterfly research behind glass windows. One lady was gluing cocoons to a paper, which seemed like a mean thing to do, until we realized the papers were then put into incubators so the cocoons could mature.  

The displays were amazing - they have thousands of butterflies here. The iridescent ones were breathtaking. 
And we walked through one display that was created extra large, to give visitors the impression of being a small fish in a large pond. The Gulf Toadfish was something from a nightmare - good thing it couldn't grab Donna's hand!
We were starving after all that walking, so we drove into Gainsville for a good lunch at Carrabba's. There is more to see in this area, but we'll save it for another day.