Florida Life - good food and alligators

Randy's in a high-gear baking mood again. He started with puff pastry things, filled with Nutella, Raspberry Jam, and Apricot jam, each in a dollop of cream cheese. These were awesome.
And he's baking most of our bread again.  This homemade bread is so good that I could live on it; seriously, just this and a little butter and I've got a meal.
Then he revisited palmiers. He used to make these a few years ago but since he loves to try new things, sometimes it's hard to fit in an oldie-but-goodie. In this case it was worth the wait because he improved on his original recipe. The only problem with these is that I want to eat the whole plate. 
This morning I looked outside our bedroom window and saw the largest alligator I've ever seen in our canal! These animals are amazing; in spite of their size they move through the water without making a wake. In fact, the only alligator wake I've seen was from very young ones, who may not have learned the trick yet. However, we've learned that a mass of tiny bubbles may mark the spot where they submerge. This guy went under and in the black water he was invisible. But a group of little bubbles marked where he went under, and soon he appeared nearby.
I don't know how long he was, but he had a very long snout. The little bump of his nose was far enough away from his eyes that I almost missed it. They say that an alligator's length can be estimated by the distance between its eyes - for each inch, calculate one foot. Now I want to know how to get close enough to measure the distance between his eyes. 'Cause he's not having any of it.

Hanging around with Friends

We have been thinking about taking a trip, but in the meanwhile are keeping up with friends in the area. Beth and Dick joined Pete and Donna at our house on July 3rd for an early Fourth of July dinner. The next day Pete and Donna drove Randy and I to Venetian Gardens for the fireworks. We went early to get a good parking spot, then waited for 3 hours until it got dark.

Shorty has been a little spooked by thunderstorms since Julienne passed away; he doesn't like to be home alone in a storm. Fireworks are the same thing to him, so we brought him along with us. Even though he was closer to the fireworks, he wasn't alone. We set our lawn chairs up at the back of the car and Shorty found a corner in the open trunk where he could watch the fireworks. He really did watch them, too. But I don't think he enjoyed them as much as we did. 
This week we had dinner with Cindy and Jerry, a lovely couple we met at church. They, like most of our church family, live in The Villages.  We really enjoyed spending time with them and soon we'll have them over to our place, but we have to find a time when we are all here; in this heat people travel north a lot.

Saturday was "Service Day" at the church. Randy helped in the kitchen, as part of the "Taste of Grace" service, which meant preparing food for people who were attending a funeral at the church in the afternoon. 
I opted for outside work; even in this heat, I'd rather work in the yard than in the kitchen. After doing a bit of cleanup on the church's walkways and shrubbery, we moved to the elementary school next door. Their staff had bought mulch and flowers, in hopes we would spruce up the front of the school. Several of us pitched in and got it looking good before the hottest part of the day arrived.
Monday we wanted to spend time with Pete and Donna, and we all wanted to go somewhere. We ended up at the Lakeridge Winery for a tour and lots of samples.  And a good time was had by all! 

Fishing with Liam

Recently some of our family moved to Florida! Lance moved his family to Lake City, about 2 hours from us, so we drove over to visit with them in their new house. Liam is almost 4 now and has grown up a lot since we saw him last year. His Uncle Randy still doesn't know how to hang on to him, but Liam loves him anyway.
A few days later they came to our place, although unfortunately Jordan was under the weather and couldn't make it. Liam has decided he is a fisherman, so his Uncle Randy got him a new fishing pole. 
Then we took them out on the boat, looking for some fish!
They put in a good effort, but the fish just weren't biting that day.
If fact, we got rained out. So Liam settled for being captain this time, and we'll try fishing again another day.

Gardening in Florida

It's HOT. That sums it up. 

We will landscape everything eventually but I wanted to plant something now, even though it would be temporary. We are still digging up the grass in the front yard, section by section, and dumping rocks or mulch on it to keep weeds down until we are ready to landscape. But it's looking so much better already than it used to.
Randy found some Purple Heart growing wild in a corner of our yard and decided he really like it. So we transplanted bits of it around the Crepe Myrtle tree, and it's growing like a weed. Which it is, in my book.
I am still determined not to have any plants next to the house, in hopes of discouraging the tiny little geckos from trying to get into the house. They are very plentiful here and I don't mind then when they're outside, but I don't want them inside. So only rocks go near the house; I don't even want mulch there. But next to that I put a row of Marigolds. Marigolds seem to be the plant most hated by mosquitos and other insects. So Marigolds it is.
Along the side of the house we put in a small garden of flowers and vegetables. I painted an old step ladder, Randy nailed some pots onto it, and we filled them with kale, Nasturtiums, and greens. 
Next to that we set up a wooden trough that I found in a yard sale (Randy never knows what I will drag home from a yard sale!).He set it up on some PVC pipes that I painted, and I filled it with lettuces. When they died out from the heat, I replaced them with greenery that is hearty enough to survive a Florida summer. In front I put a lovely pink flowering viney-thing; it's my favorite thing here, so far.

In the back, nearest to the canal, we set a black Elephant Ear. I thought it might be too temperamental to grow but it seems to like it here, and has doubled in size.
Whenever we want to plant something in the side yard, Randy has to get out his reciprocating saw and saw in the dirt. The reason? Roots. They are everywhere, and just one inch below the surface so there is no avoiding them. 
And some of them are huge. Things growing near the canal apparently get big roots.
Because we were thinking of Illinois planting schedule, we put in some tomato plants in late spring (which we have since learned is too late in the year). Since we wanted to avoid the tomato-eating pests who consumed our sole tomato plant last year, we decided to grow them in pots this year, which at least gets them off the ground. We put four Beefsteak tomato plants into four Home Depot buckets, and I poured a gallon of water on them every single day, trying to keep them alive through June. 
We kept the bugs off and they rewarded us with vine-ripened tomatoes.
But they are the smallest Beefsteak tomatoes I've ever seen!

Fruitland Park to St Augustine, and back

Monday morning we piled everything from Lance and Janice's van back into our Jeep, tucked our swimsuits into a corner, and drove to St. Augustine, where they have a timeshare on a beach-front condo. It was over a 2 hour drive and we stretched it out more by stopping at Steak and Shake for breakfast. Randy got us to the coast around noon. After meeting Janice's family, we donned swimsuits and went to the beach. The water was cool - I thought it would be warm in June but apparently this is a little too north for that. So we eased into it, getting used to the temperature. Randy, of course, loved it. 
Janice and her grand-daughter Hannah joined him out beyond the surf while I stayed a little closer to shore. We all got plenty wet, though. When it looked like it was ready to rain, we headed in. And got rained on as we walked back to the condo. 

We said our goodbyes and Randy drove back to Fruitland Park. Shorty doesn't like thunderstorms, so we tried to beat the rain back home. We didn't make it but we got there right after the storm started. And relaxed at home while the storm rolled by.

An accident on the way to St. Augustine

We had a lovely breakfast at Rae Rae's, then had time for a quick trip to the Marion Market. You can't see much of the Marion Market quickly, so we just walked through one area - enough time for Janice and I to each discover something we had to have! Then we went back to the house where they loaded up their van and drove east, to St. Augustine, to join the rest of their family on vacation at the beach.
That was the plan. But a few minutes after they left, they called us. Someone had sideswiped their vehicle and it wasn't drivable. We hurried over to where they were to find, thank God, they were OK, but the car was not. The front left quarter was smashed and the driver's door wouldn't open. The driver's window had shattered into a million pieces and Lance and Janice were covered in tiny bits of glass, from their hair to inside their shoes. Lance got a gash on the back of his left hand and his left arm got hit with enough glass that it looked like a road rash from a fall. The paramedics checked them over and asked if they wanted to go to the hospital. But without severe injuries, they preferred to avoid spending hours in an ER room. So we transferred everything from their van to the back of our Jeep, and we all sat inside the Jeep to wait for the State Police to show up. The Sherriff's department was already there, but they didn't seem to think they could do anything. Eventually the State Police showed up, talked to both parties, checked both vehicles, checked the side marks on the road, and still wouldn't take a position on who was at fault! It was obvious from the damage to both cars and the skid marks that the other car had crossed the center line, hit Lance's car, then swerved back. But the woman driving the other car said that Lance hit her; then she changed her story to say she had swerved to avoid hitting an animal. She had insurance but her license had been suspended for unpaid tickets. So there is no telling how all that will end up, but the important thing was that Lance and Janice were not seriously injured. But they were badly shaken by the experience so as soon as the police released everyone, we took them back home to apply bandages to the external injuries and beer to the internal ones. We were all pretty exhausted by the drama and stress, so for dinner we picked up fried chicken from Publix and made an early night of it.

Saturday with our newest old friends

For breakfast Randy fixed French Toast, eggs and sausage for everyone. Rain was forecast for the early afternoon, so we went out for a boat ride right after breakfast. Shorty was happy that he got to come along.
We cruised up the lake as far as Haines Creek, and turned in there. The creek was very pretty as usual, and full of an unusual number of fast-moving fishing boats. And we saw a couple of little baby alligators, less than a foot long, as they swam across the creek and to hide in the lilies. Momma Gator was probably nearby but we didn't see her.

We got back home by noon and the rain hadn't arrived yet, so we drove Janice and Lance through The Villages. We went through Spanish Springs Town Square and Sumter Landing Town Square, where we walked along the lake. 
By then we were ready to eat again so Randy took us to Eaton's Beach. Randy and I ordered exactly what we had last time - shrimp and grits, and mac and cheese. These are good enough for a repeat; maybe someday we'll try something else, but not today!  

After lunch we walked downstairs to the beach; they may have brought in all this sand, because it's only here in this one spot.  With a beach-ball net, big shade umbrellas, noodles and beach toys available, it's a great place to play.  But we were full of good food and didn't want to get hotter than we already were, so Janice and I settled for wading in the water and burying our toes in the sand.
Later we went out to the Browntown Village Square to join Pete and Donna, listening to music. The band was pretty good and the dance area was full of grownups line-dancing and little children making up their own dances.

When we went back to the house, Pete and Donna showed up as Lance was warming up his the banjo. Pete didn't bring his bass guitar so he used one of Randy's guitars and they entertained us with wonderful music.
They sounded great, and Pete broke the bass player rule of never smiling!

More Company!

Through Facebook, Randy connected with a friend he knew  as a child. Janice's family used to live near Randy's family, and for a few years all the children hung around together. They haven't seen each other since then, but Janice and her husband Lance were planning a trip to St. Augustine and were able to swing by here for a couple of days! To celebrate the event Randy made a special 4 layer cake with strawberry filling between each layer. To keep the strawberries in place, he piped a rim of chocolate frosting. 
Then he covered it all with vanilla frosting and topped it with an edible picture, copied from an old photo of them when they were 3 and 2 years old. The lady at the store who made the picture top cut the edges off in a very weird manner, so Randy had to hide that with extra frosting!
Before having cake, we enjoyed one of Randy's awesome prime rib dinners. When we were too full to move, we retired in the living room. Lance got out his banjo to play for us - he has been playing professionally since he was 9 years old and is really excellent.
He has several banjos at home; for this trip he brought his 1935 banjo, which is a beautiful thing. 

Good day on the boat (any day on a boat is a good day)

Pete and Donna's daughter Diane is visiting her parents this weekend, and today we all were able to go out on a boat ride together. It was a little overcast but as humid as it could be. The guys did the technical stuff like driving and navigating.
The ladies kept busy talking and sunning. To each their own, according to there skills!
We cruised up Lake Griffin to Harris Creek and went along it a ways before turning back. As usual, big white herons were out fishing and generally being gorgeous. 
We didn't go as far as the lock because we planned to eat lunch in Blue Heron Cove, which is at the top of the lake. There is a little restaurant there called Pirate's Oasis, where according to the menu their motto is "A Small Drinking Village with a Big Fishing Problem". We ordered chicken quesadilla and fish-and-chips, and the guys got Indiana Pork Tenderloin sandwiches. These are less than half the size of the tenderloins we get in the Peoria area, but it's nice to find a place around here that serves them! We had a good time and found a new motto of our own inside the bar:
After lunch while Randy put gas in the boat for the return trip, we took some pictures. Donna and Diane are photogenic,
but as usual, Donna just couldn't behave! She kept laughing at the skeleton's rear; Diane could only close her eyes and shake her head.

Church food and Restaurant Food

It's been a busy week. Randy fixed 2 meals for the church - the Wednesday night dinner and the Saturday's Men's Breakfast. Since he fixes everything from scratch, he was at the church on Tuesday and Friday also. Everything went well, of course! By Saturday afternoon we felt like taking a drive, just to get out. We went through Lady Lake, Belleview and into Ocala before we decided to turn around. Along the way we looked at a few furniture stores for a new mattress. We had tried to buy a Sleep Number bed but when it was delivered on Tuesday, all of the parts weren't there. Our sales person hadn't been straight with us so we called off the deal. We didn't find a mattress Saturday but we found something else good - The Mojo Grill in little Belleview.
We ordered a Cuban sandwich and a Pulled Pork sandwich and split them. It was one of the best Cuban sandwiches we've had, and the Pulled Pork was even better. We would definitely make the trip back here for the Pulled Pork!

Our little alligator is growing up fast

Now that it's raining every day, the water level is finally raising in our canal. Pretty soon the young alligator who rests on the exposed bank on the other side of the canal will have to find another place to lie. Recently he got all the way out of the water and we realized he's a lot bigger than we thought. Fortunately he's still very shy of people.

Finally - a sunny day!

Aaron only had one half day left in Florida, and to our amazement, the sun finally came out! No rain in the forecast, so we had a quick sausage-egg-cheese muffin at home, then started up the boat! Our canal is a beautiful jungle now but the water is opaque because of all the run-off in it; we couldn't see anything below the surface. Fortunately Randy avoided the snags. 
As we came out of our canal and into the entrance to Lake Griffin, one of the alligators who lives here was in residence. He wasn't the biggest one and he was shy; I could only take pictures from a distance before he disappeared in the lily pads. 
We cross Lake Griffin and headed down Harris Creek Canal. This is another forested canal, although it's wider and clearer than ours. 
It's a beautiful place to be on a boat.
Shorty enjoyed himself, splitting his time between me, Randy, and Aaron. He doesn't know Aaron will be leaving today; he sure is going to miss his buddy.
Where was I during all this? Holding down the couch!
When we got back, we picked up Pete and Donna and went to Oakwood for lunch. The daily special - sandwich, side and drink - was all we wanted. Their pulled pork and sweet potato fries are pretty good. 

And then, unfortunately, Aaron had to take off. We had a great time and hope he will be back soon!