A long trip for a good visit, back in Illinois

Last Wednesday we received word that Randy's sister, who just got out of the hospital, wasn't doing well. So early Thursday morning we packed up and drove to Illinois. That's a long drive and we didn't sleep well the night before, so we took 2 days for the trip. Shorty went with us. He's done long car trips before, but always with Julienne. Without her, he got bored even quicker than before. The bright spot of his day was anytime we stopped for food. If he could drive, he'd always go somewhere where they serve breakfast platters.
We stopped often, to let him stretch his legs. The welcome center on the north side of Kentucky is pretty - it's a mansion from the 1860s. It had 3 different owners before it became the welcome center in 1983.  A nice way to save a beautiful old building. 
When we got to Illinois, it was just 26 degrees outside! So for most of that day, the words heard most often from my mouth were "Wow, it's cold!".  We booked a (pitiful) local hotel and went over the next morning to visit with Sharon.  Randy's sister Tina was there, too. 
We brought Shorty along, hoping he would be allowed in the nursing home. He was, and he was a very good boy. He settled right down in Sharon's lap!


Sharon knows all about how to hold onto a little dog's harness, to keep him safe. So he road around with her on hew wheelchair.
Sharon is so fortunate that her daughter Vickie works at her nursing home. Vickie makes sure Sharon gets extra TLC every day. 
 Later we went to Vickie's house to visit with her, her husband, daughter (who lives next door) and granddaughter. Plus Vickie's two dogs, two cats, and Sharon's old dog Bear. Bear is the brother of our beloved Sugarbaby; we still miss him. Vickie has a houseful of love. 

We went to lunch with Tina and Garrett, and ordered something that is hard to find outside the Midwest: a pork tenderloin sandwich. These sandwiches, when fixed properly, are large enough for two people. We just asked for an extra bun and cut it in half. This one, at Schooner Inn, was pretty good, although the very best tenderloins come from Spring Bay.
And later for dinner we all joined Randy's sister Lenora, her fiance and their son at another local favorite - Avanti's. This is on our "Best of the Road" list. We were more tired than hungry, so one pizza fed four of us, with a little left over for breakfast. 
 Lenora's son Skylar is photogenic...
once you get him to settle down! 
Sunday we visited with Sharon again. She's having a tough time getting around right now but she is getting therapy. So for now, Sharon and Shorty were content to get around on wheels.
Afterwords we went to see my Mom. I called to give her a heads-up that we were coming; it was quit a shock, since she didn't know we were in the area. We got to spend a couple of hours there, before we needed to start for home. 
One the way out of town we realized we were driving by the Busy Corner, where Mom loves to go for pie. So we stopped and got something for the road. Making a decision is the hard part.
 Then back on the road. Shorty was less than thrilled. 
The Georgia Visitor Center is getting some mileage out of the "Walking Dead", which is filmed in the western part of the state. 
By this time Shorty had learned a new trick. Whenever we stopped, after doing his business he usually went into his kennel for a few minutes while we went inside. He decide that he deserved treat every time he went into the kennel. If we "forgot" to give him one when he went in, he would not come out again until we remembered. He'd just sit there in his open kennel, waiting for us to remember our job.
We stayed at La Quinta, because they have clean rooms, comfortable beds, and they allow pets. The La Quinta in Calhoun, Georgia is right next to a Cracker Barrel. That worked out OK because after a full day of driving, walking over there was about all we could manage. 

We made a mistake on this trip; we didn't bring Shorty's ball. He loves his ball, and chasing it is a way for him to get a little exercise. On the last night out, Randy decided to substitute an orange. The first few times Shorty grabbed it, he quickly dropped it. But soon his love of anything that rolls took over took, and he played with it. Unfortunately the orange quickly became too sticky and we had to stop. 
Traffic around and through Atlanta is awful. The beltline is just as busy, and there is usually an accident somewhere. It took way too long to get through that area. On the other side of Atlanta we stopped for lunch at Smoakie's BBQ in Cordele, GA, where the brisket was tender and tasty. We timed it just right, getting there before the lunch rush that filled the tiny dining room. Then after lunch it was back in the car and back on the road. Shorty had given up by then; he was just on endurance mode, not believing we would ever go home to our own beds and sister Missy. 
Fortunately he was wrong, and we finally made it back. Over 1,200 miles is a long round trip in a few days, but we had a good visit with family, so that made it all worthwhile.

Armadillo holes

There are holes appearing in our yard (which doesn't deserve to be called a lawn). These aren't tunnels, although many are deep enough to hide a small critter. 
We have been told by the neighbors that armadillos are making these holes, as they dig for grubs in the night. Bummer. It's not much of a yard, but we don't want it full of holes. So Randy has set out a trap. So far the armadillos are digging everywhere around the trap.

Trees and Mardi Gras

This afternoon we decided to take down another limb from the big tree out back. It doesn't have many little branches for foliage, it just hangs over our boat dock, ready to cause a disaster if it gets hit by one of those 60-miles-an-hour winds that spin off the hurricanes. It's so big though that Randy had to tie it off in 2 places, to be sure it wouldn't crash onto the dock or the deck rail. That worked; when he cut through, the lines held it in place while he trimmed off the far end. Then he lowered it onto the deck and started slicing the main section into smaller pieces. 
Later we drove to downtown Leesburg for their Mardi Gras event and parade. They did such a great job with their Christmas event that we had high hopes for Mardi Gras. But this was a much smaller event. The parade wasn't scheduled to start for a couple of hours so we walked around, checked out a few stores, and had dinner at Blooms. The last time we were at Bloom's we enjoyed our meal, but today they missed the mark. By the time we finished, it was getting dusky and more people were lining up to watch the parade. 
But the parade wouldn't start for 30 minutes and Randy wasn't feeling well. There is some illness going around here that lingers a long time; he's had it for 2 weeks and still can't quite kick it. So rather than wait in the rain for a Mardi Gras parade that couldn't hold a candle to the fun time we had in New Orleans in 2013, we decided to go home. 

Shorty update

Shorty has been trying to get used to being without Julienne, too. Fortunately he is doing better than Julienne did when she lost Sugarbaby - he's not lost, he just seems a little sad sometimes. So we spend more time with him, including deciding to take him out more. Rural King allows dogs so we took him there, to try to find the right size of life jacket for him. We plan on taking him on the boat and we don't trust him to stay in the boat.

Valentine

Randy has been sick for over a week, but he still got up and fixed me a lovely breakfast for Valentine's day: baked ham and cheese with toast and bacon, plus fresh strawberries with real whipped cream. Someday I'm going to have to do something nice for him!
We didn't go anywhere during the day (he's still not feeling well) but for dinner we had tickets to the church's Valentine dinner. So Pete and Donna picked us up and we all went there for a nice meal and entertainment. To my surprise, a couple members of our church do stand-up comedy, and they did a great job. The headliner was a lady who does this professionally - Juanita Lolita. She's hysterically funny!

The Weird Room - a start

Across the front of our house is a long room. Normally this would be enclosed with screens, making it a sun room. But whoever had our house before us enclosed it with walls. When we first moved in, we stored stuff in there until we found the right spot for it. It wasn't good for much else, so I called it the weird room. Since then we have put our stuff away but we still don't have a great use for this room. We need to change it. Randy got started by taking the paneling off. It doesn't look better but it doesn't really look that much worse, either. 
We knew that the weird room is a separate room attached to the rest of the house. What we didn't know is that it isn't attached very well. Daylight shows through. We have a lot to do.

Those beautiful horses!!

Early this morning I finally read a Facebook link that Donna sent me a couple of days ago. I should have read it earlier; it was announcing that the Grand Oaks Classic Pleasure Driving Competition taking place this weekend in Marion. I didn't go yesterday and can't go tomorrow, so I grabbed my camera and drove out there today. This is an amazing event, with some of the most beautiful horses I've ever seen. Owners brought their horses in from all over the country; at least one of them even came down from Canada. Part of the charm of this event was the old-fashioned buggies and period clothing. 
Some of the drivers had a groom up behind them. A lot of research and money went into making these rigs so accurate, and I love the way it all looks! 
These little beauties took their turn around the ring, just like the big horses, and did a great job. 
One of my favorite breeds was here - a Gypsy Vanner. These horses are a little on the petite side but perfectly formed, and their claim to fame is their long flowing hair. Their mane, tail and leg feathers must take a lot of care, but the result is amazing. This little stallion has an unusually long mane, even for a Gypsy Vanner - it flowed in the breeze with every move he made.
The horses got along with each other, and every one seemed to be happy to step out and show off. 
There were some beautifully marked horses, but this light brown one was so perfectly formed and groomed that he stood out, even among more dramatically colored horses. 
Outside the ring was a matched pair of black beauties. I had to leave before these guys stepped into the ring, but I got to appreciate them as their groom held them near me. They are just so gorgeous!!!

Brooksville Native American Festival

Today we joined Pete and Donna again and went to the Brooksville Native American Festival. A big dance area was set up, surrounded by bleachers and ringed by vendors. The vendor booths were full of Indian crafts and foods, and Donna bought a few items, but mostly we enjoyed the dancing. There were dancers from several different tribes and different parts of the country. Each one had his own costume, dance and music (although the drums sounded pretty much the same to me).
The costumes were amazing. The announcer said that although the earliest outfits were made of buckskin, bones and feathers, the Plains Indian, like the southern Seminoles,  incorporated other materials into their clothing as they became available. Sometimes Indian culture is referred to as if it were stuck in one epoch, but Indians, of course, constantly change and adapt by incorporating what they like into their lives. 

Several costumes had big feathered pieces. The announcer said these feathers would be awarded for acts of bravery, and only warriors could wear them. 
This guy was as spectacular from the back as he was from the front!
Each danced separately, then joined in a communal dance.
A couple of small boys were on the field the whole time, doing their best dancing with the big guys. 
At the end of the formal dancing, the announcer invited visitors from the stands to join the dancers on the field. Several people did, and the drummer played something that everyone could follow as they marched around the circle.
Then for a change of pace, some Polynesian dancers came on. The first man did a great job of dancing the traditional Maui warrior dance.
Then a young woman demonstrated the Hula, knowing very well she was how cute she was.
A fire dancer finished that part of the show. He was very good too, and every time the crowd applauded louder, he would do more. 
 
Women dancers had significant roles. This lady had a beautiful outfit with a bone-breastplate that went down to her shins and was covered with a shaw with a 3 foot fringe. The dance was stately; mostly she moved her feet to the beat while staying in the same place, except when everyone marched around the ring in a Friendship Circle. 
A young medicine dancer wore a dress with 400 metal cones, which caught the light and jingled with every move she made. The announcer made it clear that although the dance was to encourage health, healing comes only from the one Great Spirit Father. 
One of my favorite dancers was a young lady who did a "modern" dance. In this case, "modern" refers to the time of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, when Indian men updated their dances. The women wanted to do the same, and this pretty number is what they came up with. Her deep-fringed shawl represents butterfly wings, and she danced so lightly that sometimes both feet were off the ground. I thought she was amazing. 
So it was a great day. When we headed home, we stopped at a gas station to use the restroom. Donna came out last and decided to ask Pete something, so she opened the driver door and stuck her head inside the car. Unfortunately she had a senior moment and opened the door to the wrong car. The guy in the passenger seat was speechless; the rest of us laughed hysterically and will never let her live it down!

Running away from home ... to Three Sisters Springs

We can't stand to be at home right now - even with us, Shorty and Missy, it feels empty. Pete and Donna agreed to help us run away today. We had breakfast at Rae Rae's, then headed out to Three Sisters' River. This is a lovely place, with lush Florida jungle and crystal clear water. 
But it's claim to fame is Manatees. How strange it seems to me, to walk along the boardwalk, turn the bend, and suddenly see more Manatees than I can count.
They look like big rocks under the clear blue water. It's actually easy to understand why they get clipped by boat motors - a big herd like this is visible, but they don't generally travel in herds. So they blend into the scenery and they don't move fast. Some of these had white scars on their backs but the docent said the number of Manatees with scars has significantly dropped in the last 3-5 years, due to the amount of publicity and enforcement of caution laws. 
There are caution laws here, of course. It is permitted to kayak or take a tour boat on the river, as long as you stay outside the buoys that mark the restricted area. Manatees don't have to stay in the restricted area, of course, but volunteers move the buoys daily if needed, to enclose the area where the Manatees want to be. So it seems to work out OK. 
Manatees are adorable and appealing, but they don't actually do much. Mostly they just hang still in the water, and ever couple of minutes raise their nose for a breath. However, we did see some Manatees swim through a narrow channel, from one section of the river to another. They make surprisingly good speed when they want to. 
We walked all around the river boardwalk, finding different viewing sites to enjoy these aptly named Sea Cows. They don't do much, but it is so relaxing to just watch them.
Our thanks to Pete and Donna for getting here today!
We did a bit of shopping in the nearby stores, but the prices were ridiculously high so we cut that short and went to lunch at Crackers Bar and Grill. That was a good choice; the calamari appetizer was excellent - how often do you find calamari that isn't over cooked? Theirs was tender and tasty. 
And my grouper o'boy went well with Randy's seafood appetizer. 
When we finished lunch, Donna and I walked down the pier while the guys paid the bill. We found the captain of a fishing tour boat busy cleaning his guests' catch. He threw the guts into the water, so he had a rapt audience. 
One juvenile caught an entire backbone. His joy turned to consternation when he couldn't figure out how to swallow it. We watched him try to get it down for almost 10 minutes. When we left, he was still struggling with it, and being followed by other pelicans who hoped he would drop it.