Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Still Hanging Out in Florida

Both Friday the 23rd and Tuesday the 27th we went back out to E. G. Simmons Park on Tampa Bay and sat by the water. On Thursday we had watched a manatee with a calf in one of the estuaries here. Friday we found a nice shady spot near the waters edge where we could sit and read. After a while we lost the breeze, which meant the flies started biting and we had to move a bit away from the water into another shady spot where there was a breeze to keep the flies down.

On Tuesday we found a spot with a lovely breeze and a nice view of Tampa Bay - no bugs at all! We sat there for a couple of hours, reading and just enjoying the beautiful weather and the sea breeze. We were able to watch pelicans diving for fish less that 50 feet away from where we were sitting. It was really fascinating to see the pelicans diving into the water and coming up with a fish! We also caught a glimpse of a dolphin a ways out into the bay.

We have been spending a fair amount of time in the evenings watching the Stanley Cup playoffs - Go Hawks! Since we have both a cable connection and our satellite dish we can get Chicago Sports Net on Dish Network and Versus on local cable so we can see most of the games.

It got pretty warm here over the weekend and we finally had to break down and turn on the AC - and it did not work! Flipped it on and nothing happened; switched to fan only and still had nothing; checked all the fuses and everything was OK; checked the control and everything seemed OK. Then, while we were standing around and scratching our heads and wondering where we would find an RV tech to take a look at it, it started operating! This was about a half hour after we first turned it on! Soon it was blowing air at 47 degrees and working just fine. Only thing we can figure is some sort of circuit breaker needed power for a period of time before it would reset. Whatever it was the AC ran for two days solid without a hitch before it cooled of enough Monday evening to open up again. Speaking of AC, the one in the smart is working like a champ now. Guess we were to quick to condemn it as inadequate for four years!

On the subject of weather, Sunday evening we had some pretty substantial thunderstorms in the area. Most of the worst stuff went north of us, but there were a few times during the night that the trailer was rocking in the wind. It is kind of cool to watch the weather radar here since the National Weather Service radar dome is just a half mile down the street from where we are parked. You can see exactly what the weather is doing since we can tell right where we are. The local frogs seem to have liked the rain - they are singing away this evening (Tuesday).

After leaving the park Tuesday morning we stopped at Ybor Grille for lunch. Nancy had the grouper sandwich and Dennis the pork sandwich. Excellent as usual and this time we scarfed everything down with nothing left to take home for dinner! The we stopped at Hydro Harvest Farms, a hydroponic farm in Ruskin. It is a U-pick place and all of the herbs, leaf plants, peppers, and strawberries are grown hydroponically in pot. Pretty interesting and we picked up fixin’s for salads for dinner.

Wednesday the 28th we drove down to Bradenton in search of a natural foods store and lunch. We drove out to Bradenton Beach to check out Rotten Ralph’s 2. Looked OK, but it was still early and we like the original Rotten Ralph’s a lot, so we took a walk on the pier and then drove up to the north of Anna Maria Island. Had a leisurely lunch at the original Rotten Ralphs, and then stopped at Richard’s Whole Foods in Bradenton. Not exactly a scintillating day, but sometimes you take what you can get.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Kayaking and Good Food

4/15 - 4/22

On Thursday the 15th we took another kayak ride down the Little Manatee River from Canoe Outpost. The water in the upper part of the river was considerably lower than on our last trip, which meant more work for us! Instead of just floating along on the current we had to paddle and steer around sandbars. We rubbed bottom a number of time and at one point Dennis had to get out and push!

We started about an hour earlier in the morning, so we went on past the normal lunch point and stopped at the take-out point and had lunch.Then we went a little farther down the river. We had planned on going around the Little Manatee Loop, but the river widens out and there was a fairly stiff breeze blowing downstream. We were concerned about how hard it would be to work our way back upstream against the wind, so we did not go too far, opting instead to to explore a few side channels. That came to an end when Nancy saw a large alligator slip into the water about 20 feet away from us!

We also saw the same small alligator as last trip near the take-out point and a number of turtles, although not as many as last time, maybe because it was earlier in the day and the banks were not yet in the sun. Not a lot of birds this time either. The last trip we saw some Swallow Tail Kites.

On Friday the 16th we took another drive up to Tarpon Springs in celebration of our 18th wedding anniversary and had lunch at Rusty Bellies. We sat on the deck and watched the fishing boats come in to the seafood store dock next door. After stocking up on fresh local shrimp we came back home. Says something about our desperation that we are willing to drive two hours through fairly heavy traffic just for a good place for lunch (and the fresh shrimp!).

On Tuesday the 20th we went to Ybor Grille to celebrate Dennis’ 65 birthday - hello Medicare! As usual it was an excellent dinner.

We tend to visit a grocery store almost every day since the trailer has limited storage, a fairly small refrigerator and a tiny freezer. So we have hit a number of different grocery stores while we are here. Seems the best one for the kinds of foods we like is Publix. There do not seem to be any Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s type stores around here and Nancy is feeling the loss.

The weather is still reasonable, although it is getting hot. So far we have not needed our AC as it is cooling off quite nicely at night and we are parked in the only shady spot in the Sun Lake RV Resort! We are backed up to fairly large trees on the west side that shade us from the sun from mid-day on and it is quite pleasant.

Thursday the 22nd - We went over to E G Simmons Park and took a nice walk along along the beach. There are a couple of areas where you can walk through the mangoes along the shore and out on small fishing piers. On one of these we saw a manatee out in the estuary. It was rolling around and surfacing quite frequently. We stood and watched him for 15 or twenty minutes, really kind of a neat thing to see. Being a weekday there was hardly anyone in the park, so we had the whole place to ourselves, although the boat ramp was fairly busy.

Thursday evening we drove into Tampa and had a delightful dinner at Chefs on the Loose . We stumbled across this outfit on-line, they offer small group dinners with “hands on” participation in preparing the dinner. It is a very nice room, very crisp and minimalist, with adjacent kitchen and work counters with room for all of the attendees to participate. The dinner was presented by Chef Bobby Triplett, who is a guest chef at Chefs on the Loose. He did a really nice job preparing an interesting menu:

“Roasted and Ripened” Bruschetta: (Roasted Red Pepper and vine Ripened tomato)

“Real Deal Cesar Salad with herb roasted Sunday Chicken” A from scratch Cesar salad with roasted chicken and croutons like you have never seen before.

“Green With Envy” A grilled Pork chop marinated in Basil Spinach pesto, topped with the most perfect poached egg. Served with Sweet Potato Chips and creamy BBQ vinaigrette

For Dessert: “Grilled Peaches and Cream” Grilled Peaches served with a Homemade Vanilla Pecan Ice cream, topped with a dark cherry caramel rum sauce.

There were only nine guests there, so everyone got to participate in preparing the food as much as they wanted. Dennis sliced tomatoes for the bruschetta while Nancy learned to slice "ribbons" of basil. Chef Bobby and the rest of the staff at Chefs on the Loose were fun and personable. It was a a lot of fun; we picked up some good tips on food preparation and recipes; the food was wonderful; and the guests and staff made for a very enjoyable evening. Next time you are looking for an interesting evening in the Tampa area you can’t miss with Chefs on the Loose!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Air Conditioner Works!, so did Leonardo.

4/2 - 4/14

Still spending time caring for Dennis’ mom. We have managed to see and do a few interesting things. We went over to the nearby Tampa Electric Plant to check out the Manatee viewing area. They have a very nice nature walk and museum set up there. While we did not visit the free museum we did walk out onto the pier in the estuary and then to the manatee viewing area. The manatees there are apparently not as numerous as they were during the colder weather, when there were several hundred in the area, but we were able to watch about a dozen manatees swimming around from the viewing platform.

We drove up to the Apple store in Brandon to pick up a new battery for Dennis’ laptop, which gave us a chance to play around with the new iPad. That is really an amazing piece of hardware and may be a real game changer when it come to the world of computers. Nancy compared it to automobiles - in the beginning a person needed to understand how they worked in order to drive them, today you just get in and turn the key. Here is a link to an MSNBC article on the impact of the iPad

Other than the apps though, our laptops generally will do everything the iPad does and do it better. We will stick with the laptops and iPod for now.

While we were in the area we stopped by the Camping World in Seffner and picked up a few things. One of them was two new snap-on screens for our Fan-Tastic Vents. We have three Fan-Tastic Vents, all of which are temperature controlled with rain sensors. Only the newest one though has the snap-on screen cover. The other two have the old style that require removing eight little screws to remove and clean the screen. Here at Sun Lake RV Resort we are backed up to a line of trees which give us delightful afternoon shade, but also drop a lot (and this time of year I mean A LOT) of debris on us. Inevitably some of this gets into the fans and starts to make noise. Life will be a lot easier now with the snap-on covers since Dennis needs to stand on a chair to reach the fan in the living room.

Since we were in Brandon we had to stop at La Septima for lunch, it was great as usual. When we got home we discovered that we had picked up the wrong laptop battery! Why didn’t you check in the store doofus! So....the next day we went back to Brandon (it is only about 15 miles away) and picked up the correct battery, played with the iPads a bit more, and had lunch at La Septima again! Might as well make the best of it, right?

We went in to Tampa to check out the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit at MOSI - the Tampa Museum of Science and Industry. The Da Vinci exhibit was excellent, very interesting and well presented. It was not crowded at all as it was a weekday and we spent several hours browsing through the exhibit. We should note that this is a commercially produced exhibit that focuses on Da Vinci’s overall genius in science, anatomy, architecture, invention, and the fine arts, but it was not an art exhibit and there were no original works on display. It included models of many of his inventions and a very comprehensive, high resolution photographic analysis of the Mona Lisa, along with reproductions of many of his other works. Well worth the price of admission.

The rest of MOSI was a bit of a disappointment. It is mainly aimed at kids and what we saw of the exhibits (granted not all of them) they are far from the claimed “state-of-the-art” and actually a bit tattered around the edges. Other than the Da Vinci exhibit we would not recommend MOSI.

The price of admission did included one movie in the I-Max theatre, so we watched the new release of “Alice in Wonderland” which was enjoyable.

We have found a place nearby where we can catch a weekly yoga class, we have missed doing yoga since we arrived in Florida, so we are now going to Apollo Beach Yoga once a week to get loosened up.

As the weather is heating up here our smart car is a bit warm with it’s glass roof. The AC has always been marginal around town and barely adequate on the highway and it had now stopped cooling altogether. We located a local auto repair shop that was willing to take a look at adding refrigerant so we stopped by. Turns out the AC connections are not very accessible! One will need to remove the entire front panel in order to get access.

So we went back home and Dennis looked up the information on evilution. Sure enough, he had step-by-step instructions with pictures. So we made an appointment at Southshore Auto Repair. The morning of our appointment we parked the smart in the shade and proceeded to remove the entire front panel of the smart. Other than being a two person job to lift off the panel, it was not to bad, just seven clips on the grille and fifteen bolts on the panel and it lifted right off!

Kind of looks like a NASCAR car at Martinsville! Also makes us think of Wall-E!

Turns out there was virtually no refrigerant left in the system! No leaks, just gradual loss from sitting (the car did sit for better than a year while G&K was trying to get approval for their gray market conversion). Once Greg at Southshore Auto did his thing the AC was blowing at 40 degrees! Guess we should have done this years ago - the AC is working great now, even in the Florida sun! By the way, the folks at Southshore turned out to be good people to deal with.

Dennis’ Mom continues to deteriorate and it does not look like she will be able to move to the Assisted Living facility after all, so we have canceled the lease there and are just sitting tight, waiting to see what the next few weeks bring. We are really thankful that we have our RV and are able to live comfortably while we are here looking after her. We are also thankful for the great care she is receiving at Sun Terrace Health Care. This is where she started her rehabilitation after surgery and they are continuing to care for her. The staff has been very attentive, caring and supporting throughout her stay and we are very happy with the care she is receiving.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Lots & Lots of Turtles and an Alligator!

Wednesday 3/31 - Drove down to Bradenton and stopped at Mixon’s to stock up on oranges and orange juice. Made a quick stop at the Ellenton Outlet shops so Nancy could buy a new pair of shoes. We planned on stopping at C&K Smoke Shop for lunch, but they were on vacation, bummer. Dinner at Ybor Grille tonight.

Thursday 4/1 - We have been spending time with Dennis’ mom (who has taken another turn for the worse) and getting her ready to move to her new apartment. We will post here when there is something interesting going on.

On Thursday we took a drive up to Tarpon Springs, just because we had never been there. An interesting place, a lot of touristy souvenir shops, a boat dock and a lot of Greek restaurants and seafood places. A fair number of people on the streets, bet it is REALLY crowded on the weekends!

Had lunch at Rusty Bellies, which turned out to be an excellent choice, really good, really fresh locally caught fish. They are adjacent to their own seafood market Pelican Point Seafood which features locally caught seafood exclusively. If you go there they are all the way at the end of the street that goes past the sponge docks, beyond the traffic circle. We bought some shrimp to take home with us and it was the best shrimp we ever had!

Coming home we drove along the coast west of Tampa and St Pete, miles and miles of hotels, condos, restaurants, and tourist place. There is no easy way to get from Sun City Center to Tarpon Springs, but we may have to go back for the seafood!

Friday 4/2 - Weather looked really promising today after heavy rains early in the week, so we went down to the Canoe Outpost on the Little Manatee River just East of Sun City Center. We rented a two person kayak ($37) and headed out for a two hour paddle down the Little Manatee. It was the perfect day for it, high seventies, a light breeze and not a cloud in the sky! Saw a few birds, not as many as we expected, a LOT of turtles - must have seen 25 or 30. Also saw a fairly sizable alligator sunning on the bank, about 6 feet long! The folks ahead of us in a canoe said they also saw one in the water. We stopped at a picnic pavilion in the Little Manatee River State Park and had a picnic lunch we brought with us and then continued to the pick-up point where they met us with a bus and returned to the Canoe Outpost. We will definitely do this again before we leave and before the weather gets to hot.