Welcome to our Adventure!

Al and I are thrilled that you have found your way to our blog. We hope you enjoy reading our journal and viewing our photographs of the natural wonder of our United States of America. Let's hit the road together!
Homer, Alaska

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Picnic "Gone to the Dogs"

First, a "Sue Report": Sue is home with us now, having been discharged from Florida Orlando Hospital last Thursday. She is very glad to not be there anymore, but does have a substantial convalescence ahead of her. The worst is how easily she gets tired, but that will get better as she improves. We're very happy and grateful that she is with us, and continue to thank everyone for their good wishes.

Well, many of you know that all of us (Al, Casey and myself) have been very lonely since the loss of Chelsea last October. We had planned to stay a single dog family, but that has changed :-). We'd like to introduce you to the newest addition to our family, Honey!

We had started talking about adopting a dog in December. Casey was doing ok, but was very lonely by himself while we were working. He had always been with her, as Chelsea was four years old when we adopted Casey as a puppy, so he grew up with her as his "big sister". We were pretty sure it was going to e a problem for him when it was her time, and had discussed the possibilty of adopting a dog before that, but it was SO fast when her time came that it wasn't remotely a possibility. Once we made the decision to adopt another golden retriever, we than decided we'd rather adopt an older dog, closer to Casey's age, and avoid the whole housebreaking thing with a puppy. We checked into rescue organizations in Florida, and found a wonderful facility, the Golden Retriever Rescue of Mid-Florida, Inc (GRRMF). 

It was a fairly long process, we submitted the initial application for adoption in December, before we arrived back in Florida at Christmas. Once that was processed, we were contacted by telephone and went through an initial phone interview. After being approved, we then had to schedule an in-home interview, where a volunteer came to our home to interview us, and check out the home environment. It was quite fortunate that in stating our "alternative lifestyle" of semi-full-timing, our home interview couple turned out to do the same thing...snowbird in Florida, then head north for the summer/fall season in their coach. We had a lovely conversation with Sylvia and Bill and their golden Harley, and we subsequently passed this inspection! Once that was done and processed, we were contacted by our "co-ordinator" Leslie, who would set up potential "matches" for us based on our preferences and lifestyle. Leslie called while we were down at Fort Wilderness, and we arranged for a meeting with Honey and her foster family on February 12, down in Bradenton. Casey was invited as well :-).

Well, as you might guess, the meeting went well, and Honey ended up coming home with us that day. Her foster mom MaryAnn had the highest praise for her, what a nice quiet gentle dog she is. And we couldn't agree more, she has been a total sweetheart so far. She's not pure golden retriever, as she has very short legs and is only about half the weight that Chelsea was. So Casey is quite a bit taller, but they have been getting along very well, we're so happy. It seems to be curing him of his separation anxiety problems we had in Fort Wilderness as well. We're going down to Lake Manatee for three nights later this week, so we'll be doing some testing of how well they'll stay in the coach by themselves.

Saturday we took both dogs to the annual GRRMF Reunion Picnic down in Lakeland. What fun it was to see so many goldens all together in one place!

Inside the pavilion at Lake Parker Park

Honey laying beside her foster mom MaryAnn; she's as good about co-operating for pictures as Casey is!

There was a Chinese auction of over 130 gifts donated by businesses from all over mid-Florida. Of course, my normal luck at raffles continued and I didn't win a thing!

There was a large group gathered for a demonstration on "nose work",  a new sport which uses the dogs extreme sensitivity to scents to stimulate playtime for them. It was pretty interesting.

Honey seemed to be enjoying herself!

It was just an enjoyable time for everyone involved :-).

Friday, February 14, 2014

Update and Wildlife Park

Update on the medical front: Al's sister Sue ended up being transferred from Celebration Hospital to Florida Hospital Orlando to be scheduled for a bypass surgery. She had the surgery on Tuesday,had five bypasses done, and has been doing great. It is amazing to me how fast the body can recover from a serious surgery. She is due to be transferred from the CCU today into the "step-down" room, and hopefully will be discharged in the next few days. At that time she'll come back here to Homosassa to stay in our house while recovering her strength for her return to her home in Texas. The whole family wishes to thank everyone for their prayers and well wishes, it means a lot to us all!

Well, it finally became sunny in Fort Wilderness....the day we left :-)!! Oh well, at least it was nice for our short trip back to Homosassa. We left around check out time at 11 in a small caravan, as our cousins Bill and Denise were following us over and staying an additional week here at Chassa Oaks RV Resort. I should really be getting a commission for the referrals I've sent their way the past three years :-). Its a very nice quiet small campground that is about ten minutes from our house, ideal for visiting guests.

Now, we had made different plans for the week, but with the surgery taking place we starting going on a day by day basis. Once we found out that the surgery was scheduled for Tuesday, and Susie's daughter had flown in and was spending Monday with her, we decided to take our cousins and Aunt Doris and Uncle Ronnie over to the wildlife park. The Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is where Al volunteers a couple days a week driving the boats that take visitors from the entrance to the park itself. I had volunteered the past two years, but am taking off this winter as my schedule seems to be very full with appointments and errands. It was a beautiful day and we thought it would be a nice diversion for a few hours. So we all gathered and headed down there Monday morning.

There's a beautiful manatee painting by Wyland along the wall to the Visitor's Center. 

The group gathered for the boat ride down Pepper Creek. Homosassa is actually an Indian named meaning "land of the peppers"
Back Row: Aunt Doris (hiding), sister Ginny and Al
Middle Row: BFF Patti, cousin Bruce Uncle Ronnie
Front row: cousins Bill and Denise.
Sorry about the shadow, I think it was my lens hood which doesn't like low light.

The twenty minute ride down the creek is hosted by a volunteer (like Al) who gives us the story behind the park. The park's early history included a series of private owners who maintained small tourist attractions on this site. Many exotic non-native animals were on display, as well as retired "actor" animals. The last private owner of the property planned to sell the property to developers, but a grass-roots effort within Citrus County collected enough petitions to have the sale blocked, and the county took possession of the property for awhile. January 1, 1989, the State of Florida purchased the property from Citrus County in order to preserve it from any future development, and added to the state park lands.

 Since becoming the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, management emphasis has shifted from entertainment to environmental education, and from exotic animals to the protection and exhibition of Florida native wildlife.
The Visitor's Center is located on US19 in Homosassa Springs. There is a nice display of the history here, and the obligatory gift and snack shops as well. I can attest that the bakery has some very tasty items! From the Visitor's center there are two ways to get back to the Wildlife Park, either by a tram ride or a boat ride down Pepper Creek. As you saw above, we chose the boat tour.

Pepper Creek is a spring-fed waterway that had been dredged to allow boat travel, and runs from an upland pine habitat through a hydric hammock. Any wildlife you see along the creek does not belong to the park, but is truly wild, free to come and go as they please. I enjoyed the sight of this gator and the turtles lined up behind him. The wooden boxes in the picture above are wood duck boxes, with baffles on the posts to protect the eggs from predators such as raccoon and snakes. Later in the spring you might see the little balls of yellow fluff tumbling out of the nests into the creek. 

The Fishbowl area of the Park is the headwaters for this 200-plus acre park. The deep natural spring is the centerpiece of the Park and pumps out over a million gallons of water every hour. Saltwater and freshwater fish are attracted to this spring with its constant year-round water temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit. This spring also provides a refuge for captive-born West Indian Manatees and a half-way house for rehabilitating manatees scheduled for release back into the wild. Many dozens of wild manatee come up the Homosassa River to rest in the warm waters just outside the Park boundaries when the water temperatures turn cooler in the winter. We have had the pleasure of meeting some of them last winter as we were out kayaking the river...almost being dumped over by one as it surfaced very close to the kayak!

One of the first exhibits you encounter as you start the Wildlife Walk is Lu, the African Nile hippopotamus. Now, if you were paying attention, I had stated that when the State of Florida took over the Park, it was changed to be native species only. So, why do we have a hippo in the Park? Well, Lu was on the list along with the other exotic animals to be moved to other facilities. The local community, however, had grown very fond of Lu, who had been one of the movie stars in the Park ( Daktari and Cowboy in Africa). A grass-roots effort resulted in the Governor of Florida making Lu an honorary Floridian, allowing him to permanently reside in the State Park. Lu turned 54 years old this past January 24, and the park has a birthday party for him every year. 

Another local favorite in the endangered whooping crane, Romeo. I think he's looking into the reflection of himself, thinking what a handsome fellow he is :-). Where most of the animals in the Park are here because of injuries or other reasons keeping them from being rehabilitated to the wild, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Romeo. He is here because he wants to be! If you know the story about the whooping crane migration, a few years ago the flock had been flying to their winter grounds at Chassahowitzka Wildlife Refuge just a few miles south of the Park. As they were flying over the Park, a whooping crane tagged #501 (aka Levi) saw the female down below him and came down for a closer look. Apparently he really liked her, as he didn't leave! The FWS came and got him, taking him to the refuge, but he promptly flew back to the Park and his female. They retrieved him again, and went so far as to place netting over the whooping crane exhibit to thwart him from landing. Undaunted, Levi once again flew to the Park, landed short of the enclosure, and proceeded to walk the rest of the way to the love of his life. It was decided to leave Levi with the female, and remove the male that was already there to a different facility. (the male was mute, which precluded the pair from becoming a mated pair, as the whooping cranes need to be able to vocalize to woo their ladies). Levi was renamed Romeo, and while a baby has not been produced yet, there are hopes as they have had a few eggs laid. A nice story for Valentine's Day, yes? 

My girl Maygar was not out this day, as she has a urinary tract infection and is being treated in the medical building. I wrote about the Florida panthers here the first year we worked at the Park. 

I found this picture amusing...who WOULD go swimming here??

Can anyone tell me what this great egret is doing? Is this a courtship display? I've never seen one drying its wings like the anhingas.

I didn't catch this as I was taking the picture, but look at the flamingo on the far left...I've never seen them sit with their legs out in front like that!

This Crested Caracara is quite a jaunty fellow, strutting along with his chest thrown out :-)

No matter how homely you might be, someone loves you!

Beautiful eagles with wing damage...poor baby wanted to fly up and get whatever it was he saw. Beautiful birds, I never get tired of seeing them.
High in the treetops I spotted this Great Blue Heron's nest with a mom and juvenile peeking out. I like spotting things like this :-). 

There are several other exhibits to wander through, a brand new shore bird aviary, Florida bears, several other types of birds, a reptile house (no thanks) and we watched the river otters play for a while. There are different talks done at certain times of the day, a Manatee talk, Lu's story and the Wildlife Encounter program, which highlights a different species each day. I highly recommend a visit to the Park if you spend any time in this area, its and enjoyable day for all ages and helps support the Florida State Park program.

It was time for lunch, and where better to spend a gloriously sunny and warm Florida afternoon that at a Tiki Bar on the riverfront?

Beautiful view, warm, clear blue skies, good food and drink, and family....

Does it get any better than this??

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Yes, Still Here!

Well, it has been longer than I expected to write a post, and I'm sorry for that. I want to let anyone out there contemplating the idea of starting a blog that it is not as easy as you would think to post on a regular basis, especially every day as I had originally expected to do! I get in the state of mind where I feel that what I'm doing can't possibly be interesting enough to write about, or I get really tired of always writing bad news. However, I was reminded yesterday by some of my wonderful readers, and now friends :-), that it is important for those folks reading blogs while they are researching this lifestyle to know that its not always happy hour and beautiful sunsets. I wrote a blog entry about a year ago concerning this topic, and was so surprised at how popular it was and how many comments it received. So with that being said....off we go to the past two weeks that we've been here at Fort Wilderness, the campground at Walt Disney World.

This is the second year we've had a family reunion at Fort Wilderness. We've all enjoyed going to Disney for many years and it seems like a natural place for us all to congregate. There's something for everyone here, and it doesn't seem to matter that we are all adults :-). The campground is the nicest one I've ever been in as well. Its only a two hour drive from our house, so on Sunday 1/26 we set off a little before lunchtime to make the trek over to The Fort.

As promised, a few pictures of our new coach set up at The Fort:
As you can see, the sites are quite spacious, and nicely wooded in between for a nice feeling of privacy, which is quite uncommon in private campgrounds here in Florida. We book what is called a premium site, with full hookups. Over the past few years Disney has re-done many of their camping loops to accommodate the bigger coaches that people have today, making the concrete pads wider, and angled easier for backing in. You can see the difference in the pavement from the original pad to the expanded area. There is a group of 8 of us here, a total of four sites, so we always have the chairs out and the corn hole game ready for action :-). One of the really neat features of our coach is the built-in LED rope lighting in the awning. No need to put up lights and take them down all the time, and the lights make it nice for gathering after dark!

Of course, being at The Fort calls for additional site decorating. I had the Fort Wilderness sign made for Al for Christmas, and he made the stand for it himself. We went for a trek in the Withlacoochee Forest one afternoon looking for pine limbs to make it with. I think he did a great job, very rustic looking. Our alligator lights up and moves his head and tail back and forth, very appropriate for Florida. 

I haven't done too much personalization yet, but we'll be working on it. These are pictures of our living and kitchen areas. It is very nice looking out the back window at palms and trees. I have a lot of cabinet space, but I find it frustrating that rv designers never have shelves put in the cabinets. I hate piling things on top of each other, but then it feels as if so much vertical space goes to waste. I look for containers and shelving ideas, but nothing is made that is rv cabinet-sized. 

I DO very much like the pantry. Three nice big shelves for all my groceries, and three lovely pull-out drawers for my pots and pans. Since I used to have to get down on all fours and reach into the back of a dark cupboard for my pots, this is quite a luxury :-).

So, that's our rig and our site...all good so far :-).
After getting set up and catching up with everyone, we had dinner plans to meet at The Trail's End buffet. We had a great time laughing over dinner, and lingered over dessert and coffee. Our first set-back of the trip occurred as we arrived back at the coach, and heard poor Casey howling and crying inside of the coach. There was also a note taped to our door that he had been carrying on the whole time we had been away. This just won't do at all, and we were quite surprised as he had been very good staying by himself while we were in Kentucky. The only thing that we could think of was with the coach being new and our first time staying in it, he isn't accustomed to it and thought we were leaving him there. Whatever his issue was, he was definitely having some anxiety issues that need to be addressed. I spent the rest of the night reading about possible solutions to the issue. We finally decided that the next day, while everyone went into the Animal Kingdom, I would stay here and try to get him accustomed to me going in and out,  leaving him alone for short periods of time. 

So, you ask, did this work?? Uh, NO. Onto Plan B. We certainly didn't want to split our time away from our families for the two weeks, so Casey was booked into Best Friends daycare for the days we were going into the parks and dinner together. Chalk that one up to an unexpected expense of the vacation, but a solvable problem at least. He did have a great time there, and played with many other pups, so at least that was a good thing. And we may have news later in the month on a new sister for him, which will hopefully help his loneliness issues. Jumping ahead a bit, towards the end of our stay here he does seem to be getting comfortable here in the new coach, and we left him by himself this morning for a couple of hours and he seemed to do fine, was sleeping when we got back. 

We had a birthday breakfast with the whole bunch at Kona Cafe. Al's sister Susie and cousin Kathy were both celebrating birthdays, and a heart breakfast of Tonga Toast (banana stuffed french toast) was the order of the day.

Being so close to The Magic Kingdom, that's where we headed for the day to enjoy some of our favorite attractions. We all went on Pirates, Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion, watched the birds and flowers sing in the Tiki Room, and went for a ride on the PeopleMover; well, some went for a ride on the peoplemover, other rode Space Mountain, but I don't do that one :-). Notice the nice blue sky and short sleeves; it doesn't last long!

Wednesday it started raining. And rained. And rained. So what do happy campers do when its raining? We pack up the cars and go to Camping World of course :-). I needed a new states map, as the old one was not removable. Of course a few other items made it into the cart as well, including a really comfy folding chair just made for relaxing and reading outside :-). A stop at Walmart was made made as well, and that was that exciting day. Thursday: Rain! Also the beginning of a cloud on the horizon, Al's sister Sue wasn't feeling well, having trouble catching her breath, so she went to the clinic to get check out. Thinking it was a touch of bronchitis and asthma, they gave her some antibiotics and prednisone and told to rest. So she went to bed, and we went to see a movie...Disney's Frozen, which was very good. 

Friday: Rain! Sue was feeling a bit better, and we went to EPCOT for the afternoon. By then it was only drizzling, so we didn't get too wet, and had a very good lunch at Chefs de France. 

Saturday we had a group BBQ planned at the campground. It had been forecast as a nice day. I woke up early in the morning, and what did I hear on my roof? Rain! OMG is it ever going to stop?? Well, it showered on and off in the morning, but mostly stopped for the afternoon and we managed to get our food and games in without getting too wet. We had our friends Jan and Ken from Bar Harbor join us for the afternoon, and had a great time catching up with them. I think it's so nice how, as your circle of friends grows each year, that you have a much larger range of life experiences to discuss with people. For instance, they had to deal with elder care issues a couple of years ago, and have given me some good ideas on how to help my mother get her affairs set up. 

                               Sunday was drier, and we had a nice afternoon at the campground. Around lunchtime we had a quick visit with Bill and Nancy, whom we've known since we started out on the road; they were our neighbors at the Sevierville RV-Dreams rally in April 2011. They came into Disney for a quick 3 night stay after having coach repairs done down at Lazydays. Its always wonderful to see them, and hope to catch up with them when they visit Rainbow Springs in a couple of weeks.

We played a few rousing games of Marbles, cards and Jokers, and snacked all day on the leftovers from Saturday's BBQ. Oh and we also watched a little thing that some people called a football game?? :-)

The cloud is starting to get darker and closer however. Monday morning, Al's sister Sue is having such a hard time catching her breathe, that it is decided a trip to the hospital is in order. I stayed home here with Casey while they headed over. Of course, no trip to the ER is a quick one, but it IS quickly determined that there is more of an issue going on than just bronchitis, and she will be staying at least overnight. Al comes back in the afternoon, while his sister Ginny stays at the hospital until Sue gets settled into a room for the night. Meanwhile, we had a dinner reservation that night that we couldn't cancel, so his sisters told us all to go ahead over there. Its a fairly new restaurant in the newly renovated Fantasyland called Be Our Guest, and is set inside the Beast's castle from Beauty and the Beast.
Cousins Bill and Fred were clowning around with the gargoyles while waiting, and then we all had our picture taken with our host, The Beast. We also took pictures of our dinner and sent them to Susie so she could feel like she was there :-).

Another night we had pizzas at the Italian restaurant Via Napoli, which were very tasty...

and then we split a Frozen cupcake...chocolate cake with buttercream icing...yum!

Yesterday, we had made plans to be "tour guides" for Dan and Jonelle Anderson, who have never been to Disney...imagine that! Dan and Jonelle have been "stalking" our blog for awhile, and came out on the road full time this summer. We met them in Amazon this past fall, and I think we have a long-term friendship forming now :-). We had a great time exploring EPCOT together, and I think we may have spread the Disney magic to another couple :-).  We visited many countries in the World Showcase, rode on several attractions in Future World, had a great lunch in China and of course, dessert at the Bakery in France.

Finally, at the end of a couple days of testing, it's been determined that Sue will be staying here with us in Florida for a few weeks. She has arterial blockages, and will be having a triple bypass early next week. That's the bad news, but the good news is that it was caught in time before anything very bad had happened. After the surgery in Florida Hospital Orlando, she'll be staying with us until strong enough to fly home.

And....it's still raining! Thursday, Friday, today....I know, it could be snow and cold, but still, its awfully dismal!

So, to wrap things up: it was wonderful to spend a couple of weeks with our family, we had some nice days, we had good food and good times. Trials and tribulations, but nothing that can't be worked through. Prayers for a successful surgery and speedy recovery will be most appreciated. Yes, we are making plans for next year's get together, you can never keep a good family down for long :-)!