Archives for March 2013

Night Stalkers

The camp grounds are slowly disappearing into a blanket of darkness. The air stills as the sky looses light. There is little movement up and down the road.  An occasional bird calls out one last time while hunkering down for the night. A single door slams. It’s quiet time.  Sleep time.  The only remaining sound is the splash of an occasional fish jumping. The day has faded away. 

The night is still enough to hear the dew forming, and dripping off of the moss filled live oaks to the ground.  Drifting, drifting off to sleep.  Drip…………drip…..rustle……

Slight rustling of the leaves becomes amplified.  Slight movement in the branches becomes billowing.  Night is here.  The darks silence is deafening. 

The dogs sit upright, with ears perked, at attention.  They listen for the slightest threat outside the safety of our tent.  They remain focused and at attention as I drift in and out of sleep. 

They are triggered by some super fine sound my naked human ear cannot capture.  They begin a low growl.  And I, the stealth hunter, am dialed in to pick up on the slightest of movement or sounds, starting with their alert.  I am beginning to feel like we are not alone.  My senses are kicking into the fight or flight reaction mode.   There is someone out there, watching us.  I grab my axe, headlamp and a hand held light, and quietly step out of the tent. 

Who is out here?

I flash my lights across the campsite and into the line of mangroves. The hair on my arms and back of the neck is standing up.  I can feel something is out there.  We are being watched.  I flash the lights around the tent, the cook tent, the car, and over to the mangroves.  Nothing.  I go back to the tent.  The dogs continue their low growl.  I shine the light over to the campsites besides me and into the dark mangrove border.  There is a shadowy movement in the branches. Something is out there.

One.  Two.  Three sets of eyes catch my light and flicker in the mangroves. 

Four, Five…Six………..seven sets of eyes flickering in the mangroves. 

I stamp the ground hard and cry out “GIT!!!!!” and the eyes disappear. 

Now the dogs are in a barking frenzy, trying to escape the tent and race to my assistance. I run to the tent to calm them down, tripping on palm branches and miscellaneous stuff on the ground.

Crap!  Ouch!  Ugh!  And I’m back to the tent.  I drop the axe to the ground.  What was that?  I look over to the road, and spy a big round dark image about the size of a raccoon scooting across the road, towards the line of mangroves.

It is a raccoon. 

Rustling in the branches returns.  I shine my light, and capture more eyes.  One, two, four, five, oh my goodness, it’s raccoons. I sneak over to where I’ve stored my case of water and grab 3 bottles.  I creep back over to the edge of camp, and shine my light again, capturing several sets of eyes.  Then I, the stealth hunter, with precision aim and strength, whale those three bottles of water into the mangroves and knock those raccoons right out of the branches.  This induces alarmed raccoon chatter, more scrambling, another barking outburst, and then dead silence.  I return to the tent, and crawl back to bed.  All is well.

Twenty minutes pass. 

The dogs begin to growl again.  They will not relax.  Really?  Once again, I am creeping out of the tent with the flashlight. 

Eight… nine…thirteen….Holy Hanna count them, fifteen raccoons in the mangrove line! They are organizing.  Unionizing.  They are much closer this time, and are closing in.    One steps out in the open and rises up on its hind legs, mere feet from the cook tent.  The rest remain hovering in the mangroves, waiting for instructions.  Clearly they are planning a takeover.  Not my campsite!  This is my campsite that I paid for.  With great conviction, I, the stealth hunter, stand my ground and grab more water bottles, lobbing them into the mangrove line, stamping, hissing and screaming out “GIT!!!” It seems to be working—but just in case, I take things further, lunging toward the coon in the open, then running up and down along the mangrove line and vacant campsites, crying out threats and obscenities and whaling water bottles into the branches.

The coons chatter and scramble away into the dark.  One runs to the big blue garbage dumpster at the end of the road, another up a nearby palm tree, some are bailing into the water, and several leap out of the branches, past me and bolt across the road! 

I win.

The mangroves are now void of raccoons.  Our campsite is now void of raccoons. The dogs are now quiet. And I am exhausted.  There is dead silence.  I return to the tent, and crawl back to bed.  All is well. 

Twenty minutes pass. 

The dogs begin to growl again……………

YaLa Chicken

If you’ve got power at the campsite, thisdelicious meal is easily made outside using a rice cooker with a steamer tray and George Forman grill, or a fry pan on a hot plate.  Minimal prep time to keep you out of the bugs, but keep your tent cool and scent free. 

1 pkg chicken tenderloins or, two large chicken breasts, split and halved

2 T flour

1 T Kabseh spice*

¼ t Salt

1 lime

Place the flour and spices in a baggie, coat the chicken pieces with the mixture and set aside on a plate, squeeze half the lime on the chicken and refrigerate 1 hour

In the meantime:

1-1/2 c  half and half mix of brown and white rice

¼  c red lentils

½  of a medium sweet onion, chopped

5 cloves garlic, chopped

¼ T butter

1can cream of mushroom soup

1 t Kabseh spice*

Water

1 bag fresh veggie medley—(carrot, broccoli and cauliflower)

 

Combine rice and lentils, into rice cooker and cover with water as directed.  Add onion, garlic and butter .

Fill the steamer tray with the fresh veggie medley.

Close the lid and cook (the rice cooker will automatically turn to warm when done).

Once the rice cooker is done, plug in the George Forman, fluff the rice, and add the soup and Kabseh and mix well.  If the mixture is too thick, add water, approx. 2T at a time until mixture is “creamy” in texture.  Close rice cooker and allow to cook for 10 more minutes or until thoroughly heated and creamy.

 

While the rice mixture is cooking:

Place the chicken pieces on the hot grill (approximately 6 – 10 minutes) or until done.

Transfer chicken to plates and squeeze the remaining half lime over the top.

Spoon rice mixture over chicken and add veggie mix. Crank up the Turkish tunes and enjoy!  Yum!  

Serves 4 – 6

*If you cannot find Kabseh, you can try creating your own.  It is a spice mixture of : Dry Lemon, Cinnamon, Cardamom, Galingal, Coriander, Cumin, Cloves, Black Pepper

 

Boy Scout Buddy

“Hahhhd tellin’, not knowin’.”  Famous words of Boy Scout Buddy.  The social butterfly of the East Coast, Buddy is the camp host on site 11.  He and his sweet wife Lois meet and greet incoming campers and make them feel at home. The pair hail from The Hamptons, and articulate the very distinct accent to prove it. Ever since my encounter with the tarp full of ants, he comes checking on me periodically.

“How u doin?  Any prahhhhhhblems with the wildlife? Don’t leave anything out!  Let me know how I can help, any time.  I’m a Boy Scout.”

He fills me in on the fishing, the beaches, the areas for walking and exploring.  There are many things to do at this Secret Spot.  I just love to hear him and Lois talk.  I am hooked.  And when they are together they are without a doubt the cutest couple I’ve ever seen in my life. Like clockwork every evening they are out walking Cosmos, their little Chi Wawa, down the road, stopping every six feet to talk to someone.  Their cat, Kallie, usually following close behind.

Buddy has stories about the Scouts, about friends, about business.  He can conjure up a story out of a bag of rocks.  He knows where the deals are, who the right people are, and what the correct procedures are.  They have been camp hosts here for years.  He is incredibly knowledgeable about Flahhhhhrida and can go into detail on virtually any topic you throw to him.  He knows where to go, and where NOT to, and as he steers you in a direction he will emphatically tell you every time, 

“I can’t lie, I’m a Boy Scout.”  He exclaims. 

He and Lois seem to know something about everything. If they don’t know, they will go get the answer and be back with it.  The one thing they don’t seem to have is the correct information on their age.  Sadly, Buddy seems to think he is 70, with Lois not far behind.  This is not simply possible, they had to be given incorrect numbers years ago.  These people have to be in their 50’s.  I’m certain of it.  I’m not sure how to convince them though.  But, eventually I will.

In the scope of the afternoon, he introduces me to half the people staying here at Secret Spot Park.  “These ahhhhh some good people to get to know.”

And so it all begins.

I never thought there’d be two Buddy’s in my life, but as luck would have it, now it appears there are.  “Hahhhd tellin’, not knowin’.”  My world is becoming rich with great people. Even Boy Scouts.

Mr. and Mrs. Hospitality

One of the most interesting things about camping is having an opportunity to meet new temporary neighbors.  My neighbors across the road are no exception, and they wasted no time starting the introductions before I’d even picked out my campsite!  Dennis the Menace.  Well, menace in a good way.  Perhaps instigator is a better descriptive word?  He was right there to greet me when I pulled in, and is right there to pick on me at every opportunity since.  Once I provided the right answer regarding Packers or Vikings, that opened the floodgates of greetings throughout the day, roadside chats, and offering help with little campsite maintenance projects.  Hottest conversation topics seem to be centered around the parks history, and coping with nuisance animals and bugs.

“How’d you sleep last night?”  He prods.

“Like a log!”

“Hummmph. Nothing bothered the dogs?”

“No, like what?”

“You just wait, they’ll find you.  They will.”  He chuckles.

“Dennis, I don’t think anything is going to bother us, we’re all good.”

Yes, Dennis is somewhat of a joker, a prankster, and definitely an instigator.  His slow lanky stroll across the road is always a sure fire signal that he either has a new story to tell, or something to tease me about. 

“Here’s the thing. I don’t have to worry about the coons. You know why?  They have you.  They like you tenters. They’ll get right into the tent with you.  This is their home. Same with the no-see-ums.  They like you too.” 

Well he had a point there.  In the short amount of time I’ve been here, I have been attacked by the no-see-ums like an epidemic, while Dennis stands there untouched.

Maybe it’s the smoke? Maybe the bugs aren’t into those Wisconsin Cheese Heads?

But his wife, Carol, is like me.  Fresh meat for the no-see-ums to feed on, and between the two of us we are scratching, spraying, and applying ointments to minimize the impact of the invisible attackers.  Carol is a wonderful, calm, patient voice of reason, and displays a quiet strength.  She tells me about her long life with Dennis, and living in a tiny trailer as they broke ground to build their first home.  Giving birth to and caring for their first child out of that trailer.  A nurse by trade, she is a rock of compassion and dedication, perhaps the only woman on earth able to survive a life with Dennis the Menace.  A talented seamstress, she has a “get it done” attitude with most things. Carol simply glows when she talks about their four kids, and their grandkids.  She is the real deal.

“See these mounds?” Dennis points to the ant hills scattered across the ground. “Just don’t stand on one of these mounds. The fire ants will eat you alive in no time.”

It becomes hard to determine when Dennis is serious, or just playing with me.  I often look to Carol for the signal.  Eye roll means he’s talking out his butt.  Either way, I look forward to their visits, and his humorous conversations.

Oh-oh, she’s not giving me the eye roll.  I quickly excuse myself, run over to my campsite lay a giant tarp down under the cook tent and living area.  No ants allowed!

Best Kept Secret In Florida

Despite a gallant effort, I had to give in to the LaQuinta Inn last night. I was unable to get to Jenns campground before they closed the gates.  But today, we will be there as soon as they open.  G.Q. will never know.  Sounds like the ride will be short.  We will have the whole day to set up camp.  Everything will be just fine.

We’re up early to clear out of the motel room, have breakfast, get walks in, and hit the road. We drive through the heart of Tampa City to get to the park.  By 10 am, my GPS directs us into the gates of Secret Spot Park. 

First bonus: $24 per night versus $89 in the hotel. 

Second bonus: They have openings!

Third bonus: no issues with having dogs.

Forth bonus: beautiful spacious campsites

Fifth bonus:  almost no one is camping here

This is awesome.  I drive around the west campground, then the east campground, to pick out my new temporary home. I am leaning toward the west campground.

This little park is awesome!  Picture a 250 acre hand with its fingers spread wide apart.  The arm is the road that brings you to the park from the highway.  The wrist, check in. Each finger is a narrow strip of white sandy land flanked by mangroves with a road in the center of the finger, and campsites or recreation sites on each side. The palm of the hand is the boat launch, large group area, rental areas, and parking. Between each finger is brackish waters, teeming with mullet, trout, catfish, and a very long list of “you never know what you might catch in these waters” creatures.  Reaching out past the fingertips is the Bay, and beyond that, the Gulf of Mexico.  St. Petersburg, Tampa and the Sunshine Highway are all visible from the beach.  So are the barges, cruise ships, and dozens of fishing charters. 

This place is awesome. There is a huge boat launch area, multiple picnic shelters and group event sites, canoe rentals, the two campgrounds, fishing docks and waterside clearings everywhere for fishing, and virtually no one is here.

So I drive around and around the campgrounds, carefully inspecting my many options for setting up a new temporary home.  I pull up to Campsites 8, 6, and 4.  This area looks good,  fairly close to the bath house, (a stellar cement structure, and the ideal place to run to in the event of bad weather) and just a short walk to the giant blue garbage dumpster where I can quickly dispose of any food smelling substances (which helps keep any critters out of the camp).  There’s a 5th wheel on site 5, but no one else until site 11 on the other side of the bathhouse.

As I am pondering my decision, a tall man, maybe in his 60’s, glasses on his nose, tousled hair, sweatpants and an oversize T shirt, smoking a cigarette, comes across the road from site 5 and up to greet me.

“So, you thinking about raccoon alley?  Ya know, this is where they live.  And so do the no-see-ums. They’ll like you!” 

Already I see this guy is hilarious.  Yup, I know where I’m staying.

“What do you think about this number six?”  I ask

“Six is good.  So is four. What are you pulling?  Where’s your rig?”

“This is my rig.  I have a tent”.

The man bursts into laughter. “Oh, yes they’re gonna love you.  I can’t wait to get my lawn chair out and watch this—welcome neighbor!”

What an odd duck.  I drive back up to the office, announce my decision, and pay for a couple nights to see how things go.

As I pull back in to site 6 on the west campground, there’s the man across the road, lawn chair pointed toward my campsite.  I smile and wave. What a clown.  I back into the spot, get out and start walking around, checking the ground for rocks, dips, or anything I need to clear away.  He comes strolling back across the road and up to me.

“They sleep in the trees”  he whispers.

“They sleep in the trees?  Who does?” I play along.

“The coons!”  He points to the sparse live oaks and palm trees. “This is their home.”

“Um, ok, well, not once I get things set up here, especially with my dogs.”

“You got dogs?  Great! They like the dogs, too.” He chuckles and walks away across the road, chattering, “I’ll be right over here.  You let me know if you need anything”. He disappears into his 5th wheel.

I proceed to remove the straps and tarps covering the cargo rack.  I pull out my ground cloth tarp for the tent.  As I open it up, I discover is it completely covered with ants!

ARGHHHH!  I throw it off towards the road, while brushing ants off my arms and legs. Then I try and open it up.  The wind is catching the tarp. They are everywhere!  They must of come from the hotel parking lot?   Just at that moment a guy in a mint green shirt and shorts is heading toward me,

“Hi, what have we heeahhh?  A little ant issue?  Let me help you.” He has a thick east coast Boston accent.  Together we shake off my tarp to remove all of the ants, and fold it back up so I can easily unfold it into place on my site.

“Thank you so much!” 

“Let me know if you need anything.  I’m right down theyahh, Lois and Buddy, we ahhh the camp hosts” and he points down to site 11.

“Will do!” and I head back over to my dismantled cargo rack full of gear.

What an awesome place!  Can’t wait to tell everyone I know about it.  The remainder of the day I spend setting up camp, taking the dogs on an investigation walk and cooking dinner outside before it gets dark at 5:00.

On second thought, maybe I want to keep this under wraps as my Secret Spot Park.

Bon Appetite!

What else can one do on a windy, rainy day then go exploring the lovely town of Dunedin?  After shopping till I dropped, I’ve ended up at the marina, at Bon Appetite. The big, beautiful outdoor bar and deck is deserted.  There is a bartender filling ice buckets. He looks cold.

I step up to the bar. “Is this open?”  I ask.

“Sure is.  Pull up a chair by the heater.” he points to a small infa-red heater hanging from the corner pillar.

“Where is everyone?  It’s a beautiful day!”  I say with a smile.

“Yeah, right, if you’re a penguin or polar bear.”

We strike up some small talk while I sip on a Bloody Mary loaded with enough garnish in it to make a meal Although he confirms this is a pet friendly bar, I don’t want to end up with 3 wet smelly beasts under my feet or in the hotel, so my crew is out in the parking area, all eyes fixed on me through the truck window.

Another bartender arrives, and joins in on the conversation.  We talk about the incredible fog monster thing the other day.  I order an amazing lobster roll plate. I share my story about not being able to find a place to pitch a tent, and driving over to Fort DeSota daily, checking on openings.    As she pulls down an awning to block off some of the rainy wind, the new bartender says she has the answer for me.  Her name is Jenn, she’s sharp, professional, a marketer by trade, and bartending “for now”.  She is 41 years old.  Her husband died a year ago, just after their Honeymoon, and I am in total awe of her strength and fortitude.  We are all getting chilled, but no one wants to be the first to admit this weather sucks and we should all go inside.

Jenn describes their Honeymoon destination with misty eyes, as though she was right there again. They wanted to keep things simple, and went on a camping trip.  Not far from here at all.  Just a little campground that was low key, beautiful white sand beach, peaceful, private, virtually uninhabited, and absolutely wonderful.  No one knows about it. They had an amazing time at that campground.  They walked and biked and relaxed on the beach, made fires at night, looked at the stars, and planned out their future lives together as though they were the only two people left on earth.  And shortly after that he died.  It’s been about a year now.

Heart wrenching.

“But,” she says, while holding back the tears, “but, that campground was totally awesome, and you should check it out. You will love it, too.”  We look up the information on it, and I make a call out there.  They have openings.  I can’t get there before they close today, but for sure I will beat feet to get there first thing in the morning!

I am so excited I can hardly contain myself, yet, my heartstrings have pulled so hard with her story, I’m about to cry.  Such is life.

As we are having this whole discussion, another customer pulls up in a convertible, and sprints through the drizzle onto the deck a couple chairs down from me.  He is apparently a regular, and starts working out arrangements for getting a drink secured.  Then he leans over to me as though we know each other, and starts up a conversation.  What a hoot!  Introducing G.Q., the free spirited, wild and crazy, retired car salesman.  G.Q. is a self-proclaimed transient from California.  He hands me a business card that says;   

‘Here To Help, Today Is Great!’

He heard the whole conversation with Jenn about camping and finding a place, and now he is offering me a parking spot at his condo.  Heck, I can stay in the condo, take a shower, get comfortable, whatever I need, as he will be out to the clubs for the evening and will just come in quietly and sleep on the couch.  I look at Jenn, she is smiling, with an “oh boy, here we go….” look and I can barely contain myself either.  But G.Q is dead serious.  He is insistent.  He is not going to let go of his kind offer.  He really feels responsible to ensure I am taken care of with accommodations.  At his place.  Really.  And he assures me he is harmless.

He really does seem to be sweet.  I do appreciate his kind offer….but, I am rethinking that drive to the campground.  I bet I can make it there in time today.  I have to at least try.  With that, I’m off into the drizzle to hopefully secure a spot to pitch a tent, leaving G.Q. and Jenn behind. 

Invasion Of The Fog Monster

Warm sun is pulsing deep into my skin while a light breeze softly blows the heat away.  I’ve wanted to pull off along one of these causeways for days.  Finally we are here. And it’s the perfect place to spend a day sunning by the water.  Most of the people here are parked here so they can launch their boat or kayak out to the bay, or walk over to the bridge and fish.  But a few of us are just looking for somewhere to plant the lawn chair and get some sun.  This is one of the few causeways not charging to park.  We like this causeway.

I could get used to winter here.  The whole pace is so different.  Man Yana style. Chill style.  “We’ll get to it” style.  Truthfully that’s not me, but still, I could learn to adapt.

The dogs are restless today.  They don’t want to be quiet.  Every little sound is setting them off, which is awkward and unusual.   Buddy is pacing.  The girls are whining.  I can’t seem to give them anything to sooth their nerves.  They are totally on edge.  I take the girls for a walk.  I run Buddy around the whole parking area hoping to wear him out.  We meet a perfect Standard Poodle.  It still doesn’t settle them down.  So, selfishly, I do my best to ignore their fussing for the next 3 hours.

Meanwhile, far off in the vast sea waters, something is brewing.  A heavy gray-black streak materializes across the horizon line of water.  Like a dark magic marker drawing.  It seems to be coming closer.  Growing taller.  Moving slowly toward shore, getting taller the closer it gets.  What the hell is that thing?  Was there a fire?  What is that?  Smoke?  I roll over to sun my back.  I’m keeping an eye on that thing.  No one else seems to be concerned.  Maybe they haven’t noticed.  The hours pass, the sun starts to disappear behind the clouds.  Burrrr… not funny!  Then the sun is in, and out, in and out, then, mostly in the clouds.  Not coming out. 

I sit up and put a shirt on.  Oh my.  There is an ominous rolling dark cloud on top of the water right out there.  It is rolling toward shore, getting bigger by the minute.  Almost instantly, boats are popping out of that cloud and running up to shore, people quickly loading their rigs onto trailers and pulling out of the causeway like greased lightning.  The heavy, gray-black monstrous cloud of darkness appears to be some sort of suffocating substance and it is creeping closer and closer to shore.  To us.  The sun worshippers are now scrambling to gather up their gear and drive off.  Ok, no need to convince me!  I toss the kids into the truck, grab the blanket and chair, and get into the truck.  The ominous mass has just hit the shoreline.  In minutes it will get to me.  Afraid to be swallowed up, I throw the truck in drive and burn rubber out of that sand causeway. 

As I look into the rearview mirror, the causeway parking lot is gone. Just plain gone. As I’m driving away, the bridge is now gone.  The whole place I just spent the afternoon at, is all gone.  Swallowed up by a monstrous fog.  Holy Sci Fi.  How creepy is this?  The girls are shaking and trying to get under the seat covers as I burn away from the area.  Buddy is yelping in his kennel.

They tried to warn me hours ago.  I just didn’t listen.  Next time, I will.  We escaped the Fog Monster by the skin of our teeth, and headed back to the safety of our hotel.

 

Happy New Year

Another year comes to a close tonight.  It’s amazing to realize that I am as far South East as I can be from home in the States.  Last year at this time, I would have never guessed it.  How does one bring in the New Year without cold and snow?  I would have never thought I’d not be celebrating with friends, either.  But, I do have my 3 hairy companions, and an entire coast of new people in shorts and sandals to meet.  How shall we celebrate? 

As I check through the listings of what’s happening around the area, there are dozens of things going on.  Perhaps the New Year’s cruise on the Calypso Queen?  Or maybe one of the many all-inclusive evenings at the clubs?   I evaluate the choices, leaning more and more toward our favorite Pier 60.  It’s decided.

So I put on my best shorts and T-shirt, give the girls a quick brush, and the four of us are off to the Pier.  We walk all up and down Pier 60 all afternoon, check out the vendors and entertainers, talk to people, listen to great live bands, and take in the last of 2012 sun and breeze. 

After walking back to the truck, feeding the kids and tucking them in, I head over to the shops and do some browsing.  I hear people talking about the fireworks.  FIREWORKS??  I am an absolute FREAK for fireworks!  My mission becomes finding where the fireworks are.  I walk down to the end of the big Pier, and learn this is not where they would be.  People are talking about them being shot from Tarpon Springs or Tampa or somewhere far away.  Not options.  As the sun starts to set I am driven to find out more, but no one seems to know anything.

People are swarming toward where the movies are shown.  What’s playing tonight?  Well, New Years Eve, of course.  I’m in.  I run back to the truck, get a blanket and my big boy Buddy, and we get back to the grass just in time for the movie to start.  I look around at all of the families, couples, and friends hunkered down to watch the movie.  Buddy is tight to my side, happy to be with me.  New Years Eve is a hoot–star studded and true to life scenarios.  I am grateful to have Buddy with me.  As he gets chilled I cradle his big butt into the back of my oversized jacket, but end up giving him my whole side of the blanket so he can curl into it.  The movie gets me thinking things I haven’t thought about in a long time.  Some sad, some happy, some melancholy, some hopeful.  Life has a way of happening, with or without us.  Good job, movie.  By 8:30 it’s over, I bring Buddy back to the truck and go look for food.

Crabby Bills is the perfect place for a late dinner!  I belly up to the bar and order all sorts of seafood, starting with a fantastic seafood chowder to warm me up, and a plate of Aligator strips.  Yum!  All this, and great conversation with a couple from the UK, there on vacation.  They don’t know about the fireworks either.

Afterwards, I wander the marina looking for any last minute deals on deep sea fishing trips.  It’s not well lit, and the only people walking up and down the marina are couples. Ok, I can take a hint.  Exit the dock, get back to the main drag and head to Shepards.  They were listed as having a big party.

Who would have thought that I could just walk right in without paying the $150 fee to get in for the party?  Well I did.  Bingo, I am in, ordering a drink, and spending the remainder of the evening at my favorite seafood restaurant on a floating deck, jumping up and down and dancing to a great DJ spinning all the latest—including Gangnam Style— with about 500 people I don’t know.  No matter, we are kindred spirits, looking to send out the old, and celebrate a new chapter of our lives. 

It’s twenty minutes before the New Year.  Hey, I’ll pretty much be the first one to celebrate bringing in the New Year from my cluster of central time friends.  Wanting to reach out to everyone I care about, I start making calls—from the deck– beginning with East Coasters.   As I go through my phone, of course, everyone else is out as well, so I leave message after message of New Year Greeting screams with music blaring and people screaming and laughing and celebrating. 

We are down to the 60 second countdown.  At the stroke of midnight the floating deck evolves into an all-out frenzy of hugging, jumping, and Champagne sprinkling us as plastic glasses clash together, immediately followed by a “BOOM” that shakes my ribcage.

HUGE FIREWORKS, right in front of our deck party!  Can a person be drunk on fireworks?  I think I can, and definitely am for the next 30 minutes.  Sparkle and color lights splatter up the sky above us.  Amazing, amazing, this is the best New Years I can remember in a very long time.  A girl next to me grabs me into their group of 5 jumping up and down screaming  “oohhh, ahhh,”.  We are laughing and jumping, there are people hugging, crying and kissing all around us.  

Finally, the huge blast of massive explosive color finale dissipates into the air leaving only a twinkle or two of light hanging in the sky.  I make my sly exit, dance-walking my way through the drunken crowd and out the front door.

Wow, what a rush! And to think, some people worry about me being alone.  As I head up to the sidewalk, I approach a guy standing over a woman on the ground.  She clearly planted herself,  face first, onto the cement, and was not doing well.  He clearly needed help, so I stopped.

“You don’t want me, you don’t love me, I know it…” she mutters.  He is trying to pick her up, begging her to get up, and she resists.  She can’t get up.  He looks at me, bewildered. 

“Can I help you guys?  Do you need help?”

 He is embarrassed, but says yes.  I get down on the ground with her, move her hair out of her face.  “Hey, hon, how you doin?  Hey, we were thinking it might be good to head back now, ok?” 

“He doesn’t want me.”

I look up at the guy.  He looks so helpless and hurt.  They are married.  “She’s had a lot to drink.  I don’t know…I was just sitting there looking at everyone.”  He seems so clueless and innocent.

Ok, here we go. I turn back to her, get close to her ear.   “I know I know, hon.  Guys. Whatta ya do with them?  Do you think you can stand up? Can you try?”  I prod.  She begins a string of alien jibberish filled with accusations and conviction for the next 3 minutes, then turns to mush, sobbing.

Me and the husband, now flanking her, get her upright after a bit of a struggle.  I try to wipe away some of the mascara streaks she acquired.  They are actually a cute couple. Just as she is about to take a step that would surely lead her back on her face, he catches her in his arms.

“Baby I love you so much, I’m sorry if I looked at some girl.  I didn’t mean to.”

“Reahhhhly?  Ohhh  Iah  looovve youuu t-t-too.”

“Oh I love you more.”

“Noooh,  Iah do…”

“No I do. I’m so sorry.”

“Noooh,  I ahmmm…”

Okey Dokey, unbelievable.  Enough of this sappy stuff.  Time to leave.   I salute him, bow, and turn to leave.  As I walk off he shouts out to me.

I turn around.

He is still gallantly hanging onto her.  She is flailing one arm in an attempt to wave, and they are both shouting out thank you.

Happy New Year!

Honeymoon Beach

The name alone suggests perhaps I should try to find a date for this day trip. 

Oh, silly me, I’ve got this covered.  This is a dog friendly beach, and Buddy really is my best friend, hunting “buddy” and a fun date.  What more could I ask for?

So we head north to the highly acclaimed Honeymoon Island State Park.  Wow, it is so close to Clearwater, yet, it’s literally an island at the end of the road, floating out there in the Gulf of Mexico. An amazing 2800 acre park at the top of Florida’s Barrier Reef.  It is known as a haven for shorebirds to nest. 

On the way there, we see signs for Caladesi Island State Park, named the best beach in North America in 2008. What an interesting piece of history there!  Caladesi Island is only accessible by private boat or via the Caladesi Connection ferry service.  Back in the late 1800s one guy, his wife, and daughter homesteaded on the barrier island.  When the wife passed, it was just the father and daughter left.  Years later, Myrtle Scharrer Betz, the daughter, wrote a book about her life on the island, called Yesteryear I Lived in Paradise. 

Now, no one actually lives there.  Today, visitors are allowed on the island for four hours when they arrive on the ferry.  For visitors coming on their own boat, they are allowed to stay docked overnight.  Either way, no dogs are allowed on the island, ever.  That pretty much summed things up for me.

But swimming, shelling and fishing are popular activities there year-round.  You can see Stingray, Osprey, Gopher Tortoise or explore a mangrove-covered kayak trail, which winds from the marina to St. Joseph Sound and back. 

Honeymoon Beach offers hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, picknick and playgrounds, and special areas for beachside events, complete with event planners that can coordinate an entire large scale party down to music food and flowers!  All this, but no camping.  What a shame. With its dog beach, it wins the coin toss for where to spend the day.

The sun is hot, and there is a pretty good wind kicking up.  My arms are full of bags and towels and dog leashes and a big beach umbrella. I’m talking packing gymnastics to pull it all together and head to the water.  The walk is at least a quarter mile of dog chaos.  We get there to discover the dog beach is not remotely similar to the highly acclaimed beautiful beach the park is known for. It’s really somewhat rugged-ugly.  And smelly.  Perhaps we are there at the wrong time of the year?  But, we made the drive, survived the walk, we are here, and we will make a day of it and have fun anyway. 

What a kick to think this island was the result of a contest for newlyweds.  Back in the 1930’s, a developer teamed up with LIFE magazine to launch a contest for newly married couples. Not sure what the contest was about, but winners would be sent to the island for their honeymoon, and be lodged in thatch roof bungalows for a couple weeks.  Eventually the island was named Honeymoon Island.  Ya know, it seems there were a lot of babies born back then….hmmm, what can two young, horny, love struck newlyweds do on a relatively deserted island in a thatch hut for two weeks…..?

Ok, enough of that now…

The kids and I lay around like lazy butts all day, watching people and dogs go by until the sun starts its quick descent toward the water.   Then we get up, pack up and make the long walk back to the car.  Curious about what’s further down the road, I delay leaving the park.  Instead, I find the event building, and café.  With the dogs guarding the truck, I head to the building and grab a beer and an ocean side table on the upper deck.  Ohhh, so HERE is the pristine white sand beach everyone raves about!  Simply stunning beach and view.  Within minutes, I see dolphins jumping and playing in the water right out in front of me and the beach, and the big yellow fireball sun sinking into the ocean. 

What an amazing sight.  How many of the people still roaming the beach down there are on their honeymoon?  Hopefully, many. It’s the perfect ending to a great day.

Resolutions And The Bucket List

Lists.  I’m all about lists.  Time management lists, shopping lists, task lists, general to do lists. I am known for my lists. Lists are good reminders.  They keep a person on track.  But I’ve never been one to generate a “starting next year, I’m not going to ……” list, or the New Years Resolutions list.

Over the last couple years, I have done a lot of self-exploration, looking at what I’m doing, when, where and why, and evaluating my choices. First quarter 2012 I made the astute observation that I was living life in reaction mode.  I was reacting to the world around me, rather than living with purpose. I didn’t have a life plan.

A life plan. Living with purpose.  How profound.  Sounds like an opportunity for a list.

Of course, getting to a realization like this often comes from a traumatic—life altering experience.  For me it was no different.  I’d been shocked into the reality that even if you put everything you have into a job you love, forfeiting any resemblance of having a normal balanced life, you can still be knocked on your ass and have the thing you cherish most held over your head, threatening to be taken from you.  And then what would be left?

Well, in my case, pretty much nothing. How healthy is that? 

So, after doing the work, strategically, psychologically, emotionally, and literally, I got on track and created the beginning of my life’s plan.  It meant having to let go of things I thought I couldn’t live without, in order to start something I know I cannot live without.

And not being afraid to go get it.

Letting go is difficult.  Change is scary. It’s not easy to leave one’s comfort zone, or take chances.  “Leap, and the net will appear.” Requires faith and trust and an ability to face the unknown with a spring in your step and smile on your face.

Oh, absolutely I’m in!

So here I am, with the New Year fast approaching, looking at how my new direction is playing out.  My life plan actually translates into a “bucket list” so to speak.  The list is, by the very nature of it, somewhat fluid as I add things along the way.  For now my goal is to look at what I’ve got listed so far, and decide where everything can fit in.   What I’m finding is that I feel grounded, yet free.  I know, for the most part, where I am going, and why.  Having a life plan, and living with purpose provides a feeling of having some control over life.  I will share how I reached my life plan. How I am able to take charge of my life in my Bucket Of Limitless Opportunity blog, hoping to help others who may be looking for the same.

And I need to take charge, because, hey, I’ve got a bit of a bucket list to knock out!

 

PR’s Bucket List

 

Reclaim my house

Improve my health

Exit job                       (done)

Run a 5k                      (done)

Run a better 5k

Run a 10k

Complete a 3 week BWCA trip

Introduce 1,000 new people to the outdoors

Restart PR Brady        (done)

Write a book

Write another book

Reconnect with friends  (starting)

Bike in every state in the USA (that’s bicycle)

Camp in every National Park in the USA

Ride a horse onto a beach and into the ocean

Go on a sail boat live aboard/diving/fishing trip somewhere exotic

Travel all of Europe

Catch a trophy sailfish

Catch a trophy sword fish

Salmon fish in Washington

Catch an 11 lb Walleye

Loose 2 sizes

Loose 20 lbs

Dive Galapagos

Dive Belize

Dive Truk and Yap

Dive the Mediterranean Sea

Hunt and tour Morocco

Spearfish in the Sea of Cortez

Shoot a 25 in trap

Shoot a P&Y deer

Shoot a B&C size anything–but with a bow

Shoot a grand slam (still deciding on species)

Keep chickens

Hunt in every state in North America (already about half way there)

Back pack in the Himalayas

Back pack in South America

Back pack in the Rockies

Tour Alaska for a summer

Tour the USSR and specifically Kiev

Grow an exceptional crop of grapes for making an exceptional bottle of wine

Have my yard crashed by HGTV

Have Dear Genevieve design and do my dream kitchen

And…………