Archives for June 2013

Back Roads and Castles Part 1

Lately I’ve been thinking about planning another road trip, get out and “boldly go” again. I pull out my Florida maps and visitors guides, and find some interesting places to check out.  When it comes to carving out a day of exploration, the day starts early. Today it starts with me and the canine crew driving out the campgrounds at 7:30 in the morning, heading somewhat south and east.

We aren’t far down the road when I see a sign for Campgrounds on the right.  Always good to know what the options are, so I follow the sign.  Well I don’t find any campgrounds, but what I do find is the Camp Bayou on Manatee Environmental Learning Center in Sun City.  What a great way to begin the day!  I park and walk the trails for about 30 minutes with the girls, and quickly learn much about the Florida foliage and habitat in the area. 

So much yet to do, we get back on the road to stay on schedule.  Following GPS coordinates in Florida is quite an adventure.  The moment you turn off of a major road, it seems like you are in the middle of nowhere. Maybe it’s just from stopping to take pictures of this and that, but I think we are in the middle of nowhere for the next hour, as we meander around curves, pass orange orchards, heavy brush, and OH, what is this?  A sign that says Bunker Hill with grapes on it!  Seriously, how could I possibly drive by a Winery sign?  So we turn left and follow the signs.

Best decision I’ve made in a long time! Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery, and owners Lenora and Larry Woodham.  Wow, what a unique couple and amazing business they have!  I could stay here all day.  What a learning experience!

Lenora takes me on a full tour.  She reminds me of a “make love, not war, 60’s hippie chick”.  In reality, she and Larry are the real deal. They are a Certified Florida Farm Winery. They actually grow their own grapes on their land, and bottle a limited supply of extraordinary, unfiltered only wine. Theirs is

How Distilled Water Is Made

How Distilled Water Is Made

one of the only certified GREEN Winery’s around.  With the intense measures they’ve taken, they’ve become certified at the “Master Level” by the “Manatee County Chamber of Commerce for “Green Certification”; the highest “GREEN” level ever obtained.  Minimizing their carbon footprint. They live it, and preach it.   They have been devout conservationists since before it was fashionable—deeply committed to protecting and preserving the environment. In addition, their land is a Certified Federal Wildlife Habitat. A flourishing wildlife habitat.  Like, don’t go off wandering alone…

Their buildings are made of steel.  They are energy efficient, and are 100% recyclable. They take an active stance at repurposing existing materials, rather than buying new, right down to building arches and walls made with recycled wine bottles and cement. They are committed to purchasing USA made product as much as possible. They take incredible steps to minimize their carbon footprint.  Their drip-irrigation system is solar powered, and their water, stored in a 1350 gallon cistern, comes from a seep spring they created.  They even make all their own distilled water using solar energy and recycled wine bottles. Their processing equipment is all manually operated, and doesn’t require electricity. Every single bottle of wine they produce comes from a recycled bottle. 

And get this: By recycling 100% of their wine bottles, they reduce their carbon footprint by 60%  alone in comparison to other winemakers purchasing new bottles. They use all natural cork stoppers and hot-dip wax to seal their wine bottles. The wax, too, is re-melted and reused when empty bottles are returned. They even have a “hall of fame” page on thei014r website to recognize customers who bring back their bottles.

And as for their actual wines?  Nice…..very nice!  Worth making the drive to check out!  Not only do they produce wonderful Muscadine wines, but they produce 14 or more amazing fruit wines as well.  I am definitely returning on the way back to get a couple cases!

Bunker Hill Vineyard is also home to Water Garden Farm, a beautiful house located on two secluded acres on the property.  It’s fully furnished with 2 bedrooms, 2 baths and overlooks two natural spring fed water garden ponds. Simply gorgeous.  It is available to rent for a weekend, a week, a month or even more! Water Garden Farm is available for Weddings, Vow Renewals, Commitment Ceremonies and of course, Honeymoon weekends.  And guess what?  Lenora and Larry are Notaries, so they can officiate a wedding.  In addition to being able to just show up and visit the vineyard and grounds, of course they host group wine tastings and tours, offer evening Spirit Orb Walkabouts, and offer an ongoing “Eco Project” everyone is welcome to participate in.

What a remarkable find! Sadly, I must get back to our travels.  I thank Lenora and Larry for their very refreshing hospitality and educational experience, and we get back on the road.

In less than an hour we come across another amazing wildlife area.  The kids need a break for sure, so we get out and explore Pioneer Park Cracker Trail. There is not a soul in sight. I step out and survey the ground, wondering if this may be a snake haven.  It appears safe enough.  The girls aren’t too interested in this place, so Buddy and I play fetch the bumper down a cut grass trail for half an hour and we leave.  If he is happy, I am happy.

Back on the road again, enjoying 70 degrees and sunny skies, driving around in the middle of nowhere without a care in the world.  Finally we hit a narrow highway that passes several fields of pink and white foliage, eventually taking us to the outskirts of Lake Placid Florida, landmark city of the clown museum, caladiums and murals. I find a shady place to park, check on the dogs, and then head out for an amazing walk around town.

I just missed their County Fair, but there is a huge Caladium Festival in July.  Lake Placid is known as the Caladium Capitol of the World!  Caladiums are big leafed, bright colored, easy to care for shade loving plants that originate from the rain forests of the Amazon. People started growing them in Lake Placid in the early 1940s.  Now, over 1200 acres, and generations of at least 14 families are dedicated to growing caladiums.  Lake Placid Florida is responsible for over 90% of all of them.  Now we know!  And I thought Home Depot grew mine…

Walking around the city streets of Lake Placid is anything but ordinary.  Who knew this is the location of perhaps the only clown museum in the country? Toby’s American Clown Museum and School is where almost 2,000 clowns have earned their silly stripes and dots. I know a couple clowns.  Actually, I know a lot of clowns.  Well, literally, I know two real clowns.  I wonder if they graduated from Toby’s? 

Everywhere I turn there is a huge amazing mural of something on a building. The barber shop has this unbelievable scene of black bears, called Lost Cub.  The mural is over 45 feet wide and almost 15 feet tall!  Simply beautiful.  Another breathtaking scene is Tea at South Wind.  Simply elegant, huge 30 yards by 15 yards picture of Victorian ladies having tea in a serene garden, painted on the side of the Tourist Club building.  I find another wonderful mural of wood ducks, one of a grand Osceola turkey, a giant mural of Great Blue Herons, and well, apparently there are 44 amazing murals in all.  Even the city garbage cans are something artistic and beautiful.  My feet are killing me but I just can’t stop walking and looking.  There are many other people doing the same thing, some even playing a game to see who can find the most murals.  And there are images hidden within the murals!  Oh this would be a fun group adventure!

And did you know the sweet little blue birds that flit about down here are Florida scrub jays?

They are on the federal endangered list. They only live in the scrub oak, only in Florida and only in the Lake Placid area. They are fearless, friendly little birds.  Like ducks, they mate for life. They love peanuts and will take them out of the palm of your hand.  How do I know this?  Sitting on a bench, eating my strawberry smoothie, watching Eva, a local Lake Placidian feed them.  They may grab your treat and fly off to bury it in the sand like a squirrel buries nuts; but, if your treat is any good, they will be back for more.   The Florida scrub habitat is one of the most endangered ecosystems in all of North America, and it’s declining.  But the scrub jays are somehow imprinted to this area and if their territory is destroyed, they will not relocate. It’s rather sad.  Back wandering the amazing streets of art, I find the giant mural of the Florida Scrub Jays Eva told me about.  Never thought I’d get so attached to a little blue bird.

But, it’s “time to fly” so to speak, and with regrets I jump back in the truck and head to my next destination, just outside of the city limits.

Freaking Fleas

The Flea.  A small flat holometabolous (having a complete metamorphosis) insect. They cannot fly. They have no eyes. Their antennae are short and stout and their adult mouthparts are designed for piercing and sucking. The larvae look like a caterpillar with no legs. They are useless.  They are disgusting.  The adults are all blood sucking ectoparsites (a parasite that lives on the outside of its host). They prey on mammals and birds, but also feed on organic matter they find in the sleeping or nesting places of their “host”.  UGH!

They have finally found, and have begun preying on, my girls. My poor babies!  Scratching to smithereens. Moaning, groaning, and whimpering.  Scratching themselves raw through the night.  I’ve given them flea bath after flea bath, sprays, powders, brushing, flea collars; nothing seems to be helping for more than a few hours. My poor babies are under attack.  Buddy isn’t being bothered.  Not sure why.  Maybe his short bristly flat hair is too hard for them to penetrate. Or maybe with all the swimming he does, they just can’t hold on.

Not knowing what else to do, I do some research.  Did you know?

 There are more than 2,000 known species and subspecies of fleas, but only the cat flea accounts for almost all the fleas found on cats and dogs in the United States. The cat flea is a tropical insect and cannot tolerate freezing temperatures but they adapt well to indoor living. No wonder Florida is the flea capital of the country.  I think it’s time to head north.  Mental note to self, make sure to get back to Minnesota while temperatures are still below freezing, to kill the colonies that are no doubt residing in the Toy Hauler as well as on the dogs.

An adult flea only lives 2-3 months on average but has a maximum life span of about 1.5 years. A flea can live more than 100 days without a blood meal if left undisturbed.  Unless I can find a meat locker to bring the girls into for a couple hours……

The itchiness of flea bites is from the flea’s saliva which it injects into the wound to stop the blood from coagulating.  Now isn’t that proactive of them?  Turning their victim into a bleeder.

The female flea consumes 15 times her own body weight in blood daily. She can lay 2,000 eggs in her lifetime. That would mean 2,000 in 2-3 months on average. OMG!

Where there is one flea, there will be more than 100 offspring or adults, lurking in the furniture, the carpeting or on your pet.  Again, OMG. 

Fleas can jump 150 times their body length, and 80 times their own height. That’s like me jumping 1,000 feet.

Fleas have lots of little backward pointing hairs, and powerful leg muscles, making it hard to catch and hold a flea between your fingers.  Forget about trying to pick them off.  Yes, I sat there trying to pick them off Sunny Girl…..

Fleas have their problems too.  Plagued by various mites–up to 150 have been recorded from one flea. They also suffer from Nematode, Protozoan and Bacterial parasites. Like I care? Too bad, damn disease carriers!

The biggest flea in the world is the North American Hystrichopsylla schefferi.  It is about 12mm long or ½ inch long.  At least we’re not dealing with THAT! Yuck!

After thorough research, it appears I’m following all of the recommended treatments.  Fleas are resilient little creatures, and once there’s an infestation, it’s a long hard battle to win.  The key is to realize that if your space becomes compromised by fleas in a warm weather climate, they will happily relocate with you and continue to breed back home. Precautions need to be taken to ensure they can’t survive if they do tag along. Our biggest defense?  Cold kills. For now there’s not much more I can do to comfort the girls, just hope the various medications we’ve been using kick in soon and give them some relief.  Freaking Fleas!  For sure, it’s time to head north soon. 

Dang, what’s that itching on the top of my head?

Beefy Gumbo

What do you do when a recipe calls for cans of beans, drained?  Here is a gumbo with stock made from the liquid from cans of beans* that were used for chili (great northern and red beans).

  • 2 lbs beef stew/roast meat cubed
  • 1/2 cup dried multibean mix or Great Northern beans, picked over and rinsed
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 4 cups canned bean liquid*
  • 3 whole tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 whole garlic, sliced
  • 3 ribs celery, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped 
  • 1 t salt, plus additional for seasoning
  • 2 T Italian seasoning
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ box mushrooms, optional
  • Sour cream


Put beef, bean mix, bean juice, tomatoes, garlic, celery, carrots, green pepper, onion, herb blend, and 1 t pepper in a slow cooker; cover, cook on high for the first hour, then cook on LOW until the beans and beef are quite tender, about 7 hours.

Stir in the, rice and mushrooms, cover, and let simmer until the rice is cooked, and the soup is thick, about 1 1/2 hours for a total cook time of 8 ½ hours. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and dopple with sour cream.

Serves about 10 people


Amazing Amphibious Creation

Not sure what’s more curiously interesting, the man, or the machine.  We campers at Secret Spot Park have been graced with the pleasure of meeting Paul and Mr. Snuggles, his little dachshund. Paul pulls in, driving a huge coach and pulling a custom built trailer big enough to be a garage.  He’s a tall, gangly tan guy with long flowing salt and pepper hair, and carries himself with swagger and confidence.  He reminds me of a California beach boy.

Some of us can’t help but keep an eye out for when he may open that trailer door and roll out what’s inside.  What could it be? A motorcycle?  A car?  What’s in there?  After what seems like a lifetime, he opens the trailers back ramp door, and finally initiates the grand debut.236

Well slap me silly, I simply cannot believe what I’m seeing!  Paul backs down the ramp in a cute little convertible that looks like something out of a 50’s beach party movie, and it’s turquoise, and  reminds me of our kitchen walls when I was 5 years old.  Wowza!

Ah, ha.  Paul has done this before.  He is well aware that all eyes are on him.  He takes his time preparing for his exit, so we can all get a good look.  That little car has some zip to it as he idles down the road and out of the campground. He must be really into fishing; he even attached a couple little decorative props on the underside of the back.  It’s just so cute!  People are buzzing with curiosity.  Me too.

Needless to say, Paul is in and out of the campgrounds in his little turquoise chariot frequently the next few days, with Mr. Snuggles riding shot gun.  More and more people are checking him out, me included.  Then I hear the BIG news about his little car.  A couple of the rangers told me it was far more than just a car.  Well, I couldn’t believe it. I thought they were kidding me.  So I positioned myself for a little “person to person” chance meeting with Paul (dogs are so good at creating opportunities to meet people!) and the next thing I knew we were going for a ride.235

And what a ride it was!

It’s a car. It’s a boat, wait—it’s both!  It’s the amazing Amphicar! 

What the heck is that?

It cost millions to start designing th004e Amphicar in the late 1950’s. The German military dreamed up this cute little creation with a team of engineers and an idea.  Manufacturing took place in Berlin Germany from 1962 to 1967, with zero marketing (hmmm that was their first mistake….).  The Amphicar is the only civilian amphibious passenger automobile ever to be mass produced, and the United States accounted for about 90% of the purchases of them. About 3,000 Amphicars were imported into the United States between 1962 and 1967. Back then you could buy one new for about $3K.  But then, the U.S. Government’s EPA and DOT regulations that kicked in with 1968 model year vehicles put a screeching halt to sales, resulting in a major financial disaster for the Amphicar Corporation. The Amphicar factory was forced to close in 1968.

I am stupefied. How does an Amphicar work?  The engine is in the rear, and is the same kind you’d find in a Triumph Herald. A specially designed two-part land-and-water Hermes transmission allows the wheels and propellers to work either independently or together. The “land transmission” is a 4-speed-plus-reverse unit similar to old Volkswagen Beetles.  The “water transmission” is a 2-speed, unique to the Amphicar, with single forward and reverse gears.  Turning the steering wheel turns the front wheels and steers the car through water like rudders. The second gear lever controls the propellers, (they are NOT just decorations!) forwards or backwards.  In addition to the normal dashboard dials and functions of a car, the Amphicar has marine lights and a bilge pump.  Paul’s also has a Garmin fish finder installed, of course. 

The Amphicar is made of steel much thicker than on a car, and assembled with continuous welds and lead filling around the joints. Best to stick to fresh water, and avoid salty oceans, but nevertheless, it is totally watertight.  Still, a person has to wonder if water is going to come gushing into the car as you enter the lake…or how high the water even comes.  The doors work like the seal on a refrigerator. Totally watertight. There is about 14 inches of freeboard where the rubber side strip is on the side of the car. If you roll up the windows the freeboard actually doubles.  Wow.001

The Amphicar requires two licenses, one for land and one for water. It can reach top speeds of over 70mph on the road, 8 knots on water. YES you can pull a water skier with one! It is designed to be able to drive long distances in comfort, even 500 miles a day. Traveling by water, it can go a distance from San Diego to Catalina Island easily.  It handles better than most 4 wheelers in snow, too! Talk about getting some great traction with that flat bottom, those skinny back wheels, and 10 inches of ground clearance. It has the highest rear fins of any production car, about 1 inch higher than a ’59 Cadillac.  

Don’t you just want one?  I know I do!  It’s so cute and little and multifunctional!  Too bad they are not available.

At best, maybe 4500 Amphicars were produced, and most came into the USA. There are maybe 500 still in regular use, with roughly 400 of them residing somewhere in the United States. As of today, the Amphicar remains the only non-military amphibious vehicle ever put into production and sold commercially. 

Paul tells me his story over dinner.  Although he is from Michigan, that lucky guy spends the majority of his year driving around the country with Mr. Snuggles riding shot gun, showing off his Amphicar at fairs and car shows. Like a Gypsy.  Getting a tan.  Seeing the sights.  Catching fish.  Living the dream.  Way to go, dude!  VRooooommmmmmm!



Orange Ya Lovin’ Florida?

Today I sit back and reflect on how blessed I’ve been on my adventure so far.  Just thinking about what I’ve been doing lately, well, I am so lucky to have found Secret Spot Park.  And I owe it all to a bartender I met on a drizzly day.

More than once the Secret Spot Camp Hosts have held little BBQ get togethers, and occasionally they even included live music from some very talented campers passing through.  I’m feeling like a local, getting into the routine of having somewhere to go at 4:00 on a Tuesday…kickin’ it with the gang….it’s all becoming so comfortable….

Then Lois, Buddy and I help native Wisconsinians and Camp Hosts Mike and Karole celebrate their 50 year anniversary at a fabulous little beachside restaurant called Little Harbor.  What a fun sweet couple.  How amazing to share 50 years of life with one person. You don’t see that too often these days.  What an interesting group around the table, too.  Me–the lone ranger, and Lois and Buddy–still practically newlyweds.  But nothing beats great company, great cuisine, and a great beachside sunset.  Cheers Mike and Karole!

Don and Edna from Canada are camp hosts on the other side of the park, also determined to help me with leveling my trailer. Don is a brilliant motor head, and rebuilds bikes. He also sells these crazy antenna toppers – recall Rat Fink from the 50’s?  He sells Rat Fink antenna toppers that are hilarious!  Guess Don has a new nick name…Rat Fink Don.

Dennis and Jane from Michigan are also camp hosts on the far side of the park and  formidable chili cook off competitors to boot!  We don’t get to see them much on our side, but they presented some darn good chili on that cold windy day!  Dennis offers to stop over sometime before I leave and assist with a lesson on preparing the hot water heater for winterizing, just let him know.

John, the Iraq vet, blows into camp looking for some solitude.  Well, it’s been proven that won’t happen in this park for anyone staying in a tent.  I give him my wrist rocket to defend himself from the raccoons.  It’s a little less noticeable than a hand grenade.  We have several great talks about dreams and plans and career and life paths.  His path is a difficult one, as is for many of our returning soldiers. 

And then there’s Pennsylvania Dave.  When Dave drove into the campsite across from me he had a gal with him.  A couple days later she was gone.  I asked him where she went.  Well, she was his wife, and, well, without going into detail, I guess that’s one way for a divorce to start.  How sad.  Lois, Buddy and I embark on a trip to the giant flea market everyone talks about, and we take Pennsylvania Dave with us. 

The Canadians are coming, the Canadians are coming!  I am flanked by Canadians in gigantic coaches with all the bells and whistles! John and Colette, the veteran snowbirds whose motto is “home is where we park it” along with Cecile and Bob who are on their first voyage south of their border with their rig.  And these folks know how to party!  Two fantastic couples with big hearts, great stories, and better Clamato juice than what we have here in the lower 48.  Collette and Cecile are a joy to visit with! Thank you Bob, for introducing me to Wild Turkey Honey!  And John is yet another patient RV extraordinaire willing to help me with my Toy Hauler.

It’s all good here at Secret Spot Park.

But it doesn’t stop there.  My friends at the Dog House are stellar folks as well.  Not only do they make great seafood in their restaurant on wheels, but they graciously allow me to use their address to receive shipments from Riverside Trailers.  They even have an Avon connection!  This is critical since the Avon Skin so Soft Bug Guard seems to be the only product in Florida that will actually combat the droves of no-see-ums and other blood thirsty flying creatures I am plagued with.

What I didn’t realize was the extent of the small town community feel here until my visit to Dooley Groves Country Farm Market.  Eager to get my hands on some real fresh citrus, I drove there in search of oranges and grapefruit.   Dooley’s has been in business for 45 years.  The Houghtaling family knows how to grow oranges, especially the Honeybell, which is a rare hybrid cross between a Tangerine and Grapefruit.  Yum, yum, yum.  I am excited to grab a fine selection of Honeybells, and a few grapefruit to boot.  The checkout gal asks me where I’m from.

“I’m not from here; I’m staying at a campground.”

“Oh? Which one?”

“Secret Spot—super nice people and wonderful place.”

“Oh I know, I have friends there.  Do you know Lois and Buddy?”

“Oh heck yeah!  Love them!  They have been a blast to get to know!”

“Really?” she pauses…. “Oh, you must be the girl that won the chili cook off!”

And she calls out to the other workers in the market to tell them.  Suddenly I’m chatting with them all about chili and cooking and they are so thrilled for me that I won the contest with the curious idea of white chili!

It’s a small world, isn’t it?  And it’s all good.

Orange ya lovin’ Florida?  You bet I am!

Innocent Victims

There was a bit of rain and thunderstorm last night.  Early this morning as I was out walking the girls for their first pee of the day, I came across a pair of sleepy eyed folks that were struggling to gather up their campsite remains.

 “Good morning!  It’s a beautiful day!”  I exclaimed.

 Or not.

They glared at me. 

“What’s up?  Why so glum?” I persisted.

They were stalked in the night.

This lovely couple came to the park for a nice weekend.  They brought the tent, the chairs, the fishing gear, they had a nice tarp over their site, they had steaks, hotdogs, sausage, and some fish, veggies, potatoes, and were planning to really make a go of it for the weekend.   They kept almost everything edible in the cooler in the back of the truck.

Almost everything.

They brought their evening munchies with them into the tent.

What they described to me was this:

Him:  “They got up into the back of the truck.  They took everything.  The fish, the steak the sausage, everything except the hot dogs.  They left the hot dogs.  We discovered this when we woke up.  To make matters worse, one of the raccoons unzipped the tent, and four of them crawled in as we were sleeping.” 

Her:  “They were curled up with us until I awoke from feeling hair on my leg…..I freaked out, woke him up, and then we were all awake and scrambling to get out of the tent.  It was chaos.”

I can only imagine how ugly that must have been.  I shared my stories, and gave them my condolences.   As I was walking by a church group, one of the camp leaders asked if I could use a bag of frozen potatoes.  I directed her to the couple—they could use something to go with their hot dogs.

Needless to say, late this afternoon as I was taking the kids for their walk, that campsite was vacant, and the couple was nowhere to be found.

One for the raccoons.

Sarasota Siesta Key Day

Who can resist a relaxing day on the most beautiful beach in the country?  Not me, and I hear it’s not that far from where I’m at.  Sarasota is known for its miles of pristine white sand bay-side beach front.  Siesta Key Beach is ranked as the #1 Beach in America.  It would be a shame to not experience that at least once while I’m here.

Something in my morning coffee is telling me today is the perfect day for the beach, and I get packing. What to bring to the beach for the day?  Blanket, a cute cover-up, floppy hat, umbrella, sun screen, snorkel gear, IPod, small cooler with water, juice and munchies, stuff to read, and what am I forgetting?  Hmm, I think that’s it.  

Oh, wait, what’s that licking my leg….

Can’t sneak anything past my kids.  There all three of them are, lined up in a row looking at me expectantly with those big puppy dog eyes…

Ok, dogs are coming with.

The drive to Sarasota is short and rather uneventful. I am quickly sucked into the city limits and traffic becomes ridiculous.  Then I realize it is a weekday and this is probably the tail end of morning rush hour.  I merge off  Tamiami Trail, over to a lane that sucks me onto Midnight Pass Road and then to Ocean Blvd, where we pass a plethora of restaurants and cool hang outs.  The area is referred to as Siesta Key Village. I cruise through slowly, trying to check out the shops and food establishments. It all looked fantastic! 

The Ocean Boulevard winds up hitting Beach Road, and presto, there’s the Gulf of Mexico.  Stunned to discover this is NOT a metered street, I find a shady spot to park, and get dogs set up with pillows, fans, rawhides, water and toys in the back.  I unload my beach gear for the day, and head toward the ocean blue.

Wow, it’s a perfect cloudless day, it’s not even 10 am yet, and I pretty much have the whole beach to myself!  I pick a spot, set up, and go for a shell searching walk.  Okay, so I may look a little weird with my apple green plastic bucket in hand, but it sure makes it easy to collect seashells!  And I did find a ton of beauties!  Satisfied with my quarry, I head back to the blanket for some relaxation time. 

It must be close to noon by now.  I’ve flipped several times, so I “must be done”.  I sit up to prepare a little snack, and to my surprise, the beach has started to fill with sun worshippers, surfers, and even a couple parasailers!  I imagine living here.  I imagine this beach as the place I frequent.  I imagine having dinner and drinks with that hot surfer…..

OH…back to reality…..

I think I’ll go snorkeling!

When hanging around ocean beaches alone, a person can embarrass themselves, or frighten themselves in a hurry if not careful.  I can tell you that the only reason why I found my way back to my blanket after I went out snorkeling was because I identified specific landmarks to look for on the shoreline before I left.  It is amazing how just taking 4 steps into that ocean and turning around can get a person totally lost.  Currents and undertows are nothing to fool with.  But how fun to kick around in the water, checking out the various fish.  I saw so many cool creatures under water! There were so many colorful little fish, stingrays, lots of moving shells on the bottom, and the occasional creepy jellyfish. It took less than 15 minutes to figure out where the hell I ended up and how to find my way back.

After drying out on the blanket, it’s mid-afternoon, and definitely time to pack up and check on dogs. More people are sprinkling across the fine sand shore, eager to soak up some of the glorious sun. It couldn’t be a more perfect day to go for a walk with the kids.   By the time I am 50 yards from the vehicle, they’ve spotted me. The truck starts rocking and barking with excitement.  Everybody wants out first.  Unfortunately, I only have two hands, so, the liberation process is strained for all of us. Gear is in, the dogs are out, poop bags are on hand, and we’re off to explore the Sarasota beach community. 

It’s fun to mingle with the locals.  Who knows where a person’s from?  Just think, anyone you meet on the street could be from your neighborhood, or be from the other side of the country.  Unless you talk to them, you’ll never know. I’m having a ball walking the kids.  I could get used to this wonderful weather and the scenery for sure.  We walk for over an hour, back a few blocks from Ocean Boulevard where the houses are.  Oh, I could live in that one, and that one…and wow; look at the yard with that one! We could go on for hours, but it’s time to go find dinner, so we head back to the truck. A couple wind surfers are zipping across the water. That can’t be easy with the tides!

We headed back down Ocean Boulevard where I saw the many cool looking eateries.  The whole Siesta Village area was packed, the patios packed and it was clear I wasn’t the only one with the great idea to go get food.  Suddenly I spied an open parking space to the right and grabbed it.  It happened to be in front of The Old Salty Dog. And how about that?  It’s dog friendly!  What grand luck.  Ladies first! I grab the girls, we grab Buddy and we get a table on the patio right by the truck. 

Needless to say, I spent almost two hours chillin’ on the Old Salty Dog deck with my kids, enjoying great food, great drinks, great ambience, and I met a few interesting people who shared great stories about life and the area.  No one could believe how well behaved the dogs were. Me neither. I think it had something to do with them wanting my peel and eat shrimp tails, which I gladly gave them.  My server, Cindy, was fabulous. She brought endless bowls of dog water and treats, and stepped around my sea of leashes effortlessly. It just felt good to kick back on a big log bench and sip on an Island Lemonade.  She brought me an amazing twin lobster tail dinner for a shocking $22 that was simply heaven.  I ordered the Mango Mahi Wrap to bring home and enjoy another evening.

We rolled out of The Old Salty Dog with happy tummies, a ‘to go’ bag, great memories, and all tuckered out from a great day at Sarasota’s Siesta Key Beach. 

Taking a Spin, Part 1

It’s time.  No more stalling.  With the help of many new friends, my trailer issues should now be resolved.  The time has come to hook up my RV to the truck and pull it again.

I’m not gonna lie, the thought is still somewhat daunting.  But the alternatives would be to either stay here at Secret Spot Park forever, or find someone else to pull my Toy Hauler home for me.  Neither of those sounds like good options.

This is a perfect afternoon for Boy Scout Buddy and me to hook up the Toy Hauler to the truck and give it a whirl.  Bob stops by with a “step by step” list for me to try following.  After loading the dogs up into their respective areas of the truck, and moving the dog fence away from the side of the Toy Hauler, we begin.  The first thing is back up to the hitch.  There is no easy way to get it done right the first time.  But, with Buddy’s guidance, it’s just a few attempts before I’m dead on. Instantly we notice is how much easier it is to hook up with the hitch at a different level.  The sway bars are still not making it past the 2nd link, but at least I can get them on there without getting a hernia.  Once I visit the manufacturer and have the cargo rack moved, I won’t rap my knuckles any more, either. We pull away the chalks, raise the leveler legs, plug in lights, check, and check again all around to ensure antenna is down and hoses are unattached.  

It’s all good.

I get into the driver seat, Boy Scout Buddy jumps in the passenger seat, and I slowly accelerate away from camp. 

One of my many challenges is in knowing when to turn, so the trailer comes with.  He instructs me to pull out beyond half way across the road before turning in order to avoid having the trailer up on a curb, possibly taking out a sign or fire hydrant or something close to the corner.  Not easy to do!  But I manage to get us out of the camp area and down to the boat launch where we practice turning left and right and seeing what happens.  I am nervous, and full of anticipation of having problems.  There aren’t any.  After Buddy is confident I wouldn’t have taken out any imaginary curbs, people or items with my turns he says “Good job! Before you know it you’ll be an expert!”  We stop, get out and look at how things sit on totally flat level ground.  The truck and trailer are still not level, but it’s much closer.  The trucks back end and trailer front end is still dragging down quite a bit.

The next order of business is to test things out on the highway.  Big breath.  I slowly roll out of the boat launch, past the camp area, out of the park gate and down to the main road.  There is almost no jerking.  There is almost no shaking.  There is no trauma, drama, or problem.  We do adjust the break some, but not much.  It only takes a couple miles down the road and back to determine the feel is much better, but there is still something not quite right.  But it’s so much better than before.  We pass a couple gas stations and he tells me horror stories about different attempts to pull in to stations he’s had over the years.  I pay close attention to his warning and advice.  His biggest piece of advice is to go fill the gas tank without being hooked up whenever possible.  I can do that.  We turn around and head back to the park.

I’m sitting up straight.  Both hands on the wheel.  Checking the rear view mirrors.  Yup, the Toy Hauler is still back there. Feelin’ Groovy!  It appears I’ve got this licked!  We talk more about appropriate speeds, how to deal with fast moving traffic and busses.  He insists that before I know it, it will all be second nature.  We are back to the park, being greeted by a couple rangers in the entrance booth, giving me the thumbs up.

Back in the campground, turning around is not easy.  I need to drive up onto other empty campsites to manage it.  As I proceed to swing wide left and then turn to the right, Buddy says, “Let’s go to the dump station.”

“But why?  I haven’t been using the toilet or sink—there’s nothing to dump.” 

“Well, we should just run through the list of what to do so you know. You know?” He winks.

Ok.  I clumsily pull onto the cement slab at the dump station and try to line up to the tank hole.

Along comes Bob, asking how things went on my practice session.  The two of them begin my first formal introduction to and instruction on dumping the trailer.  Suffice it to say, crawling around under a trailer to empty the sewage is not my idea of a good time. Lucky I have my very stylish pink rubber gloves.  The guys burst out laughing. 

 Rule number one:  Always dump black water first, then “rinse” with the gray water. 


So I hook up the hose to the RV and drop the other end to the dump hole.  Seems I need to get an attachment at Walmart to hold that end into the hole, but for now we hold the hose in with a chunk of cement.  As they talk me through the steps I keep saying there’s nothing to dump.  Ok, ready, set, go…I pull the black water handle. 

“FOOOIIISSSSHHHHHH!!!!!!!”  Something is gushing down that hose fast and furious. We’re talking heavy. We’re talking chunky feeling. We’re talking at least 90 seconds of hard core gushing.

“YOU GUYS! Oh my gawd!”  I am freaking out and grossing out.  Buddy and Bob start chuckling, eye rolling and “guy talkin” about how it’s bad enough that the dealer sent me out of the dealership the way they did, but they didn’t even have the common sense to teach me about dumping the RV plus they let me drive out of there with a full tank of…. well….heavy, chunky “stuff”.  And I am having the crude realization that someone’s “stuff” has been sitting in my black water tank all this time.  OH my gawd!  Yuck!  How disgusting!  The black water action finally subsides. Well, okay.  On to the gray water tank.

Same thing.  “FOOOIIISSSHHH!!” The gray water tank empties for a good five minutes.

We all look at each other.  No one speaks.  Heavy sigh.  I’m so disgusted.

Now it’s time to unhook the sewer hose, rinse it out, then tuck everything back in storage.

Buddy shakes his head.  “You know how much extra weight that was?”

“Yeah, how big is your tank?  Do you know?”  Bob asks.

No, I have no idea.

“That would probably explain why it still isn’t leveling.”  Bob adds.

I am so tired of being off the charts angry about the whole Toy Hauler purchase experience.  Well.  Now we can chalk up one more “crappy” thing that happened.

Bob offers to pull the Toy Hauler back in place at my site.  Yes please!  By the way, is it happy hour yet?

Minnesota Permit To Carry Course — September 15, 2013

Minnesota Permit to Carry Course

Sunday September 15th  2013

8:30 am to 5:30 pm

Caribou Sportsman’s Club

30649 380th Street

Le Sueur MN 56058

Approximately 45 minutes south of the metro on 169

$118.00*          Lunch included

Are you prepared to defend yourself or your family in a life threatening situation?

Do you need added protection for your job, business or recreational pursuits?

Do you want to support Americans  2nd Amendment right to bear arms?

Minnesota statutes offer law-abiding citizens an opportunity to secure a permit to carry a concealed firearm. This course is designed to meet the requirements to allow you to apply for that permit.


Here is a brief overview of what is covered:

Psychological preparation before a violent encounter

– Conflict and situation avoidance

– Use of deadly force requirements

– Law enforcement encounter

– Legal obligation when carrying

– Aftermath of the use of deadly force

– Ammunition, weapon types and selection

– Drawing from holster and holstering

– Holsters, clothing and concealment options

– Malfunction clearing and weapon retention

– Plus many other aspects of legality are presented 

This is an all day course, consisting of classroom instruction followed with state mandated live fire range exercises that will make for a full day.  Eye & ear protection is provided.  For the range exercise you will need a handgun and 50 rounds of ammunition.  *If you do not yet own a firearm, either a revolver or semi automatic handgun can be provided for use on the day of the class for and additional $15.  Arrangements for this must be made with me by September 1st!

Class size limited to 16 students—and these classes fill quickly!

Reservations and prepayment postmark deadline August 15th  

*Note:  This course is NOT a basic or introduction to handguns, although some basics are covered, this is a Minnesota permit to carry course, NOT how to shoot a handgun.

Contact me today for complete information and registration details.

Escape to Serenity! BWCA July 2013 Trip

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
The Gateway to an Extraordinary, Wild, Adventure!  
 Release the stress
 Challenge yourself physically
 Relish the solitude
 Simplify your routine
 Listen to the call of the Loon
 Get in touch with your inner, outdoor self
 Refresh, renew, and revive

Experience a world without human influence.  An ancient, uninterrupted wilderness that few make the effort to visit. Breathtaking views, pristine lakes and streams, abundant wildlife and memories to cherish a lifetime. 

Escape to Serenity!

Come with me for an amazing adventure week of paddling, camping, exploring, and fishing in the famous BWCA Wilderness. 

 July 22 – 26,  5 days, 4 nights   Deadline to commit is July 8th. Prepayment post marked by July 10th.
5 days, 4 nights
$749.99 per person
Includes food, gear, and transportation as outlined in the trip detail documentary
Pre-trip social Friday July 19th 5:00 – 8:00

 Trip group sizes are limited.  Message me today with your email address for complete trip information, pricing and registration!

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