Archives for June 2013

Getting Air

After two test drives, plus Michigan Dennis and I emptying a surprising 900 pounds of fresh water out of the tank, the toy hauler is still not leveling properly.  It’s “manageable, probably”, but I am not comfortable with the long drive home on “probably”.  Who would be?

So the quest continues to try to figure out what to do to make it right.  Park Rangers Tyler and Dick stop by and ask about my truck. They had heard about my troubles from Michigan Dennis.  One more time, we go over the specifications of my truck, to ensure it is actually capable of towing the toy hauler.  It is. Of course a bigger truck would be better, but mine is sufficient, theoretically.

And then one of the guys says “Why don’t you have air bags installed?”

Gee, I don’ know.  Why don’t I?

The idea sends me on a mission to find out who, what and where I can get air bags. I talk with Roger from down on the other end of the campgrounds.  He had airbags installed to pull his pop up with his SUV. Said he bought the kit on line and paid A&A Trailer Hitch Center $100 or so to install them.   Rat Fink Don comes over to talk to me about it.  He’s an absolute motor head, and has all sorts of catalogs for ordering automotive parts.  We investigate, pour through his catalogs and find just the right air bag package to purchase.  Then I call A&A, the place Roger used, and get an appointment.  I order the air bag package on line and the Park is gracious enough to let me have it shipped to the office. 

The next few days are like a lifetime, waiting for the kit to arrive and the appointment to arrive, too!   I end up buying a Rat Fink antenna topper from Rat Fink Don. 

Finally on this stellar sunny morning I’m on my way to Bradenton to have the installation take place.

My appointment is over the lunch hour, so I grab my purse and computer and go for a walk to find something to eat.  Just a block down the road is a large rustic establishment that looks like it must serve steaks and ribs.  I walk in, and to my surprise it is a bar only, and a hard core biker bar at that, and it is filled with hard core biker guys that all turn around in their bar stools simultaneously to look at me as I step in asking about lunch.  The bartender grunts something like “no food here” with a cigarette stuck between his lips, and I quickly back out of the building.  Yikes.  Who’d a thunk?  I look up and down the busy street, and about three blocks the other direction is a Mexican restaurant sign.  Let’s give it a whirl. I hike over there and they are not open for lunch.  I’ve got one option left.  Directly across the street from the car repair is tiny little Los Laureles Supermarket.  Ok, let’s give it a whirl. To my surprise, as I squeeze down one of the narrow isles, I find a tiny Mexican deli in the back of that tiny convenience store that has the biggest and most amazing tacos ever.  In fact everything they prepare is huge and amazing to smell and see.  I had a huge, made from scratch, tasty chicken taco lunch for $3.00.  Unbelievable.

By the time I return to the car place they are almost done with the installation.  Bob, the owner, takes time to talk with me about my Toy Hauler set up and some of the issues I’m having.  He shows me other trailer hook up options, and it makes me wonder why the dealer set things up the way they did.  One thing I am strongly considering now is getting an electric crank.  But, not today!

“Jim” appears from the garage bay, introduces himself, and says my truck is done. We go outside so he can show me how it all works.

“Right now you’ve got 20 pounds of air in there, you can go up to 80” he explains. 

“Why wouldn’t I just have 80 in there now?” I ask (yeah, I am an idiot)

He laughs…. “now that would be one rough ride, you’d be bouncing down the road like mad! Trust me, 20 pounds is enough to start.” 

I can see that my back end is up quite a bit higher than before.  It looks kind of macho.  I like it.  I hope it works.  Jim asks me why I opted for air bags to begin with, and tells me he is available if I want to drive back with the trailer and he will look at it and get it to level correctly if I run into further problems.  How sweet is that? 

So I get behind the wheel and drive out of the parking lot.

WOOOO HOOOOO!  This is fun!  I’m feelin’ kinda sassy!  This is feeling like one bad ass truck!  I like this back end up in the air business!

I’m so caught up in the fun of it all, I take a totally wrong turn and end up on some road that takes me past the OBrien Family Farms, locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Of course I have to stop…………

What an amazing place!  It’s a huge family farm that specializes in hydroponic gardening, and you can walk through it and pick your own fruit and vegetables, or they will pick it for you.  They provide educational programs for groups and schools on the health benefits of eating locally grown foods.  What a treat to be able to eat fresh grown food straight out of the ground, virtually year round.  Can’t do that in Minnesota.  Florida is the Strawberry capital of the country and O’Brian Farm has fields of strawberries, so of course I have to pick a bunch, along with some kale and spinach.  Yum!

Eager to get back to camp to show off my fresh produce and jacked up truck, I head home with a noticeable spring in my ride…..yeah, I’m gettin’ air, man!



Pick, Grow, Catch

Lois keeps talking about a place not too far away where the vegetables are unbelievable, Piney Point Farms in Palmetto.  After searching for, passing, missing, and trying again, I finally find this highly secluded farm, and pull down a dirt road, into a clearing with a rustic vegetable stand building off to the left.  Off to the right are fields of produce as far as I can see.

I get out and step into the veggie stand.  OMG it’s mutant vegetables!

Never saw such big beautiful spinach in my life.

Never saw such amazing huge green peppers in my life.

The sweet onions.  Gigantic with huge green tops.  Unbelievable.

Giant heads of broccoli and cauliflower.  Giant!

Super, duper giant heads of fresh lettuce!

The tomatoes, oh my! And they actually smell like tomatoes and don’t feel like wax. 

I’m told that if I don’t like what I see here, I am welcome to go pick my own out there. But oh, what’s here looks fantastic! I can call ahead to see what they’ve got from day to day.  Piney Point is open from November through April. They grow just about anything you can imagine, from cucumbers to greens, eggplant, beans, beets, radishes, potatoes and peppers, and the cost is a buck a bunch for this a buck a bunch for that, it’s all so inexpensive! You can spend $6 and have produce for two weeks, which is basically what I’m doing.  I quickly conjure up a two week health menu in my mind, collect up my produce and get on my way.  Now that I know where it is, it will only take a few minutes to find again!

Driving back, I recall hearing about a place that does Hydroponic gardening. It can’t be too hard to find, it must be somewhere along the way back, so I decide to try.  In just a short drive down Shell Point Road, I find what looks like the entrance to a greenhouse, but it’s so much more. I park and walk up. Right inside, I have the distinct pleasure to meet Hydro Harvest Farms owner, Dave, who is eager and willing to give me a thorough background and education on the whole process of Hydroponic Gardening.  The information is extensive, but in a nutshell,

Plants don’t need dirt, they just the nutrients found in dirt.

Hydroponics uses a nutrient mixture rather than soil, to grow plants in vertical containers with electronically controlled water and nutrient feedings.

Hydroponics allows people to grow food virtually anywhere where traditional agriculture simply isn’t possible; hot areas, dense urban areas, cold areas or places where the soil is just plain crappy.  It’s feasible to enjoy year’ round gardening through Hydroponics, no matter where you are, if you really want to.

Plants grown via hydroponics grow faster. Because the plants are given direct access to water and nutrients, they don’t waste time growing root systems to find the nutrients they need. Better, healthier, plants are produced in half the time as traditional crops.

It’s also better for the environment. Hydroponics systems recycle and reuse their water and nutrient solutions, so no water is wasted.  The process calls for almost 80% less water than traditional gardening processes.  Less water is used plus virtually no pesticides are used, meaning less chemicals are being emitted into the air, or consumed by us. 

Hydroponic gardening also gives more control of and protection of your crop.  At least for me, growing “up” rather than “across the ground”, would clearly protect my plants from the rabbits, and I could grow more in less space. No need to cut plans short because you have to dash home and water the garden—it waters itself!  And how much easier to weed?  Oh my!

The bad news is that starting a Hydroponic garden is somewhat costly up front.  Dave offers a 3 tiered pole set up for about $125 plus minerals.  The savings after that are huge, so it really is a no-brainer.  I am on board with the whole Hydroponic idea and am tempted to buy, but decide I need to examine my situation at home first, and come up with a smart plan for 2014.  After thanking him for an extremely educational visit, Dave invites me to grab a basket and pick whatever I’d like. I wander along the rows of towers, and pick some amazing fresh rosemary, oregano and basil to go with my two weeks of giant produce.  He already knows I’ll be back next year to buy.  And he’s right.

As I pull out of the parking lot, I have a hankering for some fish, and get an idea. I cross the highway, heading the other way down Shell Point Road.

I found The Fish House by accident a few weeks ago when driving around trying to find a private beach area for me and the kids. It looked like a closed down fruit stand and was barely noticeable.  Little did I know it was only because they were closed that day. Not thinking much of it, I kept going. Now I’m back, and they are open. Oh my, yes, they are! 

This is somewhat of an open air restaurant – a cooking shack, and an old pavilion roof with picnic tables under it. The Fish House specializes in fresh caught seafood and fish.  Literally, the food you are served was caught that day or the day before.  They are only open Thursday through Saturday.  The rest of the week is spent fishing for their menu.  And the droves of people that seek out this off the beaten path shack –well it’s simply crazy! For example, right now, I’m parked a block away on a side street, and joining one of three ordering lines that have to be 20 people deep each.  But their food is Five Star Excellent, and very reasonably priced.  Worth the wait?  I’d say.  What a treat to stop by and grab a fresh caught Fish House Dinner to take back. Maybe make a fresh spinach salad to go with.

What a great way to wrap up a grow, pick and catch fresh food day!

My Oh My, Myakka

This place is an eerie kind of beautiful.  It must be where movies like “the swamp thing” are made.  It smacks of voodoo and mist and mystery.  Gators and Panthers and Snakes, oh my!  Just driving in, this is a wild so foreign to me, it doesn’t even seem real. I’m here because rumor is they have feral pigs to the point of infestation.  Everyone is talking about it.  Apparently there isn’t a crowd stepping up to help with the “extermination process”.  Maybe this is the opportunity I’ve been looking for. What’s a girl got to do to bowhunt some of these unwanted oinkers?045

I pull into the Myakka State Park office and Visitor Center.  The guy I need to speak with won’t be in until later. After looking through their racks of literature, I  quickly discover I want to stay the day and explore.  Myakka State Park is huge!  Over 35,000 acres of woods, prairie, marsh and water.  The highest point is 45 feet (now that’s kind of funny).  There are two lakes in the park, one with a 140 foot sink hole, and the Myakka river runs through the park.  Myakka is one of the largest and oldest parks in Florida.  With arms full of information and a “25 things to do” sheet, I head back to the truck to make a plan.

We start with the 14 mile scenic park drive.  Meandering through the moss laden hammocks is simply beautiful.  Surprisingly there aren’t many other motorists.  We pass a log cabin pavilion available to rent, with shady picnic grounds surrounding it.  We cross a bridge and continue along through the heavy green wild to the Canopy Walk and Nature Trail.  Mental note to self, we need to stop here on the way back.  We pass through the old railroad from the 1920s and then to Big Flats Marsh. Turning left into more heavy Hammocks, and then along a strip of shoreline, I catch a glimpse of an actual campground.  The park is so thick and lush it’s hard to really know what’s out there, but there are 90 campsites out there somewhere.  Very different from typical campers lined up in the open on cement slabs. It’s so shady, I wonder how the bugs are in there? 

We approach “The Birdwalk” and I decide it’s time to stretch human and dog legs. One thing is certain, I don’t take anything for granted here.  Before my babies are out of this truck, we need to be prepared for what’s out there.  Let’s see….okay, according to the literature, we should be on the lookout for:

Bobcats—about twice the size of a domestic cat, short tail, and likely sleeping in a tree at this hour of the day.  Look up often.

Armadillos—Nine Banded, actually, can get to be almost 2 ½ feet long, and up to 16 pounds.  They look like a prehistoric football with a tail.  Totally harmless, they feed on insects, crayfish and eggs.  They are considered invasive, and a detriment to the environment.  They defend themselves by curling up into a ball of “armor” or jumping straight up in the air to flee—they can jump 4 feet high!   Look up often.

Snakes—Here we go, this is icky—there are 60 different snakes in Florida, ranging from 7 inches long to over 8 feet long, and 6 species are poisonous.  The snakes we need to be on the lookout for here are the Cotton Mouth, Eastern Coral Snake, Dusky Pigmy Rattle Snake and the Eastern Diamondback Rattle Snake.  A Southern Black Racer may try to take a bite out of you, but it isn’t venomous.  As for the Ribbon Snake, slithery looking as it is, it is also harmless.  Ok, so we have a bunch of snakes to contend with—look down often for things slinking in the grass, but, look up often too, just in case.

Feral Hogs—yup we already know about them, their behaviors and their rooting up the habitat to destruction.  I am not afraid.  Just say the word and I’m on it!

Alligators—ok, back to afraid.  Holy cow, the Gators here can get 15 foot long, they have about 80 teeth that they re-grow if worn down from eating people and pets and all that, and they can live a good 50 years.  OHHHHHHHH Gators are attracted to dogs! And my three are very good looking dogs! That means we stay away from the water, the side of the road or any low land where it could be moist and comfortable for a Gator to hang out.  And more bad news—it’s not likely to find Crocodiles north of Naples.  Not likelyLikely?  That means one or two or a hundred could wander up to Myakka to check out the hunting.  It’s possible. 

Oh, I don’t know about letting the dogs out!  I’ve sufficiently scared the crap out of myself reading this literature.  It’s an entirely different situation from hunting to be out in the wild like this without my bow or shotgun.  How do they expect us to enjoy the park if we cannot defend ourselves?  I want protection! 

Take a deep breath.  Ok. Chances are, any of these creatures will turn tail rather than confront.  Just go with that thought.  And they are not likely to be as visible at this time of the year.  It could still be a little cool for them to be out and about.  It’s probably much worse in the dead of summer.  We can do this, we’re an outdoors family.

Canopy Walkway Tower


Canopy Walkway

Welcome to the Boat Basin and Concession area.  First is an outpost building where you can rent boats, canoes, kayaks, bikes or go on an airboat ride, a trolley ride, or pick up camping supplies, food and souvenirs.  Another hundred yards away is a huge gift shop and deli.  WHAT?  Alligator  stew?  Num!  I order lunch, sit down and people watch.  The day has turned dreary.  People are suddenly appearing out of nowhere to take shelter from the windy drizzle and get warm.  I meet a family from Norway, a couple from Germany, and 4 women from Utah.  The Gator Stew is quite popular, and really good.  Tastes like chicken.  Kidding.  The German couple are primitive camping and hiking the almost 40 miles of trails here.  They have seen some gators.  One of the Norway youths tells me about their hike to the bridge in the trees.  Horse trails and bike trails are also abundant throughout the park.  The deli becomes loud with laughter as we all share camping and travel stories with each other, passing time until the clouds dissipate.

The sun returns! I bid a farewell to my lunch friends and it’s back to the truck to find the Canopy Walkway I’ve been hearing about.

The parking lot is full, dozens of cars line the road, but I find a spot and walk to the Canopy Walkway Trail.  Although voices can be heard, the Hammocks are so thick they hide signs of movement.  I step into the lush green, seeing mounds of Spanish Moss and other plants dangling from and growing on the sides of heavy tree limbs.

By the way, did you know that there is nothing Spanish about it?  And it is not actually a moss?  And, the Spanish Moss that ends up on the ground, is probably full of chiggers?   

Still, what an eerie, beautiful place this is!  When is the Swamp Thing going to step out into the open?  Snap

Tower Top View

Tower Top View

ping pictures left and right of stunning cascades of airplants hanging from trees, I come upon a sign and entrance to the walkway. 

This 75 foot high tower structure and 100 foot long canopy walkway is the first public treetop trail in the country.  As I make my way up the stairs, wooden planks, inscribed with names, dates, and personal messages are scattered along the way.  The walkway hangs at 25 feet, which is plenty tall for me as I take a breath and begin to traverse across what looks like an Indiana Jones scene.  At the other side, I cannot help but continue the climb to that 75 foot view waiting at the top.  And wow, what a view it is.  Solid green live oak and palm trees to the horizon line from most directions, along with some prairie and wetlands.  There’s flat, and then there’s flat.  I didn’t see the 45 foot highest point anywhere.  Still, this whole experience is amazing and educational.  Because the Canopy Scientists created this walkway in 2000, Tree Foundation Researchers have been able to find out about the weevil, an invasive bug that destroys airplants, and begin combating them. The canopy is an important piece of managing and monitoring the eco system here.

I make the long trek down the wooden tower stairs, and head back to the park office. I speak to the Ranger in charge.  He doesn’t seem to take me seriously about pig hunting. He doesn’t seem to have any constructive information to share, other than they had some sharp shooters come in, and is unsure of what the status is at this point. He is talking in circles.  He is avoiding direct questions.  In other words, no, I can’t come pig hunting here with my bow.   So much for that whole idea.  Back to square one, yet again.

But my, oh my, what a treat to experience Myakka State Park!



How To Freeze Strawberries


I’m  always so excited when strawberry season arrives!  But what do you do when it’s strawberry fields forever?  And EVER?   And there seems to be no end to them?  Why not freeze some? It’s super easy. Here’s how!

1—–First, make sure you harvest super fresh, undamaged berries.

2—–Wash the strawberries in a clean, sterilized sink full of cold water.

3—–Slice off their green leaf tops and place the berries in a bowl.

4—–Dunk them into the water again for a rinse (remove any lingering leaf stuff).

5—–Slice the berries into halves and place them into a large clean and sterilized bowl.

6—–Sprinkle lightly with sugar and mix the strawberries around in the bowl.

7—–Taste, and continue sprinkling with sugar until the berries taste sweet enough for you.

Note: as you do this, some juice will develop in the bottom of the bowl. This is normal.

8—–Scoop the berries into 1 quart freezer bags, leaving about 1 inch space at the top for expansion. 

9—–Suck all of the air out of the bag and quickly seal.

10—-Date your bags of berries.  They will keep well frozen for up to a year.

Yum, Yum,  YUM! Yum, Yum, YUM!  Yum, YUM! 

Thank you for reading my post.  Does this sound yummy?  If you try it out let me know what you think!  All comments are greatly appreciated.  Check out more great recipes under my Killer Cookin’ blog category, and if you like what you see, please “like” my website and join my tribe.  And as always, please feel free to share my information with others who may find interest and value in PR Brady AdVentures! 

Lovin’ Local Life

There are signs all around town for the 20th Annual Apollo Beach Manatee Festival of the Arts. No detail about what actually happens there, but it would seem it’s an art fair like back home. It’s just down the highway by the power plant, and I’ve got nothing better to do, so I’m in!

By the time I arrive, ‘sunny Saturday’ has turned to ‘humid day’, and I am already getting sticky.  I pull off the road and park with others who don’t want to drop $5 for a closer spot.  At the Festival entrance I discover I still have to drop a $5 just to get in.  That’s different.  But now I’m in, and begin to look around.  Almost 100 artists are gathered here from across the country to meet and interact with the local community; show and sell their fine arts and crafts.  The way I usually work a show like this is to first do a fast “walk by” and canvas the whole show, then go back to the booths that are most interesting.  I quickly learn that in addition to the art fair, there is live music, food vendors, environmental exhibits, and of course, heavy promotion for the opportunity to view the Manatees. 

It sure didn’t take long to spy several exhibitors I want to get a closer look at.  As I make my second pass through, I catch a whiff of the food vendors.  Oh!  They have crab balls!  Yum. Haven’t had one since the RV Show!  And the Mullet Shack is here! I am drawn to them. They convince me to finally try my first Mullet Fish Taco—hey, not bad!!  All that, and a fresh squeezed lemonade makes for the perfect lunch.

It’s a treat to buy an original piece of art right from the artist who created it.  I am immediately drawn to Dona Marrier’s charming ceramic bird feeders and houses. Brightly painted with shiny glazed coatings, these “repurposed” ceramic tea pots, flower pots and cups, are colorful creations and fun, eclectic fashion statements to hang in the yard. 

Lora Thomas brings a more rustic look with her hand built ceramics.  I choose several table pieces that from a distance appear to be worn, leather, fringed satchels,  adorned with feathers, when in fact they are clay.  Rustic simplicity at it’s best.  Perfect for dried flowers.

Equally irresistible is Scott Bowman’s Chimes and Copper Designs.  The Chimes are beautiful, with their streaks of green oxidation, natural driftwood, and tasteful embellishments.  I wonder how long one of these would survive in my yard before being swiped?  Hmmm.  Heck with the yard.  I choose the perfect size and sounding chime to become a part of my Toy Hauler décor. 

Amy Sullivan’s Gypsyhook Beadworks catches my attention as well.  Her unique jewelry is crafted in sterling silver with precious stones. I choose several pieces made with Natural Shell, Pyrite, Pearl, Rhodochrosite and Rhyolite.

So many talented artists, so little cash.  Time to put the breaks on celebrating art! I slowly wander out of the festival, and hear people talking about the cool Manatees. After the amazing experience I had viewing Manatees in Blue Spring, I can’t imagine topping it. Although the Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center is just down the highway from Secret Spot, I have yet to visit it, after months of being here.  Now I’m right next door.  I should just go, just to see the Center.  Okay!

Manatees congregate at Blue Spring because of the natural warm water spring.  They congregate at the Tampa Viewing Center because of the “man-made” warm water generated from the Electric Plant. The plant is responsible for providing power to a 2,000 square mile area and generates 4,686 megawatts of reliable energy.  They are drawn to the result of human technology.  These gentle creatures started out as 4 legged land animals and evolved into legless underwater mammals with flippers.  Their docile, curious nature is soothing and perplexing.  They have no issues with calling this place their winter home.  It’s amazing to realize these vegetarians eat 15% of their body weight daily when they can easily weigh 1,000 or more pounds. Drop a couple manatees in some of the Minnesota lakes and the milfoil problem will be gone in a hurry! 

The Manatee Center is impressive.  I explore the unique butterfly garden trail, then walk down a 900 foot tidal walkway nature trail that brings me from fiddler crab laden sand to mangrove thick waters, finally reaching out to the wide open waters of the bay. The Manatee observation decks are elaborate structures, high up from the water.  In addition to seeing Manatee, I spot several huge Tarpons reminding me again that I still haven’t found a deep sea fishing opportunity for less than $500.  Hanging over the railing looking down into the dark waters, I alert a group of folks about the Tarpons, and they all rush over to see them. And then………

I wasn’t going to. I can’t imagine being subjected to the crowds I’ve been hearing about.  Besides, how interesting could it really be?  But a woman just gave me a ticket to the Strawberry Festival!  Tomorrow is the last day.  I could run over there real quick today…it would only take half an hour… Oh, why not make this a community event day?

Dear GPS, guide me there now!  Hello Plant City, Florida, the strawberry capital of the world!  I’m on the road, heading to the 78th Annual Strawberry Festival. For just $8.00 you get all the strawberry action you could ever dream of—all things strawberry takes place here. And I’m in for free! Sounds good to me!

But it seems I parked two towns away for another $8.  The place is huge and packed and it’s almost 4:00. What could be so interesting?  Maybe the daily top-billboard name entertainment?  Or perhaps the tons of exhibits to see; from fine arts, crafts, horticulture, agriculture, commerce, industry, and livestock? Or maybe the dozens of continuous events, programs, contests and parades!  And, oh,  if you love strawberries, it’s the perfect time to enjoy them at their ripe, luscious best, grown by local farmers, straight from the vine, to your taste buds.

What an amazing celebration!  And it’s ranked in the top 40 great Fairs of the nation! The Plant City area is home to over 10,000 acres of strawberries.  Holy Cow!  There are close to 3,000 farms in Hillsborough county alone that grow fruit and vegetable crops, making it one of the largest and most revenue driven counties in the nation.  Holy Cow! Even the air here smells of sweet ripe strawberries.  How heavenly. Oooh, how heavenly that shortcake looks…..

So I am trying to make the best of a “short-cake” visit.  In addition to the many top line concerts going on, there are plenty of “free” events to experience.  I could go check out the horticulture exhibit, or the craft barn. But right now “JUMP! The Ultimate Dog Show” has started.  If I hurry I can catch some of it!  I’m pretty good at navigating through crowds, and with a little help I reach the arena where the show is taking place—it’s not over yet!  What a hilarious, non-stop, action packed, show!  These canines and their Handlers execute amazing stunts.  Jumping, flying through the air, dancing, acrobatics, and ohh so fearlessly!  And I thought I had my babies trained.  They should have come with me to see this!  How amazing that most of these talented pooches were adopted from Animal Shelters.  No pedigrees in the house, just super cool mutts with raw desire to please. It just goes to show you, you can teach an old dog, new tricks!  It was worth the drive just for this show.  I proudly take part in the standing ovation at the shows end.

People around me are talking about the pig races.  What?  I listen in, and finally outright ask, “what pig races?”  In just about an hour, there are pigs that race and swim, and it’s supposed to be hilarious.  In the meantime, at least 5 strawberry shortcakes have gone by.  I decide I need to go get one, and then find the pig races.

Heavenly cake.  Oh yeah. This is awesome! Fresh, made-from-scratch pound cake with big plump sweet strawberries and real whipped cream. Oh yeah! I end up waddling up and down a few exhibit isles, learning about growing and cultivating produce.  I see a ton of people off in the distance, swarmed around an exhibit that seems like an archery set up—I’m trying to get a peek—something about a Lizard Lick Krew, but I just spot a couple of guys standing in front of the booth, and it’s too hard to see what they are doing, so I move on.  What ever it was, they sure packed a crowd!   And not too far away is the sound of a country inspired duet.  If I enjoyed country music I’d be following that sound to the source. 

Instead, I head to the pig challenge area, stopping, eh-hem, for a bowl of chocolate covered strawberries on the way.  Hey, it’s not that many…I’m given a Festival program.  I take it and my berries and find a good spot to watch pigs race.  Wow, there is sooooo much to do here at the fair.  I should have gotten here right at 10 am. Gee, so sorry I missed the Strawberry Mashed Potato Pie Eating Contest yesterday…..  Oh well, next year.  I’m kidding!  Really!

This pig race ain’t for no sissy’s!  People are hootin’ and hollerin’ and foot stompin’ waiting for the pigs to appear and perform.  Robinson’s Racing Pigs and Paddling Porkers.  It’s true, and it’s downright hilarious!  The pigs come out 4 at a time and race on hoof, then jump into the water.  If you could ever imagine seeing a pig DIVE into a pool about 10 yards long and start swimming.  Yes, it’s true.  And the crowd goes positively “hog wild’, cheering them on.  I about pee it is so hilarious. Again, worth the drive out, just to see that show.

Well I have about filled my dance card of events for the day. I proceed to the fairs exit. But oh, there’s a strawberry shake stand.  Sweet, ripe strawberry shakes. And how about that? Right next door, half a flat of strawberries for $4.00?  Girls gotta have it! Antioxidants, baby!

The Plant City Annual Strawberry Festival.  Mark your calendar now, this is a berry fun time, and something you don’t want to miss! 

And thanks, ma’am, for the ticket!  I’m really lovin’ this local life!

Wow Kung Pow

Get your Asian on with this easy health conscious meal.  All you need is a rice cooker/steamer and a large fry pan.

  • 1 lb chicken breast cut into strips
  • 4 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1 small chopped onion
  • 2 T


  • ½ c oyster sauce
  • 1 t ground ginger
  • 1/8 t cayenne
  • 1/3 c water
  • 1 T flour


  • ½ of a small box fresh sliced mushrooms
  • 1can sliced water chestnut
  • 1 c pea pods


  • 1  c rice
  • 1 T butter
  • 1c fresh chopped broccoli
  • 1c fresh baby carrots


  • ¼ c peanuts—skinless or remove skins

Place rice in the cooker with the butter, and add water as directed.  Place the broccoli and carrots in the steamer, and turn on.

While cooker is going,

Place evoo in fry pan, add chicken, garlic and onion, and sauté until chicken is no longer pink.  Add water, oyster sauce and spices and bring to boil.  Add mushrooms, peapods and water chestnut and heat on low until rice is done (or about 15 minutes).  Increase heat Mix flour with 2 T water, add to fry pan, stirring until sauce thickens.

When rice is done, remove pan from heat.

Gently fold broccoli and carrots into the thickening meat mixture.  Fold in peanuts.  Serve over rice.  Serves 4-6


Taking a Spin, Part 2

Michigan Dennis, offered to take a look at my rig and see what he could come up with for why it just won’t level, and show me what I have to do to manage the hot water procedure and care.  I am having intermittent flashes of concern again that maybe my truck just isn’t designed to pull my Toy Hauler. There have been so many theories, opinions and suggestions my head is spinning. But Dennis is another hard core expert, and I’m grateful he is willing to take the time.

We look at the hitch.  We double check the ratios and weights from every printed document we can find for the truck and the trailer.  He asks me if I’m carrying water.  “What?  No, the trailer is hooked to the city water.”

 He heard about my dumping situation.

“Well, let’s just check.”  He urges.

So I don’t even know where that water comes out from.  He did, and he opened the cap. We were in for quite a surprise.  For the next 2 hours, my Toy Hauler drained what likely amounted to 900 pounds of water.

“Where did you buy this RV from?  I can’t believe they sent you out carrying all this water!”

I was jolted right back to seething with frustration and anger about my entire purchase experience.  Good thing that dealer is hours away.

By the time the water was completely drained, Michigan Dennis had to go, but he did help me with understanding the steps for turning the hot water on and the much needed care for winterizing.  Buddy said he would help me winterize just before I leave, but Dennis raised some important points I took notes on for when we work on it. 

“You should try taking it for a ride now.  See how it handles without 90 gallons of water on the front end.”

Good point.

Maybe the day has come for me to buck up and get behind the wheel of my truck again and pull the Toy Hauler awhile. Ted offered to ride shot gun to give me moral support and suggestions for how to back.  We really want to see how it rides now that it’s been “dumped” and emptied. 

Ok.  Let’s go today.  I decide to set up the training session to begin with me completely hooking up as though I am alone, following the instructions that Bob gave me.  Once again, it was somewhat of a cluster as things don’t always go exactly as planned.  And I am finding out how “not strong” I really am. But with Teds help we got everything set up hooked up and locked on to pull out of the campground and down to the boat launch.

The ride was a little less solid this time.  The metal on metal grinding noise was more noticeable, too.  Maybe it was always there but because the windows are down, it was more obvious.  I maintain that the noise should not have to be happening.  No one else’s trailer makes all that horrid noise when they pull in. 

We talk about the leveling, and get out and check how it looks now with all that water gone.  Still not level.  Better, but still not level.  Obviously the RV is designed to hold weight in the back over the axels, so that’s where I need to focus on storing things, but it seems I will also have to empty the back of the truck.

Backing 28 feet of something 8 feet wide and 13 feet tall is not particularly easy.  But I was determined, and Ted was patient, and I think we burned a half a tank of gas in the boat launch parking lot.  Finally, I backed between the white lines perfectly one time. Kind of like dog training, it’s always good to end on a positive note, so we decided to head back to the campground after my one time backing success.

We get back to the campground.  One thing I can see right now is, I don’t want to have to routinely pull in and out of my campsite to go to anywhere, like the dump station.  Having the dog fence set up means if I am not an expert at parking my rig, I will have to assemble and disassemble the fence each time I leave.  Several campers have portable waste containers they hook to their unit and then roll it over to the dump station periodically.  If all I am using is the sink, this could be a perfect option for me.  Then I would have no reason to move the Toy Hauler except to leave.  Now to just find a “blue boy” that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

Ted asks if I would like him to pull in to my site or do I want to try.    Ohhhh, go for it.  I’ll do it next time.  In seconds my trailer is perfectly lined up on the campsite with minimal need for messing around with the dog fence.  I’m rather envious, but I know, I’ll get there eventually.

I am so lucky to have these folks in my life!


Teensy Weensy Trailer

What does efficient mean to you?  I would look for simple, thorough, compact, reliable, and sturdy.  No doubt, they nailed the list with this outdoors rig.  The first time I saw the teensy weensy trailer, I was in love. For the longest time I thought it was a dog kennel trailer.  Most every day when I walk the kids down the camper road, I see the tiny little trailer, backed up to a 10×10 green canopy, with some lawn chairs, a table under it, and miscellaneous items that would make you think someone must be staying there.  But there is never a vehicle, or person.  What a smart set up they created.  I bet they could pull the trailer with a car! 

Well as luck would have it today I finally meet the campers owner, the great Ken Bruland, president of Inland Seas Kayaking in Michigan.  He is never around camp because he is always away working for the largest Kayak dealer in the Tampa area, or is on another exciting paddling exploration in the area.  I just happen to catch him in camp, and he is more than willing to show me around so I can learn some of the details of his cute custom camper. 

030The outside is metal, and has a large cargo rack in front for storing gear, either on top of or inside of a large storage bin. It is set up for solar power, so he really doesn’t need to rely on plugging into power to survive. The backside opens down to display a fully loaded gourmet quality kitchen that is basically as deep as a average counter, with clearly marked and organized shelves running up the sides.  Inside the trailer  is a large comfortable bed, power for lights and computer and more storage it has an awning that shelters the entrance from the elements.  The green canopy off the back end expands his living space further, much like I did with mine.  He is able to pull this trailer with a small SUV, and carry multiple kayaks on top of the car effortlessly.  If I didn’t have 3 dogs and an obsession with wine, I’d be perfectly happy in a rig just like his.

Ken is a part time resident of Florida, spending winters here, and summers at his business on Beaver Island.  The only way to get to Beaver Island Michigan, is by boat or plane.  The largest island on Lake Michigan, it spans about 55 square miles.  It’s roughly 13 miles long, and about 6 miles wide.  You can bring your car across on the Ferry, or rent a car or bike. Ken is the resident outdoors expert on the island.  He rents kayaks, does eco-tours in recreational kayaks, and provides sea kayak instruction and trips to the outer islands that run  from 1/2 day to multi-day in length. He conducts, map and compass classes, survival training, “astronomy nights” and is willing to help you with just about anything “outdoors.”

The sad news is, Ken will be retiring soon.  He would love to pass his business on to the next interested outdoors expert, so he can finally go off and simply en031joy some non-work related quiet time in the outdoors. In the meantime, he plans to move from Secret Spot to Tampa to be closer to the action.  He is equally intrigued with my Toy Hauler, and stops by to check it out. 

Space and needs.  When you think about it, it’s all relative.  I left my 3 bedroom home and garage and yard to live in a tent, and now have ended up with the Toy Hauler.  As important as it all seems when I’m there, throughout this is whole time I’ve not missed being home, or the things that I’ve left there. It’s amazing how we can get by with, and even enjoy or prefer something other than what we are accustomed to.  Ken has absolutely everything he needs and loves with him right now yet he describes himself as “homeless” between traveling with this trailer all winter, and being home on the island with his business all summer.  Well I’m starting to see the wisdom and agree with my Canadian friends’ idea that “home is where you park it”, and would argue that Ken is far from homeless with his teensy weensy trailer!

Back Roads and Castles Part 2

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.

In addition to clowns, caladines and murals, Lake Placid is also home to Henscratch Farms Vineyard and Winery.  I make my way down Orange Blossom Road with great anticipation after my unique experience at the morning Vineyard.  A few more turns and I am well off the beaten track, slowing to the Henscratch sign, only to discover the parking lot is full!  I have 4 wheel drive, so I make my own spot.  The grounds have a rustic farm charm to them.  There are rows and rows of grape vines, hydroponic strawberry towers, and blue berry patches. People are milling about everywhere!  Picking berries, looking around, and dozens of folks are in the wine tasting building. 

Strawberries are abundant for picking December through March and they have loads of them hanging off the towers, but I show amazing restraint. Blueberries will be available April through June, and the Muscadines and Scuppernogs are ready in August and September.  In addition to picking strawberries, blueberries, grapes, and tasting great wine, the Farm boasts a home made ice cream stand and huge gift shop, complete with a bucket of cheerios to feed their free roaming chickens. Farm fresh eggs are readily available for sale. I zero in on the wine room and survey the selections.  Country White Scuppernog wine.  First time I’ve seen that.  After tasting the honey-like juice, I end up with several bottles of it, along with Red Rooster, a dry Cabernet. 

After feeding a gang of determined chickens, I head to the truck with my tasted and approved purchases. The farm yard is perfect for a dog break, so I let the kids out for a stretch, and give everyone a much appreciated “travel meal”.  As we sit in the parking lot, Buddy catches sight of the chickens and becomes, well, becomes rather confounded.  He starts spinning circles and whining and looking at me with those dialed in, expectant eyes.  He lunges in the direction of the birds, and his leash becomes unhooked.  Before I can react he bolts straight up to the cluster of maybe 6 or 7 hens, I mean bolts right up to them, and launches into a hard core point, almost touching ones tail. Several people rush over and take pictures.  Of course my camera is nowhere to be found. He is frozen in place. The birds are apparently unconcerned. I grab my good hunter by the collar as he is looking up at me from the corner of his eye, and escort him back to the vehicle.  He is so excited I just want to hug him forever and tell him he’s the best, because he is. It’s back into the truck, and we are back on the road again to see what we can discover next.

It’s late afternoon and I don’t have a clue where we are in relation to where we were, or where we are going.  But suddenly we stumble upon Charlottes Webb Pub, a wild and crazy biker bar.  Well it has the potential to be anyway.  It’s pretty quiet now, so I stop for a quick refreshment. I feel like I should be wearing black leather.  I am clearly not blending in. I sit at a small table by the window, typing bar names in the GPS, wondering what would have happened if Buddy would have grabbed that bird.  Lyn and Ted told me about a place out in the middle of nowhere, but I don’t think this is it. The gals working the bar are friendly and chatting with some “regulars”. They think I’m looking for a place that used to be the Bulldog Roadhouse. “Where am I now?  Wauchula?  Where’s that?”  I can tell this would be a great bar to visit when it’s packed and the bands are playing. I can just picture rows of Harleys lined up in front. One of the girls says they have room for campers and RV’s.  Well if only I would have known that back in December!

Nothing is coming up on the GPS, so I finish my drink, give a nod, and am out the door and back on the road again.  I almost feel like we’re driv022ing up and down the same damn roads, but it can’t be.  Then to the right I see a little sign with a castle painted on it, and an arrow pointing ‘this way’.  We follow the signs, are eventually directed down a skinny winding dirt road, and what happens next is certainly the strangest thing so far…..

We arrive to Solomon’s Castle.  Yes, literally, a castle, complete with iron gates, a moat, stone bridges, walking gardens, and even a 16th Century Spanish Galleon ship. It is an amazing, beautiful and fairytale like place. It is the creation of internationally recognized sculptor Howard Solomon.  No detail has been left out in the construction of this Renaissance residence.  Stone guards flank the front doors, There are scores of beautiful stained glass windows throughout the castle. There are sitting gardens, sculptures throughout the grounds, fountains, images of knights and unicorns, it’s simply amazing. There are dozens of cars in the parking lot, but it’s hard to spot any other people around.  I discover the pirate ship is actually a restaurant, known as “Boat In The Moat”, offering breakfast and lunch in carefully carved out areas of the ship and grounds to provide privacy for large groups or private meals, indoor and out020.  It’s getting to be dinner time, but I am able to squeak in a corned beef on rye and a beer inside the ship.  The atmosphere is fun, and the staff are very attentive.  The whole castle is available to rent for special events. They even have a bed and breakfast, “The Blue Room”. After my quick little meal, I walk along the nature trail to the creek, and back.  The Solomon’s actually live here?  Wow.  The next thing I know I’m back at the gate. “Once upon a time…..” 

So my GPS isn’t finding anything, and the servers at Boat In The Moat were not sure about the bar in the middle of nowhere. They were thinking it’s Charlottes Webb, but I am persistent and want to find the place.  So I drive around and around until everything looks the same again.  Desolate roads, thick brushy terrain, and no signs of life.  Finally I don’t make that left turn I keep making.  I go straight. And within 5 minutes I end up at Herbs Limestone Country Club.  I found it!  Yes this is one helluva hole in the wall biker bar, perched on the corner of what must be a life threatening intersection if there were ever any cars on it.  As I look up and down the three straightaway roads that seem to meet at this center point which is the bar, I’m the only sign of life in all directions, and this little bar the only sign of business. I park, and walk up to the entrance.

This building is old, with an old porch front and large lean-to roof, rickety wood benches, a vinyl chair, some stools and a crazy wood carved statue.  To the side of the tiny building is a huge wood railed area carved off where tall tables and benches are, an old truck, and a platform stage in the middle.  I enter, onl023y to be practically attacked by a big burley unidentifiable dog.  A skinny elderly woman races across the small square footage from behind the bar to restrain the dog.  Introducing Zadie, the bar owners mother.  She’s holding down the fort while her son is off running errands. She’s not doing so good with the dog!  Some sort of mastiff-pit bull-bulldog looking dog who is on a mission to let me know this is his bar.  He finally gives up at my lack of fear and settles down on one of the old leather couches lining the tiny room. Zadie and I end up in deep conversation at the bar over the next hour, about dogs, bikers, and what activities go on at the Limestone Country Club.  They’ve been here forever, but her one son passed last year.  They are still trying to pick up the pieces and get back to the business of live music outdoors on hot summer days.  They need to update their flyers. Bikers tour all over this area and hang out here, where some of the best blues and rock in Florida can be found.  I just have bad timing.  I tell her about Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery, and we struggle to even find it on the map. I tell her where I started from at 7:30 this morning. Then I see how far away I am right now.  Dear.  I think it’s time to leave! Zadie urges me to come back soon.  And I will.  

The sun is starting to sink down behind the scrub brush.  I quickly let the dogs out for potty break and some water, then follow Zadie’s directions back to the highway and pick up the GPS signal.  We are on track to make a mad dash back to the campground.  The girls are already sound asleep. We’ll be lucky to pull into camp by 10.  It certainly has been an interesting adventure today!

Escape to Serenity! BWCA August 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.

August 19 – 23, 5 days, 4 nights  Deadline to commit is August 8th. Prepayment post marked by August 10th.
$749.99 per person
Includes food, gear, and transportation as outlined in the trip detail documentary
Pre trip social August  16th 5:00 – 8:00

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