Groupon and the Mud Monster Swamp Buggy Ride

We found something called "Florida's Adventures in Paradise Mud Monster Swamp Buggy Ride" on Groupon and decided to give it a try. It's on Merritt Island on Florida's east coast, about a 2 1/2 hour drive from us. We were surprised to find that it's located at the edge of a residential area. The place offers several things, like tractor rides and a small zoo. There were a few animals on display around the office area, including a lizard, lemurs and a mid-sized pig. 

After a few minutes our ride showed up, and we were ready for a swamp adventure. The vehicle looked like it could roll through swamps without any trouble.
We fastened our seat belts and were off! But soon we realized this wasn't a swamp adventure at all. All it was, was a fast drive over the terrible, pot-holed roads that surround the office. We almost never got out of sight of the office building - no swamps, no gators, nothing. The roads were so bad that we got tossed around really hard. Now we understood why some of the seatbelts were broken - Pete's broke partway through the ride. This was not what we were expecting!
We survived  and went looking for or seafood for lunch. Fortunately we found Molly's Seafood Shack. We haven't had oysters since February, and it was high time we had some more! These oyster were maybe just a shade less sweet than the May River oysters of South Carolina, but they were delicious anyway. Then Randy and I split a blackened Mahi Mahi sandwich and fries, which was enough to fill us up nicely. 

Since we were so close to the ocean, we went to Cocoa Beach again. The water was quite a bit colder than the last time we were here, but still as beautiful and entrancing. Wish we could live on a beach!

Christmas Lights

Even though the weather is warm, Florida residents still pride themselves on Christmas light displays. Since this is our first Christmas in the house, we were short on decorations - there wasn't much room in the RV to store things used once a year! We did still have some sentimental ornaments, but we still had to buy a lot of new ones. So this year we got a modest tree.
But our neighbors put up a lot in their yards, and the mobile home park has an annual golf cart parade. Golf carts are the thing in Florida. I was on my way to church when the parade passed by, but I got to see most of it. 
One night Pete drove us all out to see the big light displays around town. In some neighborhoods in the Villages, everyone on a street have decorated their houses with lights in sequence to the same music, which was beautiful. And Venetian Gardens, where we went for the 4th of July, did a big display, too, near the lake.
Another night we all went to Cottom Farms in Lady Lake. Every year they put on a huge display that covers several acres.
Up on a small hill is a lovely house, with each room decorated differently. The living room is a Christmas wonderland,  
but my heart belongs to the white and pink bedroom. I want this!


Across the canal from us are a few docks. One guy was cleaning fish he'd caught off his dock, and a large Blue Heron stood on the dock roof. As the guy cleaned fish, he'd toss the guts up on the roof. The heron gobbled them up, then waited patiently for more. They looked like old friends, enjoying a regular routine.

A Christmas dinner to remember

After spending an early Christmas with Mom and family in Illinois, I got to enjoy Christmas at home with Randy and friends. We went to church services last night and this morning, then Randy got into the kitchen to finish dinner. Pete and Donna joined us, which was a good thing because there was so much food! Randy started dinner with shrimp cocktails. 
Next came lightly-browned Duchess potatoes,
and Brussel sprouts sautéd with bacon, red onion and parmesan cheese. 
The star of the meal was prime rib with horseradish sauce. I am not a big beef-eater, but I will knock people over for this when Randy makes it. 
We sat around the table for a while before trying to fit in dessert - chocolate creme brûlée, topped with caramelized turbinado sugar. 
Then food coma set in; we never got to the pecan pie.

Joy of home ownership

Oh, the joys of home ownership, which includes crawling under the house to replace a shower drain. It's a difficult space to work in, and since it's not entirely enclosed, it's also home to spiders and other creepy things. Fun, fun, fun!


In mid-December the Village View Community Church hosted a Ladies Tea, aka "Ladies' Refresh".  Each table for eight was either decorated by the staff or by the table hostess. In our case, it was a bit of both; Donna and I volunteered to help set tables, so we included our table, using the church's settings. 
The wait staff were volunteers, too - men from the church. Our table had the very best waiter - Randy! They were short on volunteers so Randy had 4 tables instead of 2, and he kept busy. He took a fair amount of grief from our table, but still delivered good service. Unfortunately we shorted him on tips!
The tea consisted of fruit pudding, quiche, thin ham slices, scones with Devonshire cream and chocolate cake. Jaylee was so impressed with Devonshire cream that after everyone had what they wanted, she picked up a spoon and ate the rest like ice cream! Everything was good and I enjoyed it all, but no doubt, Randy does better

The Refresh was very well attended; there must have been over a hundred people there. The entertainment was 3 young ladies singing, then an excellent violinist who shared her music and her testimony. Nice event, glad we went!

Back from Washington

My trip to Washington was great - I got to spend so much time with Mom. At the start of my visit we had a beautiful snowfall. It looks so lovely on the trees, 
but not nearly as good on the car!
We visited Walmart, Ectera, Walmart, Goodwill, Walmart, another Goodwill, Walmart, another Goodwill, Walmart, estate sales, Walmart, and resale shops (there is a theme here). I took her to doctor visits and to the library, where she volunteers every week. We went to Menard's several times, because I dug up the grassy strip between the garage and the alley, and replaced it with rocks, edged with big pavers.  

 We went to an office that offers enhanced-hearing phones, and Mom was so impressed that the next day, when we drove to Hanna City to pick up her friend Kathleen, we went back to the office so Kathleen could check out the phones for herself. We squeezed that stop in between visits to Goodwill and lunch at DQ. 

The town of Washington seemed to be in a weird pricing zone. A dozen eggs for 38 cents, and a gallon of milk for 99 cents - sure wish we could find those prices in Florida!

Towards the end of the trip, the weather turned freezing cold, down in the mid-twenties. I haven't driven on ice in so long that I didn't want to try it, so I was glad that I got to visit Sharon a couple of times, plus her awesome daughter Vicky, before the weather turned bad.
The funniest thing on the trip was this billboard in Washington:

Off line for awhile

It's time for another visit to Mom. Somehow Randy found a direct flight for me from Orlando to Peoria - I didn't think that happened anymore!  

Since Mom doesn't have a computer, I will spend the next few days completely off-line. No Google. No Wikipeida. No Youtube. That's kind of hard for me, but worse is being away from Randy. The last time I did this, I said I'd never do it again. But I'm missing Mom, so off I go!

Crepe Myrtle

When we bought our house, it came with a badly-overgrown crepe myrtle tree at the edge of the front yard.
One of the first things we did was trim the tree and pull out all the Spanish Moss and Ball Moss I could reach. It had not been trimmed in so long that it was way too tall to get all the air plants out, but it started blooming again so we decided to wait until February to cut it back to a better height. 
However, as the rains made our neighbors' trees flourish, our tree started going downhill. The Spanish Moss and Ball Moss were multiplying like crazy, taking over. Only the edges of the branches had green leaves; everything else was dead and filled with moss.
Rather than just let the tree die, we decided to cut it down to a manageable size now. For a few weeks it looked like a big dead stump. Fortunately crepe myrtles love to re-sprout from branch cuts, so a few weeks later it started to come back. 
I don't know if this new growth will make it through the winter, but the tree is healthy enough that come spring,it will be lovely! 

Happy Thanksgiving and a very Merry Black Friday

This year Randy didn't cook for 70 people (Hilton Head Island Motorcoach Resort) or 121 people (Mission Village RV Park), or 10 people (Vista, CA), or cook 15 turkeys (Community Church in Riverside, CA). This year he just cooked for ourselves and Brenda and Woody, who drove all the way from Homosassa to join us. He brined the turkey the day before so it was juicy and tasty, and served it with dressing, sweet potato casserole, corn, deviled eggs, and yeast rolls, from an old family recipe. 
 And from a new family recipe (his own), he made that wonderful cranberry relish. 
We tried really hard not to eat ourselves into a food coma this year. But after dinner we had pumpkin pie, fudge, pecan clusters, and Brenda's pecan pie, so we didn't have much of a chance. 

The next evening Pete and Donna went with us to downtown Leesburg for their Christmas Stroll. The city blocked off several blocks and filled them with food booths, games, and vendors. They even have a snow run for sliding down on a round sled!
A local farm brought in a lot of animals for a petting zoo, and a few extra just for show. A large white goose with curly feathers was a big hit; he's a Sebastopol goose, and I think he's adorable.
A couple of Christmas Elves were walking around on stilts. When they stopped to talk to children, they would somehow lower themselves to a sitting position. I don't know how they did it, but the kids loved them.
In the town square was a 24 foot tree of lights. The lights kept changing colors as different dancing groups danced around it. 
The side streets were full of activities like wall climbing, pony rides, tractor hay-rides, a kid's "rock and roll" band made of very young volunteers, and a juggler who put on a good all-around show.
Leesburg is very proud of the fact that they have "snow". It's really tiny soapy bubbles, but they have the consistency right so it floats down like a soft snowfall. And it's not cold, so it's enjoyable as well as pretty!
The highlight was Santa Claus. He showed up at 6 and from that moment on, he was wonderful. He understood that the parents wanted great pictures; this guy was ridiculously photogenic.  He would swap hats or glasses with a child to make them smile. When he couldn't make a baby smile, he would put on a wonderfully goofy face, to make the picture memorable. But best of all, he spent time with each child, talking to them, holding their hands, giving hugs. He would look them straight in the eyes while they talked, as if they were the most important person he knew. As Donna said, this guy makes you feel like you've actually met Santa Claus!

Big Birds on the water

It's finally getting cooler now. Sometimes it's in the high 60s in the early morning, and it never gets up to 90 degrees during the day. A welcome change! We took the boat out again for a quick trip into Lake Griffin. So lovely!
On the way back through the canal to our dock I tried to take a picture of the lovely great blue heron standing on the bank. I didn't even notice the HUGE alligator in the water. Just his head was visible, but it was big enough to impress me!
We don't see alligators this big in our part of the canal, but the herons visit us. One likes to stand on the dock across from us and watch what's going on. It's hard not to feed him but so far I've resisted. I'm glad he comes fishing here!

One year ago: Rock Gardens and Smudge Pots
Two years ago: Preparing Thanksgiving dinner
Three years ago: Mom vs the tornado
Four years ago: Meet Shorty
Five years ago: Windy Florida
Six years ago: Pawn Stars, Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon
Seven years ago: Relaxing in Arizona

Silver Springs State Park

Thanks to Groupon, we got a good deal on tickets to the Glass Bottom Boat ride at Silver Springs State Park. This is billed as Florida's oldest tourist attraction, which is probably true since they started in 1878. The water here is crystal clear - you can see all the way to the bottom, even when it's down 30 feet or more. This beautiful water made a great movie set - they filmed a lot of water scenes here for films like "Tarzan the Ape Man" and "Creature from the Black Lagoon". Our tour guide showed us the cave that the Creature was filmed coming out of. 
This is a shallow cave, but another one goes down really deep. Divers made it down 80 feet, although they had to remove their tanks to squeeze through. The vent continued down, but they couldn't go further.
Since this spring is so old, there are a few artifacts at the bottom. And since the water is so clear, the artifacts are visible. The large rock formation looked enough like a possible dinosaur backbone that divers investigated it (it's just a rock), and found an ancient boat section next to it. 
River otters were having a great time playing in the water, but they are much to quick to photograph. But Randy spotted a little alligator near the shore that decided to swim right up to the boat, then swam next to us for awhile. 
We enjoyed the boat ride enough that we may come back sometime for the longer ride offered on the weekends. 

After the ride we had lunch (included in the Groupon), then decided to walk around the area. There are miles of walkways in the park but today we stayed on the boardwalk near the springs. When the guide gave us directions to get to it, she said we might see the monkeys today, but it's a good idea to leave them alone. Monkeys? Yes, there is a feral troop here. The story is that in the 1930s a few monkeys were brought in as an attraction on one of the islands. The owners didn't know monkeys can swim; the monkeys did, so they left the boring island and took to the treetops along the springs. And although they are not seen very often, we saw them today. In fact, one walked along the boardwalk handrail right towards us. I wanted to get closer, but Randy's wiser head prevailed.
Soon it joined the small troop that was jumping around in the treetops and they all disappeared. And we walked on. It is so beautiful here, so unspoiled. The forest looks wonderfully primeval, and the sounds of birds and monkeys makes it even better. 

Breakfast of Champions

Little Julienne's arthritis has been acting up, making her want to sit around and not do much. I thought we should give her a little bit of aspirin but when we checked with our Illinois vet, he said glucosamine would be more effective and less dangerous. So glucosamine it is. Now every morning she gets a special breakfast. It starts with her anti-seizure medicine, which she has been taking every day since September, 2013
Then we add a little ground-up glucosamine. Randy used his lightweight cooking scale to determine the dosage, and it turns out to be a "pinch", according to the cutesy measuring spoons we never thought we'd find a use for.
Then a little olive oil, because olive oil is good for everyone and mixes everything together.
And lately we have a couple more things to add. This week we took her to a local vet and he prescribed some pills to help manage the pain as her joints heal. So one half of a round pill,
and one half of a long pill (she gets the other halves at night).
The olive oil probably tastes ok and the seizure med is butterscotch-vanilla flavored, but I imagine the glucosamine and pills taste awful. So to encourage consumption, we add a bit of a treat. (Plus, treats were the only way Julienne accepted getting her meds for since 2013, so I don't think we can quit now). 
Since we can't play favorites, Shorty gets a striped down version - just olive oil and treat. And then they both enjoy their breakfast!