Monday, November 28, 2016

Tampa Time!

After a terrific two week stay in Ocala, on Saturday, November 26, we headed to Tampa (Florida) to camp at Hillsborough River State Park and spend a week with my sister and brother-in-law.  An added bonus was a visit with both my niece and nephew and their families, a wonderful reunion!  We got a kick out of the kids, ages 7, 6, 3, and 2 1/2, as they ran and played, and I even got to join in the creative imaginary games of my youngest great-niece, Sophie!  There's something to be said about using your imagination when you're an adult!

Nephew Steven and great-niece Sydney!

Sister Linda with her hubby David and my great-nieces Sadie and Sydney, and great-nephew Mason.

Great-nieces Sadie and Sophie!

My nephew Steven with his wife, Lauren and son, Mason.  Glenn with his daughter, Sydney.

Niece, Sheryl with her husband Glenn.

The state park is really pretty, with lots of palmettos, tall palms, and other trees.  Sites are kind of close, but we lucked out in a nice spot with a campsite on only one side of us.  Each night we hear barred owls calling and we have had them in trees very close to our trailer!  No luck in actually spotting them, though.

My brother-in-law, David, has a orchid collection on their lanai in Tampa, and a couple of orchids were in bloom while we visited.  Even without blooms, there are unique plants there.

One day we took a ride over to Tarpon Springs, a community with a heavy Greek influence that goes back to the days when the first Greek divers for sponges came here to establish their businesses.  Along with boats in the harbor and piles of sponges, there were many Greek restaurants, and lots of shops, some touristy and some not!  We ate a terrific meal at Hella's followed by some yummy desserts from their bakery, and then we just meandered for a while.  

Flaming cheese...oompah!!  And, really good!

Key lime is definitely not a Greek dessert, but I couldn't resist!

Took a drive to Apollo Beach, where the big Tampa electric company plant, where the warm waters draw in manatees.  Except for two very distant manatees, too far for a photo but visible in the binoculars, we saw no wildlife to speak of.

With sister, Linda!

The best view of a manatee we got all morning!

We also went to a Cuban restaurant for lunch in south Tampa for great yellow rice and beans, fried plantains, yuca, Cuban bread and more.  The location isn't the best, but the food was worth it! Check the sign out carefully for a good laugh!

We left Tampa Friday, December 2 as we begin a northward drive toward the Florida panhandle.  Plans to camp a few nights at St. Joseph's Peninsula State Park starting Sunday.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

On this sunny, 80 degree day, we give our thanks for our blessings from Ocala National Forest!  We hope you have had a happy holiday with friends and family.

Yesterday, we braved grocery shopping, and as we thought, everyone else decided to do their last minute shopping as well!  Wall to wall people.  We had planned on eating Thanksgiving dinner at a local Cracker Barrel, but changed our minds and decided to eat outdoors in this beautiful spot!  We're glad we did!

Michael picked up a rotisserie chicken for himself along with stuffing that he "doctored up" with sausage. Since I don't eat any meat, I ate all the trimmings including fresh green beans, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes.  And sweet potato pie for dessert.  Eating under tall long leaf pines draped with Spanish moss, and live oaks only added to the happiness of this day!

The cooking over fire begins!  The above became this:

As the evening wore on, a few more campsites became occupied, much to our surprise.  One couple said that they camp here every Thanksgiving through the weekend, and the campground fills up as hunting season begins the day after Thanksgiving.  Our timing for camping here was perfect!

After dinner campfire!

The other night we went down to the water with our chairs and Nevelle and enjoyed the sunset hour.  I know I keep mentioning the vultures, but the sheer numbers of them is amazing.  Although we counted upwards of 70 in one kettle (group of birds circling on thermals) plus one bald eagle, the iPad lost charge before I could get a photo of that group.  But these will give you an idea:

Nevelle watching the activity!

Pretty views across Lake Eaton:

Nevelle found the tiniest little frog today that I gently moved away:

Speaking of Thanksgiving, 14 turkeys meandered by our campsite last evening.  Funny timing!:

All three kitties enjoying the outdoors!:

Nevelle continues to love being outside on his tie-out, and the kittens seem to love being in their crate, getting used to the outdoors.  We just bought two harnesses and leashes to start training them to go for walks.  First, we will put the harnesses on for a bit at a time, so they can get them used to them.  

A few nights ago, Michael cooked a great vegetarian dinner for me using the Solo gasification camp stove.  Northern white beans, raisins, and a variety of vegetables made a delicious stew!  He added canned chicken to his version.  Food tastes so great cooked over a fire!  The Solo is a double-walled stove that uses either charcoal or bio-mass (leaves, sticks, pine cones) and creates a smokeless fire.  The fire is drawn down and through the two walls to create an efficient fire.  We've had this stove since day one and it is one of our best purchases.  It is great to have when we don't want to make a campfire or don't have the means for a campfire.

We're departing the national forest Saturday morning for a two hour drive to Tampa.  This has been a great stay.  Only $4/night with a senior pass, and except for the hosts and another camper here and there, we have had the place pretty much to ourselves until tonight. Quiet and pretty - can't ask for much more than that!

We will "Walmart camp" Saturday night after a family visit on Saturday, then move over to Hillsboro State Park until Friday, December 2.  We will spend the week with family before departing on the 2nd.
We will begin to head back to the Florida panhandle and toward the west to Texas.  There's a camping gathering on north Padre Island in Texas starting the 5th of January that we are planning to go to.

This afternoon, a monarch butterfly and a cloudless sulphur butterfly went by, but never settled for a photo. Calling from above was a red-shouldered hawk...more like a cry!  As the sunset, large dragonflies flew all around us.  Love it all!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Florida Week Still

Friday, November 18, and we are still hunkered down in Ocala National Forest as it is a beautiful spot and we aren't anxious to leave!  We are going to stay through Thanksgiving, departing on Friday, the 25th.  We will head towards Tampa for a weeklong visit with my sister and brother-in-law, and nieces and nephews.

The forest is so pretty and we have done some walking on forest paths, enjoying the beauty.  Our campground is on a lake and fisherfolk come through to a pier to do some fishing.  We still are surrounded by birds, especially black and turkey vultures that gather above us in the morning and early evening.  Listening th the wind through their wings is pretty cool! 

Unusual pink lichen!

Vultures in the tree tops.

We have had chilly nights and mornings, but once the sun is up the temps hit the mid-seventies and it is glorious!  Until it warms up, though, we are in pants and fleece and socks sitting by a fire to ward off the chill.

Michael has been cooking over a fire, chicken for himself, and breakfast of eggs for us both.  Yesterday, he baked potatoes in the coals.  Since we didn't have foil, he used some tin cans to put the potatoes into for cooking.  Boy, were these delicious!

Getting ready to bake potatoes in the coals.

There have been interesting bugs and one type of grasshopper visits us regularly!

Even in the forest, the real world isn't very far away.  Last night I spent an hour on the phone with a terrific insurance agent who works with full-time RV'ers, so I could choose a health insurance plan for 2017.  Without boring you with details, the ACA/Health Insurance Marketplace has been a challenge to  navigate.  With sound advice last night,  I made a good choice for coverage for next year.  With our domicile in Texas, I am limited to an HMO through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas.  Since we spend two to three months in Texas a year, I can get all of my medical needs handled while there.  Hopefully, 2017 will be another healthy year!

Next week, we have a vet appointment for the kittens to get booster shots they need.  We use Banfield  Pet Hospital, at Petsmarts, as they are all over the country and each facility has access to our pets' records.  It works out really well.  The kittens are growing quickly and are rambunctious and affectionate!  Nevelle is more used to them and has relaxed around them.  Nevelle loves being outdoors with us on a leash, and we have now begun to bring the kittens out in a large crate so they, too, can enjoy the outdoors.  They love it and have shown no nervousness about it.  And when they are inside the trailer, Nevelle will often use the crate!

See you in a few days!