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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

So Long to Clearwater

We move tomorrow to Cordele, Georgia.  We spent one month in Clearwater, filled with family visits, Phillies games, wonderful meals and balmy Florida weather.  We'll miss the warm weather as we move up the Appalachians.

As we say goodbye, here are some miscellaneous photos around the campground.  Most of them were taken at the pond next door, which has been superbly managed.  The water is very healthy and supports a wide diversity of bugs, amphibians, fish and birds.  We wouldn't mind having this in back of our home!

Sir William Conquers Clearwater!

Hi Blog! On Saturday, March 21, 2015, Matt, Weina and William flew down from Toronto to join us for a week in our RV park enjoying the warm Florida sun. The following are some highlights from their visit. We wish we had more pictures to share with you, but we were having too much fun and forgot to take photos.

Sir William made sure we started each day bright and early. Actually it was dark and early, so we had to wait until the sun came up to actually go out. We introduced William to our time honored tradition of taking our coffee for a walk each morning. When we asked William how he took his coffee, he replied just milk, no coffee! The coffee walks usually ended with a little sandbox play. Here Kathy and Sir William show off one of their creations.

As the sun rose higher, it was time to don our hats and sunglasses.  Here Sir William is styling in his new Phillies Spring Training cap (thanks, Great Uncle Tom) and his aviators.

After splashing around in the pool all afternoon, it was time to feast. There is a little restaurant, Villa Bellini, right outside the Clearwater Travel Resort.  It has the best Italian food on the island. When William really likes something, you would be amazed at how much food he can tuck into his little tummy. He ate an entire bowl of pasta with two meatballs! Here the happy family is getting ready to enjoy their dinner (except for William, he started already without us). Don't come between a boy and his pasta!

There was plenty of time for fun and games around the rig. Here William is exploring his new bedroom for the week. Can you say SELFIE?

William especially liked the quilt that Grammie Crew made for YeYe and NaiNai. He carefully examined each panel and said what it was. He thought these birds had a cool name - OWL. Sounds like a booboo, but not spelled that way (get it?  "OW!"?).

Sir William has been attending Montessori School since September. He is getting pretty good at recognizing the letters of the alphabet. He recognizes some words like "birthday" and "green." It won't be long before he's reading. As we took our coffee walks in the morning, he would practice reading the letters in the "No Parking" and "For Sale" signs.

After several nice sunny days filled will playgrounds, pool and beach, we were due for some rain showers. We took this opportunity to do a little shopping. William loves his new Lightning McQueen Crocs! After shopping, we stopped for lunch at Tijuana Flats, a tex-mex place, to fuel up. William loved all the artwork on the walls. He asked YeYe to bring the camera and take some pictures. Below is an example of what impresses a three year boy.

While YeYe and NaiNai kept William busy, Mommy and Daddy had a chance to relax. Weina enjoyed reading her book at the pool and the beach, while Matt had a chance to do some golfing. On girls day out, Kathy and Weina, went to a day spa for a facial, massage and pedicure. What did the boys do you might ask - they took a nap! On date night, Mommy and Daddy went out to dinner and movie, while YeYe and NaiNai stayed home, ate pizza and watched Frozen with William! Best date night ever!

The weather turned a bit chilly later in the week, so we had to wear our hoodies to the sandbox. It never did get sunny enough go swimming, so William spent some time at the local library.

A trip to Clearwater would not be complete without a visit to the Famous Lenny's Restaurant. The waitress was very impressed when Sir William ate an entire belgian waffle.

Here are some seashells William collected to add to his sand castles.

Coloring helped pass the time while waiting for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

All we have left now are memories and some rocks we pulled out of the washing machine. We had a great time vacating with the Toronto Scrantons and can't wait to do it again.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Caladesi Island, Florida

We had a full day today before the Toronto Scrantons come to visit, so we decided to explore Caladesi Island State Park, which is located on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico across St. Joseph Sound to the west of Dunedin, Florida, and north of Clearwater Beach.

It is accessible by ferry from Honeymoon Island State Park, which itself can be reached by causeway across St. Joseph Sound.  The ferry boat runs on the half hour and only seats 49 passengers:

Originally a single, large barrier island, Caladesi Island and Honeymoon Island were separated in 1921 when a hurricane created Hurricane Pass, splitting the original island into two parts. Although Caladesi is still referred to as an island, Hurricane Elena filled in Dunedin Pass south of the island in 1985, making Caladesi "Island" accessible by walking northward from North Clearwater Beach, although there is no road accessibility from that direction.

Tocobaga Indians inhabited the island before the arrival of Spanish, English, Caribbean, and American soldiers, sailors and fishermen who used Caladesi as an anchorage stopover or a site for fish camps.  The island was eventually settled In the 1880s by homesteader Henry Scharrer and his family.  After his wife passed away in 1902, he and his daughter Myrtle lived on this island.

The island is a gem among nature preserves, an entire barrier island with coastal dune, mangrove, maritime hammock, and pine flatwood habitats, all teeming with wildlife.  Visitors can walk the beaches or swim in the Gulf of Mexico, hike a 3-mile nature trail along a mangrove hammock, or kayak the mangrove swamps and islands on the St. Joseph Sound side of the island.

We started by kayaking.  Here, Kathy is navigating out to St. Joseph Sound from inside the mangroves:

We encountered a wide variety of wildlife, including this unique fellow, who we finally researched and found was a juvenile yellow-crowned night heron.  Kathy had the camera and first snapped this photo of him as we approached:

But he let us get very close, as if he wasn't aware we could be dangerous.  He fluffed the feathers on his crown but stayed put and posed for this wonderful photo:

We also found zillions of little mangrove tree crabs, scuttling up and down and all along the limbs of the red mangroves.  This little guy produced the best photo of the lot:

Before paddling back out into the Sound, we found this small beach for a short rest:

Back out on the Sound, we paddled close along the margin of the mangrove islands, where hundreds of mullett were leaping after mosquitoes and other bugs.  We got one good action photo of these delightful fish:

After our kayak, we had time to take a 2-mile walk down the island.  The shoreline is essentially undisturbed except for a few visitors enjoying the 76F Gulf water:

Kathy couldn't resist taking a dip herself in those beautiful blue-green waters:

Some little shore birds were hunting an early dinner in the shallow water:

Because this shoreline is not as heavily visited as others, it is sometimes possible to find unique shells.  We found this colorful piece of shell:

And this palm frond base, burnished to a mahogany brown by the water and lying at the edge of the waves:

A nature trail winds along the hammock on the island, and we worked our way back up the trail after having walked south on the beach.  Here is a representative scene from the hammock trail, with cabbage (sabol) palms, sawtooth palmetto, prickly pear cactus, and a variety of grasses and flowers:

There are burrows throughout the hammock, some as long as 35 feet, dug by gopher tortoises.  These burrows can be inhabited by any number of species of animals, including Diamond Back Rattlesnakes!  While we didn't see any rattlesnakes, we did see the tracks of one sizeable snake that crossed our trail.  We also spotted the tracks of a gopher tortoise --

-- and eventually found Mr. Gopher Tortoise himself, moving deliberately away from us toward shelter in the low bushes:

We had to board the ferry back to Honeymoon Island at 4:30, so we didn't have time to linger.  But we felt the four hours on Caladesi Island was well worth the trip, and intriguing for its unique and lush wildlife.  Driving home, we felt refreshed and recharged for our upcoming visit from Sir William & Co.!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Dunedin House of Beers

Hi Blog! Today is Thursday, March 19, 2015. We're pretty much recovered from the Miller Invasion and are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Toronto Scrantons - Matt, Weina and William. Having prepared as best we can, we decided to take the day off and ride our bikes over to Dunedin. Dunedin (or Dùn Èideann as the Scotts say) is the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. The Scottish motif is used all over town.

Our destination was Dunedin House of Beer. In addition to the 40 taps which are constantly rotating, they have an extensive bottle list, all of which is kept up-to-date on their website.

The beer from the website is displayed on a large flat screen above the taps. One of the coolest features of their beers list is the hot link to the Beer Advocate website so you can read all about the beer and see what others have said before you even try it.

While they will pour 5 ounce samplers, our bartender Sean steered us away from that route. He said he would let us try any beer we wanted and then we could order the one we liked best, that way you don't waste your calories on beer you don't really, really want.  (More places should do this.) Dave picked Schnebly's Little Havana Cafe Con Leche Stout by Miami Brewing Company. It was a dark creamy sweet milk stout which went down smooth with not even a hint of bitterness. 

Kathy really wanted to try Belgo Anise Imperial Russian Stout by Stone Brewing company, but she was a little nervous since Stone is know for their hoppy beers. Sean poured a quick taste and her fears were allayed. This big brew comes in at a whopping 10.50% abv and is served in a tulip glass. Kathy loved the subtle hints of anise. Some reviewers thought it was over the top. Perhaps since we tried it on tap, the flavor may have mellowed compared to the bottle. It was definitely a tasty stout that we would quaf again.

Local salsa and chips provided just the right accompaniment to offset the effects of the high gravity beer. Since we still had 8 miles to bike back to Clearwater, we decided to share the next beer - Founders Backwoods Bastard by Founders Brewing Company, a 10.2% abv scottish style ale.  This "Wee Heavy" is cave aged in oak bourbon barrels. We would definitely buy a case of this beer next time we go beer shopping.

We had a great time talking to Sean about the whole Beer-muda Triangle that exists in Dunedin between Dunedin Brewery, House of Beer and 7venth Sun Brewery. Kathy now has a new friend and a sticker for her journal book.

It wasn't all just beer talk.  We learned a lot, too.  Did you know that Saint Arnold is the Patron Saint of Brewers? Arnold of Soissons or Arnold or Arnulf of Oudenburg (ca 1040–1087) is a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, the patron saint of hop-pickers and Belgian brewers. At the abbey, he began to brew beer, as essential in medieval life as water. He encouraged local peasants to drink beer, instead of water, due to its "gift of health." During the process of brewing, the water was boiled and thus, unknown to all, freed of pathogens. There are many depictions of St. Arnold with a mashing rake in his hand, to identify him. He is honored in July with a parade in Brussels on the "Day of Beer."

Can you say Road Trip to Belgium?

Coffee Walk Photos in Clearwater

Here are three photos from various coffee walks we take in the morning at the campground.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Eddie & George Wake Up with Rick Steves

The boys are hooked.  They decided to take it to the next level.  Eddie asked George, "Who is the Ultimate Vagabond?"  George thought awhile...

Eddie & George Wake Up with the Traveling Gnome

The boys liked this traveling thing.  So they looked up the Traveling Gnome to see what the vagabond life was all about.  We found them somewhere out in the Southwest...

Eddie & George Wake Up With the Free Range Chicken

We're stuck in Clearwater for a month, but Eddie and George are having none of that.  They saw an ad starring the free range chicken and headed out to see what the beef was all about.  Seems they found what they were looking for.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Millers Invade Clearwater!

Hi Blog! As you know, we are spending the whole month of March in Clearwater, Florida. This will be one of our longest stays this year. Staying in one place for so long gives our family up North a chance to catch up with us and enjoy some fun in the sun. We have several family visits scheduled this month, including Kathy's sister, Eileen, along with her husband Tom, their son, T.O. and his wife, Michelle, and their daughter Jen Gobrecht and her husband, Drew.

This is a big year for our brother-in-law, Tom. He turned 60 on March 11th. To celebrate, the entire Miller clan joined us in Clearwater to attend several Phillies game.  While the birthday boy didn't actually arrive until Thursday, March 12th, we were not going to let that stop us from celebrating for the whole weekend.

We started off Friday morning with a trip to the famous Lenny's Restaurant where we arranged with the local balloon man to create a special birthday hat for the birthday boy.

Here are T.O. and Michelle watch in awe as said hat was being created.

After eating mass quantities of breakfast goodies, we walked over to Brighthouse Field to enjoy a day in the sun.  Here Eileen and Tom rock their Phillies garb.

We decided to get into the act with a little styling of our own.

After watching the Phillies beat Tampa Bay 2 to 1, we took Tom out for his birthday dinner to Cody's Original Roadhouse, which just happens to be located next to one of Tom's favorite breweries, Sea Dog Brewing. The happy hour special was two for one drinks. This made for a whole table full of happy campers.  Here is Tom enjoying his free birthday brownie!

Later that night, Jen's husband, Drew, finally made it to Clearwater just in time for a road trip the next day to Lakeland Florida, home of the Detroit Tigers, for an away game. After a pancake breakfast at the RV on Saturday, the entire clan clambered into the mini van for the hour long drive. I can speak no more of this because what happens in the mini-van, stays in the mini-van.

The Tiger's stadium is one of the oldest in the grapefruit league. It was definitely smaller than Brighthouse Field. While you did seem closer to the action, the aluminum bleacher seats made it difficult to sit in the hot sun for the whole game. We decided to bail out early and head to the beach. The Phillies did end up winning 5 to 4.

Our destination was John's Pass, a quaint turn-of-the-century fishing village and boardwalk converted to tourist destination with over one hundred merchants, a variety of restaurants, the local fishing fleet, dolphin watching and shelling tours, boat rentals, parasailing and jet skiing. Here some local residents enjoy hanging out at the fish cleaning station waiting for a few handouts.

After watching the local wildlife, including several pairs of dolphins feeding in the bay, we decided it was time we should eat as well. With so many choices it was tough to decide. Here, Jen and Drew enjoy a couple of Key Lime Coladas at Scully's.

After enjoying all sorts of seafood and frozen drinks, it was time for desert, but we were way too stuffed. However, it was Pi Day and we felt we could not let the day go without having a least one piece of pie. So, we asked the waitress to bring us one piece of pie with 8 forks. We explained it was Pi Day and she was so impressed she Googled it and made the appropriate notation on our pie plate.

After dinner, it was time for a walk on the beach. From left to right in the photo below - Drew, Jen, Kathy, T.O., Eileen and Michelle.  Dave took the photo, while Tom was shopping on the boardwalk. After tucking the sun into bed, we headed over to the arcade where the generations battled head to head in a winner take all skeeball tournament. After several rounds, Michelle was crowned family champion. She was kind enough to share her prize winnings and we each proudly wore the stickers she picked out for us while munching on tootsie rolls.

On Sunday morning, we bid farewell to T.O. and Michelle who had to head back to Philly. The rest of us enjoyed another breakfast at Lenny's and a great ballgame against the Boston Red Sox. The Phillies won 11 to 5. We ended up going back to the RV for Happy Hour. Before long, it was time for Drew to leave us. After a day in the Florida sun, we couldn't drag ourselves out, so we just ate leftovers and worried about Drew's flight being cancelled and the airline putting him up in a hotel and rebooking him for a 6:15 a.m. flight on Monday!

Monday, March 16th was another bright sunny day. Drew finally made it to Philadelphia. We decided to have breakfast at the RV and head over to the field early in order to get autographs. Here Kathy and Eileen hang out by the fountain in front of Brighthouse Fields.

During batting practice, Tom had a chance to chat with Ruben Amaro, Jr., General Manager of the Phillies, while Jen was able to score several autographs from the players. 

One last stadium selfie to memorials our weekend. We didn't stay for the whole game for two reasons, one, the Millers had a flight to catch and, two, the Phillies were getting their buts kicked by the Baltimore Orioles. It was 10 nothing when we left. The final score was 16 to 4. You can tell this photo was taken before the game even started because we are all smiles.

Bon voyage Tom, Eileen and Jen.