Thursday, November 30, 2006

Christmas - Not Holidays

I don't know when 'they' decided that it's not the done thing anymore to use the word Christmas in adverts and stores and even in common greetings. Tomorrow is Dec 1st and although decorations have been up for weeks and it seems store displays have been going for months, as far as I'm concerned, from tomorrow we'll be in the Christmas period.

Now whether this is a happy or sad time for individuals, that's a different matter and simply reflects what's going on in your life right now........and I'm not going to get into that here. Since I started coming to America in 1989, I've only spent a few Christmas periods in the UK. I always knew that over here they say Happy holidays from a few days before Thanksgiving and keep it going till the first few days of New Year. I can see some logic in this as after all, that greeting and the mental imagery behind it, combines the holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year.

We Brits don't have Thanksgiving of course as we were glad to get rid of those pesky pilgrims ! Only joking. As with several other countries, we do have Harvest Festivals but these aren't important events and certainly not on a par with Thanksgiving Day in the US with it's Macy's Parade, turkey meals and of course, a few NFL games to send us all to sleep while the eaten turkey processes nicely. Gotta recharge the batteries for the exertions of Black Friday after all !

So, ok then, saying Happy Holidays is fine by me. What I DO have a problem with, however, are those people who don't want the word Christmas used at all and try to ban it from schools, stores and just about everywhere - presumably in case it offends those of a non Christian persuasion. Bah and humbug to them all.

I realise that anything to do with Christ is based more on faith than on any historical facts and I think we're all aware and accept that if HE did exist, then he certainly wasn't born on 25th December and all the palaver that goes with this in the sky, wise men, gifts and so on. But so what ? Many special holidays and celebrations aren't based on any facts and as long as they serve to focus our thoughts and actions on something good, then I'm all for it.

Again I know that commercialism has taken over Christmas but that's another post topic entirely It seems that the pressures get worse every year for parents and friends to spend way beyond their means and sink deeper into credit card debt to buy presents that may or may not be appreciated by the recipients who have such high expectations now. "Hey mom/dad, what were ya thinking ?? A pc with an 80gb HDD for goodnesss sake !!! How am I supposed to store my ipod tunes on THAT ? And I said widescreen, people. That's WIDE screen ya know. Not this little plasma thing. Geez. I was 'good' all year and this is the thanks I get "

Ok so much for saying that was to be the topic for a different post ! Off my soapbox now.

Well it looked like it would be a good evening for some more sunset watching here and so I jumped on my bike and with my camera around my neck, I headed off down the road to the lake. I went along the edge of the water but before I got to the gazebo (see a previous post for why I call it that), I came upon this critter.

It was walking slowly along finding a few morsels of food every now and then. It was pretty timid and I had to hide behind a thick tree to get this photo - at least that's my story, officer !

The sun had actually set and the bird was almost black but the flash went off and cast a nice light on it.

I was anxious to avoid being bitten again, so I didn't hang around to get any more shots. I was quite pleased with this one anyway and thanks to this plus point for digital photography, I could see the result and leave there and then.

On the way 'home' I decided to go on to get some photos of some of the wonderful CHRISTMAS decorations being put up on homes here in the park. It would be tempting to think that few residents would bother with decorations given that we're in Florida, in a retirement community and we're all oldies But this is far from the truth and many homes are beautifully decorated already and it's still November - just.

This is my favourite and the work that has gone into it's creation is just amazing. Sadly I had my telephoto lens with me and so wasn't able to go back far enough to get the whole display in the photo - but you get the idea from this shot. I also need to experiment more to get better night-time shots But I was also getting bitten and so I wasn't able to mess around too long.

By now it was pitch black and I've no lights on my bike. Many of the evening events start at 6:30pm so a lot of cars and golf carts were out and about in the park and I was a little nervous about riding my bike home. It's not that I couldn't see my way but more that I couldn't be seen by those out driving around.

As a last shot, I zoomed in on the false chimney on top of the car port. If you click on the photo above to enlarge it and look closely at the car port roof, you'll see a red chimney and parts of the outline of Santa and his sledge approaching it from the left.

I didn't realise until I zoomed in that there were bubbles coming out of this false chimney. How cool.

The owner was a bit puzzled as he said they were on a timer and shouldn't be 'blowing' right now. Well maybe not, but it was a bonus for me and I'm glad I was able to get a shot of it all.

Again you'll need to enlarge the photo and you'll see the bubbles over and down the right side of the chimney.

It was time to peddle off and like I said before, I did so with some trepidation. I skirted the pool area without mishap and avoided the golf carts coming towards me and was on the final leg when I almost had a disaster. I was going around the final corner when I came upon a lady out walking her dog. I'm not sure who was the most surprised but i think on reflection that it was her. At least I saw her first and so was prepared for the swerve I had to do to avoid her. She, on the other hand, never saw me until I whizzed past her and she actually jumped. I'd like to apologise to her here and now but I've no idea who she was - mostly as it was VERY dark and I was by her in a second. Sorry, ma'am.

I'd like to think she's forgiven me by now as after all, it IS Christmas and isn't this the time for peace and love to all MEN ??!! If not, then I wish her Happy Holidays. There, I've covered all the bases.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thanks...... For The Memories

Yesterday was Thanksgiving here. I typed a large post during the evening but didn't save it to draft as I went along and the laptop powered down when the temp rose in here - and I lost the lot. I was a bit upset and said so......several times in fact !!

My post was all about Thanksgiving, Christmas and all things American so I'll try and recreate my thoughts.

Thanksgiving is BIG here and not just because most workers get the day off work. I say 'most' workers cause every year less and less stores close down and it's easy to see why. Black Friday. But more of that later.

I was trying to imagine what the first Thanksgiving meal would've been like. If indeed it ever took place at all, it's been so covered in non historical nonsence that just about any record of it has to be taken with a pinch of the proverbial. The pilgrims came over from jolly olde England and after a few months of killing the natives and building up the McDonalds franchise, they decided to have a nosh up to celebrate the good times. So they took a break from giving baubles in exchange for pieces of land, like Delaware and Virginia, and carved the first turkey - which up until then had been used as beasts of burden. It's all true, y'know !

Anyhooo, four thousand or so years later, Americans drive from all over the place to get home for a replica of that first Thanksgiving meal and I went to a very different version of it yesterday. Over the last 15 years I've spent more Novembers in America than in the UK so I've had a lot of Thanksgiving meals - but they've been with my American family (friends really but after so many years spent with them, hell, we're all family now).

This year, being that we're down here in sunny Florida for the winter, we went to a community meal partially laid on by the owners of the park, bless their cotton socks. The main fixings, so to speak, were cooked by park volunteers and included the turkey, mashed taters, gravy, stuffing and sweet potatoes. Everyone who went had signed up to take something to add like veggies and dessert and rolls and so on. Given the ages of us all, you can imagine the collective culinary experience on display.

We went down early to set up and find our places. There were 12 to a table and we were on table 15. I know of a table 17 so that would be over 200 sitting down to eat.

I loved seeing the row of golf carts and this photo only shows those at the bottom of our road in the park as it leads directly to the hall where the meal was being prepared. There were loads more surrounding the other sides of the building. Awesome.

We were due to eat at 2pm but things were running a bit late and we actually started at 2:30 or so. Deb/Den had volunteered to take meals to 2 'shut ins' who were couples who couldn't make it to the hall. It turned out that one of them had managed to make it after all so that was a wasted trip but the other couple were so pleased to get their Thanksgiving meal on wheels !

It was a party atmosphere inside and many tables were decorated. Those who were old hands at this fixture had thought to bring everything from candles to wine glasses to pep up their tables and the food/drink.

We were a table of newbees so had no such goodies but that meant more room for the food. Always a good thing.

This shot shows everyone mingling with their table friends before settling down to eat. It was fun and it was so weird as even though people put their names on table lists totally at random, 10 of the 12 at our table were from Michigan. What a small world.

A couple of the residents were celebrating birthdays and their friends had made special cakes for them called kitty litter cakes. Two of these cakes were taken between the tables to be presented to them and I didn't think I'd get to see why they were called kitty litter cakes. Just before we started eating (great timing really), one of the cakes was passed around so we could all see it.

The name was pretty apt really but I never got the opportunity to ask what were the ingredients. I was assured though that it was an 100% edible cake - but the litter scoop was real and so not to be eaten. Glad they told me.

And so we all tucked into our Thanksgiving meal and not one word about the origins of it was ever mentioned. No words about the pilgrims. Nothing at all about giving thanks. Not a sausage about the first turkey all those centuries ago.

But no words were really needed. Over 200 people had come together to share food prepared by all of them. These people gave of themselves and is this materialistic world, what could possibly be a better way to honour and remember those hardy souls who came over to start a new life in a new world. They'd have been proud.

Did I say materialistic ? Ah yes, well that brings me to Black Friday......a day not known to many folks outside of America and for good reason. It's a bit like The World Series as only America takes part in it. Sorry, but it's been a while since I got in a dig about that.

Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving when for a few hours when most of us are tucked up in bed, those retail junkies who just can't bear to miss a sale opportunity, stand dutifully in line outside stores and wait for the 5am opening. From 5am until 11am (these are the usual BF sale hours) most big stores have crazy price reductions to tempt the punters to fight their way inside to try and find the one or two products actually at those prices. It's a zoo and not for the faint-hearted.

These days, the stores all have web sites and those in the know can let their fingers do the shopping and can even do it from the warmth and comfort of their beds.........the best place to be at 5am in my mind. A dvd recorder/vcr recorder combo for $99 ? Yea sure but you try getting your sticky (frozen) fingers on one. You've more chance of finding a call center agent without an Indian accent. I admit I was tempted to try for a $49.99 digital camcorder but what were the chances ? Yep. Slim to Indian.

Actually the utility company down here and other non related events did their best to get me out of my bed in time for the BF sale. First of all the electricity went off at 11:30pm on Thursday and stayed off till about 12:30am. This is when I realised just how much I rely on light to get into bed in this trailer. Remember I'm on a blow up mattress with not much walking room (or stumbling room in this case) around it. I groped for my torch but had to give up and just feel my way into the sleeping bag. Thankfully the fridge/freezer switched automatically to gas and back again when electric power was restored. Then it went off again and I fell asleep before it came back so I've no idea how long it was out for. This process happened a third time and the units powering up woke me at some crazy hour.

At 4:20am some trash collection noises from the park next to ours woke me again and then at 5:15am Deb's cell phone decided to let me know it needed recharging - it was on the table near my bed - and made a nasty noise every 3 or 4 minutes until I got up and plugged it in. Although while standing there in the pre dawn darkness I thought about Black Friday, I'm glad to report that I stood firm against that $49.99 digital camcorder.

Now if only more people would do the same, then the retailers might wise up and start these stupid sales at a reasonable 9am. The people who line up at 5am would still line up at 9am - and many more would join them. Shouldn't that be what the retailers want ? I'm obviously missing something here and the whole thinking behind having all the big stores starting their sales at the same daft hour is beyond me. If I got up at 3am to get to a store to stand in line to get that big sale item at 5:10am, I'd then be heading home to drop back into bed to catch up on my sleep. Now if I had a good nights sleep and got into that same line in time for the start of a 9am sale, I'd probably stay and shop for a lot longer AFTER I'd got my hot sale item......maybe even have lunch in the store restaurant or the food court and make a day of it. Lots more money in the store tills and everyone is happy........and nobody is cranky and tired.

Having said that, I guess I'm a two time loser as not only did I not get any sale items but I also woke up cranky and tired due to all the interruptions to my sleep.

A Black Friday indeed.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Blood, Sweat & Tears !!

This community park may be full of oldies but the state still demands it's pint of blood from them !

Ok that's stretching the truth a bit as I'm only refering to giving blood voluntarily. Last Friday the 'big red bus' pulled up and the residents were offered the customary drink and cookies in exchange for a few pints of their precious blood. To sweeten the offer even more, you'd get a $10 restaurant coupon for every 2nd visit. That's a powerful lure !

I initially thought that not too many stepped up, despite such offers. Lets face it, most of them need what blood they have. I'm sure some would've wanted to make a withdrawal rather than make a deposit at this particular bank. But then I remembered that there had been a sign-up sheet and so people were arriving in ones and twos all day at their alloted times. The bus only had 4 beds and so it never looked busy but it was really taking blood to it's capacity.

Deb had signed up and was hoping to be able to give for the first time. She has low iron and this meant never being accepted before. She was more confident this time as she'd been taking vitimins and so we went down to the bus just before noon. I've never given blood in the UK and so have no idea what paperwork we Brits are presented with, but here the medical Q & A form was enough to put you off. There was even a question about spending time in the UK between 1980 and 1995 I think - I assume this had something to do with Mad Cow Disease and not a slur on my country as such. Oh I'm sorry but you visited Stonehenge and Madame Tussauds in 1990 so your blood has been tainted !!!! Maybe you went to Buckingham Palace and have blue blood now.

After the form was completed, she went to have a quick test with a pin prick of blood being taken to check her iron and maybe other things. It was close, the closest yet, but sadly she was JUST short of the levels required and was advised to try again on Monday. Eat a few iron bars over the weekend or something. I donno.

The good thing was that they stamped her card anyway and so we're hoping that even if she fails again today, she might get another stamp and so get the $10 coupon. She just left for it so I'll add the update before publishing this post.

After all that excitement we went a few feet round the corner of the building to have lunch at the 'cafe-on-the-lake'. This is not the grand edifice that it sounds but it's a wonderful place to gather outdoors and eat a light meal from 11:30 - 13:00 Mon to Fri.

It's basically a permanent trailer although all of the grilling takes place just outside it. The inside is for the volunteer staff to take the orders, pass them to the cooks outside on the right and then take the cooked meat back inside again and create whatever order the customer asked for - plain burger with lettuce, tomato and onion or cheeseburger or hot dog or chilli dog and so on. There are plenty of healthier options on the menu as well but come on, if you can't have a burger when you're this age, what's the point ?

The daily special (burger or hot dog or whatever) comes with a bag of chips and a can of pop and all for $2.50. Excellent value and of course you KNOW the meat has been freshly cooked as you can see it being done. Sure you can get 'better' professional fast food offers from time to time (like the current one of 2 Whoppers for $2) but for one thing you'd probably spend another $2 driving to Burger King and much as I like Whoppers, you'd never be sure when the meat was initially cooked.

In any case, it's another great opportunity to mingle with other residents, as can be seen in the photo, and so we love going there a few times a week.

The next day was the BIG game and if you go back and read my college football post, you'll know that I'm talking about Michigan v Ohio State. It was made even more special this season as both teams were 11-0 and were 1 and 2 in the standings. I'll make this brief as sadly Michigan lost so a heavy gloom settled over the trailer. I was gloomy even before the game started as back in the UK, Leeds had lost 3-0 at home and were back in the Championship relegation zone. Unbelievable for a team in the semi finals of the Champions League only a few years ago.

Sporting tears dominated the weekend as Annika failed miserably in the golf - although she doesn't really need another $1 million anyway - and Tiger lost in a playoff in far off China. England drew in cricket and lost in Rugby. Oh and The Falcons lost in the NFL just to make my weekend complete.

Medical update : Deb's blood was refused again as she'd even less iron today than on Friday. I knew I should've brought over some cans of Iron Bru. Little UK in joke there.

So that's the story of the blood and tears and I can't think of a way to include any sweat. I did go for a good walk yesterday morning and sort of worked up a little sweat but that's about it.

The thing is, it seems not many of my sporting 'heros' gave up any of the 3 either.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Pixiemobile Has Arrived

Well the day we've been waiting for finally 'arrived' and at 9:30am this morning a flatbed truck pulled up by our lot and brought us our rented golf cart.

When we arrived here almost 3 weeks ago, we were 31st on the waiting list for a cart as they are just so popular in parks here for getting around. There are several retirement community parks in this area so when a new batch of carts comes in, they are snapped up and so waiting lists are in force and we just assumed we'd not get one for many weeks - if at all this winter.

But the rental place rang us over the weekend and said we'd be getting one today - and sure enough, it was delivered an hour ago. On the truck were 2 carts and as one was blue, my fav colour, I was hoping that one would be ours. Sadly that was a brand new one for someone else (as you have the option to buy outright or rent one) and it was the other one, a dark green colour, that was to be our rental.

I know I'm making excuses but I apologise for the following photos - the sun was low in the sky and I was on the wrong side of it. I was in bare feet and too woosey to cross the grass to get into a better position. In any case, I did feel a little foolish taking photos of a cart arriving but my philosophy is to try and get photos of just about everything as my memory is so bad.

With that out of the way, this is a shot of the flatbed seconds after it pulled up with the driver still in his cab. I had the camera at the ready as always.

In fact I took the shot from inside the trailer as I wasn't even going to venture out at all. The delivery wasn't supposed to be until late morning so the 9:30 arrival sort of took us by surprise.

The driver lowered the tailgate and was soon reversing our cart down the ramp.

By now I WAS outside but as stated earlier, did not feel the need to get my dainty Brit feet dirty by getting into a better position. If only I'd thought, I could've slipped on my pool flip flops.

Hopefully history and future generations will forgive the low class photos !

By now Deb was out watching events and then when the driver parked our cart next to the picnic table, she was ready to take on board the very complicated driving and battery recharging instructions. Yes I jest.

As we'd all had experience driving golf carts when actually playing golf, the only thing we needed to know about was how to charge the battery and how often. The how often was "once a week" and the how to do it was "plug this into the mains." Sorted.

By now Pixie was all of a twitter so once the delivery driver left us, Deb, Den and her majesty climbed onboard Golf Cart 1 (I'm sure Deb will come up with some flightly feminine name soon enough) and sped off to try her out.

I took the opportunity to get on my shoes and switch lens. I snapped on the telephoto as I knew they be visible from a long way off on their return and so I positioned myself at the end of our lot and waited. In a few minutes I heard the loud meaty roar of the reconditioned jet engine and round the corner they came - man (woman) and dog in fluid harmony. The wind may not have been blowing her ears back in classic style, but the cart was a big hit with Pixie. With tongue and tail a wagging, she obviously felt her walking days were over and she'd be joining the ranks of all the other pampered pooches who sit onboard with their owners as they zoom around from event to event here in the park.

GC1 is about to get it's first true run out in a few minutes when we go down the hill to the cafe-by-the-lake for lunch. I may well go cap-less and let the wind blow my 4 remaining hairs to all parts.

I can't wait.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Bocce Ball

Yesterday we decided to give bocce ball a try as neither Deb or myself had ever played it - in my case I'd never even seen it played.

Well to be fair, I knew it wasn't much different from other games that were either based on it or it was based on, so it didn't come as a complete surprise to find that I could follow quite easily how it was played.

The pair of us biked down our little hill as the bocce ball area is right by the lake side cafe and the picnic tables that I mentioned in my previous post. Like everything here in the park, the event was perfectly organised and residents were soon appearing from all compass points as the 'kick off' time approached. The massed golf carts and bikes were soon swamping the parking bays and we were introducing ourselves to the seasoned players like artistes at a Royal Command Performance. I think we were the only 'newbees' but I've rarely met such a welcoming bunch of people and although I initially went with no intention of playing, I was sucked into participation by the warmth of my fellow park residents.

We were able to have a few practice throws and it was clear to me that it wasn't that far removed from crown green bowling which I admit to having watched on tv a bit over the years.
With everyone assembled, walkers oiled and oxygen canisters fully charged, we were asked to sign in and by drawing numbers out of a tin, we were placed into teams and were ready to play bocce.

The air was tense with anticipation and the mixed sounds of eager chatter and cracking joints. I was a member of team 7 and as only 6 teams could be playing at once, I was able to sit out the start of play and watch the competition in action. Action might be too strong a word given our relative ages but you couldn't fault the enthusiasm on display.

From my position on the sidelines I was able to snap a few pics and here is one of Debby clapping her team member who was on the other side - I won't go into the rules and setup of bocce ball here as it's hardly vital to this blog but for the purposes of this post, a fellow team member was the gentleman in the blue top to her right and the other two members of her 4 person team were at the other end of the lane and were playing at this point in the game.

I soon realised that this is a great sport for all ages and physical abilities. As long as you could propel the ball in a forwards direction, you could play. The skill with which you did this helped to get you a scoring opportunity of course but the main point of it here in the park was to have fun and mix with fellow residents. This was being done from the get go and I've rarely had so many laughs in such a short space of time.

Given the onset of arthritis and other ailments, some of the residents had peculiar throwing actions but had still developed the skills necessary to play the game to a very high standard.

I found it all very graceful and artistic at times and I hope that this old body can be so agile in a few years time. What they may have lacked in out and out mobility, they more than made up for in guile and cunning !!

I'm not suggesting that anything unsportsmanlike took place - perish the thought. It was actually a lovely balance between normal competitiveness and devil make care ball throwing.

I did keep thinking of the shuffleboard scene in Cocoon but then again, a lot of what happens here reminds me of that movie !

Debby and her team were scoring well. I was enjoying watching the play and the players and was in no rush to be called up for my turn at the plate. After my earlier practice session, I had decided to play it more like crown green bowls with a gentle low angle forward release of the ball and less like the drop/throw action used by most of the regulars.

As I said before, you can only do what you can physically do and I'm sure more would have got closer to the ground if they'd been able to do so. But as with golf, a classic technique is not always necessary to
either enjoy the game OR to achieve a good score and I was very impressed with what I was seeing.

I loved the good natured banter and friendliness and I soon decided that bocce ball was THE perfect game for all ages and sexes. At this point I'd no idea who my team mates were as I knew no-one. Being the only Brit and having an unusual name, I tend to be remembered by most people I meet here but sadly my memory lets me down everytime and I remember few names on first hearing.

I really should have gone to the sign-up sheet and tried to memorise the 3 others in my team and I WILL do that next time. Needless to say I've forgotten them already and for that, I apologise.

If the ball releasing came with many and varied techniques, then the follow throughs were just as fluid and graceful.

Many poses were held for the entire time the ball was en route and more than once I was ready to dash on court to make sure the player hadn't simply seized up and was locked in that position. Thankfuly no medical help was ever needed.

And then I was up. My team (7) was called into action and after just one 'end', we were 4-0 down. We scored on the next 'end' and the game became a little less one sided but soon it was all over and we'd lost. We didn't have long to wait and were soon up again to play another team as you got 2 games minimum. We won the next game to progress to play again but we had defeat plucked from the jaws of victory and lost this 3rd game to go out. We were 6-4 up and as it was the first to 7 and we were lying closest to the yellow ball with only one throw from the opposition left, we were feeling pretty confident of winning. That final throw not only smacked into our ball and sent it into a non scoring position at the back of the lane but it also elevated 2 of their own balls into scoring positions and with the final ball also scoring, they got the 3 points necessary to come from behind an win.

I hate bocce ball.....................

...................but I can't wait to play it again !!

What about Deb ? Well she proved she was a natural and her team won game after game and only lost when 4 teams were left...........the semi final if you like. She too can't wait to play again.

Bugs 30 - Me 1

I just had to try it again - getting sunset photos I mean.

Here in Buttonwood Bay we get wonderful sunsets every evening and the last time I walked down to the lake side to take some photos, I was bitten about 30 times for my troubles and few of the photos were worth keeping anyway.

A couple of weeks have passed since that traumatic incident and so with the bites only remaining as scars now, I thought I'd try again and keep moving this time. No long time delayed shots !

On the way to the lake, which is all of 30 secs away by bike, I had to pass by the area where several outdoor events take place daily - like shuffleboard, bocce ball and so on. Oh by the way, we tried bocce ball yesterday and loved it but more of that in my next post. There is also a large grassy area along the edge of the lake with picnic tables and yesterday while playing bocce ball, we were 'treated' to a karaoke session which was different to say the least.

Anyway, as I made my way across to the lake, I noticed several squirrels doing their thing around these picnic tables and the trees that shaded them. They were not in the least bit shy or timid and I soon remembered the note in the weekly park newsletter which warned us not to feed these critters as they were becoming pests.

But they also presented good photo opportunities and I just had to crouch down and give the impression I was offering them food and they'd appear from all sides and approach me.

As this photo shows, they showed no fear and the rapidly setting sun helped to transform a standard shot into something quite different. Not beautiful, but different. You can clearly see the structure of it's tail for one thing.

Suddenly it was like a bizarre version of Hitchcock's 'The Birds' with squirrels replacing the threatening birds. I was quickly surrounded and of course you never know how far a hungry and fearless squirrel will go to get some food and how cheesed off they'd become when they realised that no food was forthcoming. I had to keep moving and looking all around me but in any case, this was what I needed to do to avoid being bitten by the more annoying flying critters.

With one eye on the setting sun and the other watching my ankles, I took a few shots of the squirrels and was glad I'd not taken the telephoto lens as they were getting too close to me for that lens to be of any use. When they realised I was not a walking food dispenser, they'd sit nearby and just watch me. Maybe they thought I'd whip out something tasty if they sat long enough - i wasn't going to do so but theur actions meant good posing shots for me. They were obviously well fed squirrels as the next photo shows...............

By now the sun was almost on the horizon so I had to leave and walk the few feet to the edge of the lake.

There were a couple of other residents out with their cameras and we chatted for a few minutes between shots. As usual I was the only one having to do the 'dance of the biting insects' and it never ceases to amaze me why I'm the sole target for every biting thing within a hundred yards of wherever I am.

Maybe it's time to swap my deoderant for bug spray on these occasions and you may well ask why I don't use insect repellant in the first place. I've tried everything on the market and nothing works. I just end up smelling obnoxious to other humans but strangly inviting to anything that flies.

I'd almost left it too late to get any shots of the sunset as it sets here with a speed that would leave a UK sprinter gasping. I got into position and had to do just about everything that any instruction manual tells you NOT to do when taking photos. Legs open for stability ? Elbows tucked into torso to lessen camera shake ? Hand on lens for rock steady shots ? Sorry but I'd done all that last time and the mozzies had eaten me alive. This time I was like a photographer with ADD or a finalist on that reality dancing show with my camera as my partner. I just hope no one had a camcorder trained on me as my bottom half was doing a crazed tango while my top half was trying to remain steady long enough to take some sort of focused shot of the sunset.

I'd already decided that some sort of post production editing would be needed, if only to straighten the horizon, but I was pleased to get this one shot which needed no such alterations.

About 2 seconds later the sun dropped out of sight and this time I didn't hang around for any post sunset shots - I was on my bike and out of there for the relatively safety of the trailer faster than you could say 'squirrel nuts'.

To adapt the old saying, once bitten, several times shy.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Fishing For Compliments

I've never fished. I never want to fish. Although I can kind of understand the appeal, I don't really get fishing. I can understand fishing when you keep and cook whatever you catch but when you catch something and throw it back, then the whole process is lost on me.

Fishing out at sea for marlin and shark can be exciting I guess but I still think it's all a bit one sided given the equipment used these days. I'm sure fishermen would totally disagree and point to the numerous fishing trips where they come back empty handed. Well maybe if they stopped throwing them back it would help !

Anyhoo, fishing is popular here in Florida for obvious reasons and even this part of the state is not exempt. As I type this, I'm sitting in the 5th wheel with my feet up on my recliner footrest and looking out the side window at my neighbour who is sorting out the fishing gear on his boat. Well it's only 11am and I tend to ease into my days here. I've already had my battle with nature this morning but it wasn't was clearing the ants out of the dishes that were mistakenly left unwashed in the sink overnight.

Leaving unopened food or dirty dishes around for any length of time is a huge no-no here. The word goes out and soon a Disneyesque line of ants appears and makes a beeline (or an antline) for whatever they can cart off back to their hive or hutch or hill or whatever. We were quite sure we knew how to deal with the little critters (which thankfully aren't biters) as the poison of choice usually sorts them out quickly - either they've become immunute to it or else they're taking their own sweet time dying.

We asked around and were told that putting down strips of Bounce, yes the common dryer sheets, would get rid of them. We tried that and all it did was create a zillion ants that suddenly had a lovely smell of spring freshness. Don't you just hate it when nature adapts ! I can imagine them sitting around 'the hill' each night gargling down the so called poison and discussing how great they all smell now. I may send this off as a plotline to DreamWorks for their follow up movie. I'm sure Woody Allen could do something amusing with the vocals.

In the meantime I had to do things manually and facing a sink full of dirty dishes covered in a sea of little moving bodies was not something I'd recommend first thing in the morning. But ever fearless and without any sort of gun, bow and arrow, rod or other weapon of mass destruction, I cleared the lot and sent hundreds of God's creatures to a watery end. Actually being in a trailer which has what's known as a holding tank under the kitchen, the journey to their watery end in this case was not a long one. They'll probably regroup, dry out and be back later today.

Maybe that's the appeal of fishing. Them against us. The eternal struggle to prove we are top of the food chain. Circle of life. Man against nature. Getting away from the wife for a few hours.
All of the above probably.

Yesterday I went back to my pier end gazebo (see previous posts) and watched 2 fishermen doing their thing a few yards away. There seemed to be a lot of casting but no catching. Not a lot of talking either. That seems to be part of the deal too.

At first I wasn't sure if they'd camouflaged their boat to try and fool the fish. Fishermen can be so sneaky. My vivid imagination kicked in again and I could just see the fish collecting on 'my' side of the boat and talking amongst themselves. "Hey, guys, this side isn't camouflaged and's a boat ! There are two of those humans up there trying to tempt us with those nasty worms we hate. Lets clear off and have lunch at Long John Silvers"

Later last night I stayed around just long enough to get this shot of the moon over the pier.

It wasn't my best shot but I wasn't hanging around to try for a better one. Once bitten, twice shy and all that. Actually 30 times bitten but we'll not bring that up again. They don't itch anymore and should be all gone in another week.

Unlike the ants.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Monday Blues

I've not been retired long enough to have forgotten how I felt most Monday mornings when I'd wake up and realise another work week stretched before me. I rarely, if ever, really hated my job but I just didn't like having to work at all.

I think I've always been a dreamer. I know I 'missed' large chunks of school time by gazing out the windows and wishing I was somewhere else. This continued into my working life and many happy, if not productive, hours were spent doing the same thing - but getting paid while I did it !! Sorry ASDA but you still got plenty of productive hours out of me as I was there for 25 years.

I worked in IT all my career but don't ask me why. I'm artistic by nature but right from the time of Sputnik, I was fascinated by manned spaceflight. Ok so Sputnik wasn't manned but it WAS the start of things. I was never fully comfortable in IT as like I said, I'm not technical at all and can't think logically to save my life. I went to a very small boarding school with a VERY limited curriculum and I took subjects like Ancient History, Greek, French and Latin over ones like Physics and Chemistry. I think I decided to study computer science at college solely based on it maybe getting me a job/career later on with NASA. Well it didn't quite work out but I did spend 95% of my working life with a company with 3 of the 4 initials at least !!!

I always wanted to travel and my work, or I should say the salary it provided. was a way to do so in a small way. I was no world traveller but I did visit a few European countries and even Canada before finally making it to America in 1989. Why it took me so long is a mystery even to me. I was all set to go in the summer of 1970 when I left school and had a long period of 'freedom' before starting at college. Sadly that coincided with having no money so America had to wait.

I made up for lost time though and in the space of 8 years from 1989, I managed to visit all 48 continental states leaving the difficult ones of Hawaii and Alaska for my retirement years when I could give them the time they deserved. I took a sabatical for 9 months in 2000 and spent the whole time in America and when I returned to work in January 2001, I soon found I couldn't adjust to being back sitting at a desk - basically I just didn't want to work anymore. Some people return from sabaticals all renewed like Energiser bunnies and eager to start their careers afresh. I'm sure their companies offer the sabattical with that outcome in mind but in my case, not working for 9 months only made me anxious to be retired and not have to work ever again !!

Soon I was eagerly playing with my finances and studying dates and trying to plan for retiring on my 50th birthday (in 2002) when I was made an offer I couldn't refuse; the offer to take a very generous early retirement package at 49 which was only a few months away in the June of 2001. Those few months before I left work were some of the happiest of my life. Knowing I'd soon be leaving, no new work came my way and I was left to pass the days surfing the internet and doing what I did best - looking out the windows and dreaming of being somewhere else. I'd plenty of time to make my travel plans and sure enough, a few days after finally leaving work that last time, I was over here in America starting on the first of many 6 month trips - 6 months being the longest I can be here on a visitors visa. I've never looked back.

Today I experienced Monday blues. No, not the sort I experienced most of my working life but new variations now that I'm retired and spending the winter in Florida. The first was the clear blue cloudless sky that I never get tired of seeing. The other was the blue water in the swimming pool where I try to spend as much time as possible. These are Monday blues I can live with. So much so that I'll like them on Tuesday as well and every other day to be honest.

It's due to rain a bit tomorrow. That's ok too. There are plenty of things to do indoors here and lets face it, I'd rather be here in Florida on a rainy day than be sitting at a desk in Leeds with another 8 hours of work ahead of me.

Maybe the dreamer in me is finally on the other side of the window.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Park Life

I went out for another exploratory bike ride yesterday afternoon as I was 'home alone' and it was another glorious day. I slapped a wire basket onto the front of the bike, put a folded towel on the bottom for lining purposes and thus was able to take my camera and mp3 player without having things wrapped round my neck.

I was listening to 60's songs and looking out for anything to photograph when I decided to take a shot of a typical road/street in the park.

This one was as good as any and shows how the park is just like a lot of US subdivisions (estates in the UK) - rows of homes with neat yards and cars and trucks parked on driveways.

Closer examination shows something quite different here though with many of the driveways also having a golf cart. I've mentioned before how these carts are used to ferry the residents to and from the numerous events going on here as well as to restrooms and the swimming pools.

I find it amusing how most times the roads can be as empty and quiet as you see in this photo but if it's close to an event like bingo, social/coffee time, dancing, cards or whatever, then you walk or bike at your peril as the carts are out in force and it's like parade time on 4th July.

The park, sorry, community, is a mixture of permanent homes lived in all year round, permanent homes lived in part of the year and rented lots where seasonal 'residents' like us come with 5th wheels or motorhomes and set up camp. It's interesting that there are no travel trailers here and this proves my friends point that they are not really suitable units for living in long term. That's why last April, when they were here for a month to 'try out' the park, they came in a TT but left in a 5th wheel !! My TT was traded in and now I see why.

I rode back along the canal bank that I explored a few days ago and some different wildlife was in the little pool/lake this time. This pool is to one side of the canal path and seems to be a great place to photograph birds of all shapes and sizes. It's not a pretty pool by any means and has quite a bit of greenery in the water. That's a euphimism as it's not nice looking algae or reeds or whatever but at least it IS natural and there are no shopping carts or discarded fridges to blot the view.

This wading critter seemed happy enough to be feeding in the goop and it's beak was snapping away like demented chopsticks all the time I was there.

There is a handy wooden bridge spanning the pool to save us having to walk around it and this allowed me to be far enough removed from the wildlife that I wasn't regarded as a threat - and so they'd eat and drink oblivious to my presence.

The larger birds that were there previously were not around yesterday. There were some smaller dark birds in the water but they were too far away to photograph and they just looked like ducks anyway. I'm after more exotic wildlife here !

I got on the bike again and after a few seconds riding along the canal path, I came upon a similar bird posing by the water. I slid forwards off the saddle, got the camera from the basket and snapped off a shot without even needing to get fully off the bike. It never moved. This wildlife photography is a doddle

Of course things might change if and when I ever come across the alligator(s) that are supposed to be here. I'm sure I'll be keeping close to my bike as having a speedy escape vehicle would be prudent. That's assuming I see it/them before it/them see me.

If it's possible for birds to be said to be keeping a beady eye on someone, then these birds were doing just that with me. I came upon several of them and if I moved a few feet, they'd move too - in the opposite direction of course. The trick was to find the one position where they felt I was no threat to them and just stay there. Eventually they'd relax and even move closer.

I reached the pier and gazebo (sorry but I still haven't got a better name for the end-of-the-pier structure) and there were a few fishing boats out on the lake proper. I watched them for a while but once again, the fish didn't seem to be on the same song sheet and weren't biting.

I looked back along the canal path again and saw yet another wading bird coming along it. I had to snap off a shot quickly as it was giving all the signs that it wasn't staying around. Sure enough, after this shot, it flew away so although I'd rather have had a better composed image of it, this is all I got.

It looks like it's about to head butt the wooden stake but in reality, it just decided to bypass it by flying over it and off to places new. I hope I can get better photos of it's type another time......maybe being eaten by an alligator !!

I came back to the 5th wheel and took Pixie out for walkies. She was enthusiastic to start with and walked on ahead of the leash, sniffing everywhere and stopping at the base of every tree. That's when I realised that if we were to get anywhere, I needed to guide her into the middle of the road where she'd have no reason to stop and sniff. The pace picked up. After about 5 minutes she was along side me walking slightly slower and after 10 minutes she was well behind me and looking quite sorry for herself. With her little 3 inch legs slowing down alarmingly and her flapping tongue vacuuming the tarmac, she was almost at the point where she'd slam on the brakes and suggest that further walking would be done by me and not her. I'd cleverly anticipated this outcome and my route around the block meant that 'home' was already in sight. We made it (I'm sure) with seconds to spare and once inside the air conditioned living room, she gulped down her weight in water and flopped on her side on the carpet - giving me a look with one eye that told me in no uncertain terms that future walkies would NOT be appreciated at that time of day.

I guess it really IS true that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Gooooooood Morrrrrning Floridaaaaaa !!!

Today was a first - we joined the community community. Deliberate repetition there.

We rose at 7:30, showered and walked down the park road to the rec room to have coffee (and a strange variation of English muffins) and join the weekly social morning for residents. This event lasts an hour and I so wish I'd taken my camera. I will next time.

As we approached the building, we saw a plethera of golf carts and bikes lined up outside. It was like the scene at the start of the Le Mans (well in ye olden days anyway) and I didn't want to be anywhere out on the roads when the wrinklies broke ranks and rushed off home to get rid of all that coffee. It'd be a zoo for sure and no squirrel or slow moving Brit would be safe.

We entered and saw that everything was in full swing. Obviously the 8am start was to fool the newbees like us as just about everyone was already seated with their drinks and muffins and we were regarded like the craggy gunmen who enter the saloon with every local eye on them.

No seriously, it wasn't like that at all. People were still up at the counter in line to get coffee and food and after we had done so, we sat with some people who, as it turned out, came from Michigan as well. Some leader/organiser was on the floor with mic in hand telling us what events were taking place and when. At the end he asked if anyone was new and our 3 hands went up.......and our 3 hands alone ! Opps. Over he came with the radio mic and we were asked to introduce ourselves and tell where we were from. Deb & Den went first and after their introductions, they got a round of applause. The mic was passed to me and like a professional, I waited for the applause to die down. Then I suddenly felt like Bruce Willis (as Korben Dallas) when Chris Tucker (as Ruby Bhod) sticks his mic in his face for a comment. I didn't know what to say. Then I was inspired ; with my voice booming over the PA system and not a sound to be heard from my rapt audience (ok a few might have nodded off already as they were old and it WAS early) I boldly name is Ian and I'm from England. I handed the mic back and basked in the applause and gasps of amazement.

What I did NOT expect was someone near us saying.......hey another one from England !!! Another one !!! Could it be ??? Well sort of. I'm still the only one here so far who actually still lives in England and is only here on holiday. But there is a couple here and the husband was from Selby and married a US lady. Now Selby is only a few miles from where I live so yet again it's one of those 'small world' times. We met up and had a little chat over coffee and we know where the other lives here - so can stop in for tea and scones whenever we want

We signed up for a few up coming events like a Thanksgiving and a Pot Luck meal. It's all very organised and as I've mentioned before, there are plenty of things going on to keep old idle hands busy - and that doesn't include sunset encounters out on the gazebo !! You gotta watch these oldies. Well not literally.

I've mentioned the 2 heated pools before and until yesterday, only the large one was open for use. With the coming of Nov 1st, a few other places open up as many new snowbirds arrive. We were booked to arrive on Nov 1st but as a previous post will tell you (go read them all - don't be lazy), we altered our plans and arrived a week early.

I took this view of the big pool at dusk a few nights ago and it pretty much looks like this all day - empty of people. I'm not sure of it's dimensions but it takes me quite long enough to swim it's length - no obvious comments please ! It's very clean and the building to the left houses toilets and the rec hall. The pool closes at dusk so any late night skinny dipping would involve leaping over the locked gates and I really can't think that's very likely to happen here. Late night dominos in pj's and nightdresses goes on though and you can hear the 'clink' of the doms echoing round the park after darkness sets in. Then all is quiet by 9pm and I'm sure that at 1am this morning, I was the only one awake. Who am I kidding, make that 10pm

I almost said it's as quiet as the grave but in this community, the G word is a big no-no.

Wintering In Florida

Well I can already tell that I'm going to get great topics for posts by wintering down here in sunny Florida - the retirement capital of the US !! You just have to think of all the crazy things that oldies can get up to and you'll see my point. But more of that later...................

Today is the start of our 6th full day here in Buttonwood Bay and I've seen quite a bit of the town of Sebring which is just 5 minutes drive up US27. We're in south central Florida about 90 miles from Orlando to the north and say, 160 miles from Miami to the South East. This puts us within relatively easy distance from places like The Kennedy Space Centre, Daytona Beach, Tampa, Cyprus Gardens, Busch Gardens, The Everglades, Disneyworld, Universal Studios, Seaworld.......oh just about any attraction you can think of it Florida !!

It's hit the mid 80's every day we've been here so far and drops to a more pleasant temperature during the night so sleeping isn't a problem. Most days we've gone into Sebring as for the first few days we were still in the process of setting up camp and so needed to eat out at local restaurants and grocery shop for fresh food. Now the trailer is looking more shipshape with most things in their proper spaces and we can cook and feed ourselves just nicely, thank you very much.

Living in a 5th wheel for 5 months (or 3 in my case) might seem like a sort of hardship compared to, say, being in a motel room or even your own house but I can assure you it's not. We have cable tv, wi-fi internet, a dvd recorder, a 300 CD player, a vcr, 2 laptops, a printer, a portable dvd player for individual use, 2 mp3 players and just about every other electronic goodie going. The trailer has a recliner chair for each of us, a 6 speaker surround sound system, full kitchen setup, dining places for 4, a microwave oven, shower and toilet facilities, beds for the 3 of us, air conditioning which is certainly needed here and a furnace for when it gets cold (not likely to be used for this trip). We've also got our outside chairs and a bike each and we're on a waiting list for renting a golf cart. So when I might type that we're camping here in Florida, it's about as far removed as possible from the traditional term that we'd use back in the UK. No tents and sleeping bags for us !! We like our luxuries.

I mentioned in the previous post that avoiding oldies in their golf carts is one of the few routine occupations here in the park........or community I should say. Actually it's a retirement community so the word 'occupation' is never used. These golf carts, which just about everyone has here for zipping around the park - visiting with friends or just to get to the heated pools, rec rooms, library, tennis courts, crazy golf or any of the other places and facilities free for residents - usually come as ex golf course models but it's obvious that many are brand new and even customised.

Even some of the pets here are retired and don't bother to walk much on their own. I know cats like to be pampered at any age but I'd never seen one happily seated on a golf cart before I came here. The superior look it gave me as it passed by left me in no doubt that walking for any other purpose than for exercise in Buttonwood Bay is seriously frowned upon. Don't you just hate cats with attitude ??!!

Speaking of pets, did I mention that Pixie, the long haired miniature dachshund, is with us ? Well she is and she has her own bed in the trailer too - although she does prefer to sleep on top of me most nights !

She has settled in well although she still has to meet any other doggie residents and has spent almost all of our 6 days here inside. We've not got started on any routine walking or anything as we're easing slowly into life here and so she has yet to go walkies.

She does like to read though and when Dennis got the Sunday papers, she got to read parts of it even though she seems to have a unique reading technique and prefers a sideways view. They say every dog has it's day and Sunday seems to be hers.

Yesterday I went out exploring the park and came upon a small expanse of water near the main lake.........Lake Josephine...........which the park borders. There were 3 'wading birds' in the water and this is as good a time as any to admit that I'm no animal expert and if I see and photograph any wildlife here, I'll not have a clue what it is. Well I might recognise an alligator I suppose and if a herd of wildebeest rushes by me, I'm confident that I'll know them too.

So I've no idea what these birds were called and as I got off my bike and crept slowly towards the water's edge like some wannabe David Attenborough, I assumed they'd fly off at any moment. Not so. I managed to sit on the grass and it was one of those classic occasions when you look at a creature through a lens or binoculars and suddenly see it filling your view. I knew I had a zoom lens but I wasn't zooming at the time and yet this one bird was getting closer and closer !! Excitement turned to slight panic as it had a beak that could perform open heart surgery and it's eyes were locked onto me. It looked pissed.

It stopped a few yards away as if to say....ok, pal, it's your move now. I decided not to make one. I held my breath and clicked away and couldn't believe my good fortune - ironically the bird was now so close to me that I didn't need the zoom lens. A woman was standing on the other side of the water and she called out to me that this was very usual and had to be that this was a mother bird and she was protecting her babies from me, or at least making sure she was between me and them. This seemed to be the case as when she realised I was no threat (apart from maybe taking inferior photos of her family), she was happy to look around and finally she waddled back to the water. Ok she was not a waddling type bird but on those long thin legs, she still looked like the bird equivalent of Charlie Chaplin.

It's too early to tell if they are there every day or if this was a one off, but at least I got to see and photgraph them this time. There were a few smaller birds on the water but compared to these big ones, they didn't merit my time.

I'm not sure what other wildlife to expect to see here. There are definitely alligators in the area and I REALLY want to see one of those a distance of course. Anything else will be a bonus.

Further on I came upon a squirrel who was busy at the base of a palm tree eating a nut or some such item. Once again it wasn't phased by my stopping and getting my camera ready and it posed nicely for me.

Squirrels are the commonist critter here. I'm used to black ones back in Houghton Lake but these are gray squirrels. Spotting their colour is as far as my expertise goes.

They scoot up and down the palm trees and forrage around the houses as they know that oldies are predisposed to dropping food - either by design or mistake. The squirrels don't care.

They just see oldies as a walking meal ticket and I saw a few bounding after a golf cart the other day. In any other context it would have been seen as slightly threatening behaviour but here, it was like watching meals on wheels in action !!

On I went on my bike ride of exploration and came to a sort of inlet or canal which led into Lake Josephine. Numerous boats and pontoon craft were moored along the canal sides and it made for a very pretty sight as sunset was rapidly approaching. A few men were at the point where the canal met the lake and were fishing - without much success as far as I could see. I asked one what kind of fish they'd catch and he said bass.

On the approach to the lake, they've built a lovely wooden pier with a sort of gazebo affair at the far end. I'm sure it has a 'proper' name but I don't know it. Hoping that no illicit oldies type romancing was going on out at the pier end, I went out to take some photos looking back at the canal and also be there for the sunset.

Glad to find myself all alone in the gazebo, I set up and took this shot - where the fisherman is standing is the entrance to the canal or inlet. The main body of the lake is to the left of him and to the right of the closest golf cart is the start of the wooden pier.

All set with where we are now ??? Good.

Then came sunset and a sad end to my bike ride of exploration. I suffered for my art ! Sunset brought out the mozzies and other biting flying critters and as usual they found the taste of fresh British (dare I say PRIME) meat much to their liking. Every photo I took rewarded me with more bites and what really annoyed me was that most of the shots were rendered useless as the flash would go off and I'd get dozens of white blobs on the images - insects caught in the glare of the flash.

If I turned off the flash and used a longer time exposure, I could feel the bites while trying to keep the camera steady. In the end I gave up and left the mozzies to feed on some other poor soul.

This wasn't even the shot I wanted but it's the only one that I got with no flash enhanced insects on it. I thought I could digitally remove them but there were just too many of them to make it worth the effort.

So I'm left with about 30 itchy insect bites on arms and legs (and one on my forehead, thanks a bunch) and only this photo to compensate me. I've kept a few of the duff ones to remind me how I suffered to get them......and will continue to suffer for a week or more yet.

Don't tell me it's dangerous being a war photographer. Try taking sunset photos near water in Florida, pal !

I rode back to a lovely waiting 'home made' supper and settled down for an evening of tv watching and internet surfing with my bloated legs elevated on my recliner footrest.

Yes life is pretty good down here and when the itchness wears off and I'm not scared for life, I'll enjoy it all the more.

The Snowbirds Really Have Landed

We woke and drove a hundred yds to be first in line at the dealership service dept when they opened at 08:30. We got the impression the work would only take a short time so we left the trailer with them and drove a few miles back along the road to the local IHOP and ate a hearty breakfast.

We went back and sat.....and sat.......and sat waiting for the news that all was fixed and we could leave for the campground. We were told again and again that it would be....soon. Our concern was that we really wanted to be at the camp by 3pm as we needed help to reverse the trailer onto our lot as two lovely but awkwardly placed palm trees made it almost impossible for a non trucker to achieve this task without damaging the trees or worse still, the trailer. We knew a park guy was available to help us but that he'd be leaving at 3:30pm.

The clock ticked on and we were actually told at one point that we'd have to wait a final 45 minutes while the newly painted edge of the toilet door dried !! We said we'd take the door as is and attach it later ourselves. But they sorted it out using a hair dryer I think but it was still close to 4pm when we got away.

On the way to the park I took a photo of the temperature (F) being displayed on the rear view mirror of the truck.

After the snow and sub zero temps we had left in Michigan, it was so good to feel warm again and know that it could be like this for most of the winter.


Buttonwood Bay is a couple of miles south of Sebring on route 27. It's a retirement community where the age of the permanent residents has to be 55 and over. As temporary residents we didn't have to meet that criteria but it's no secret that two of the three of us are close enough to 55 to be 'allowed in' as permanents.

We arrived at Buttonwood Bay and were welcomed by the friendly office staff who had even arranged for 2 experienced employees to be available to help us get the rig onto the lot. Gotta love the technical gargon eh ??

I liked the place from the moment we entered and I could see why my friends had been so excited about coming back after their one month 'trail period' in April.

As we drove at 10mph along the neat internal roads, I saw a mix of permanent homes and lots which were being rented just like ours. We were following the 2 employees who were ahead of us in their recycled golf cart. As most of the residents are elderly, these golf carts are a perfect mode of transport for getting about within the park. I'd seen them before when spending time in another park near Key West but never on this scale. It seemed that every other home had a cart parked on it's driveway next to the owners car and we saw plenty whizzing along with the drivers looking like they'd been around at the time of the invention of the automobile.

Not for the first time was I reminded of a UK cult tv show from the 60's or 70's called The Prisoner. I quite expected to see a huge white balloon come bouncing along the road but I kept my thoughts to myself as no one else would've 'got it'.

Once at our lot, we handed things over to our trusty helpers and within minutes our home for the winter was sitting proudly in place surrounded by palm trees and every insect in Florida that bites.

Well paradise does come with a few drawbacks and I can just tell people I've got chickenpox !!

There was so much work to do to get settled in and after unhitching the truck and opening up the trailer sides, we said sod this for a game of shuffleboard and headed into Sebring for supper. It had been a long day on top of many long days since leaving Michigan on 20th and we were finally able to relax, have a lovely meal and come back to what will be my home for the next 3 months.

BEEP "Houston, Buttonwood Bay here, the snowbirds have landed" !!! BEEP

The Snowbirds Have Landed - Day 6

Day 6 saw us leaving our campsite in Greensboro and heading down through North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and finally into Florida. It was 766 miles and we took all day to do it. Hauling a 33ft 5th wheel, even at speeds of 70 mph, is hard work and when you factor in eat breaks, restroom breaks and of course roadworks, then we made good time overall.

I've no photo of us entering Florida as it was dark and I missed it !

We wanted to get to the RV dealership near Sebring where my friends had bought the 5th wheel earlier this year. There were a few things that needed fixing and they might as well be sorted before we went to the campsite for the next 5 months. So as we knew the dealership had an area set aside for a few overnight campers, we had arranged to be at their service department first thing (08:30) on Thursday 26th.

We passed down through the madness that is Orlando and after a bit of practice, I managed to get a few photos of the advertising signs that illuminate this city better than the street lights.

This is just one example and as we were trying to get through Orlando at 10pm, the roads were packed with everyone leaving the big entertainment complxes of Disneyworld and Universal Studios.

We continued south and got to Dusty's at 11pm where we found all the free overnight power hookups taken and we had to just pull up and yet again, spend a night without being able to extend the trailer sides. Another corpse like sleep for yours truely and 8am came along all too quickly.

At least I didn't freeze in the sleeping blanket this time. Welcome to Florida !

The Snowbirds Have Landed - Day 5

Tuesday started quite cold but dry and we went to a few retail stores in Greensboro but bought very little. Once again I was able to use my UK membership card at Costco which was cool.

Then we went for Hooters !!! Now for anyone who hasn't been to one of these places or never even heard of them, let me enlighten you.

Hooters is a restaurant chain with many locations in the USA and internationally from Argentina to Venezuela. There is even a branch in the UK - in Nottingham of all places. How did London miss out ??? Although rightly famous for it's hot chicken wings, it's even more famous, or maybe that should be infamous, for it's 'serving girls' who wear a uniform that would make Hugh Hefner proud. I couldn't bring myself to openly take a photo of any of them when they were facing me and so I took the cowards way out and waited till they had me. I could pretend that this was to protect their privicy (who knows, maybe some parent or husband was totally unaware of their daughter/wife leading such a colourful life in the catering industry) but really it was more to do with me being too shy to point the camera at any of them.

While nothing is actually exposed, little is left to the imagination either. Lets put it this way, Roseanne Barr, Rosie O'Donnell, Anne Widdecombe and even Laura Davies need not apply for work at a Hooters restaurant. Thankfully neither should any anorexic catwalk model as Hooters girls are not recruited from either extreme. Just good looking, homely, fit, attractive, stunning girls who then wear small tight tops and even smaller tighter shorts. I've no idea what I ordered and I've no idea if it was any good but I've never looked around more and listened less to my eating companions in any restaurant before in my life.

Good food.....who the hell cares !

We then went to a local pet store as the kids have been thinking of getting a puppy to go with the 2 cats. I can see problems there and I think that Chester will just live in the closet if and when a puppy arrives on the scene. I'm not a dog person really but they had some cuties in this store. I loved that they had little booths set aside for customers to take a puppy from it's cage and be with it in some sort of privacy - to get the bonding session going I suppose.

Very effective from a selling point of view as it would be hard to say no after spending 10 mins or more being licked to death by a frisky cute puppy.

This was the little fella they really loved but at $1000, it may have to remain a dream doggie.

The store had no kittens, which pissed me off a bit so I had to content myself with thwe puppies and a load of exotic birds which were very colourful but didn't have the awwwww factor that kittens evoke.

We left the pets and did more shopping and later had another meal at a place so memorable that I've already forgotten it. I just know it wasn't Hooters again. Say what you like about sexism and scantily clad females being used to 'sell' a place or a product works.

We all came back to our campsite for a final chat and the kids left as they'd work the next day and we were leaving for places south. We'd already decided to pass on spending time in Savannah (sorry, Paula but we'll visit your restaurant some other time) and planned on driving close to our winter home in Sebring the next day.

I liked Greensboro. It had everything you'd expect in a medium sized city and doesn't get extremes of weather. It's not in tornado alley, doesn't get earthquakes (as far as I know) or hurricanes, gets barably cold in winter and acceptably warm in summer and even has the other two season as well.

But best of all, it has a Hooters !!

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