Cats and cold weather

The weather remained cold (by Florida standards) for the week following our return from St Augustine.  We did less walking than we normally would: our furthest trip was through Payne Park to a secondhand bookstore. It was too cold to have breakfast, lunch and drinks on the lanai as we usually do – and since Ian uses the upper lanai as his art studio, it was too cold for him to do any painting.

Central Park sunset

Still, we had plenty to keep us occupied indoors.  It was time to start researching and planning the trips we hope to take over the spring and summer.  And then we received the first complete set of proofs for our book, so reading and marking up corrections kept us busy for the next few days.

Checking proofs

On Friday evening we did the usual ‘first Friday art walk’ along Palm Avenue: lots of free wine and Ian did a fish print in one of the studios. Saturday evening we saw the film Darkest Hour (about Churchill) at the Burns Court Cinema.  We thought it was a brilliant film, and were completely gripped, even though we knew the outcome!

Fish print (1)

Fish print (2)

Foxy and Batty

Just before Christmas, we received a request from Cat Depot regarding two cats who needed foster care for three months. Back in November, these cats were found in the proximity of a dead bat, so there is very slim possibility that they’ve been exposed to rabies, and they have to be quarantined away from other animals.  Cat Depot has lots of foster carers, but most have pets of their own – we haven’t so were pleased to acquire these two on a temporary basis!  They’d been christened Flying Fox and Fruit Bat, but we’ve abbreviated the names to Foxy and Batty. They are quite different, in appearance and character, but both are good-tempered and affectionate.  We love having them, and it makes our place seem like a real home.

Batty watches TV

Foxy

Foxy and Batty

Rabid? Us?

File under C for Cat

This is my chair

I quite like the hammock chair, too

Better weather?

On Sunday 7th the weather improved, but first thing in the morning it was still quite cold, albeit bright and sunny.  So we decided to postpone our usual Sunday morning beach walk, and instead walked over the Ringling Bridge to St Armand’s Circle.  This was perhaps a mistake.  On Monday the temperature increased markedly, but there was no sun, so it felt colder.  We decided to go ahead with our plan for Siesta Beach, and did our usual long walk there.  Lots of other people were doing the same (the firm sand near the sea makes a great walking track) but only a few brave souls had taken their chairs to the beach and we were not among them!  Most were wrapped up warmly, although we did see one girl in a bikini.

A cold day on the beach

I’m wearing my bikini whatever the temperature

Contrary to the forecast, we had more sun on Tuesday – we went for a walk, but it would have been a better day for the beach!  The rest of the week was busy with the usual activities. We booked our first trip of 2018.  Rich came back from Chicago and took us to dinner at Pacific Rim.

Anhinga drying its feathers

Do they mean me?

On Saturday our friends Ruth and Robert, from South Carolina, came for an overnight stay.  We hadn’t seen them for a year, so we spent most of the time talking!  We went down to the bayfront, where we saw an art exhibition, had drinks at Marina Jack’s and dinner at O’Leary’s, but the weather was so incredibly cold that we were quite glad to get back to our warm condo.

Art show

Drinks at Marina Jack’s

The forecast suggested that we were in for another chilly week.  Certainly when we got up on Sunday morning, it was very cold (for Florida) – although there was sun and the sky was blue.  It seemed good weather for walking, and we hoped that by afternoon it would be warmer, so we set off for Rothenbach Park.  On the main trail, through lots of palms and other trees, we didn’t see any wildlife, though we were intrigued by what appeared to be oranges growing wild.  On the shorter trail we saw several birds (some kind of dove) in a tree, and then a trio of Sandhill cranes met us on the path.  They were not at all bothered by our presence, and seemed quite happy to pose for photos!

Wild oranges

Sandhill cranes

 

 

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New Year in the (Frozen) North

The north of Florida, that is.  We’d heard that New Year’s Eve was good in St Augustine, so decided to do a special trip.  As it was likely to be busy, we booked accommodation for three nights (one motel, two camping).  When the date approached, the weather forecast was not encouraging!  But we’d booked, so we loaded the car and off we set, early on December 30.

There was a lot of traffic on the road, not to mention roadworks here and there, so it was a slow journey.  The weather alternated between grey and gloomy/bright and sunny.  But it was certainly cooler than usual, especially as we drove north.  In St Augustine everyone was wearing jeans and fleeces – yet less than a week earlier we’d been on the beach, wearing shorts and t-shirts, watching people in bikinis and santa hats!

Over the Christmas period they have ‘Nights of Lights’ in St Augustine, when all the buildings in the city centre are decorated with millions of tiny white lights – reputed to be one of the best displays in the world.  We’d booked a motel on the 30th so we could easily walk around the city.  It truly was beautiful, especially all the hotels along the waterfront.  There were crowds of people, and corresponding long waits for tables in restaurants, but it was worth it.  We particularly enjoyed Flagler College, as we were allowed inside to see the magnificent rotunda.  But it was cold: Ian managed to buy a woolly hat, but the shops had sold out of gloves.  Not something we normally need in Florida!

A sailing ship going under the bridge

A lion at the bridge

The Bridge of Lions

Moonrise

Moon over the fort

Sunset at the fort

Christmas lights (1)

Christmas lights (2)

Christmas lights (3)

Flagler College

Flagler College dining hall

Caryatids

Ceiling detail

Lightner Museum

Tree in the main square

Fort by night

Bridge lit up

Tour boat

New Year’s Eve

Next morning we had another stroll around the city, and then drove south.

Morning bridge view

St Augustine skyline

At the marina

The mind boggles

St George’s Street

The main New Year’s Eve celebration is at Pier Park in St Augustine Beach, so we’d booked a tent site at the KOA there.  But first we detoured to Fort Matanzas, a national monument we’d not visited before.  The fort itself is across an inlet of the sea, so you need to get there by ferry, and the two NPS boats were out of service, due to hurricane damage.  So we could not visit, but we could see the fort from across the water.  We enjoyed the nature trail, and walking along the beautiful beach opposite the fort.  The weather was bright and sunny, and we even saw a dolphin!

Live oaks at Fort Matanzas SP

Shelly beach

So near and yet so far …

Looking for lunch

Looking for a dolphin

Matanzas inlet

Back to the campground, where we erected our tent – and got a shock. We hadn’t camped since March, but David and Donna borrowed our gear in the summer.  We couldn’t believe how clean and neatly packed everything was!!!!!   We had our traditional drinks while the mattress was inflating, and made the bed. Then we went down to the beach, and went for a walk along the shore.

Putting up the amazingly clean tent

St Augustine beach

Is it a denizen of the deep washed ashore?

Beach cafe

Last sunset of 2017

In the evening we went back to the beach for the ‘Beach Blast-off’ celebration.  This was rather disappointing: several food stalls, a drinks tent, a band playing untuneful music and some attractions for children. The fireworks were supposed to be accompanied by music, but it was totally unco-ordinated.  Nevertheless, we had fun.  We enjoyed some excellent food, and were highly amused to discover that we had to be ID’d before being given the wristbands which allowed you to purchase alcohol!  Nice perhaps, to think we could be under 21 – we wish!

Queuing to get our wristbands to buy booze!

Food stall

Moon over palms

A motley crew

Enjoying funnel cake

Carry on climbing

The strange thing to us was that this New Year celebration ended at 10pm – with two hours of 2017 still to go. (The fireworks in fact were scheduled for 8.30, but finally happened an hour later.)   We walked back to our campsite and drank red wine as we waited for 2018.  It was not as cold as we expected, and, warmly wrapped up, we felt quite comfortable sitting outside.

New Year’s Day

During the night, however, it became much colder. And it started to rain. And there was a strong wind.  It hadn’t occurred to us to bring blankets to put on top of our duvet, so we got up, put more clothes on, and went back to bed.  Even so, we were freezing.  In the morning, we washed, dismantled the tent and loaded the car – all within half an hour.  (The tent is, of course, no longer clean and neatly folded.) Then we drove two miles down the road and had breakfast in a convenient Starbucks.

We were due to camp that night in a state park, and there were other places we planned to visit on the way.  But the weather was so appalling, we did the only sensible thing and drove home.  Even in Sarasota it was cold – and still is – but not quite as bad as in the north.

So – not a great start to the new year!  Our current wish is for better weather, but hopefully this cold spell will not last long. There are lots of things we wish for in 2018: Trump impeached and Brexit reversed are high on the list, but we’re not optimistic about either.  We hope for continued good health so we can still travel – must start planning 2018 trips soon!

We want to do a lot of walking too.  A year ago, we read about the ‘thousand mile challenge’ –it’s supposed to be good for older people especially to walk 1,000 miles a year.  Sounds a lot, but it’s less than three miles a day, and we guessed that we probably do that anyway.  So, mainly out of curiosity, we equipped ourselves with pedometers.  We both passed the 1,000 miles in July, so had to revise our target.  We decided 1,500 would be too easy, and 2,000 too challenging, so we compromised on 1,750.  And we succeeded: by the end of 2017, Ian had clocked up 1,790 and Sandie 1,850.  Whether we shall manage the same this year remains to be seen!

 

Whatever you wish for in 2018, we hope it’s a happy and healthy year for you and yours.

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Bikinis and Santa Hats

After Anne left us, we settled back into our ‘normal’ routine.  The weather was good, so we spent time at the pool.  Ian went to his life drawing class, and Sandie to her ‘Grapeviners’ international folk dance group.  She visited Cat Depot, hoping to see Amanda, but found that she had been adopted very quickly.

On Saturday 16th we went to the Florida Studio Theatre, where we saw a play called Once; it had energetic Irish singing and dancing, but not much of a plot.  Next day we did our Sunday morning beach walk, this time north along Turtle Beach.  As usual, there were very few people there, but lots of birds.  We also found some things that had been washed up by the sea, including a pair of goggles which must have been in the water for a long while, since they were encrusted with barnacles (not much good for looking through!).

Turtle Beach walk

Goggles for a mermaid

Christmas approaches

The morning after Anne and Mandy left us, Ian went and bought our Christmas tree – not safe with a kitten around!  In the afternoon (while Sandie was working in the library) he put up the tree and the decorations.  It looked really good when Sandie got home!  Next day, she wrote our Christmas letter, and got busy sending out emails.

Our Christmas tree

On Sunday 17th we invited a few friends round, and introduced them to the delights of mince pies, Christmas cake and mulled wine!

The British Christmas event

Gifts of festive plants

On Wednesday Sandie accompanied Ian to his writers’ group; as it was the last meeting before Christmas, partners were invited, and we all took treats to share.  On Friday we went to a concert given by Sarasota Orchestra, called Home for the Holidays.  They played a wide selection of Christmas music – most familiar, but not all – with great skill and enthusiasm. On the way back we stopped at the Bayfront for drinks and a meal. On Saturday we had dinner with Rich at the Pacific Rim restaurant, not far from CP2.

Decorated boat at the Bayfront

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve was on Sunday, of course, so we had our usual trip to the beach (Lido, this time) for a walk, coffee and books.  We walked right round to South Lido Park, where we saw two birds that looked like parrots, perched on the top of the bare branches of a tree.  We also saw chairs and tables set out for a wedding – and a reception!

South Lido beach

Some kind of parrot

Christmas Eve wedding on the beach

We cut our usual outing short and returned home for lunch and an important appointment – talking via skype to our family gathered at Claire’s house, back in the UK.  Later we went to see the new Star Wars film, The Last Jedi – our first visit to the Cinebistro in Siesta Key Mall.  We did not want to eat while watching (certainly not at 4.30pm!) so had dinner afterwards in a new café nearby.

Darth Christmas

Then, before returning home, we drove round some of the places where we knew (from last year’s trolley tour) that there would be houses with Christmas lights.  In one especially good area, we parked the car and walked around.  Lots of other people were doing the same.  It was brilliantly arranged, with tunnels of lights you could walk through or (in one case) drive through.  In addition to the decorations in houses and gardens, there was Christmas music and fake snowstorms.  One householder offered marshmallows for toasting; another projected Christmas films on his garage door!

Christmas Day

After opening our Christmas gifts, we drove to Anna Maria Island, and had breakfast (all you can eat pancakes) at the Manatee Beach Café, as we did last year. Once again, there was an enormous queue to order food.  But the atmosphere was great, with Christmas music and a visit from Santa, who still had enough gifts in his sack for the children present. This year we also had a visit from Miss Alaska – not sure why she was in Florida, something to do with the weather, perhaps? There were also a bunch or pirates, apparently members of the Anna Maria Buccaneers, who collect money for charity.

Santa’s been!

Manatee Beach crowds

All-you-can-eat pancakes – yum!

Beach celebrities

Santa and Miss Alaska dancing

Sandie and a pirate

Ian and Miss Alaska

Afterwards we went for a long walk on the beach – something we do frequently, but still a bit different at Christmas.  Many people were wearing Santa hats; a few had set up their Christmas trees on the sand; the trolley driver was handing out candy canes.  After a huge breakfast we didn’t need lunch, but we stopped a couple of times for drinks. We stayed for the sunset, and then returned home, but not for long.  We had dinner at a Greek restaurant we hadn’t tried before: it was packed, and the food was excellent.

Even Christmas trees like to be on the beach

Correct attire for Christmas Day on the beach

Making a snowman

Christmas Day sunset

Boxing Day

Americans don’t celebrate Boxing Day, but we’re Brits, so we decided we should have another day off. (Doubtless you’re thinking that every day is a day off when you’re retired!)  This time we went to Caspersen Beach, just south of Venice. We’d been there once before, and were entertained by all the people hunting for sharks’ teeth.

Fanatical sharks’ teeth hunters

Pelican island

After our picnic lunch, we went for a long walk south.  The first mile or so is wild and beautiful.  We passed the ferry (furthest point on our previous trip) and continued exploring.  Soon we began to see smart beach houses, but still very few people – until we reached a beach near a car park, where there were crowds.  We had no idea where we were, but found out that it was Manasota Beach.  After returning to our ‘camp’ we watched the sunset (again!) and then drove round to Sharky’s on the Pier, one of our favourite restaurants, for dinner.

‘Nuff said

Hunting at sunset

Boxing Day sunset

Venice pier and Sharky’s

Now Christmas is really over, and we’re back to our usual activities, and home cooking – for a couple of days, at any rate.  Soon it will be New Year, and we wish you all a very happy and healthy 2018.

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A refugee from wintry England

On Thursday 30 November, our friend Anne arrived from the UK for a two-week holiday in Florida – her first visit to the Sunshine State.

She was due to land at Tampa at 5.20pm.  Following our usual practice, we set off in the morning, and made a couple of stops on our way.  This time we went to Pass-a-Grille beach – we’d seen it recommended, but did not find it special (we’ve been spoilt by all the beautiful beaches around here!) and were amazed by the high car parking charges.  After our picnic lunch, we drove up the coast to Treasure Island, where we went for a walk on another beach.  We found the remains of a sand sculpture competition – not up to Siesta of course – and had a drink at Sloppy Joe’s, having discovered that the one in Key West is not unique!  Then it was on to the airport, to meet Anne and bring her back to Sarasota.

Fishing, with helpers

Sand sculpture at Treasure Island

During her visit, we introduced Anne to a lot of the places we go regularly: the Bayfront, the shops, the market, the library and the beaches (we spent a morning on Siesta Key, and a whole day on Anna Maria Island).    Anne is particularly interested in wildlife, so we took her to nearby state parks (Myakka River, Lake Manatee) and other places (Red Bug Slough, Celery Fields, Historic Spanish Point, South Lido Park) where she saw lots of birds and some alligators, and got a taste of the ‘real Florida’.   We also did a day’s excursion down to Sanibel Island, where we collected shells and followed the Ding Darling nature drive.

Anne meets Lady Amanda

Cocktails at Marina Jack’s

Christmas tree on Siesta Key

Beach Market at Anna Maria Island

Sunset drinks at Manatee Beach

AMI sunset

Myakka airboat

Myakka wild boars

Glossy ibis and an egret

Bald eagle at Myakka

Darn if it isn’t the big one!

Limpkin at Red Bug Slough

Barred Owl at Red Bug

The chapel at Historic Spanish Point

Spanish Point gardens

Important notice at Sanibel

Sanibel lighthouse

White pelicans

Yellow-crested night heron

Reddish egret

Roseate spoonbills

Back in Sarasota, we visited the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and the Mote Marine Aquarium.  And we enjoyed the sunset cruise aboard ‘Le Barge’ on Sarasota Bay.  Many thanks to our neighbour Rich who organised tickets for us and came with us on the cruise.

At the Botanical Gardens

Christmas flamingos

Great trash shark at Mote

Green turtle

Manatee

Happy Hour daiquiris

Cruising on LeBarge

Sarasota Bay sunset

Enjoying ‘Mermaid Water’

Passing under the big bridge

The weather was perfect that evening, as indeed it was for the whole of Anne’s first week here.  But after that, the temperature dropped, we had some rain one day and cold winds the day following.  When we did the airboat trip in Myakka River SP, we were wrapped up in fleeces and hoods – most unlike Florida!

Since Anne was to visit in December, we planned to take in some Christmas events.  On Saturday 2nd we watched the annual parade in Main Street – something we definitely do not see in England!  On Thursday 7th we went (with Rich) to ‘Holiday Splendor’ at the Ringling.  We enjoyed drinking wine by the bay, and it gave Anne an opportunity to visit the museums, although we were rather disappointed by the singing (in comparison with previous years). Another evening we attended the Central Park II Christmas party, with food and drink and ‘Secret Santa’ presents.

Christmas parade (1)

Christmas parade (2)

Christmas parade (3)

Ca d’Zan at Ringling

Inside Ca d’Zan

Secret Santa

Anne gets a gift

We planned to visit Spanish Point another evening, for their special Christmas event, but this was cancelled due to forecast ‘inclement weather’.  And on Saturday the lit-up boat parade was also cancelled, due to a ‘high winds advisory’.  We ended up going to the cinema instead, to see the new version of Murder on the Orient Express.  It was good in many ways (possibly better if you don’t already know the plot!) but we did struggle to believe in Kenneth Branagh as Poirot!

The day after Anne arrived, we went to Palm Avenue for their ‘first Friday’ of art galleries, wine and music.   Usually there are singers from Sarasota Opera, but this month it was (not surprisingly) carol singers instead.  A real highlight was Tuesday 5th when we went to the Asolo Theatre to see Evita.  They always have a first-class musical production in November/December, and this was no exception:slightly unusual, but great acting, singing, settings – and of course music!

Christmas carols at Palm Avenue

Ballet dancers at Palm Avenue

While Anne was here, we paid brief visits to two nearby towns: Venice and Bradenton.  All too soon, the time came for her to leave.  Following what has become our standard pattern, we made a stop in St Petersburg on our way to the airport.   Anne’s flight did not leave until 7.45pm, so we had plenty of time to look round.   In addition to the usual stroll, and lunch on the bayfront, we visited the Chihuly Collection, and were blown away by the fantastic glass artwork, beautifully displayed.  We saw a demonstration of glass blowing as well.

Bradenton marina

Little green heron

Chihuly exhibition (1)

Chihuly exhibition (2)

Farewell drinks in St Pete

By now Anne is back in the UK, where the weather is really cold (not just Florida cold!).  Needless to say, here the weather has improved greatly, and is back to what we consider normal for Florida.

On Thursday 14th we said goodbye not only to Anne, but also to Amanda, the kitten we fostered. We’d seem her grow enormously over the past three weeks.  She’d grown a lot more active and adventurous and we’d been amused and entertained by her crazy capers. She’s now back at Cat Depot, and we hope will soon find a good ‘furever family’, as they say there.

Anne and Amanda

Don’t you think I’m cute?

Underwear makes perfect bedding

 

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Lady Amanda comes to stay

As always there is no shortage of entertainment in Sarasota.  We’ve recently seen La Traviata at the Opera House, Moon over Buffalo at the Players Theatre and the film Loving Vincent at the Sarasota Film Society cinema in Burns Court.

As usual, we’ve done plenty of walking too, sometimes aiming for shops, or for a pub/café/ restaurant for an evening meal.   Last Saturday we enjoyed watching the sunset from the deck at Marina Jack’s on the bay.

Statues at the Bayfront

Shadows at sunset

So long, sun

This week we chose Turtle Beach for our Sunday morning beach stroll.  Last year we noted that the beach had been much improved by the addition of extra sand, enabling us to walk further than we’d been able to do previously.  We wondered if Hurricane Irma had caused havoc there, but no – we were able to walk all the way south to the headland, about three miles.  Once we were well away from the car park, we saw very few people, but in one area there were more birds than we’ve ever seen before.  It seems that small fish had been driven in towards the shore by larger fish, and the birds were waiting: a long row of pelicans in the water, and egrets, herons and other birds on the sand.

Osprey hovering

Congregation of pelicans

Egret on a pedestal

We’ve celebrated a couple of special events during the past week.  Last Thursday was Thanksgiving Day, and we were invited by Lynda for coffee and scones in the morning.  Lynda belongs to Grapeviners (Sandie’s folk dance group) and some other members were also there, giving us a chance to get to know them better (not much opportunity for conversation when we are dancing!).  It rained heavily most of that day (the only real rain we’ve had since we’ve been back) but when it finally stopped (late afternoon) we walked down to the Bayfront and ended up with dinner in Main Street.

Thanksgiving meal

Yesterday was David’s birthday, and we joined a large crowd of people celebrating at the Mandeville Beer Garden.  Most were from Central Park II so we spent a very pleasant evening chatting to neighbours, sampling the beers (or ciders, in Ian’s case) and the pizzas from a visiting stall, not to mention David’s birthday cake.

What have we here?

Birthday throng

A selection of lovely ladies

More candles surely?

Arise, sir, from your semi-recumbent posture!

Talking of CP2, the good news is that work on our new stairwell was finally completed last week.  The bad news is that they have started on the roof of our building!  And without warning….  Yesterday morning Sandie arrived home from her tap dance class to find our part of Building 3 swathed in blue tarpaulin.  Quite a shock!  She wasn’t even sure how she was going to get in – but managed to squeeze by.  And the noise (from the old roof being destroyed, and pieces thrown below, not to mention machinery being used) was horrendous. Luckily today the workmen have moved further along the building, so it’s not so bad.

A new stairway – hooray!

We’ve been gift-wrapped!

They’re on the roof!

But the best news is that, for the past week, we’ve enjoyed the company of Amanda, a kitten that we’re fostering for Cat Depot.  She is black and white, tiny and of course very cute (what kitten isn’t?).  She’d already been given the name Amanda, but we call her Lady Amanda (she obviously rules the roost) or (on occasions) Mandy the Menace.  We will have her for another two weeks, until she’s big enough to be spayed.  Then she’ll go back to Cat Depot, have the op and be available for adoption. We shall miss her!

Lady Amanda (1)

Lady Amanda (2)

Lady Amanda (3)

Lady Amanda (4)

Feeding time

 

 

 

 

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Stairways and Sand Sculptures

We arrived back in Sarasota on Monday 7th November.  Great to be back in the warmth and sunshine, and to see our Sarasota friends again.  Central Park looked much the same, except for the stairwells.  They all have to be replaced (at considerable cost for the owners!) and the contractors are now in the middle of the work.  Thanks to reports from our neighbour Rich, we knew that they were currently working on Building 3, where we live.  We’d missed the noise of the pneumatic drills, and our new concrete stairway had been created, but the railings had not been set up.  This final stage has taken longer than we expected, so at present we are still using the temporary wooden stairs.

Back to Central Park

Preparing to pour concrete

Our temporary stairs

Another new thing we spotted at CP2 was a sign by the water warning of alligators and snakes. Such signs are common near Florida ponds and lakes, and we’ve never seen any indication of the presence of an alligator here.  We did however spot a snake (fair sized, but harmless) wriggling its way across the footpath.

Keeping busy

We’ve been pretty busy since we arrived.  We unpacked all the many and varied things we’d brought from the UK; restocked our fridge and freezer; got the car up and running – no problems, it started first time, but it was due a service anyway, so we got that done.

Refurbished Lemon Ave fountain

Tile detail

We resumed our regular Florida activities.  Sandie is back on duty at the Cat Depot and the library, and taking part in her tap dancing classes and international folk dancing group.  Ian has started painting again, and has attended his writers’ group.  We’ve resumed our Saturday morning visits to the market, and our search of charity shops, still looking for the missing Lost 4.

Evening sky on the way back from the Library

In addition, there have been plenty of other things to occupy our time.  We finished our work for the Sutton Trust before leaving England, but have since had to write a proposal for work to be done next year (and beyond).  Sandie agreed to help again with marking business plans for the High Wycombe Young Enterprise group, and Ian offered to help with analysing the results, so that kept us busy over last weekend.   We’ve had style proofs to check for our book, which is due to be published next March.  And we’ve been in regular touch with our agent about problems with our Slough flat – empty now, but needing a lot of work to make it fit to rent again.

Days out

Even with all of the above, we have managed to have a few outings – we can’t miss all the sunshine, and we need some fresh air and exercise!  Last Monday we went to see the annual sand sculpture competition at Siesta Key.  This is always well worth seeing, and the professional sculptures were, as always, amazing.  We combined our visit with a walk along the beach and back through the village, where we stopped for lunch.

The queue for the sand sculpture exhibition

Sand sculpture (1)

Sand sculpture (2)

Sand sculpture (3)

Sand sculpture (4)

Sand sculpture (5) – that’s why we’re in Florida!

Sand sculpture (6)

Sand sculpture (7)

Sand sculpture (8)

Sand sculpture (9) – Valkyrie

Sand sculpture (10) – left brain

Sand sculpture (11) – right brain

Looking over the sand sculpture venue

On Wednesday we went for a walk along the Legacy Trail, a tarmac ‘multi-use’ path following the old railway track.  One of our reasons for doing this was that Sandie wished to calibrate her pedometer, and the Legacy Trail (marked with distances every 0.05 miles) is the perfect place to do so.  It can also be good for wildlife; we spotted an unusual red-headed lizard, and saw a hawk sitting up in a tree, but the turtle was camera shy and dived into the water as we approached.

Red-headed lizard

Hawk

Yesterday we went to our favourite Anna Maria Island.  We’ve walked along the beach there many times, usually the top half or the lower half of the island, but decided it would be fun to walk the whole length (about 10-11 miles) in one go. We parked at Manatee Beach (about the midpoint of the island) and took the free trolley up to City Pier.  It was then we had a shock, because the pier was closed!  We’ve been there many times over the years, and it usually forms the starting point for our ‘top end’ walks.  We found an alternative café for our morning coffee, and asked the lady there why the pier was closed.  It was apparently damaged by Hurricane Irma – the first example we’ve seen of this – and repairs will take 18 months!

Bad news

Under repair

The beach near the pier is much narrower than it used to be, so we had to walk ‘inland’ for a bit until we could walk along the beach.  But soon things were back to normal – wide stretches of pure white sand, cloudless blue sky and sparkling sea. As usual there were lots of birds: not just pelicans, and of course seagulls, but herons, egrets, terns, sanderlings etc etc.  And for the first time, we saw lots of jellyfish (of varying sizes) stranded on the beach.

Beach gang

Jellyfish (1)

Jellyfish (2)

Jellyfish (3)

Jellyfish (4)

Cormorant

Manatee Beach

We stopped at the Sandbar for drinks, and reached Manatee Beach at lunchtime – carefully planned, so we could get our picnic out of the car.  Then it was on to the Coquina Beach Café for afternoon drinks.  Just a little further to the southern tip of the island, then a trolley back to Manatee, where we had dinner while listening to the live music. A very pleasant day out!

Greater egret

In a rush

Royal terns bathing

Anything I can scrounge?

Aha!

Florida sunset

Evening on the beach

 

 

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Autumn leaves and coffee crawls

During the second half of October, we had some decent weather – sometimes bright and sunny, not too cold – and we took advantage of it to go for several walks, often through woods where we could admire the colours of the autumn leaves.  Even before the clocks changed, the evenings were getting dark, so our Friday pub crawls had to end (unless we stayed in the town, and walked on lighted roads).  Mornings seemed to be the best time for walks, so we designated them ‘coffee crawls’; usually we were able to find a village pub or café for our 11am (approx.) caffeine fix.  We’ve lived in Wycombe for several years now, on and off, but we are still finding new footpaths and country lanes to explore.

Red sun due to Hurricane Ophelia

Through the woods

Autumn leaves (1)

A rather small pony

Autumn leaves (2)

Halloween apparition

Walking to Hughenden Manor

Misty landscape

Hughenden Manor

Autumn leaves (3)

It must be Halloween

Coffee time!

Wycombe cemetery

Monument to a tunnel disaster in 1902

Pann Mill

West country wandering

On Friday 27th we hired a car and drove to Bussage for a weekend with Claire & co.  It was Oscar’s sixth birthday earlier that week, but they had all been in France visiting Ant’s dad. And his party had been held before the half-term holiday.  So the birthday dinner we had was his third celebration.  Next day we met Ant’s five-year-old son Logan, and we all went to Tewkesbury to meet other members of his family.  We had lunch at his mother’s tea shop, and were joined by his stepdad; later we met his sister who was running a cake stall in the town’s market.

It’s still my birthday!

Wow!

Tewkesbury farmers’ market

The Terrible Trio

Carving pumpkins

Three little monsters and their pumpkins

On Sunday it was off to Tetbury, where Charlie was playing in a rugby match.  He has only recently started playing rugby, but really enjoys it.  His team (the Minchinhampton under-9s) played matches against two Tetbury teams, and Charlie scored two tries. We were not entirely certain which team won – even the players seemed unsure, but they had fun anyway.  From Tetbury we went on to the West Swindon Centre, and had lunch in a pub there.  Claire & co went home afterwards, but before leaving we went for a nostalgic stroll up to the house where we used to live some 30 years ago.

Rugby action (1)

Rugby action (2)

Rugby action (3)

Flying saucer or rugby ball?

The Link Centre at West Swindon

We lived here once

Ready for the off

On Monday morning we returned the car; we then had just a week before heading to Sarasota.  When we first bought our condo, we imagined that – once it was fully equipped, and we had complete sets of clothes there – we would be able to cross the Atlantic with just hand luggage.  We soon realised that this was never going to happen!

We may not need to transport clothes back and forth (though sometimes we do, for particular reasons) but there are many other things, including books, papers and files we want to work on.  There are lots of things (including food items) that are better, cheaper or easier to find on one side of the Atlantic.  For example, Ian does his oil painting in Sarasota (no room in Wycombe) but buys his canvases from Poundworld. And he has to take supplies of his various pills, enough to last six months.  This time we needed to transport two large chess sets (Ian’s birthday presents) and nine silver teaspoons acquired during out European travels, all to be added to the collections in Florida.  And then there was the Christmas cake, and the mince pies…..

Sandie decided that she would pack on Tuesday.  But when we assembled all of the spoils, we wondered whether they would fit into our two cases.  Since there were so many different shapes, it was like compiling a giant 3D jigsaw.  Sandie managed to squeeze everything in – just! – and was congratulating herself until she opened her wardrobe and found other things that had to go.

The only solution was to buy a bigger case. On Thursday we went to Slough for the day, visiting the cemetery, calling at our solicitors’ office and having dinner with friends in the pub that used to be our ‘local’ when we lived in Langley.  We spent the time inbetween looking round the shops, and finally settled for a case that was bigger than our old (rather battered) one, but not too enormous.  So Friday’s task was to repack everything, but it’s done now and we’re ready to go.  Today it’s cold and wet – looks like autumn is turning into winter, so time for these snowbirds to fly south!

Getting his nuts in a row

Autumn leaves (4)

 

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