03 June 2010

Second Half of Florida Vacation

05/18/2010 cont.

- We reach our destination and just marvel at all these islands held together by mangrove forests.

We have the first cabin but it is still pretty far from the main road. 

This is probably the place that frustrated us most.  Through no fault of either our own nor the proprietess, actually.  The Saturday before we leave on Thursday (and two days before I give my finals) our main credit card is compromised.  This is the card that our deposit was made with and that White Gate Court would soon be placing the last of our payment.

The credit card company closes the account and will issue a replacement next week.  No guarantee of when the new cards will arrive.

So I send off a frantic email to WGC and place a phone call to apprise them of the situation.  We do not hear anything from them until Monday (the day I am buried in giving and grading finals, remember), when I am told a check will be fine as long as it arrives by Saturday.

We mail a check, request an email as soon as it arrives, and hope for the best.  I check email every day (when we have signal) and never get a "check arrived" notification.  Bill finally calls Saturday morning and gets a human.  Oh yes the check arrived and an email was sent yesterday. 

It was either never sent or eaten by the 'net.

Crisis averted and we arrived yesterday with good light left.

The birds are neat (the Herons and Egrets arrive around dusk every evening, where they are fed on the porch) and the girls got to meet a poodle something and four Basset Hounds.  One hound is 12 years old and almost completely white.  She reminds me of several other older dogs I know of as well as the old gal I rescued off the street the day before we left.

Wednesday before leaving (and just before I take our youngest to his breeder for the vacation) I head out to grab the mail and see a very old and decrepit poodle mix wandering in the neighbors yard.  I've never seen the old gal before.  I coax her over to check for a collar or some identification.  She has none.  I carefully pick her up and take her into the backyard where Bill gets her some water and we observe the poor old gal.  She has very little hair on her back, several large tumors, numerous moles, and severely sun damaged skin.  I can not imagine what kind of life this poor gal has endured, and I can not imagine what I'm going to do with her. 

Taking her to a shelter will be an instant death sentence.  I can't let her go, we are too close to the highway and I do not know what would happen to her.  I do not think I can talk Bill into a fourth dog, and she looks like she needs some immediate medical care.

Maybe Mom will watch her for me while I am gone? 

I place two phone calls to neighbors and ask if anyone recognizes this little gals description.

Shortly thereafter I get a call from my breeder buddy, i need to leave with the monster now!!!  I race off with Massimo, and return an hour later to no old gal in the backyard (I nicknamed her Sweet Pea).  Apparently her frantic owner, looking for Molly, had shown up 10 minutes after I left.

So, all is well that ends well, so far.

- We take the girls down to the dock and shallow water.  But would not you know, they have no interest in wading.

I can coax Delta in to her ankles, but not any further.  Skyla is having none of it.

- Awaken to a lovely morning and head down to sign in the dogs. 

- We have a lazy morning just hanging out on the beach and playing (the humans that is, the girls are not too sure yet) with our duplex neighbor Heidi, lovely golden retriever.  Oh, her owners are neat too.  :)

- We nap several hours in the room while the storms rage outside.  The sky has been charmingly cloudy most of the day.

During the height of the storm, we noticed a lizard clamoring up the chains hanging from our gutter.  I hope the pictures come out.

- I wander the area with the girls as Bill heads out for pizza.  I love the trees in the area, but I wonder how many are native to the Keys and how many are imported.   

We believe that Bill will never return, when he finally pulls in with our take out order.  Bill reports GPS problems once again.  This time the unit tried to take him to an adult entertainment establishment.  Not what he was anticipating.

I am sure it was a very nice place (eye roll) but they probably do not sell pizza.

He finally found the pizza shop "Tower of Pizza" and brought home stuffed grape leaves, Greek Salad, and pizza. 

- Looks like some new dogs showed up.  It is a Golden Ret. festival.

- Bill snorkels in the bay while the girls and I hang out and read.  I'm trying to push past my sun reaction, but it is not fun.  I've still got the rash on my upper chest and my arms are covering in red micro rash dots.

Bill reports a crab menacing him in the shallows.

-  Today is a read, wander, and relax day.  We head up north to the Winn Dixie for more fruit juice.

- The wind blowing through the palms causes the leaves to flutter in the breeze, sounding like bird wings.

- Drive to Key West.  We pass several Ford Model Ts.  I cannot tell if they are original or kit builds.  The guys driving look a little cramped in the driver's seats.

- Long Key park does not allow dogs on the beach, not surprised.  There is a dog beach in Key West.

- Marathon is a complete little city in and of itself.  It is hugely populated.

- Once again the GPS is way off.  It sends us to the wrong side of the road and to the wrong establishment.  Shame on you Garmin!  Who made your maps?

- Key West blew Bill's mind.  He was amazed at the number of residential properties and rather expected everything to look like the north side of the island.  Businesses with strong tones of French Quarter New Orleans commercialism.

There are simply way too many tourists in Key West, and this probably is not even the busy season. 

- Went to dog beach listed in dogfriendly.com at Vernon and Waddell.  It was a little disappointing.  The little bit of land sits right next to a restaurant, and there is no ambiance to speak of ... except for the homeless guy crashed out against the fence. 

Skyla was not as disappointed as me.  She went into scent overload and wanted to experience all of the smells available ... even some of the ones that took her near the water.

- Delta keeps trying to tow her handler, and Bill is getting irritated.  Delta walks well when her collar is very high on her neck or when you stop every five steps and tell her not to pull.  Otherwise you are left skiing behind the Delta boat.

- Exit on Big Pine Key and head north to find out more about the local deer. 

We cannot find the visitors center but I want to head out to the big lake at far north of the the island.

We start seeing wildlife refuge signs, no trespassing.  But the lake is just a bit further, so we continue down the road.  As we turn into a small boating subdivision, I start seeing little deer all over the place.  We got pictures of four, but saw at least eight.  They are cute little miniatures ... seemingly halfway between the girls size wise.

- We have copied down a for sale address to check on later.  A mobile search turns up a $500k price tag on a house just over 1k feet square and just over a tenth of an acre in lot size.  Can you say wow?!?   

On our way back to the overseas highway, we decide not to attempt the visitor's center.  After all when you can see the deer from the car window, why bother to knock yourself out on a sign search.

- Stopped for a snack at Veterans Memorial Park near mile 40 on Little Duck Key.  Leashed pets allowed, seems to be a pet friendly beach as well as park.  Great dining tables right on the beach, and plenty of shade.  Recommended for a short to medium length stop.  No overnights allowed.

- Late afternoon and evening spent relaxing at the dock.

- My sun rash has not itched today as it has in the last week.  It also has not been as red and ugly looking.  Perhaps the immune response is beginning to fade?  I hope so.  I wonder if I should check out tanning booths?

(I can see the conversation now, "But Ma'am, you have twenty-five minutes left!". "No thanks, I only need five.")

- Today is another lounge around day.

- We get slathered up for snorkeling today, and Bill goes out first.  I read and play around on the computer.  There is very spotty wi-fi available here at WGC.

Bill returns with a report of cold water and nothing much going on.  He is a little disappointed at the snorkeling here.  But at least he finally got to see what the Keys are all about.

For myself, at his declaration of cold water, I decide I can put the swimming off another day.  My fat layer just does not seem as insulating as other peoples.  I generally chill very quickly.

- So we lay out in the shade of the trees as lunch rolls around.  And back inside our cabin we arrive.

- Lunch is followed by a lazy afternoon nap.

- Back down to the pier for sunset.  I never realized how quickly the sun sets.  But it makes sense ... we are moving 1100? mph?  And what is the diameter of the sun?

- After sunset we wander the compound some more.  Bill carries a flashlight and finally spies a crab in the holes we have found near the water.  The girls have spent quite a bit of time buried past their eyeballs, snouts firmly pressed into these holes.  Have we finally found something Skyla would hunt?  Seafood?  Or landfood, as the case may be?  Given the opportunity, she would quite happily dig up whatever has buried itself a foot or more down.  And I would normally let her ... Except all the holes are in or very near grass.  I can not help thinking that grass is exceptionally hard to grow in these environs.  And so Skyla remains unfullfilled.  

On the way back to the cabin, Bill notices a snake climbing trees, hunting in the hollows of the craggy bark encircling the trunk.  I snapped a couple of photos, but it was getting fairly dark.  It is a corn snake, Elaphe guttata

- The mornings adventure was to Windley State Fossil Park.  This is a quarry that fossilized coral was pulled from.  It gives one a good idea about the substructure of these islands.

The dogs loved the walking trails, we took all four.  Both humans spent half the time skiing behind their respective dog.  All passersby heard was, "No pull Skyla."  "No pull Delta."  "Stop pulling!"

They were entranced by the smells and could not wait to see what was around the next bend.

- The GPS worked, once, here in the Keys.  We used it while pinpointing a place we wanted to go for dinner.  It pointed us to the right place.  Wouldn't you know, they are closed on Sundays.

- Back home for resting and relaxing.  That 85 degree F walk felt a lot warmer. 

- I head out to snorkel near sundown.  I see wrasse like fish that are fascinating to watch, lots of crabs, some corals in various forms, sea grass, sea disc like plants, a school of small fish, and a slender fish that mimics detritus, hanging vertically in the water, getting close to the school, and then - lunge!  He missed the strike that I saw.  I also saw a bunch of fishing line in the water, but when I reached down to take it away, the line retracted quickly into a living organism.  Hope I did not hurt it!

- The day ended with the Lost finale.  Huh, so the sideways time was supposed to be some kind of limbo land?

I guess some stories were meant to be left unanswered.

Having lost interest in Lost halfway through the series, this last season has re-captured my attention.

Loved Rose and Bernard, Hugo, and Claire and Charley.   

- What are we going to do on this, our last full day?

- My goodness, what is this? The GPS unit has a second address correct?  Oh, lucky day!  We have arrived a Founders Park.

- Take the girls to Founders Dog Park.  It was lovely.  Large, comfortable size.  Plenty of seating for chatting with other dog owners and lotsa shade for dog and human alike.

Skyla settled in quickly, even though this is her first dog park.  She let some dogs know she did not like them, and she went up and sniffed others.

The Delta brat had a lot more trouble settling in.  She got a little disgruntled with a ten month old puppy, trying to "defend me" at one point.  Nipped first aggressive response in the bud.  After about two hours, another dog arrived and Delta took an instant dislike, snapping and egging him on several times.  I attempted extreme control measures and she settled down after the second attack.  Luckily his owners were understanding of these first timers, and did not figure Delta could actually hurt a dog so much bigger than her own size.  We left shortly after their arrival so that they could enjoy the park.       

Definitely recommend and plan to spend more time in dog parks.  The girls are fine with humans, but other dogs can make them uneasy.

The girls are now thoroughly crashed out in the room as we tackle packing strategy for our exit tomorrow.

- We discuss going to Founders park to snorkel, but I fear Bill will not be happy.  It was not mentioned as a prominent snorkel area.  After some back and forth, we decide to make the drive to Key Largo and Pennekamp State Park.  Pennekamp houses some of the local coral reef, and allows dogs ... as long as they are leashed, don't even think about going on a beach, and stay away from all buildings etc.

I saw at least five different species of fish and was thrilled by the variety of coral.  Fan shapes and hard shelled varieties grew between the sea grass and polyp organisms.

- After a shower back at the duplex, off to dinner at Kaiyo, a Japanese sushi and modern fusion restaurant.  Dinner was delicious.  It was also one of those experiences where you order something just because you have never seen anything like it before. 

The girls were a hit out on the dog porch.  Of course.

- On the way home, I watch a lightning storm off bayside way.  I love to watch storms. 

Took the girls out for a walk before bedding down for the night.  Delta lost her cool when I stepped over her.  Luckily I could keep the girls from each other, but I probably looked a sight in my skirt with two dogs and leashes tangled around me as a miniature brown dog tried to get to a regular sized brown dog.  Grrr.  Delta, stop being such a spaz.  


- Leave the Keys.

Good Points About White Gate Court
- Nice porch area for eating, communing with duplex neighbors, and watching the storms.
- Lots of dogs to meet and hang out with.  If you do not have dogs and want a vacation with them, do not worry, there are plenty to go around.
- Fairly complete kitchen setup.  No measuring cups or spoons though.  Bring your own.
- Sizable rooms in my opinion, though the bathroom seems like a serious afterthought.  I wonder if it is a retrofit ... especially since the bathroom and bedroom floor is raised by five inches.  The drain tube for the shower would require such.
- Lovely location when you want a relaxing vacation.  South of Key Largo by quite a bit.  But far North of Marathon and Key West.  Easily accessible, but not close enough to be severely effected by their traffic concerns.
- The grounds are kept up amazingly well considering the dog and human traffic.

Bad Points about White Gate Court
- There is no fluorescent lighting here.  It would really cut down on energy usage ... I think.  Then again, there are two air conditioning units in our half of the duplex, and they were set incredibly low.  Maybe the average tourist uses so much energy via the AC that energy saved with fluorescent lighting would be nominal.
- The proprietess is a very heavy smoker.  FYI, you will be exposed to this in the office area.  I started to get a headache after a couple of minutes.  I do not notice a smoke smell from our room.  However, everything is pretty strongly perfumed.  Which always makes me wonder what someone is trying to hide.
- There is so much polyester and nylon in this room, it is stifling at night.  As someone who never sleeps without a sheet and a blanket, year round, I've been single sheeting it and sweltering.  It makes naps and nighttime very uncomfortable.  I finally looked at our sheet content, 50/50 ... meaning 50% cotton and 50% polyester.  I'd recommend bringing your own sheet set.
- The price seems kinda high for something that is only marginally kept up.
- No stick pots and pans that are losing their coating.  The owner would blame that on the renters, but a perusal through the cupboards reveals one appropriate utensil for non-stick cookware ... one.
- Kitchen soap is so watered down it has lost most of it's grease cutting ability.  I used it to clean pizza sauce grease from a skirt before washing.  It did not come out and I've ruined a fun little summer skirt in my color.  Shoot!     
- The hot water heater must be on its hottest setting.  I've scalded myself four times before I stopped turning on the hot water to wash my hands.
- The rooms are overloaded with furniture, specifically a really uncomfortable plastic rocking chair that trips you up every time you try to get around it.  A regular side chair would be a great deal more useful.

- Stopped at a turnpike station for gasoline and to walk the girls.  As Bill filled up, I walked with the dogs as the skies began to open up.  Near a tree, I saw what I thought was a plastic snake, until it started to move.  Hurry back to the truck to grab the camera and run back ... no snake.  It's gone already.  Wander, wander, wander.  Bill is waiting in the truck ... and two steps ahead is a curled up yellow rat snake, Elaphe obsoleta quadrivittata .  I could have stepped on her!  What a gorgeous set of markings.

- Stay in La Quinta in Ocala.  Not a lot of food places within walking distance.

The local Hilton has stables nearby and we walked the grounds with the girls.

Ocala La Quinta
- I had no idea you could still get microwaves that had no power adjustment and no turn table.  Wow, talk about a dinosaur of the early electronic age.

- We check out and head down to Kanapaha Botanical Garden in Gainesville.  I am hopeful that we can spend at least an hour or two kicking around because Bill has booked a hotel just an hour down the road.  I cannot imagine what we will do in dog unfriendly Florida for an entire day!

No worries.  We spend more than six hours at the botanical extravaganza, and all four of us are exhausted by supper time. 

I love Kanapaha Gardens.  I could see myself working there and am busily thinking of ways to incorporate some of what I saw in my own yard.

I was most interested in the native garden, which I admit needs to be expanded, drastically.  However, the amazing Bamboo garden and various water features more than make up for the lack I could find.

My only beef with the gardens would be lack of trash receptacles.  As expected, you are asked to dispose of your trash in trash cans throughout the gardens.  We never found any.  So either they are not present, or they are very well disguised.  Our doggy bags are permeable for better circulation of oxygen to help the contents break down faster.  Which means you can smell the contents of the bag through the bag.  Which means you really do not want to toss these bags inside an enclosed building.

We saw two Black Racer snakes, Coluber constrictor priapus.  One was sunning itself along one of the waterways, and the other seemed to be hunting in the bulb garden.  We also saw a coiled black hose where one of these guys could hide really well.  Glad they are neither aggressive nor poisonous, though we try not to bother snakes regardless.  There are just some species you are willing to get closer to than others, you know?

We easily walked several miles today.  The girls are so tired that even though it is 30 minutes past dinner, they prefer to snooze rather than remind us of the time.  :)  This means very tired pups!

- Stay in Lake City Red Roof Inn.  Overcharged for dogs.  Bill is unhappy.

- We have used up an almost entire bottle of 12 oz Wonder Wash soap.  It has been body wash, shampoo, and occasional hand soap for almost two weeks now.  Good stuff.

- My darling Bill has quickly turned into my little Mowgli in the last couple of weeks.  Due to melanin production ability bequeathed by his ancestors AND his fanatical refusal to wear sun screen, my honey is getting dark.  I'm simply getting more freckles.  And I HAVE been wearing sunscreen, daily.  Though I will admit to skipping my legs a couple days, they are still pale.

I have seen an enormous amount of damaged skin on this trip.

- Bill awakens me at 7 o'dark thirty to head out.  I can sleep in the truck.  I dreamed about how difficult it was for me to get a job at Kanapaha Gardens.  :)

I have never had such spotty wifi as I have here at the Red Rood Inn in Lake City, Fl.  I am so not impressed with this place.  There were three hairs in the shower when I got in last night.  They did not belong to anyone I know.

- Because we both felt rested and settled, we drove the entire way home.  We stopped for pizza and sandwiches at Grains of Montana in Biloxi, which is where we had planned to stay the night. 

- We arrived about ten at night, having been waylaid by major traffic in Lake Charles and difficulty navigating Beaumont.  We had stopped at Schlotzky's for dinner. 

Good parts of trip
- It was so nice to get away. 

- Florida, on the east coast, is still fairly comfortable in late May.

- The dogs, the dogs, the dogs.  We enjoy vacations without them, but a trip with them ... we try things we would not otherwise (We say - I do not know what it is, but they allow dogs, let us check it out) ... They are great ice breakers and conversation starters (Fellow Vacationers and Locals say - We have been trying to figure out what kind of dogs those are?) ... Dogs mature and gain so much confidence on a trip (Dogs say - Instead of being fearful, I will tackle this new adventure with glee!) 

Bad parts of trip
- Everywhere we went, the combustion engines of equipment were racing.  There is always someone blowing leaves, mowing the lawn, pressure washing walls, etc.  They sound horrible and smell worse.  Talk about a holiday dampener.

- People who will not clean up after their dogs.  Dog excrement is stinky, slippery, and darn near impossible to clean off a shoe.  While many people cite the parasite damage feces can introduce to an environment, I can tell you about further damage it/they do to the plant environment.  Feces are almost pure fertilizer very high in nitrogen.  They provide breeding ground for insects, archea, and bacteria. Now one dog placing droppings one time on an area is not going to have a large effect.  However, when you have many dogs in a fairly small place continually adding high nitrogen loads, everything starts to burn from the fertilizer overload. 

It would be much better to clean up and either dispose or compost the feces.  (There's not much one can do about the urine but encourage lots of water drinkage and hose down commonly used spots.)

I use BioBags dog feces bags.  There are biologically unstable and will break down over time.  You can throw them away in the trash or toss them into a compost pile.

- People who will not leash their dogs.  Do not let your dog race up to mine.  My dogs probably will not attack but they are not used to strange dogs doing a nose plant in their faces. 

For the sake of all dogs concerned, please keep control of your dogs.

I've journaled this entire trip on an iPad.  Here are my thoughts. 
Good things about the iPad
- They were not lying about battery life.  This thing goes and goes and goes.  I think I've charged it five times now in the entirety of time that I have owned it.
- There are a bunch of free apps.  Solitaire, mahjong tiles, Pac-Sam, Checkers 360, Teragati, Sudoku, Crosswords, and Documents lite are getting regular workouts.  As are all the free ebooks I have downloaded.     

Bad things about the iPad
- The keyboard is not conducive to long strings of words.  A quick text, fine.  Several pages of journal, and I guarantee you will spend almost as much time fixing mistakes and the automatic word fixes and punctuation as you do typing the journal.
- The ads, the ads, the ads.  How disgusting they are.  I finally just deleted several promising apps because the ads were so ridiculously intrusive.      

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