Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Manatees and another rocket launch


After that beautiful New Years Eve, the New Year arrived with rain and chilly temperatures.  We spent most of the day in the clubhouse, watching football games, playing cards and pool, and just hanging out.  With chilly temps and chances of rain for the next two days, our friends also decided that they would get packed up and depart a day early on Tuesday.  With that storm moving in along the east coast, we thought that was a pretty good idea . . . but we were sorry to see them all go!

Nicolas had a few more days to spend with us, though, and we managed to make the most of the days we had.  Tuesday and Wednesday were rainy as promised, and we spent the time watching Christmas movies and finally baking the gingerbread cookies that I had stirred up for Christmas.  Nicolas and I also worked on his 2018 budget and a few other financial and career planning tasks that he needed to take care of.

After two days inside, we were ready to get out on Thursday.  It was still cloudy, but we took a drive down to Merritt Island and saw the new Jumanji movie.  It was really funny – probably my favorite of the Rock’s movies.  By the time we emerged from the theatre, the sun had come out (Yay!), and the weather was looking up for the weekend!

On Friday, we took a drive up to Daytona Beach to go to an RV Show at Daytona International Speedway.  I had heard it was sponsored by La Mesa, but it turned out to be strictly a La Mesa show . . . although I was surprised at the large quantity of RVs they had there.  There were lots of duplicates, but we still managed to walk through lots of motorhomes, 5th wheels, and even a few travel trailers and Class B’s.  We didn’t see anything that tempted us, but we did determine that we had made a good choice with our motorhome, and Nicolas made a very good choice with his travel trailer . . . and I will NEVER have one of those little Class B’s – although I will say that the ones on the Transit chassis are nicer than the Mercedes (we’re not biased at all!)

Back home, Nicolas grilled some steaks on his new grill, and it worked very well!  He had been looking for a Weber Q grill like ours, and we’ve been watching on craigslist.  A couple weeks ago, Tom saw one listed in Orlando for $65, and we drove over and met the guy.  We thought it was a 1200, which is what we have, but it turned out to be a 2200, which is quite a bit bigger.  We really didn’t want the bigger one, but the guy really didn’t want to take it back home.  He dropped his price to $40 and threw in a full 20 lb. propane tank.  We took it home, and a couple days later Tom had  cleaned it up, sold the propane tank for $20, and ordered a new handle for the grill on Ebay for $12 (the original handle was missing).  So for $32, Nicolas has a really nice grill . . . and he’s so excited to be able to expand his cooking options!

Saturday was another beautiful day (sunny, but still just in the upper 50s), so we decided to take a drive up to Blue Spring State Park in Orange City to see the manatees. 

We didn’t know it, but the national news had just done a story on the manatees and how they migrate to the warm spring water (constant 73 degrees) to escape the unseasonal cold temperatures that had settled in Florida.

We turned on the road that leads into the state park, and were greeted with a long backup of vehicles!

Waiting in line to get into the park

I guess everybody decided to come see the manatees today!

Finally getting through the gate!

It took an hour for us to creep along the one-way road to the turn-around, and back to the entrance to the park, but we finally made it through the gate and easily found a parking spot at the spring.  I’m thinking that must be their way of controlling the level of visitors to the park, by admitting vehicles at a slower pace so others have time to leave.

There’s also a swimming area in the spring, but it’s closed in the winter to accommodate the manatees.

Blue Spring - home to manatees

Anyway, it was crowded, but not overly so, and you could still see the manatees from the walkway along the spring.

Manatees gathering in the warm water

There’s a nicely maintained walkway along the spring.


The walkway is kindof far from the spring, so you’re not getting a really close look at the manatees, but there are several observation decks that overhang the water, providing a better view.

I could have gotten better pictures with my camera and longer lens, but my battery was dead, so all I had available was my phone.  It did a pretty good job, though.

There was definitely no shortage of manatees in the spring (I think the sign in the ranger station said over 350 counted that day), and we saw several come to the surface for air,

Two coming to the surface

Coming to the surface

including a mom and her baby.

Mom with a baby

Tom had to get his picture with the manatee . . . Nicolas wouldn’t join him!

Tom and his manatee friend

At the end of the spring, where it feeds into the St. John River,

St. John River

there will still a few manatees congregating,

Manatees near the opening to the river

and in a tree across the river, I spotted an interesting figure.  It looked like the common pose of the American Bald Eagle.

Saw this bird in the top of the tree -- pretty sure it's an Eagle

I took several pictures, and never got a really clear on, but it definitely had a dark body and I kept catching glimpses of a bright white head.

Yep, pretty sure it's an Eagle

Pretty sure it’s an eagle.

The sun was dipping behind the trees across the river, and it was getting pretty cold, so we made our way back to the Jeep.  It as a really nice park, and fun to see the manatees, so we were glad we waited the hour to get in!

Nicolas had originally planned to leave us on Monday (he didn’t have to report back to work until Wednesday), but with the big storm that his the east coast, he was a little worried about his trailer.  We had it pretty secure against the cold, and he had drained his water lines and left the furnace set to 58 degrees when  he came to Florida, but there were still a few areas that could be vulnerable (hot water heater, water filter, tank valves) to the continued single digit temps, especially if his furnace went out for any reason.  He was a little anxious to get home and make sure everything was OK, so he left early Sunday morning to make the 725 mile drive home. 

Another sad good-bye!

Saying good-bye to Nicolas for a little while

I’m happy to report that he made it home in 10-1/2 hours, and all was good with his trailer! 

Sunday night was the next scheduled SpaceX Falcon rocket launch from Cape Canaveral, so after talking to Nicolas we headed down to Titusville to see the night launch.  There were a lot more people gathered for this one than there were for the last launch!  We went to the same location, and actually had to pull the Jeep up on the curb because there were no parking spaces left.

It was worth it, though, and we didn’t have to wait long as the launch went off promptly at 8pm.

Our first indication that the action was starting!

Our first glimpe of the rocket firing



Pictures were harder to get at night, though, so we mostly just watched in amazement as the rocket appeared to come straight towards us!

Continuing to rise towards the atmosphere

Just a few minutes later, we watched at the first stage of the rocket re-entered the atmosphere and made it’s way very precisely to the landing site.

1st stage returning to Cape Canaveral

Landing complete

Success! (Although we heard on the news today that the top-secret satellite that was on board may have been destroyed during separation)

It’s pretty cool that we’re so close to the Space Center and can watch these awesome events!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Ringing in 2018!


The last day of December promised to be sunny and in the mid-60s – our best chance at a beach day – so we packed up chairs and blankets and headed down to Cocoa Beach.

We weren’t the only ones . . . lots of other people were glad to finally get a chance at some sun and sand!

A nice day at the beach!


The sunshine felt great, and without too much wind, it was pretty warm.  Bryce bought a volleyball at the beach shop, and they started up a game at one of the sand courts by the pier.

After a while, we walked down to join them.

Playing volleyball 

They were having fun . . . although the sand could be tough on the feet . . .

or the stomach!

He dove for it!



Watching a group in surf school . . .

Surfer School

They worked up a pretty good sweat on the volleyball court, and decided to check out the water . . . it was a little chilly, but not too cold for these Michigan boys!

Finally a nice picture of them!

Uh oh . . . somebody’s going to get wet!

Who's getting wet first?

I guess it’s both of them!

They decided to get wet!

We’ll just watch from here on the beach . . . nice family photo!

Enjoying this beautiful day!

Some of Paul’s family was staying in a condo just a little way down the beach, so we walked down and visited for a little while before we left, and then decided to try his Uncle’s recommendation for dinner . . . right on the canal at Port Canaveral.

Cruise Ship

There were some fishermen on the dock, cleaning their fish while the pelicans waited for scraps.

Pelicans keeping a close eye on the fish!

Dinner! :)

They almost don't look real!

We all enjoyed a great dinner, and then went home to clean up and rest before our New Years Eve evening entertainment.

We had reservations for two lanes at a bowling alley Sanford which included unlimited bowling from 9pm – 1am, snacks, and a balloon drop & champagne toast at midnight.

None of us are stellar bowlers,

New Years Eve bowling


but we held our own and had fun.

Bryce has improved his form quite a bit compared to his grade school birthday party days!


It was a fun way to spend New Years Eve!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!


Nick was still standing!

At midnight, all the little kids gathered to drop the balloons,

Balloon Drop at midnight

and we all enjoyed our champagne or sparkling cider toast.

We were pretty tired, and had a 45 minute drive back home, so after a quick group picture, we called it a night.

Happy 2018!!


Welcome 2018!!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Cool temperatures followed our Michigan visitors to Florida!

The kids were hoping for sunshine and warm temperatures when they came to Florida last week, but unfortunately the record artic temperatures followed them all the way to south central Florida. 

It may not have been consistently warm and sunny, but it wasn’t bad enough to keep us inside!

There was golf . . .

First round of golf 

they had a fivesome while we waited for Nick to arrive . . .

A few practice hits

and a group of six for their second round, once he got there.

A good-looking group of golfers!

The golfers

Tom and I got some bike riding in while they played 9 holes,

Tom and I rode bikes while they golfed

and it was almost dark by the time they finished and ended up back by our site.  It was a pretty good course for the kids to practice on (all but Hannah are fairly new to golf) . . . par 3 and fairly understanding residents . . . I think everybody hit at least one house or RV!

Second round of golf

Another afternoon was spent on the tennis court . . . just for fun, not much score-keeping!

Bryce and Hannah

NicolasI think this was Nick & Bryce’s first attempt at tennis, and they did pretty well.


Tom gave it a try, too . . .

Tom gave it a try

and the dogs were just waiting for a bright yellow ball to bounce their way!

Watching the tennic match

In the evenings, we all gathered in the clubhouse to play pool, watch football (Michigan State was in the Holiday Bowl – and won!),

Watching the Holiday Bowl

and play lots of card games – Euchre, Wizard, and anything else we could come up with!

Playing cards

One cool but dry day we took a trip to the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge to do some hiking.

The Palm Hammock Trail was a nice 2-mile loop.

Boardwalk through the Palms

Hiking the Palm Hammock Trail

It was a nice day for a hike – cool enough that a brisk pace felt pretty good!

A nice day for a hike

The hammock of trees overhead were very interesting, even if we didn’t see any wildlife along the trail.

Crazy tree bridge

We made a quick stop at the Visitor Center, but didn’t see any alligators, and drove out to the Manatee viewing deck, but it was too cold for them, too! 

All we saw was this big guy!

Too cold for the manatees

We took a quick trip down to Playalinda Beach at the Canaveral National Seashore . . .

Let's see what the beach looks like

Looks like high tide

Yep - angry ocean!

and it looked a lot different than the day Tom and I were there . . . lots of big surf today!

Looks a lot different than when Tom and I were here before!

We were all getting a little hungry by then, so we headed over to the most famous restaurant in Titusville for an early dinner . . . lots of seafood, the boys had gator bites, and I had chicken fingers (my usual at a seafood restaurant) . . . oh, and those powdered sugar coated corn fritters . . . yeah, we all had a few of those!

Dinner at Dixie Crossroads