Tag Archives: Florida 2011

Vacation Laws 2011

These are the laws that must be followed while on vacation. Updated edited version 7.9:

1. Go to the beach
2. Take walks at all the local dog parks
3. Shop at the local farmer’s markets for groceries.
4. Make fresh lemonade or iced tea
5. Garden. Even if it’s not your garden. Plant a flower on vacation and if you return you can check it out. 
6. Get up early and drink coffee outside with the birds
7. Do one project a week. A puzzle. Finishing a forty of rye. 
8. Finish a novel by reading in the early morning
9. Make homemade frozen drinks
10. Drink wine on the patio in the evenings
11. Paint your toes and nails.
12. Obtain a nice healthy “glow”
13. Eat hard shelled crabs at least once
14. Eat local food. Especially seafood that you BBQ. 
15. Touch your toes to water. Ocean, lake, river or stream. 
16. Drink when you’re thirsty regardless of the time.
17. Take an afternoon nap.
18. Go to bed at ten and get up at seven.
19. Have snacks. All day long.
20. Have some quality time with the toilet every morning.
21. Walk the dogs twice a day around the neighbourhood.
22. Go to an open house.
23. Make a special purchase.
24. Stop at the local fair or art show
25. Ride the trolley.
26. Listen to Country music. It’s a great story.
27. Sleep in.
28. Make love with the one you love. Feel it. Really.
29. Soak in a bathtub.
30. Stop for ten seconds and breathe. Then laugh.

Things I learned on my Florida Vacation 2011

These are some of the thing I learned on my annual Florida Vacation:

1. Never. Never put gasoline into a diesel vehicle. Brent and I lost hours of our vacation and more than a few bucks sucking gas out of our diesel truck. There was also a homeless guy who kept asking us for money as Brent was trying to get the siphon going. I finally advised the gentleman that perhaps now was not the best time.

2. Driving to Florida is better than flying. No, wait! Hear me out. Not only does it allow you to adjust more naturally to the season change, but you finally have the time to talk to each other. Brent and I have the most amazing conversations while driving. We talk about everything – including you.

3. Traveling with my dogs is a fantastic experience. The dogs not only bring us hours of comfort, joy and love; but they help us meet new people. Strangers often approach us with exclamations of adoration, questions about their breed, traveling with dogs or how much they miss the pup they had to leave at home. The dogs are great in the car. We never had trouble finding a hotel since the pet friendly trend has gripped North American. We rarely eat inside a restaurant, but who wants to when it’s 80 F outside? The dogs enjoy the adventure just as much as we do, although I’m certain there are times when Gizmo would rather nap than go kayaking.

4. Give yourself enough time. This is the first year that we took a month. It meant using nearly all my vacation and leaving the farm animals for a long period of time, but it was worth it. Our vacation was leisurely. We could unpack and settle into our digs. We could spend days reading and not feel like we should rush out to see things.

5. Returning to the same place year after year is good. This is our fourth annual trip to Florida and we felt a sense of comfort knowing where our favorite restaurant was in Key West. We recognized milestones as we passed the big bridge and harbour in Jacksonville that heralds our entrance into Florida.   Each year we watch as winter becomes fall, spring and finally wonderful summer as we drive south.

6. Pack heavy. Finally, someone said what we all wanted to hear. We take everything, but the kitchen sink. We took kayaks, bikes, puppy carriers, multiple suitcases, tools, books and entertainment.

7. Make at lease one special buy. You’ll always remember the adventure of the purchase. Every time you see that piece you’ll say “I remember when we bought that!” triggering a warm syrupy feeling. This year it was a 47″ TV. Normally our purchase isn’t that big, but we couldn’t possibly watch the Green Bay Packers play the Superbowl on a 27″ TV! Big thanks to dad for picking it up at a big box store and bringing it down to southern Keys in time for Superbowl.

8. Eat. Eat local food. Look for off the beaten path local dives to try. They often have the best food and even better people. They usually have a special drink. We’ve gone to small places that welcome the dogs right into the restaurant off leash, free to roam. We’ve had conversations with salty seaman who tell us stories of the ocean. Often the stories start with: “I remember back during the 1935 hurricane when I rode out the storm by putting my boat deep into the mangrove trees and hoping for the best (while clutching a bottle of moonshine to his hairy chest).” There was a big hurricane in 1935 that struck the Florida Keys as a category five that killed over four hundred people. It’s considered the worst hurricane to ever strike the United States.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1935_Labor_Day_hurricane

9. Listen to your gut. If it looks like a place you shouldn’t stop for fuel deep in Georgia, then don’t stop. If it looks dirty, it probably is – don’t touch it. Fine a new place and pay that ten cents a gallon extra in good fuel, rather than risk a loss of time, anxiety and truck troubles. Not to mention getting shot in the parking lot.

10. Unless you have an iron gut: don’t eat gas station hot dogs. I don’t care if you can get 2 dogs for $1 with free liquid cheese. Your body will hate you. Mind did. Same goes for gas station pizza, unless it’s brought in from a pizzeria. That can be a delicious find.

11. Never speed in any state with the word Virginia. They will pull you over for even the slightest infraction. If you see one cop another one isn’t far away. Set your cruise control at 65 mph and enjoy the mountains. Even if the speed limit is 70 mpg – go 65 mpg.

12. Cook your own meals with local foods. Stop at the “good” fish market and get grouper. You’d be surprised how good it is and don’t be afraid to BBQ everything. Including your vegetables.

13. Rent a house rather than stay in a hotel or resort. You get all the luxuries for less money and can make your own coffee in the morning. I’d like to advocate the sites I use, but they really disappointed me this time around, so I’d be wary. With hesitation I say look at www.homeaway.com or www.vrbo.com to investigate a potential property rental. We’ve had one bad rental out of seven. Two were excellent, the rest were average and the last place in Cudjoe Key was horrible.

14. Jacksonville, Florida is not as frightening as everyone says. We stayed there once and didn’t have anything stolen.

15. Next year we’re going to take our trailer. A home on wheels. I can’t wait to never unpack. We’re booking our state parks a year in advance because it’s the only way to get a state park in lower Florida.

16. Don’t worry what time it is when you crack your first beer. Vacation laws apply (coming soon).

17. Don’t plan everything because you never know when a side road will lead to incredible adventure. We got off the I95 to avoid a traffic accident and ended up driving through a small Georgia town. The recession had hit this town hard and there were people selling their possession in the parking lot of the shut down grocery store. It was sad. It was real and made us grateful.

18. Don’t be embarrassed to do things that you love. I pushed my dogs in a stroller all over Key West. There were some people who make negative comments, but most people were delighted. It’s impossible to ask a little dog to walk for hours through crowds in Key West and it’s impossible to carry them. Even at eight pounds they get heavy. The stroller is a great option. If you are one of those people who feel the need to make a derogatory comment make it a good one. For example: a man walking two big dogs walk by and saw Taz and Gizmo resting in the stroller and said, “mmmm… dim sum cart”. That’s a good one.

19. Yes. I have a pink faux leather Sex in the City raincoat for Taz and a black faux leather biker jacket for Gizmo. What of it? Friends of Key West love that stuff. Bring it. Use it. Wear it with pride. I also have an orange pair of prada sneakers that I love.

20. Fort Lauderdale Flea Market is the best place in the world. This is not a place for amateurs. You could walk all day and not see it all. There are some great deals and some bad deals. This is the place you want to eat hot dogs without fear, bargain with the locals and push the dogs around in the stroller. It’s a great place and I miss it.

21. Don’t eat at the Buffet. It’s not that great of a deal.

22. In Key West eat at the Blue Heaven. Live roosters and cats wander the outdoor patio that is littered with old signs and giant trees that offer shade. The food is incredible and the servers are always friendly and entertaining. Reasonably priced and said to be the “most pet friendly place on earth”.

23. Brave the crowds and watch the sunset from Mallory Square. Paddle out into the ocean and watch the sunset. Decide for yourself which one you like best.

24. You can’t get lost in the Florida Keys. There’s only one highway. Drive the whole thing. Top to bottom. Next year we’re hoping to take motorcycles. I’m excited already.

25. Learn to love not having a Walmart for over 100 miles.

26. Shop at Bealls. You must buy one piece of clothing with a blue sticker. Blue stickers mean 95% off tagged price. I’ve gotten summer blouses for less than seventy-five cents. It’s the hunt and the thrill of the find rather than the clothing. Pink stickers are also acceptable and mean 70% off, but nothing is better than a blue.

27. Take your bikes if you like to ride. One year we used the bikes at the rental and thought “I wish we had our bikes”. We ride more with our own bikes and it has that great puppy trailer attachment!

28. Take pictures and video. Share them.

29. Don’t be afraid of the locals. Most of the time. I find people in the US tend to travel and live all over. On this trip we only met one kid from the Keys. He went to school in the Keys and moved away to go to school. He was now working at a local fish market and restaurant, because he’d rather be a waiter in the Keys than a professional in Minnesota.

30. Sunblock. Use it. Nothing ruins a vacation faster than burnt flesh.

The Long Ride Home February 2011

We tried to leave early on Sunday morning. Honest we did, but it never seems to work. We could get up at 6am and still not leave until 10am. I don’t know why we have such levels of disorganization. Perhaps we bring too much stuff??

So we finally got moving around 11am on Sunday and had beautiful weather for driving. Dry roads, clear skies with bright sunshine. It made us a little sad to be stuck in the truck as we headed up towards Jacksonville. The temperature stayed in the low 70’s all day as we headed north.

There was no excitement as we drove. There was the steady reassuring hum of the diesel engine and the occasional snort from Gizmo, but otherwise it was a fairly quiet ride. We talked and talked. Mostly we talked about the adventures, but we also talked about our childhoods. It was  great way to learn more about each other.

There’s nothing to do on a long road trip, but sit and talk. It takes an hour to get into a driving rhythm and then it’s hard to get out of it for a rest stop, because you know it’s going to take another uncomfortable hour to get back into driving mode.

We drove for six hours before our first stop for fuel. The dogs ran around and we ran around. We tried to stop at the inexpensive gas station for fuel, but it was labeled as gas and we didn’t want to make that mistake again. Plus, it seemed dangerous. It was daylight, but there was something uncomfortable and seedy about the gas station. There was a black cloud that hung over the place and you could taste recession. So, we go back in the car and drove to the other side of the interstate and went to the BP for road grade diesel. Finally, we were ready for another long bout of driving.

We stopped overnight in North Carolina and the temperature was 63 F at midnight. This wasn’t too bad. We got up in the morning and it was still 63F. We drove all day Monday and the temperature didn’t start to really drop until we hit southern Pennsylvania. Then it fell. Hard.

Within a couple of hours we went from blue skies, sunshine and 63F to overcast and 43F.

Still 43F didn’t seem so bad. Within half an hour that 43F became 29F with snow showers. We were still wearing our sandals when we got out at the gas station. I dug out dog coats and our coats, however none of us were all that interested in trudging around in the snow. Brent was visibly depressed at the lack of sunshine. Taz was the only one who seemed excited as she tried to race around the parking lot through a foot of snow. Perhaps she was getting “truck fever”.

It took us two hours to drive out of the storm and onto dry roads as we went east across the I90. Soon, we’d be home.

We crossed the border without incident and arrived home to frigid temperatures of -10C (14F). The snow had stopped, but it was only 7pm and the temperatures were still falling. We emptied the truck into the kitchen and then braved the cold to unload the kayaks. Driving through the snow storm had caused the knots to freeze and it took longer than we thought to pry the kayaks loose with numb fingers.

It was after 9pm (and -15C) when we finally sat to eat something that didn’t originate in a deep fryer. We looked around the mess of the kitchen and giggled. Tomorrow was another day.

It took nearly a week to get things straightened out again. The farm is back to running on its normal un-schedule. I just went for my first horse ride in over a month and it made me realize how out of “horse” shape Autumn and I really have become.

I missed the animals and did a quick check to make sure they were all safe. Autumn and the goats came to the fence to greet us as soon as we opened the door to the house. I could hear her nickering and the goats baying. I grabbed carrots and apples and headed out to pet my pets hello. What a nice welcome home.

In the barn I pet a roosting chicken and talked fondly to a pair of snorting pigs. The cats went crazying meowing and I finally felt home.

Brian & Ellen Arrival Cudjoe Key 2011

We rented the house in Cudjoe Key for a month and are sharing the place with Brent’s folk: Ellen and Brian. It is lovely to watch Brent and Brian work on a jigsaw puzzle that we started last week. Brent and I realized that we’re not great puzzle people, but we kept trying. Ellen exams the rental like a general about to take over her troops. She organizes the kitchen and finishes laundry before relaxing with a book. I admire her devotion, because the first thing I did when I walked in was have a glass of wine. 

I would like to say that Brent and I were most excited about the arrival of Brian & Ellen, but it was Poco who expressed himself the best. He chirped his loudest chirp and threw himself at Ellen’s legs in total delight.

Taz and Gizmo were thrilled to see their Grandma Ellen (GE) and Grandpa Brian (GB), but it was Poco who grew close. With Taz’s love of barking and her devotion to her mom its often difficult to get close to the blonde bombshell. Gizmo’s passions lay more in eating and sleeping and he loves anyone with a free lap and a sandwich. Poco would follow Ellen around the house making sure she was close by ready to throw the ball at his whim or ask him questions: “Would you like a nice pet? Would like to be cuddled? You are a good puppy.” Ellen’s heart goes out to Poco and his history of abuse as she tries to help him realize that all people are not bad people.

By day we were either avid adventurers kayaking, biking or hiking around the keys or we lazed by the pool with book in one hand and festive drink in the other. With sunny days and blue skies we delighted in watching the puppies nap in the pools of sunshine and cooled ourselves with dips in the pool.

The gaming began in the evening. Euchre, mexican train played with dominos and banana split filled our evenings as after dinner games. Meals full of delicious vegetables, steaks, shrimp and fresh salads made us a little sleepy for the first few games, but we came alive as the wine flowed and we matched wits.

As our time came to an end and we prepared to head home a new bond was forged out of a shared vacation. I think we’re all looking forward to game night back home.

Dad’s Visit Cudjoe Key 2011

By Saturday February 5, 2011 Brent and I were really enjoying our vacation. It was warm, the superbowl was tomorrow and dad was coming down for a three day visit.

Dad showed up around 2pm after a gentle drive down from Miami. He came with this plastic suitcases, big smile and 47″ flatscreen. What a hero.

When we got into the rental the TV was an old style 32″ with basic cable. If it hadn’t been for the superbowl we wouldn’t have bothered, but how could I watch the Packers win the superbowl on a small screen? I asked dad to pick us up a TV on his way down, since there isn’t a walmart within one hundred miles of Cudjoe Key.

We took dad to Key West in the afternoon to watch the sunset ceremony from Mallory Square and we had ice cream. We watched the street performers juggle and free themselves from chains while the sun dipped into the ocean and the crowd of hundreds cheered and raised their glasses.

It was a short drive back to the rental for BBQ steaks.

Sunday morning we went to the most expensive flea market and stopped for a bit of limited shopping. We had lunch at Boondocks and enjoyed their “RoethlesBURGER” – I kept stabbing mine and dad kept laughing.

After a nap we were ready for the Superbowl. It was a great game and I never knew when I should wander off for a restroom break, because I didn’t want to miss the game or the commercials.

I ran screaming around the rental trailing a small pack of barking dogs when the Packers won . We celebrated and cheered and high fived all around. What a great day.

Dad left Monday and Brent and I settled back into a nice routine of reading, sunbathing and finally kayaking out into the ocean to watch the sunset. It was beautiful.

Cudjoe Key “The Rental” 2011

After hitting two traffic jams through the keys due to construction we arrived at our rental house. The keys don’t have winter so it’s construction all season long,

Our first reaction to the neighbourhood and front garden was: Oh. Our first reaction to everything was: Oh. This wasn’t what we expected. This was much, much worse. The traffic whizzed by and filled the air with the smell of diesel truck. The drivers were on their way to the resort at the end of the street pulling their gigantic land yachts and huge boats.

The floor in the house was littered with dead bugs. The cleaning company had not been by in over three weeks. The garden company has been absent for three months and the pool guy hasn’t been seen in a month.

The owner hasn’t been here in over two years. It’s a matter of ignorant neglect. We talked to the company we booked it with www.vrbo.com and they couldn’t help even though we’d purchased the insurance. The owner refused to refund any money and it is the Lower Keys in February, so there was no place to go.

We retuned to the rental and investigated. Open electrical, overgrown vegetation, dirty pool, garage filled with old furniture from another rental and bucks of uncovered pool chemicals strewn all over the floor of the carport. Garbage was blowing around the yard as Brent and I sat staring at each other with “what will we do” on our faces.

We vacated the property and went to a local pub for internet and food. We contacted those at www.VRBO.com, www.homeaway.com and the property owner and got nowhere. We were on our own.

We didn’t really have the money to rent another place until we’d gotten the refund and after talking to the locals and discovering the home owner was in debt to many companies in the Keys we decided we’d roll up our sleeves and do a little cleaning.

It took a few days to tidy and a few days to get our heads around the fact that this is it. This is what we get, although we figured we paid for more. By the fourth day we could swim in the pool, the chemicals and garbage was pushed into one corned and barricaded to make it puppy-proof.

Here we are and here we’ll stay. We relaxed by the pool as the jack hammering continued down the street. We ate lunch on the patio watching the trucks go by, and finally we took our kayaks out into the quiet peaceful ocean and watched the sunset.

The temperatures were over eighty farenheit while a snow storm raged back home. This was good. 

Trip down to the Keys 2011 – diesel

We left Miami around 930am and headed south to the Keys. It was a mix of happy to be getting out of the city filled with traffic, cars and people; but sad to be leaving dad.

We got as far as Miami when we stopped for fuel. We still had half a tank, but we figured the price of diesel would be higher in the keys. Just off highway one deep in Miami we pulled into a gas station on one of the busiest corners and started filling up. After less than a minute Brent’s face turned to shock and he ran for the pump.

I was sitting in the passenger’s seat scrambling for the door handle when Brent’s shocked face turned to sadness, sorrow, pain and embarrassment. Fearful, I asked what?

It was simple phrase delivered with all the grace that comes from pulling the bandaid off fast: “I put gas in”

It’s a diesel truck.

It was close to 1030 when Brent took off to the local parts store in search of gas cans while I waited in the baking Miami sun making calls to anyone I knew who knew anything about combustion engines.

I finally got the information that a diesel truck will run with an up to 30% gas mix, but you take your chances. Between 10%-30% your changes of catastrophic engine failure drops dramatically.

Under 10% is considered safe and some diesel nuts even recommend it.

After thirty minutes I was getting worried something had happened to Brent. We were about eight feet from a traffic light on the corner with heavy traffic. It didn’t help they were sucking out the storm drains twenty feet away. Poor Gizmo was terrified of the loud noises.

Brent finally returned with four new gas cans and a length of hose. He got under the truck and tried to get a siphon going. He might have killed some very vital brain cells before he decided he needed a stopper valve and a little pump. He jumped up and started running back to the parts store.

He was back twenty minutes later and was cursing the $6 he spent on this little device. Within minutes he’d drained all the fuel into the four cans. Dirty and smelly he was oddly proud.

I took the dogs into the sparse shade for a bit and then came back and helped to clean up. It was at this point that I realized I’d left all my cash at dad’s apartment. Sigh. No cash.

Admitting we are both boneheads was not difficult and changing our plans to limit spending money wasn’t much of challenge. We had food, enough money for fuel and we were heading to our house rental that was pre-paid. It shouldn’t be a problem.

By 1130 we were back on the road listening closely for the tell tale knocking sounds that would indicate that we’d just turned our truck into our second biggest paperweight.

We sang to the radio as we headed south and started laughing as the air conditioning in the truck pumped out cool air. The pups relaxed into sleep and we started looking for signs to the keys.

As we passed into Key Largo we both exhaled a sigh of relieve. It was short lived as we hit two construction sites that added an hour to our time and stretched our patience. Then we arrived hot. sweaty and smelling of gasoline.

Fourth Florida Trip 2011-Miami Leg

Sat January 28, 2011
Fourth Annual Florida Trip
We departed the great Canadian North on Friday, January 27, 2011 at 0900 from Beaver Creek Farm. I’d just finished working my third night shift and arrived home at 0630 and started doing the final preps. Brent had done ski patrol the night before and had not arrived home until 2am, but he got up and moving because it was time for Florida.
We piled into the truck with our three puppies and headed south at around 9am. After a brief stop at duty free and an uneventful cross at the boarder we hit the I90 with thoughts of sunshine in our heads.
Having worked all night my excitement waned and I fell asleep missing the first three hours of the boring drive to Pennsylvania. I was curled under an old childhood comforter with three puppies piled on top for warm and I slept while Brent drove.
After I woke Brent was very chatty. Three hours of straight driving with nobody to talk to made him a little nutty. I listened to his ideas and his thoughts on self reflection. We spent the next several hours talking and snacking on left over cheese bread and bananas.
We decided we needed to drive until we ran out of snow and this year we were well into North Carolina and well into the wee hours when it happened. At 1am we finally found a pet friendly hotel and stopped for the night just south of Columbia, South Carolina. We were trying to get to Miami in time for dinner the next day.
On Saturday, January 29 we got up early, but got a later start than we hoped. Hitting an interstate traffic accident in Georgia was a blessing and a curse. We ended up running parallel on a side highway and saw some of the true signs of economic depression. Locals had set up tables in empty parking lots of shut down stores and factories to sell the last of their possessions. The sparsely filled tables of goods filled me with sadness at their loss. I wondered what their stories were and how they ended up on the side of the road running beside the I95. Nobody stopped anymore since the highway went through and this little town lost everything, including it’s people.
We made it to Miami by 7pm just in time to enjoy a large pizza with dad and catch up on some much needed information. Dad looks good. The weather is good for his old bones. I doubt he’ll be home before March.
On Monday dad had things to do, so Brent and I played lazy tourist. We wandered about town and took a walk on the beach. We laid by the pool and made a yummy pasta dish for dinner. Dad took us to the wholesale warehouse where the dollar store people buy their stuff and wow! What a deal. I didn’t need a seventies inspired knit tank, but for sixty-seven cents I couldn’t afford not to buy one…. or two.
I had a blast shopping and then returned to the apartment to enjoy a little chicken pasta with pepper, onion, garlic and broccoli with a salad.
We walked down to Starbucks for a evening coffee and sat outside with the three dogs curled on laps watching the three story waterfall splash. We talk of something and nothing. We enjoyed each others company. It reminds me how much I miss my dad.
It’s nearly midnight on Monday and tomorrow we leave for Cudjoe Key and our month rental. I’m going to miss my dad and the heated pool, but I’m looking forward to the quiet solitude of the keys. Dad is suppose to visit on Friday for the weekend and I hope he stays for superbowl!