~ 2022 ~

Covid Restricts Travel - Florida Again!

~ Photos ~
New - 04/13/22

The Plan:
      A few days after Christmas, when all the grandchildren have come home, my wife and I will visit our second son, their father, for a delayed Christmas repast at their home in suburban Philadelphia. Hopefully making an early departure from what is sure to be a delicious and exciting celebration, we’ll turn the fully-loaded Pacifica in a southerly direction and head for my brother’s unoccupied mobile home in lower Delaware to spend the night. An “early” start the next morning should have us reaching New Bern, NC, for another overnight stay in a yet-to-be-determined hotel. No reservations ahead means we can stop whenever we tire on our return trip to St. Petersburg, Florida. We will not take interstate highways on the way, opting instead for the smaller roads along the coast (route 17), once we cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Although slower going, we’ll see more along the way and avoid the frenetic pace on the interstates of other snowbirds hurriedly on their way to the warm sunshine. We will also avoid driving after dark when one can see nothing of the changing scenery. We’ll start looking for a place to lay our heads at about 4:00 p.m. every day, try to find a decent, non-fast-food restaurant for dinner, and begin again the next day well fed and rested. It should take us three days to get there, but if it takes five, so be it. We’re on vacation, after all.
     We may spend a night or two with son number one, a bachelor with a beautiful home on the water in St. Petersburg, but we’ve rented a small, mobile home for the next four months, so we’ll want to get there ASAP to unpack the van and to adopt the laidback Florida lifestyle.
     A little golf, even more fishing for me, a lot of reading and calculating taxes for my wife, dinner a couple times a week with our son, and several, what should be interesting day trips make up the bulk of our predictable activities. We are looking at a one or two-day ferry trip to Key West and it is almost certain that old amigo, Schim, will show up sometime along the way. It should make for an interesting winter, even though I long for foreign travel. The Covid virus that has taken so many lives has also stolen the foreign travel from me. Hopefully, I’ll get another crack at that next year. Stay tuned…….    


December, 2021:
28 29 30

January, 2022:
01 07 11 18 23

February, 2022:
01 07 14

April, 2022:
01 11 17 28 29

12/28/21 - Milford, DE:
     Delayed Christmas dinner with son’s family (including all 5 grandchildren) was an absolute delight! Food, gift exchange, and conviviality were exceptional!
     Drive through rush hour traffic and after dark not so much fun, but we arrived safely. Tomorrow: over the Bay Bridge Tunnel and onward to North Carolina or bust! Ciao!

12/29/21 - Jacksonville, NC:
     Stopped for the night in a Hampton Inn at the home of Marine Corps Camp Lejeune after eight hours on the road. It was 77 degrees as we passed through downtown Norfolk and reached 79 further South in NC; we must be heading in the right direction! Hope to make Darien, GA, tomorrow for a fresh, locally-caught, shrimp dinner at a great restaurant discovered last year after another long day on smaller highways. It’s all about the journey!  Hasta luego!

12/30/2021 - Darien, GA:
     Ugh. 10 hours on the road today, the last 70 miles or so on a jammed, oft-times gridlocked Interstate 95 that we entered reluctantly to try to make up time lost in a 20-minute, accident-caused traffic stoppage near Myrtle Beach. Route 17 also got gridlocked later in rush-hour traffic, so we finally opted to try 95 only to face bumper to bumper traffic that seemed to last forever in the dark, but which finally opened up with speeds that sometimes reached 85 mph. To say that we were stressed when we finally pulled into the packed, seafood restaurant in Darien would be grossly understating our condition.
     The meal was awesome with a HUGE, grilled, one-pound, shrimp dinner for my wife and an equally-humongous, fried shrimp & oyster dinner for yours truly. Needless to say, we brought leftovers with us to the Red Roof Hotel we found after dinner only two miles away. Simply could not get back on 95 in our exhausted state. We’ll try to eat the cold leftover shrimp sometime tomorrow.
     Only 300 miles to St. Petersburg now, which seems like a short jaunt, but we’ll work our way diagonally across Florida using back roads and studying the topography, flora, fauna, and agriculture. Should be an exciting ride. Ciao!

01/01/2022 - St. Petersburg, FL:
     Arrived safely at eldest son’s gorgeous, Tampa Bay-side home around 3:30 yesterday afternoon after a leisurely, seven-hour drive through much of central Florida. Passing through the pulpwood areas of Southeastern Georgia and Northern Florida, witnessing clear-cut pine forests as well as fields of newly-planted Southern yellow pine seedlings, we brushed by the cities of Gainesville and Ocala. Through horse country and black angus cattle ranches, we eventually saw the Northern citrus area before heading due South and the traffic began to thicken.
     After passing next to Raymond James Stadium where Penn State will play in today’s Outback Bowl, we crossed Tampa Bay on a jammed bridge and six-lane highway at high speeds before exiting in familiar city streets. The six lanes are insufficient for the traffic volume and construction continues to widen the artery. A traffic engineer once told me that, “you can’t build your way out of gridlock,” but he apparently hasn’t shared that with these folks.
     The first Florida dinner, overlooking a near-by, beautiful, narrow waterway and marina, brought me the seafood chowder and delicious grouper sandwich that I have been craving. We’ll check-in to our new, tiny mobile-home abode this morning, then return to my son’s house for the traditional pork and sauerkraut dinner. Happy New Year all!  Adios.

01/07/2022 - Seminole, FL:
     It will be something of a challenge to make the last few days sound exciting or interesting, but I’ll give it a shot. We arrived on schedule at our son’s house on Tampa Bay and, after spending one night luxuriating in his beautiful digs with the view over his blue-salt-water pool across the azure waters of the bay, we headed to our tiny, 800 sq. ft., mobile home with a pot of pork, sauerkraut, and mashed potatoes to celebrate the new year by emptying the van and enjoying the traditional German repast. We had altered the plan to eat the traditional dinner at my son’s house in order to be sure to get the keys to our new abode, because the office in the trailer park is only open to 11:30 on most days.
     The last few days have been spent unpacking the boxes, bags, and suitcases that our son helped unload into the “trailer.” Occasionally taking a break to scout the busy neighborhood outside the beautiful, calm park itself, we are finally polishing things into a semi-livable environment. Located along busy route 19, the exit from the park brings an instant immersion into the horrendous traffic for which the Gulf Coast of Florida is noted, especially by people who favor the Atlantic Coast of the state. A huge shopping center almost around the corner provided all the necessities that weren’t jammed into our vehicle when we left home. A suction cup soap dish for the shower, a bath mat to keep me from falling from the tiny bath/shower, a large trash can, a butter dish, salt and pepper shakers, you know, everything that you should have thought of, but didn’t, were easily procured from the many stores in the shopping mall. There is even a near-by Dollar Tree, favored by my wife, “where everything is a dollar!”
     I scouted the golf courses and ended up at the very course, Mangrove Bay, where I hit quite a few buckets of balls last winter. The course has a great, though very busy, driving range and a course that looks inviting. I never played the course last year, but will attack it this year, come hell or high water. Oops, guess I shouldn’t have said that with so much water everywhere in the area. But, I’ll soon “have a go” at the course and, maybe, I can even get my son to join me. I told you the last few days weren’t exciting. Ciao!

01/11/2022 - Seminole, FL:
     Have you ever wondered, as I did this morning, why there is a CVS Pharmacy on every corner except when you’re looking for one? I estimate an 8-10 mile search produced the CVS where I was finally able to pick up the HCTZ that my home pharmacy texted me was ready for pickup. Friendly staff at the pharmacy, but I wish they would have hidden themselves on a much closer corner. When I finally found it, of course, I could have been there in five minutes had I started my search in the proper direction.
     Not to worry, I found a WaWa in my travels where I picked up enough cash at the free, PNC, ATM to last the month. Flush with cash, I also stopped for breakfast along the way: two eggs over medium, grits, English muffin, and coffee. Just what I needed to continue my exhaustive search for the CVS. I’m getting hooked on that grits thing; that’s three times I’ve ordered them, once was cheesy grits, and twice just a cup of the regular, addictive corn product. Enough butter and salt and those things are dynamite, almost as good as summertime, farm-fresh corn-on-the-cob back home and much easier to eat. Customarily, I eat breakfast at home, but when on a mission, such as the CVS hunt, I treat myself to the grits. Hmm, I wonder how they’ll go with sausage gravy and biscuits?
     The past weekend found me with my son on Tampa Bay, searching for whatever fish were hungry enough to attack the fresh grass shrimp we dangled from the drifting boat. It’s a shallow bay and the 5-10 mph winds kept my son constantly checking the depth finder to be sure we didn’t end up aground like the slightly larger boat I pass frequently while crossing one of the many bridges over the ever-present bays or inlets, a boat my son says has been aground for more than a year. The owner is probably still in negotiations with the insurance company over who is going to pay to float the vessel again. We didn’t fish long, 20 minutes to a half-hour, but we traveled at least 15 miles or so, sightseeing and jumping other boats’ wakes. The warm sun and 82 degree temp had many weekend yachtsman taking advantage of the beautiful day. My son purchased the 20’ Wellcraft from my brother, who used the boat to ply the waters of much deeper Delaware Bay. We were fishing, not catching, and exploring the waters with which my son, a new boat owner, is not yet familiar. A good time was had by both of us and we returned to my son’s boat lift to find my wife and his dog, Kacey, just awakened from an afternoon nap in the lanai by the pool. A great Sunday for all, though a little light on the fish; we didn’t let that bother us, though, since we headed for dinner at a local seafood restaurant where the ambience of sitting outside while a guitarist/vocalist entertained the crowd and an excellent meal topped off the day.
     I hit a small bucket of golf balls yesterday at the Mangrove Bay, always busy, driving range and awoke this morning with no muscles screaming. I hit the balls remarkably well, considering that I haven’t touched a club in earnest for the past two months. Yes, there was one shanked eight iron and a couple, thin five irons, but all six drivers that I hit were on the face of the club and straight as an arrow. I left a third of the bucket for somebody else to hit; one thing old age has given me is the knowledge to know when the old joints and back have had enough. A day or two after I can finish an entire bucket, I’ll head to the starter’s shack to see if they can include me in a threesome of strangers and I’ll try not to embarrass myself on the course. Ciao!

01/18/2022 - Seminole, FL:
     Brrrrr! 41 degrees outside when I awoke this morning, almost like being at home! It didn’t keep me from donning a tee-shirt, a fleece sweatshirt, and the light jacket I wore when I left the frozen tundra. I headed to Gulfport, a suburban town surrounded by St. Petersburg, for the weekly Tuesday market. Comfortable in Bermuda shorts and casual shoes with no socks, my wardrobe was perfect for the six or seven-block stroll in the quaint, outside market. I was questioned a couple of times by women who apparently thought shorts didn’t protect me sufficiently and who were obviously deeply chilled by the change in weather, but I did see several other, tough, male snowbirds wearing shorts strolling the market.
     By the time I purchased a world-class lobster roll ($20) for breakfast, eaten in the car, accompanied by a small bottle of latte, the temp had skied to almost 50 degrees. It was forecast to reach 60 later in the day, expected to be the coldest temps of the winter. I can handle that, especially with the great lobster, served cold on a packed, toasted bun. I discovered the rolls last year at the market, sold by a former resident of Maine who, along with his wife get weekly shipments of the crusty creatures sent from their home state. They cook and sell them, along with a yet-to-be-tried lobster bisque, at several different local markets. I don’t want to know where the other markets are for fear of becoming as addicted to the rolls as I have to the Southern grits. I picked up three loaves of banana bread (plain, chocolate, and walnut), a hand of asparagus, and an oil painting I thought might look good on the bedroom wall at home. A good trip and along the way I also took the trash and recyclables to the dumpster, emptied the trash bag in the car (van), and refueled with gas at a Sam’s Club I used regularly last year. I’m exhausted and ready for a nap.
     Speaking of gasoline, for those interested in such things, I left home with half-a-tank of $3.59 PA gasoline, completely ignorant as to what fuel costs would be on the way South. After a night in my brother’s mobile home in DE, I filled up there for $3.19/gallon. I thought that cheap, but was surprised on the entire trip to FL to find fuel much cheaper than that in PA, although that should not have come as a surprise. I paid $3.29 just before entering route 95 for my dash to Darien, GA, but could have paid much less across the street had I been able to cross the gridlocked, two-lane road. A few times in NC, SC, GA, and here in FL I was able to buy gas at $2.99/gallon. I thought that is what I would pay this morning at Sam’s Club like I had on previous fill-ups only to find the price had sky-rocketed to $3.05. Costco and Sam’s Club have consistently sold the cheapest fuel here in the Sunshine State. Yes, it was sunny this morning and all day, although sunny and a tad frosty this morning. I’ll try to endure. Ciao.

01/23/2022 - Seminole, FL:
     Ahhhh, 76 degrees - that’s much better! Thursday, like most January days in the St. Petersburg area was bright and sunny with warm temps that made shorts and golf shirt the appropriate attire for strolling the “biggest boat show on the Gulf Coast.” My son sprung for the tickets and we walked along the beautiful, downtown, waterfront and marina where hundreds of vessels were open for touring. I logged 2.6 miles ambling in the sunshine among the beautiful, new boats. I was exhausted, this being my longest walk of the winter to date, but it was a great experience.
     My eldest son is a recent boat owner, having moved from Chicago to a Tampa Bayfront property and purchasing a 20 ft., Wellcraft boat from my brother. With a new boat lift and a Coast Guard course completed, my son is now interested in most things nautical and in learning more about captaining his boat on shallow Tampa Bay. Here’s hoping he’s not thinking of purchasing a new boat this soon, although one fishing boat at the show even tempted me; it was a monster of a vessel, over-powered with four, 400 horsepower outboard motors and reasonably priced at $859,000! I passed since I came up a little short in my checking account, what with the cost of gasoline on the trip South.
     Don’t get too envious about our warm temps; this morning’s wake-up temp was 46 degrees and the Tampa weather forecaster exclaimed that it will be “very cold all day” with the high temperature only reaching 54. Brrr! I found a new fishing platform in a park on a lagoon off of the bay, right around the corner from our mobile home park and awoke early this Sunday morning with plans to throw some fishing lures at the many fish (mostly mullet?) that I saw jumping out of the water yesterday. The 46 degree temp changed my plans and I opted to hold off testing the waters until a warmer day.
     Later today, we’ll head to my son’s house where he invited us to watch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers playoff game with the Los Angeles Rams, a contest that has this city abuzz! He offered to prepare dinner and, with his spectacular view of the bay, who could turn down such an offer? My son shared some sad news yesterday; the neighbor with whom he is most friendly and who has offered him great assistance in all things nautical, passed away suddenly of a heart attack at his home across the street. I met John several times and he was the kind of man that everybody would love to have as a neighbor; he had taken my son under his wing in sharing his experiences of decades of life in Florida. John was a young, energetic, very active 72-year-old who will be sorely missed by my son and the entire neighborhood. RIP, John.
     The forecast is for typically cool days this week with temps only reaching 70 on one of those days. The rest of the week will produce highs in the upper 69’s, frigid to hear the natives, but I imagine I’ll be able to fight off the chill sufficiently to test the waters and challenge those jumping fish to do battle. Hasta luego!

02/01/2022 - Seminole, FL:
     St. Petersburg advertises 361 days of sunshine each year - that’s the number of days where they say the sun at least makes an appearance. This winter, the sun is pushing it! With a full day and night of rain and the following day heavy in overcast skies all day long, we have experienced two of the sun-less days already and we’ve just turned the calendar into February. There were a couple of previous days when we don’t think we saw that hot ball in the sky, but we didn’t really keep track of that detail. We may need to contact an attorney, present on almost every corner and with commercials every hour on television here, to sue this beautiful city for false advertising.
     Mind you, I’m not complaining, but we also experienced their coldest temps here in more than four years. I follow the weather up North and I saw single digit temps and a lot of white stuff so far this winter, so a day or two with highs in the upper forties or low fifties are endurable. Central Florida, even Orlando, had heavy frost on at least two mornings, but we have been frost-free in Seminole. The effect of the surrounding water at 65 degrees keeps the air temps a little warmer in the St. Petersburg area. It does make me long for the summer temps in Baja Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, or South Africa, but I can handle this - today’s high temp reached 75, so maybe we’re back on the right track.
     Several interesting activities to report: Following the advice of my college buddy who winters in Central Florida, we visited Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach, on the other side of the bay, to view the docile creatures who flock to the warm waters of the discharge pool of the electric company when water temperatures drop. Manatees cannot withstand significant drops in water temp and seek relief in great numbers. The information at the Center describes counting 300 manatees visiting at one time as their record number of nautical visitors. We didn’t see 300 of the creatures and they wouldn’t hold still enough to count, but we’re certain that we saw 100 lolling in the warm waters. 100 manatees at one time!! That was just awesome. Even spotted a couple of calves.
     With the cold air, I also had difficulty golfing, even practicing on the range, or fishing. After finding a prime, fresh-water lake in a park a few miles from our location, I purchased a fresh water license ($48.50) and did find one decent evening to throw some lures into the pristine waters, lined with lily-pads framed by thick cattails. I was warned twice by passing joggers to keep an eye out for alligators as the lake/pond was full of them, but that didn’t dissuade me since I was fishing behind a beautiful, high, stone wall that alligators would have had trouble scaling. It took me half-an-hour to tie on a snap swivel because of my failing eyesight and no reading glasses with me, but I finally selected a brand new “Whopper-Flopper” lure from my tackle box to entice the giant bass for which Florida is famous. Whether there was a following wind or the “Flopper” was heavier than I thought, my first cast, aimed at the front edge of the lily pads, kept going and going and going. Clearing the lily pads easily, the $20 lure nestled in among the high cattails and hung itself up. I pulled and tugged, finally exceeding the strength of the knot holding the “Flopper,” and the 10 lb., braided line snapped back nakedly toward my position at the wall. One cast $20, plus the cost of the snap swivel (pennies), but it was the humiliation, the utter defeat that stung. Fortunately, no joggers were running by at the time. I tied on another snap swivel, selected a different lure and made a dozen more casts before marking the day up as the worst fishing experience in recent memory. I’ll have at them again, maybe even tonight. Ciao!

02/07/2022 - Seminole, FL:
     St. Petersburg will not experience 361 days of sunshine this year! They and we are enjoying warmer temps and much more sunshine than home in PA, but we have had two more overcast days with occasional, light, rain showers and no sign of our nearest star (the sun). It is forecast to only reach 63 degrees on this cloudy day and, tomorrow, the forecast calls for a 90% chance of rain. Time for an activity adjustment: less golf, no fishing, no touristy day trips, and more reading and watching of movies. We can adapt.
     Last week, however, we had several enjoyable experiences. On Thursday, we traveled to Solomon’s Castle, a tourist attraction/museum in the boonies two hours Southwest of here in the area around Ona, FL. We were met there by our friends of many years (undergraduate days) and their neighbors, Tom & Marianne. Years of the castle builder, Howard Solomon’s, work were displayed in the castle he laboriously built by hand with sheets of aluminum waste from a newspaper printing enterprise. The edifice itself was not so awesome, although the artist and each of his five, successive wives lived in it at one time, but the creative art inside was something to behold. We were amazed at the productivity of his lifetime of work in multiple media. Wood carvings, sculptures from discarded equipment and materials, leaded stained glass windows, and furniture all named with corny, but hilarious titles by the late artist who lived until he was 81. He also wrote the script for the delightful tour given by a neighbor who knew him well. In the moat next to the castle, he hand built in four years’ time a huge, curving ark made of scrap wood gleaned from his neighbors that contained the gift shop and a delightful outdoor restaurant. All the restaurant’s food, including our lunch under spreading, Spanish-moss-draped oaks, was homemade and outstanding, including my first-ever, lime-freeze milk shake. A worthwhile day trip from anyplace in Central Florida.
     We followed our friends home after lunch and enjoyed two days and nights with them in their home in the heart of the Orange Belt. Indeed, their beautiful, mobile home park is called Orange Acres. Two days of reminiscing, stretching college yarns, laughter, and meals in local restaurants made for a most enjoyable respite from the much more frenetic traffic on the Gulf Coast. We returned home (FL) in time to meet our eldest son and his dog, Kacey, for a wonderful dinner at an outdoor, tent-covered restaurant in Gulfport, a contiguous, suburban town on St. Pete’s outskirts.
     Our trip to Central Florida produced a plan to go bass fishing with Tom, our friends’ neighbor, sometime in March. He loves to fish and guide neophytes on his boat and has a personal record of a 12 lb. 2 oz. largemouth bass, pulled from one of the many fresh water lakes, including Okeechobee, for which Florida is famous. Then, there will also be fishing from our son’s sea wall and his boat that will occur just as soon as the weather warms a tad. I’m sure we’ll also soon squeeze in a couple more day trips. Stay tuned. Hasta luego!

02/14/2022 - Seminole, FL:
     As the long-ago radio personality, “The Great Gildersleeve” said frequently, “What a revolting development this is!” Somewhere, in the unusual, fluctuating temperatures of this winter’s Sunshine State weather, I picked up the vicious bacteria that brought what appeared to be a head cold, complete with fever, runny nose, and general malaise that lasted for the past four days. I didn’t test for Covid, though I have a test kit given to me by my Floridian son during the Super Bowl broadcast last evening, through which I wore a mask, because I had a much longer-lasting affliction with almost identical symptoms before heading South and I tested negative in a long ordeal at my doctor’s office then. Testing is a much simpler process these days and I may still test myself, but I feel so much better today that I assume that the culprit was the same bacteria that I had before, but my body retained enough antibodies to annihilate the offending invaders more quickly. The first bout lasted more than a month, but enough of the health update - which is called an “organ recital” by the knowledgeable elderly - let me make a few Florida observations:
     First, many, if not most, of the elderly who winter or retire to Florida have retained their drivers’ licenses. Slow driving in any of three or four lanes of traffic, turns from the center lane, infrequent use of turn signals, sudden stops, and slow starts are part of the challenge of negotiating the heavy, winter traffic on the Gulf Coast. However, we younger, more astute folks, also retired with nowhere to go in a hurry, simply accept the challenge as part of the lifestyle and relax. No road rage from us! Some call Florida “God’s waiting room,” and they may have that right, so while we’re here we’ll just enjoy the wait.
     Evidence of the population of elderly is everywhere: law offices on every corner across the street from a national pharmacy, obviously for updating the wills, suing for the falls of the old folks, and providing the prescriptions keeping the seniors erect and driving. Medical clinics and doctors’ offices everywhere with every kind of specialty known to mankind are prevalent. We’re currently living in a very nice, over 55, mobile-home community that could easily increase the age limitations by 20 years and force nobody to move out.
     The oscillating temperatures are warming gradually with daytime highs reaching 70 most days, but with cooler mornings occasionally touching the upper 40’s, so we’re hoping that next week’s temps will be toasty enough to warm the rest of our family who will visit from the Northern climes of PA and MI. The grandchildren, none younger than teen-aged, may not test the waters of the Gulf at this time of year, but their bachelor uncle’s (and brother’s) pool along Tampa Bay has a heater that may entice them. He’ll host three visitors which may make his work from home at a brand new job a challenge, we’ll provide shelter for our eldest granddaughter, and son number two, his wife, and youngest daughter will take up residence in a hotel along the Madeira Beach Gulf coast. It would be great if the forecast for even warmer temps next week bear fruit to welcome them! We’ll, no doubt, gather for many meals, so we’ve been doing some research on the best places to dine. Tough work! Next week will bring a change to our laid-back lifestyle to a much more frenetic one, but one which will be exciting and memorable. Stay tuned. Hasta luego!

04/01/2022 - Seminole, FL:
     April Fools’ Day seemed a good day to update, seeing as how it’s been more than a month since I last put words to paper, or in my case fingers to the keyboard. Don’t blame me; part of my absence on the net is your fault. Since my last update, I received only two (2) requests for more info. TWO!! Why bother if there are only two of you left reading my hastily scribbled words, thought I! But, since the last request for info came from dear friends, Graci and Lorenzo, in Argentina, I started feeling a modicum of guilt.
     All right, some of the blame belongs on me. Many activities, a few visitors, a lot of laziness, some fine restaurant meals, and, after all, I’m on vacation. Those should be enough excuses, each one sufficient to justify the more than month-long absence from the electronic superhighway.
     My visitors have included in order of visit, not of importance, my daughter (keeper of the webpage) and her husband, my second son, his family, including three of the five grandchildren he and his wife have begat us, the Schimster himself, Schim and his lovely, significant other, and Ron and Karen, two close friends from home. I said not listed in order of importance because certainly Schim would insist going first on any list of import. Whew, tired myself out just hitting the number of keys required to list our visitors.
     Activities included one 18-hole round of golf on a real (long) course with my eldest son who now lives only 40 minutes from the tiny, mobile home in which we are now ensconced. The two Canadiens with whom we were paired never realized that we embarrassed ourselves with shots in many of the numerous ponds on the course and with misdirected shots of almost every variety. They never realized it because they played as poorly as we on the day before they left to return to warm, sunny Toronto. Brrr! I fired a sensational 55-46-101, my son a few blows more, and I was completely exhausted by the final hole which came far too late to save enough energy for me to make it to the bedroom before falling sound asleep for a four-hour nap on the sofa/recliner. I need to get in better shape!
     My eldest and I also chartered a boat and a captain to take us on Tampa Bay’s waters in search of a fish we had never before boated. An expensive journey, required because my son is as yet unfamiliar with the shallow waters of the bay and the trip was expected to also provide familiarity with the waters near his dock. While it was more of a boat ride all the way across the mouth of the bay, the captain knew exactly where a school of snook called home - under a very long pier jutting out from the south shore of the bay. We caught four or five snook and one catfish, but saw numerous others who ignored our best efforts to entice them with the small bait fish provided by the captain. The trip was a partial success.
     The biggest news of the past month, I reckon, was that we had a great dinner with Schim and MJ in St. Pete Beach and, hold your breath here: Schim picked up the check! I was most appreciative since Schim’s typical meals while on the road are from food trucks or taco stands. It was a short visit, only a few hours at our son’s house for drinks and appetizers, then the meal, sitting outside at the Beach, but we certainly enjoyed their visit.
     The visit of our family made for very exciting times, including the overnight stay (on a blow-up on our living room floor) of our eldest granddaughter, who was here for only two days. Daughter and son-in law stayed, along with second-eldest male grandson, at our eldest son’s gorgeous home on the shores, well on the sea wall, of Tampa Bay. We all gathered for a delicious, grandmother-prepared barbecue and a sumptuous feast at a favorite restaurant in Gulfport, a quaint bayside town that is really a part of greater St. Petersburg. Son #2, his wife, and youngest child (16) stayed in a hotel in Treasure Island on the long, barrier island (think Clearwater, Madeira Beach, & John Pass) adjacent to St. Pete Beach. The family’s menfolk also went on a long boat ride on my eldest’s boat out into the Gulf of Mexico. No fish were caught, though we threw plenty of bait shrimp overboard in our efforts, but the camaraderie was simply perfect.
     As the visits died down, we were pleased to greet our close friends from home on their return drive to the northern climes of PA. Several great meals, a tour of St. Petersburg, and some drinks and apps at our son’s house made for a short, but fantastic visit. They are safely home, no doubt flashing their great tans, after a two-month visit to the Sunshine State. That’s it! I left out about a thousand great meals, a couple of haircuts, some frustrated hours fishing from the seawall, and a lot of beautiful weather, but perhaps, just perhaps, that will give me something to write about after my nap. Hasta luego!

04/11/2022 - Seminole, FL:
     A lazy week and weekend were spent recovering from the persisting hip/back pain that began  during my only, 18-hole round of golf this winter. My wife spent most of the week working on our income tax return and that of her soon-to-be 101-year-old mother. Both are now completed and hopefully the tax men satisfied. She also spent considerable time as the recording secretary of our condo association preparing and forwarding the documents required for the sale of a unit in our building at home. Some folks’ work just goes on!
     Our eldest son hosted us for dinner one night at his home on the water with its gorgeous view. It was a sunny, but windy day to sit in his lanai to watch the Phillies second game of the season on TV and to eat the delicious roasted pork loin, Brussels sprouts, and buttered potato dinner, but a push of a button lowered his two hurricane screens, reducing the wind by at least 90% while still affording us a view of the bay. Great meal and game: Phils won!
     This morning for the first time in a couple of weeks the hip/back pain was almost gone and I got in a mile-long walk in gorgeous, low humidity sunshine around the mobile home park. Tonight, we’ll meet our son and attend a Major League baseball game at domed Tropicana Field, home here in St. Petersburg of the Tampa Bay Rays. They’ll be playing the Oakland A’s, but the real interest is seeing a game in the ballpark very close to which we resided last winter. The stadium is 30 minutes away from this year’s very humble abode.
     Visiting Major League ballparks is something I started doing with my family many years ago. Together we visited Veteran’s Stadium and Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia, Fenway Park in Boston, Expo Stadium in Montreal, and the AstroDome in Houston. My sons are diehard Phillies fans and have visited several other ballparks on their own. I’m so old that I have visited four ballparks that no longer exist: Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, Tiger Stadium in Detroit, Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, and Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium in Philly. I have also recently attended, with my wife and son #1, an exciting game in Wrigley Field in Chicago. Our family seems to find visiting ballparks more fun than collecting stamps, not that there is anything wrong with being a philatelist.
     Friday of this coming week will bring a much-anticipated bass fishing trip with my son and an ardent fisherman friend/guide of my old college, baseball-catching buddy on one of the many fresh water lakes of central Florida. His two trips last week netted 15 and 19 large-mouth bass, the largest of which exceeded eight pounds. We don’t grow ‘em that big in Pennsylvania and we are excited about reeling in a couple “hogs,” as they’re called by southern anglers. Of course, we were excited prior to the only partially-successful snook charter we went on last week, so we shall see. Here’s hoping that we don’t get the proverbial, charter captains’ “you should have been here yesterday” exclamation. Stay tuned. Ciao!

04/17/2022 - Seminole, FL:
     This week’s fishing trip to Lake Annie was an unqualified success! My son and I spent the night in a Hampton Inn in the town of Lake Wales and were met at 7:00 a.m. the next morning by Tom, 22-foot boat in tow, for a 30 minute ride to the fresh water lake whose largemouth bass were our prey. I met Tom and his wife previously this winter when we visited Solomon’s Castle on a day trip with my college buddy and his spouse. Tom is a University of Nebraska grad, turned pecan farming magnate from Georgia, now retired and living in central Florida and fishing three times a week. His last two trips of the week in other lakes had netted him 19 and 15 of the big bass we were so excited about landing. The largest fish of the week weighed more than eight pounds and a neighbor caught a nine-pounder in Lake Annie this very week. We were psyched!
     Tom had purchased 24 bait fish that he called shiners, some of which were big enough to be “keepers” at home and capable of being filleted. He could only get 24 because that was all the tackle shop had left. He had all the fishing equipment and gave us instructions about using a technique that we had never seen before. We trolled using live bait! His GPS-controlled, electric, trolling motor kept us on the course he set after studying one of his three, large, fish-finding screens and we trolled four lines, two for each of us. Tom didn’t fish; he seemed to really enjoy making certain that we caught fish by baiting our hooks, casting our bait-casting reels, and supervising our efforts while piloting the vessel. And, catch we did!
     We boated 12 bass and had at least a dozen more strikes that poor technique, lazy bites, or just bad luck kept us from landing. The largest of our catch Tom estimated weighed over four pounds and it seemed at least that to us, though we didn’t weigh the lunkers and returned them all promptly to the deep. Tom seemed a tad disappointed that we hadn’t caught a really large fish, but we were thrilled! Tom refused to let us pay for anything, even bait or gas, but did allow my son to get the check in the crowded diner in Dundee where we stopped for lunch. The biggest thrill of the trip was simply getting to know Tom who willingly instructed us on the use of the depth/fish finders and generously shared his fishing knowledge. We learned about Tom’s career as a Florida marina owner in year’s past and his entrepreneurial career as a major pecan farmer and pecan processor. It was a fantastic experience!
     Our days are winding down in the Sunshine State. Typing today’s date made me realize that, 10 days from now, we’ll be turning on the GPS and heading North, bound for home. No interstate highways planned for the trip, we’ll only use the crowded, frantic, interstate system when required or when attempting to beat nightfall in search of a bed on which to lay our heads. No, it will be a slow, three or four-day, leisurely drive, attempting to allow the van and our bodies time to adjust to the changes in temperature, elevation, and daylight hours.
     We altered our initial plans of heading diagonally across Florida to reach Darien, GA, where we are familiar with a great, local, seafood restaurant that we enjoyed on the trip South. Instead, we’ve decided to go on a southern fried chicken quest, taking small roads through tiny towns where we might find fried chicken as good as the best I’ve ever had, which was in a tiny Georgia town on my first winter’s trip, driving to Costa Rica. The older woman who owned that hole-in-the-wall, chicken-only, restaurant is surely gone by now, but even if an employee or relative took over and faithfully followed her recipe, I don’t remember in which tiny town I happened onto her fantastic thighs. And, so, we’ll be on a quest, a southern, fried chicken quest. It should take us through Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina before entering the Blue Ridge Parkway, then Skyline Drive before exiting in VA, not all that far from home. We took the scenic drive portion of the trip last year and were impressed not only by the scenery, but also by the paucity of vehicular traffic. We’re looking to reprise the peacefulness and beauty of last year’s trip with a few southern fried chicken thighs to sustain us on our journey. Ciao.

04/28/2022 - Marion, NC:
     Following the directions of our GPS voice, Isabella, one of her many shortcuts today took us on a stressful, 30-minute, ordeal through a deeply-rutted, dirt, pulpwood loggers’ road in a very rural and mountainous, north Georgia woods that had no cell reception. In a word, we were LOST for the entire time and our path on Isabella’s route was blocked by a sketchy, wooden bridge that must have been washed out in a prior, heavy rain. Describing the road as deeply rutted is grossly understating the conditions we faced. Dodging deep ruts occasionally had the van’s undercarriage scraping the rocks that were scattered everywhere on the raised center of the road. Once we were very worried that we had ruptured the oil pan and would be stuck with no cell phone from which to call for assistance. We saw no vehicles on the road except for one, big truck hauling a large load of giant, pine logs on his way to the mill, but stopped on the narrow track because he learned that one of his logs was broken, creating a danger to others. We squeezed by his trailer only to get ourselves deeper into the nightmarish situation with no guard rails and oft-times steep, deep, dangerous ditches on the sides of the narrow cart way. Finally, my wife was able to get another route from WAZE and we risked the new route at the fork that finally got us to a paved road. All of this, mind you, after “unpaved roads” was checked on the avoidance screen of the GPS!
     Other than that hair-raising incident, we had a lovely ride today on very small, back roads through Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. My wife was as frazzled from this incident though, as my travel buddy, Schim, when we forded a stream on our way through Central America.
     Compared to today’s adventure, Wednesday’s opening day on the road that had us smoothly moving North through the horse and cattle country of Central Florida was a piece of cake. We covered more than 300 miles and spent the night in a rather seedy Motel Six in Dublin, GA, after again getting poor directions from Isabella and missing the Hampton Inn for which we were headed. After checking into Motel Six in tired desperation, we found a close-by Cracker Barrel (whose chains I detest, but my wife loves) and it turned out to be next to the Hampton Inn. Drat! I hate it when that happens.
     I must say that the fried chicken at the “Barrel” topped tonight’s chicken at Todd’s in downtown Marion, though Todd’s Golden Chicken was apparently voted “best in the county.” Neither matched the elderly lady’s chicken on my earlier trip through Georgia and I’ve had better “southern fried chicken” made for me at friends’ houses at home.
     That’s it! I’m up to my eyeballs in fried chicken and we rarely eat fried foods. It will be back to my usual diet in the hopes that my body can cleanse my arteries of the fats I consumed the last two days.
     We hope to get a good night’s sleep before we enter the Blue Ridge Parkway tomorrow, the entrance of which lies about an hour’s drive from here. Then, it will be onto Skyline Drive before arriving home a couple days from now. If anything untoward or exciting happens along the way, you’ll be the first to know. Stay tuned. Hasta pronto.

04/29/2022 - Harrisonburg, VA:
     We’re safely tucked away in a Microtel in Harrisonburg after a long day on the road. Hard to believe, but Isabella got us on another unpaved road for 8 or 10 miles again today. After a detour closed the Blue Ridge Parkway, we decided that we enjoyed parallel routes 221 and 11 because, although there were no scenic panoramic views, there were many more things to see: the lovely farms and countryside of western VA, businesses, gas stations, quaint towns, and stately southern homes. More interesting than miles and miles of trees and more trees and an occasional panoramic view. Isabella, the voice on the GPS, seemed to enjoy it more, too. Unfortunately, she sucked us in with another of her shortcuts and we headed off the aforementioned routes on a perfectly good, paved side road. Oops, about four or five miles in, the road became unpaved, but with stones and a solid surface and no ruts. We scattered plenty of dust in our wake, but eventually and without incident emerged onto a paved road.
     With no reservations and having passed up several expensive (over $200/night) hotels through phone quotations to my navigator while we kept plugging North, we happened onto this Microtel in the chain we have found satisfactory in the recent past. Unfortunately, there was a Cracker Barrel next door and I succumbed once again - in a hurry to get back to the room where I could catch the rest of the Phillies-Mets game on my lPad. This meal was not up to the standard set by my previous visit and even my wife was disappointed in the quality of the food. To make the night worse the Phils are down 2-0 and have no hits through five innings.
     We should make it home in a little more than two and a half hours tomorrow, using Skyline Drive and finally interstate 81 to complete the trip. Ciao!

~ Photos ~
New - 04/13/22

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