Exploring the Mangrove Islands

Fred Howard Park is a favorite of mine to paddleboard from.  There are a lot of different areas to explore depending on which direction you decide to go in.  Last weekend we decided to take off straight out and up towards a bunch of mangrove islands that we couldn’t see from where we were but knew where there thanks to Google maps.

We basically paddled from the dinosaur’s hand to right over his head.

Mangrove islands are a lot of fun to paddle around because they are full of birds, schools of fish, and usually quite a few rays as well.

The one thing they don’t often have is a place to stop and walk around.  Mangroves tend to make a place a bit unfriendly to walk.  Those are basically sharp sticks growing up all over the open ground.  Even if it wasn’t horrible karma to go through there breaking everything, ouch.  Beautiful though.

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As a result I was kind of excited (like a 5 year old is kind of excited to see a bunny) when I saw this:

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Those are real, actual not mangrove trees towering over the mangroves.  Definitely worth investigating. We paddled almost all the way around the island before finding a small beach. And some fellow paddlers.

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There was a nice sized clearing of sand and even a patio table and old grill someone had brought in.  Of course there was also the mandatory ‘people have partied here and left their shit behind’ trash but it seems that is everywhere, regardless of how remote a place may seem.  There was even a used-to-be-nice huge tent tangled in the trees.  I get the feeling that wasn’t put there on purpose.

The people we ran into were pretty cool and said there’s another island close by that someone had actually built a bar on.  Sounds like a place we’ll have to find!

 

 

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World Oceans Day at Mote Aquarium

I’d never been to Mote Aquarium, though I do love aquariums.  It’s almost 2 hours from my house so I can’t exactly just drop in.  But with the celebration of World Oceans Day as an excuse I was in. My almost 15 year old hates car rides longer than 15 minutes so much you’d think he was allergic but to my surprise both of my teenagers wanted to go to and seemed excited about it.

When you first go into Mote’s Aquarium you enter a big room full of aquariums containing fish both native to Florida and invasive to Florida, like the lionfish, that are in our local waters.  Lionfish are beautiful, but they have such a detrimental effect on the native fish and therefore the reef habitat that people are encouraged to catch them with no limit and there are even cookbooks focused solely on lionfish dishes.  Just another reason for me to be happy to be a vegetarian.  🙂

Tanks I love the clown fish and the starfish, but I’d say my favorite was the jellyfish.  We even happened to be there when they where being fed, which was interesting and very cool.

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After we went through this area we went outside where they had shark exhibits (I love hammerhead sharks!) and where they where they had a ton of booths to give information on ways we can help avoid polluting the oceans, what to do to avoid hurting loggerhead turtle hatchlings (I didn’t realize how important it is to fill in any holes you dig at the beach to avoid trapping them) and all kinds of family friendly activities like  face painting, making bracelets and necklaces, temporary tattoos (got some!) and listening to a cool band whose instruments where all made of trash.

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After we talked to all of the people at the various booths we went across the street to the mammal area.   This is where you can see the otters, giant turtles, and manatees.  Awesome!

One great thing about this aquarium is that there are people all over telling you all about the individual animal’s backstories and how they got to the aquarium.  We were told not just how the manatees got to be at the aquarium, but also little tidbits about their personalities.  It was just one more reminder of how all animals have a personality beyond just what is known of their species in general or expected behaviors.

Random Collage For the record, otters are crazy hard to get a picture of underwater,  they are so fast!  I don’t know a thing about otters but they seem like such playful creatures it’s hard to stop watching them and walk away.

If you’d like to visit the aquarium Mote is located at 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, FL 34236.  Mote is an independent, nonprofit marine science institution dedicated to research. It’s a great opportunity to support a great cause by having a great time that your entire family will enjoy, even my finicky teenagers.  Who can’t get behind that?

I received 2 tickets to the aquarium as a member of Tampa Bay Bloggers and their partnership with Mote Aquarium in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own, of course.

Weeki Wachee

My daughter has been bugging me like crazy to take her paddleboarding.  That sounds like a no brainer, but I usually go super early in the morning, way before the rental places open and I usually don’t have to pay anything since I have a board.  Free is good for a favorite pastime, right?

But I love the fact that she’s interested in it so we decided to find place to rent boards and go a little later than usual.  My partner in crime and my daughter immediately conspired (this is a common thing, I can’t win) and after much Googling and mapping told me that Weeki Wachee is closer than my usual paddling site (Fred Howard Park) and they found a place that rents boards as early as 8 am.

What?

Weeki Wachee is the faraway land of mermaids, manatees and clear blue waters.  I always think of it as being in the same area as Crystal River, about an hour + drive from home, and a place where no one rents anything earlier than about 10.

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I couldn’t argue with that, so we reserved our boards and off we went to The Kayak Shack.  I gotta say, if you’re going to spend the money to rent boards this is the way to go.  They have plenty of stress free parking and really nice people working there (plus a couple of huge, gentle dogs that may or may not be part of the staff).  They load you up in a van and drop you and the boards off about 5.5 miles up the river.  You get on and can just drift/paddle down the river as you choose until you get back to the shack.  In the few places you have a choice of paddling left or right there are very clear signs letting you know which way to go.  If you are feeling lazy you can literally just drift the entire way.  If you don’t stop to get in the perfectly clear water (don’t be foolish, jump in!) you will get back in three to four hours with zero effort.  Don’t want be on the water that long?  Paddle and you’ll get there sooner.

If you prefer to bring your own board I was told there is a place nearby open to the public to put in, I’ll let you know where after we bring our boards up and find it.  Paddling upstream is quite a challenge in some places, so be certain to start off going upstream so that you can relax a bit on the way back.

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One thing to make note of – a few sections of the river are INFESTED with yellow biting flys.  These things are no joke.  We brought cream bug repellent and all of us look like we have chicken pocks on our legs and are occasionally still crazy itchy, especially after being in the heat.  Bring bug repellent SPRAY, not cream so that after playing in the water you can immediately spray more on.  I usually don’t use bug repellent but I was ready to drink the stuff it it would have helped.  After I got home I bought a bottle of extra DEET camping bug spray and a bottle of all natural stuff, next time I go I’m testing both and will let yo know if the natural stuff works.  Cross your fingers for the natural stuff working. Either way, this stuff is right up there with sun screen for must haves if you go paddling at Weeki Wachee.

Paddling this river is like paddling in paradise – clear blue water, huge fish swimming under you, the occasional manatee and scenery right out of a movie.  We even had a raccoon following us along for a few minutes!

If you get the opportunity you should definitely visit Weeki Wachi.  If paddleboarding isn’t your thing you can also rent canoes and kayaks, or go see the mermaids!  I have yet to see a mermaid…

 

 

Paddling the Mangrove Trails

There is a kayak trail through the mangroves near the area I usually go paddleboarding, but the water is generally very low, resulting in a muddy stinky mess more than a path.  This weekend, however, the tide was really high and the path looked navigable so we tried it out.

I’ve been around Florida water enough to know that mangroves can have some fairly nasty creatures in them.  Crabs and spiders come to mind – always try and duck under branches, don’t let them touch your hair!  Not to sound too crazy girly, but seriously. Don’t.

Anyways, I kept an eye out and saw nothing.  We went down the path and though it got narrow enough that there was no turning around on a paddleboard it was really cool. For those of you who haven’t tried paddleboarding yet take my word for it when I say that trying to paddle when the board’s fin is in front is not an easy task, you really want to turn the board around to go back the way you came.  The board knows you are doing it wrong and constantly tries to turn itself around.

Anyways, the mangrove trail was beautiful and kind of mysterious and very cool.

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It is just as cool as you might think to paddle down a trail covered over by the trees, nice and shady and peaceful.  Paddle may be a strong word actually, because the trail got so narrow I kind if had to just push off branches to keep moving forward.  Fun, right? Oh hell ya, till I saw this.

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You know what’s a funny thing (not haha funny though)? Once you see one you see they are everywhere.  Kind of like when you buy a yellow car because no one else has one and then you see them at every red light.  But you can’t really connect with a crab like you can with a fellow driver.  Trust me. Or not, whatever.

So then I decided that I had paddled far enough down this path, and should go back to a bit more open water.  You know, the kind with sharks but no crabs.

Which is when I realized just how narrow the path actually was. Even when we found a place wide enough to turn around that meant going forward and back until you bumped the roots and made all the little creatures run about 8 times.  Good times.

I took the picture below of 1 crab. Got home and there where how many?

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Anyways, soon after we got back out on the bay we saw another tunnel to add to the list of things to check out, but breakfast was calling so that’ll be another trip.

Am I the only one totally creeped out by things that I know damn well can’t do a thing to me even if it did fall right on me?  Heaven forbid I ever look up and see a snake in the trees…

 

 

 

The 5K Zombie Run 2016

Another year, another zombie run in Tampa!

Everything started off fine this year.  Happy faces all around.

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But then some of the runners started acting a little strange.  No offense, but people just weren’t looking all that healthy.  Myself included.  That’s what I get for wearing a dress to a run. How are you going to outrun zombies in a dress?  And so I became a zombie. So sad.

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I’ve been lucky enough to run in the 5K Zombie run for years, but this was my first time as a zombie. OMG Fun.  Since my partner in crime was not allowed to run due to surgery a couple days before we switched from runners to zombies kind of last minute.  I mean, plus there were those bites.

Turns out being a zombie is AWESOME. Much more fun than it looks on The Walking Dead.  I didn’t even get an arrow to the head or anything.  Want to take it easy? Just stand dead center and moan about it.  Want to get rid of an excess of energy?  Well there are all those tasty looking humans to try to catch. Being a zombie can actually be MORE work than being a runner when a long wave of humans goes by!

Being on the zombie team was every bit as much adult recess as being a runner.  Maybe even more because you are hanging out with strangers trying to strategize about taking down the next horde of humans. Not to mention the extremely scientific discussions regarding why there aren’t more retired age zombies in the movies and why there really should be. Amongst other philosophical discussions while awaiting the next victims.

I got to say, we were pretty good at being the running dead.

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Want to try the zombie life?  Take a look and see where you can catch The 5K Zombie Run next! You’ll have to be in Florida though, because these runs are put on by a local Tampa company.

 

Manatee Season!

You’ve probably seen news articles on all of the manatees at 3 Sister’s Springs, it seems that people everywhere I talk to have.  I’ve been up there a few times. Once I did the ‘swimming with manatees’ thing and the second time I rented a board from Manatee Paddleboard and wrote about what a great time we had on their tour.   But I never went when it was actually manatee season.  I think that is about October through the beginning of April.  In other words, when it’s cold enough you aren’t sure you want to be in the water.  Trust me, it’s totally worth it.

This time we brought our paddleboards instead of renting.  This way we could be on the water at sunrise, before the crowds.  We didn’t actually get there quite that early, but good enough. We were the first ones at the little park where you can put in your boards or kayaks. We had barely even started out before we saw our first bunch of manatees.

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Because manatees are gentle, trusting creatures and humans are human rules have been put in place to ensure that the manatees are kept safe and unstressed.  The springs themselves are closed at certain times because there are so many manatees in there it’s not really a good idea to add us humans to the mix as well.  We got there at low tide though, before the manatees were able to get in the 3 Sister’s part of the springs.  So we could go in, we just had to leave the boards outside of the area.  No one else had walked in yet when we got there so I got to take a couple of pictures of the springs completely unpopulated. What a beautiful place!

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The main rule is that you are not allowed to chase or hassle the manatees.  However, if you stay in one place long enough they will very likely come up to you to check you out.  There are always rangers and tour guides there, they will ensure you know and follow the rules.  The great thing about this is they are a wealth of knowledge. Be sure to take the time to talk to the rangers because they seem to know just about everything about manatees and lots about some of the individual manatees that are there.  Pretty awesome. One thing I learned is manatees like bright nail polish.  Good to know!

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The only downfall of the bring your own board approach is I don’t have enough boards for the kids, and ever since they saw my pictures they have been wanting to go.  My son prefers kayaking anyways, so next time we’ll most likely be renting. April’s getting here awfully quickly, so I better get a move on to plan the next trip!

 

 

Perceptions

You already know by the mere fact that I live in Florida that I do not love the cold.  But I do find it fascinating how a place can look cold.  I don’t mean like covered in snow and sleet, a bit more subtle that that.  Take a look at this picture.

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With the blue sky reflecting off the water and the green little palms in the foreground I don’t think it looks cold at all.  But look again.

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This picture was taken from the same spot not even a minute later, I just took a couple of steps forward and turned slightly to the right.  To me, this picture looks like it was taken in a place that was very cold.  Which it was if you count Florida cold as cold (I do).

I don’t know why but I find it fascinating that just turning a slight bit can give you such a different perception of the world.  I can’t help but compare it to people’s mental perception.  Ever wonder why some people seem to be upset and offended by such tiny little things?  I know that I do.

I always try to chalk it up to the fact that everyone has a different view of the world which depends on their lives so far and I think a little on the attitude that they fall into the easiest.  The thing I try to remember is that both perceptions are real, both pictures reflect unaltered reality. It’s not even a matter of what people choose to see, because you don’t have any way of knowing what you would see if you chose to go a little to the left or a little more to the right.

I guess the moral of the story is there is always another way of looking at the same thing.  The next time you are talking to someone and the two of you just can’t see eye to eye, instead of trying to change the other person’s mind try seeing their point of view or at least a view a step or two to the side of your own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bourbon & Brew -The Grand Tasting 2015

I was just looking back, and it seems I have not been to a Bourbon & Brew Fest.  Highly strange, I love all of Big City Event’s festivals, but it seems this one always came up after I had committed to something else.  Not this year!

This year instead of the traditional festival they are having a bourbon tasting. There will be over 40 kinds of bourbons to try and it’s all in Tampa this Saturday from 5pm – 10pm.

Now I gotta admit I love a really good bourbon over ice, but also flavors amuse me greatly. There will be Jim Beam Maple Whiskey (hell ya!) and this:

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Now, I doubt they will have bourbon cream floats at the tasting, but I will be trying the Brown Jug Bourbon Cream no matter what they mix it with. Or don’t mix it with. Enough said.

Besides the opportunity to taste all kinds of bourbon there will, of course, be some brews AND moonshine.

Oh, and don’t forget the music. All country all the time.

So, to be honest I’m not exactly a good ole country girl. Or anything other kind of country. But I love pretty much all live music, and who doesn’t love this?


I am so going to buy a cowboy hat before Saturday!

Go here for all the important info including prices, what you can and can’t bring and such. The Grand Tasting is at Armature Works on Tampa’s Riverwalk. Have I said enough times yet how much I love Riverwalk?  Probably not.

After you do that, how about a chance to win a pair of General Admission tickets?  Just let me know if you are a year round country fan or a fan of convenience (like me) and if you’ve listened to any of the bands that will be at the tasting!  Also, use the Rafflecopter link so I know who you are:
Enter HERE!!!

I received two VIP tickets to The Bourbon & Brew Grand Tasting 2015 in exchange for writing a review and a giveaway. As always, my opinions are all mine.

Tampa Bay Vegfest

Last Saturday I went to the Tampa Bay Vegfest in Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park on Riverwalk. It’s their 6th annual festival, but the first I’ve been to. I think last year I had a run at the same time. My loss, it was a lot of fun. Actually, my partner in crime went last year and said this year was much bigger.  I guess that means I better go next year because it’ll likely only be bigger and better.

So, what do you even do at a Vegfest?  Well, I think it depends of the fest.  I went to one in San Diego in like ’89 and it was a total hippy fest.  Reggae music, a haze over the crowd that was not tobacco smoke, a lot of girls in skirts that had not bought a razor maybe ever (I had never heard of women not shaving at the time and was a bit mystified.  Still not my thing but to each their own and all). This was not that.

Fast forward 26 years (writing that makes me feel old, but lets go with wise, shall we?) and vegetarian is pretty much main stream.  My 16 year old daughter is vegetarian (my sons are not), she has friends that are vegetarian that went to the festival, and my son (22) has dated like 3 vegetarians.  Apparently, it’s a thing now.

The Tampa Bay VegFest had all ages from kids, to high school and college age to  retirement age people. I have to admit that last one surprised me.

Anyways, what was there to do?

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Well, there were lots of vendor booths. Some where selling things like t-shirts (the Hail Seitan, Go Vegan t-shirt was one of my favorites), soaps, jewellery, snacks, pretty much a bit of everything. There were also some great vegan samples. My very favorite was Treeline nut-cheese (that sounds so bad, I know). It was a spread for crackers that all by itself made a case for the deliciousness of vegan food. I had to take a picture that was too bad to share but enough that I could go buy it. There was also a coconut ice cream sandwich that was amazing, which surprised me because I have bought the same brand of vanilla ice cream in the past and didn’t love it.  I’m going to have to try it again.

It was a lovely 90 degree fall day so even wearing a tank top I was happy to hear they had speakers and movies playing at the history center. We only made it to listen to one speaker, but wow was she great.  We got to listen to Jo-Anne McArthur speak about animals she had met during her photojournalist adventures. Adventures sound like great things but in this case not so much. She has traveled the globe to bring us the faces and stories of animals whose lives have been hidden. She has photographed minks and foxes being raised for fur in horrific conditions, factory farm victims, a bear whose life of suffering cumulated in having his paws removed for soup (but was rescued), all sorts of things.  But it’s all tempered with visits to a farm sanctuary full of happy, healthy animals and other sanctuaries which if nothing else allows you a glimpse into lives of people who dedicate themselves to good instead of evil. Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that these places do exist.

There was also a food truck circle (yay, food!), bands and a cooking demonstration. I attended the Thai Tacos and Caribbean Rice and Beans demo. The demos were done by the people at thefoodpharmacy.com. Check out their web site, they have all kinds of recipes and videos on how to cook vegan recipes.  Their theme seems to be good, healthy food now instead of drugs and doctor visits later. Radical, right?

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Then there was the mandatory circle of animal rescue groups with dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, even a great big real pig.  I’m a sucker for this section and the partner in crime even put an application for a great dog there.  Should hear back some time this week. A photographer and a blogger and we were so into the dog we forgot to take a picture of her.  FAIL.

All in all a great time. If you’re on Facebook follow them here so that next year you’ll have all the info you need to attend. Bring your compassion and a huge appetite.

Craggy Gardens

The whole point of driving all the way to Asheville, North Carolina from Tampa was to see fall. I’ve never seen it and though I don’t have a bucket list if I did seeing fall and snow would be on it.

So the first morning we woke we woke up at the you-know-what of dawn (seems to be becoming a weekend ritual) and drove about 45 minutes (I think north?) to Craggy Gardens. Why get up so early when on vacation?

Because this. The top picture is of the sunrise and the clouds we are looking down on. Ya, I’ll wake up for that.

Craggy Garden SunriseAs if that wasn’t enough a baby bear ran in front of the car on the drive up.  Having never seen one I babbled like a 2 year old about it until my partner in crime was probably ready to slip me a Valium, but hey, it was cool. And he pretended like I wasn’t crazy annoying, so all good. 🙂

Once the sun was up we started hiking. Turns out hiking in the mountains for 8 hours after living in totally flat Florida for 8 years was a wee bit tiring.  But totally worth walking being a chore for like 3 days.

2015_10_26_North Carolina trip2I had forgot how much I loved wandering about in the mountains, sloshing up streams and generally spending entire days just exploring outside. The entire day we saw one couple after we had turned back to the car, no one else was on the trail at all. Perfection.

What was missing?  Well, I had kind of expected more color.  There was lots of yellow and gold, but very little reds except for one tiny little tree. The best place of all was about 500 feet of the trail where the leaves on the ground looked like rose petals (in spite of no red in the trees above) which seemed like at any moment a fairy could fly by and you wouldn’t even be surprised.

2015-10-26Now I am not and was not complaining about the lack of red color in the trees, because truly the place was beautiful.  But wait until you see what we found on the drive out.

Classic fall. Can’t wait to show you.