Hiding in the swamp

Dick said he had something special to show us.  He pointed to something that appeared to be off in the distance and asked if we could see the jingle bell orchid.  We all looked.  No one could see it.

He put his hand out carefully and pointed to the entire, very small plant growing on a slender tree stem within easy reach and then lifted two tiny seedpods for us to see.

Those seedpods gave it it’s name – jingle bell orchid.  In the continental US, you’ll only find this orchid in southern Florida.

We were in Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, home to birds, panthers, and alligators – as well as one of North America’s largest tracts of bald cypress trees.

We were there to see birds, but, as we walked on the elevated 2.25 mile (3.62 km) boardwalk through the swamp, our first notable sightings were orchids.

We were intent on observing the swamp habitat. Dick, our guide, led the hike, but everyone was watching and that led to so many more wonderful sightings. Someone in the group spotted an almost 5-foot long Southern black racer snake.  We watched from the boardwalk as it slithered off behind a nearby tree.  Dick showed us the largest ghost orchid discovered in the world – though we are sad to say it wasn’t currently in bloom.  He also showed us apple snail shells and blood lichens.

We didn’t miss seeing the swamp lily surrounded by ferns.

Where were the birds?  As the sun rose higher and the air warmed, the birds started to appear.  Often they were hard to spot.

Someone called out for us to see the green heron.  Can you find it?  We looked and finally had to ask for help to find the “hidden” heron.

Here’s a closer look at the green heron, found in the center of the photo above.

We ended up seeing 4 species of birds that we’d never seen before and over 30 species total.  That was a good morning for us!  Could we have seen most of those many wonderful things on our own?  Never.

Dick told us that, in past years, so many visitors had complained as they left Corkscrew that they didn’t see anything at all so the Sanctuary greatly increased the number of guided walks.

Now more visitors can see the many riches hiding in plain sight in the swamp with guides and other fellow visitors to help.

January 2019

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Professional family vacation photos

Who hires a professional photographer to document their family reunion?  Our daughter, Kirsten, hired a photographer for our first family reunion eight years ago in Santa Barbara, California, and it was a great success.

We all received the collection of gorgeous photos taken by the photographer  – including this humorous one of Beth’s brothers.

These photos were the best gift from our reunion eight years ago.

With the upcoming family reunion on Sanibel Island, Florida, Beth’s brother and sister-in-law, Tom and Barbara, hired a professional photographer to take family photos during our stay as their Christmas present to all of us.

On the last night of our reunion, 15 of us gathered at the beach for the photo session an hour before dusk.  Julie, the photographer, started with group shots in many different configurations: families placed near each other, tallest to shortest, walking down the beach holding hands….

When she started taking photos of the 4 grandchildren, Joe took his own snaps using his iPhone.

When Julie, the professional photographer, asked them to jump in the air, Joe stepped to the side and snapped the image as well.  We love the joy on their faces!

She asked the next generation (40 year olds) if they wanted to try jumping for a few photos.  Our son, Joshua, surprised us by jumping right out of the frame.

We suspect the photo of Julie taking a portrait of Tom and Barbara might be more interesting than the professional portrait itself.

Julie finished right before sunset and said her goodbyes.  Most of us weren’t in a hurry to leave the beach.  We wanted to see the sun collapse into the Gulf of Mexico.

There was just enough light and still more photos to take before the sun disappeared.

During this family reunion when we were with our family, we wanted to enjoy being with them.  We rarely took out our cameras. It just seemed a distraction.  So, having a professional photographer capture sweet and joyous photos of everyone was a welcome way to remember our reunion. We’ll have more than Sanibel shells to document this reunion.

 

December 2018

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Planning a family reunion?

Our last family reunion ended on a disastrous note, but it wasn’t our fault.  Eight years ago, we booked a spacious house in Santa Barbara, California for the gathering.  So what went wrong?  When 5-month old Nick arrived, no one suspected he was coming down with the flu.  Within the week, almost all of us were quite ill.

The mere thought of it delayed our next get-together for many years, even though we knew that, no matter how well you plan a gathering, some things are beyond your control.

Two years ago we started thinking how nice it would be to spend a future Christmas on Sanibel Island, Florida. We wrote the family to ask if anyone wanted to join us – and their replies?  All 15 said “YES!”.

How did it go this time around? Fabulously well, we think, and we’re happy to share some of the reasons why.

Pick a location everyone wants to visit

Sanibel Island was a real draw not just for us but for everyone.

It’s one of the most famous shelling beaches with warm air and water temperatures even in mid-winter.

Choose a time everyone has free

We stayed for the entire Christmas week.  No school was missed, and, for those still working, only a few had to take off work.

Don’t over schedule

We all gathered together for a restaurant meal on Christmas Eve, and, on Christmas morning, we gathered by the pool in the outdoor gazebo to enjoy a potluck breakfast.

In addition to the shrimp deviled eggs, homemade bread, and fresh baked apple tart (in the photo), we also enjoyed fruit parfaits and bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon.

Activities for the entire group were kept to a minimum, so that everyone would have plenty of time to do whatever their heart desired – whether that was taking a nap in the afternoon, shopping with your sister, or a small group gathered to watch sports on TV.

Book a place that has everything your group will need

For us, that included separate units for each family with full kitchens at Caribe Beach Resort, a pool, bicycles, and direct access to the beach.

Do something different

Everyone in the group, whose ages ranged from 75 down to 9, kayaked in Tarpon Bay on water-trails weaving through the mangrove forest.

Provide opportunities for mixing it up

Uncle and nephew were paired for kayaking.

 

If possible, choose a place with a beautiful and inspiring natural setting

Joe spotted brown pelicans roosting in a tree on his walk down the beach.

 Play together

 

Four of us played the board game, Splendor, on the beach.

Take some group photos

Beth’s brother and sister-in-law hired a professional photographer to take family photos as their present to the family.  How did that work?  TO BE CONTINUED….

 

December 2018

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When everything comes together…

Cloudy skies and a not-so-great AirBnB on Tybee Island, Georgia threatened our plan for a lovely seaside stay.  We decided to escape to the beach.  When we headed off for a walk, it was cool, and the grey sky showed not a hint of blue at mid-day.  Sigh…

We had walked quite a distance when we saw a patch of blue sky ahead which continued to widen.  We were amazed as the sea of slate grey under the clouds transformed into a deep blue under the clear sky.

The grey clouds had almost lifted when a freighter appeared.

It’s surprising that we even noticed it, as we were fixated on the many shells at the water’s edge.

The bright colors of the claw caught our attention.  We’d never coloring like this before.

Many birds dotted the shoreline – gulls, terns, skimmers.  Brown pelicans occasionally flew by.  Ahead we saw a tight knot of black birds in a circle, lifting their heads to the sky and singing.

We assumed that they were male boat-tailed grackles, but we’d never seen such behavior before.

About 100 feet (30 meters) distant, we saw about 25 female boat-tailed grackles congregated on a rock jetty. How interesting, we thought, and, as soon as we got back, we googled “behavior of boat-tailed grackles.”  We learned that they are the only songbird in North America to practice “harem polygamy.” We read that “Boat-tailed Grackle sexes remain apart most of the year, except in the nesting season when females gather in large, dense colonies, usually on small islands in marshes or in isolated trees in settled areas. Many males are attracted to each nesting colony, but only a few high-ranked individuals succeed in mating there.”

On our way back from the beach, we walked by a park where most of the trees were draped with moss.

What magic buttons can we push to feel calm and settled?  We have learned from years of travel that warm temperatures, sandy beaches, and ocean waves create an almost instant calming effect.  Throw in seashells and birds and we are truly in our element.

 

 

December 2018

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What is in between the Pacific and the Atlantic?

We usually hug the coasts, but it was time to expand our horizons to see what was in between.

Open roads with a view for miles…

Old West as a backdrop for a family photo…

Sunrise over our tent in Badlands National Park…

Culture at the Walker Art Center….

Signage on the beach left by a previous visitor…

Historic roadside statue…

Cape Cod!….

 

..and that is the condensed version of a 5-month road trip from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

 

December 2018

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The road trip’s best of the best

In this time of thanksgiving we reflected on our latest five-month road trip across the US and Canada and celebrated all the wonders and hospitality we received along the way.

When we started planning the road trip it looked so easy.  How were we to know how complicated the planning would be and how many choices we’d have to make.  We questioned whether to detour our route to favorite national parks or nearby quaint towns. The trip we initially planned turned out to be many months longer than the time that we had available.  Deciding how to cut back a well thought out trip is never easy.

Like you, we had read blogs and travel articles, so we had a clear vision of where we wanted to go.  The reality of the destinations always differed from our expectations – some better and some worse.  Through the process, we learned a lot about planning a road trip and how to get the best out of every day, but we’ll save that for a future post.  This post is to share our best-of-the-best from 5 months of travel across the US and Canada.

Best town of the trip for sightseeing: Shelburne, Vermont. We planned to stay in nearby Burlington but found a quaint AirBnB a little further south in tiny Shelburne.

A lucky change of plans as Shelburne is home to both the Shelburne Farms (photo) and the Shelburne Museum.  We spent three glorious days touring these sights, and it wasn’t long enough.

Best national or state park of the trip:  Custer State Park, South Dakota.  We thought Florida’s state parks were pretty terrific, but South Dakota wins for best state park by a long shot. It’s worth a destination trip.

Most memorable sight of the trip:  For scenery, the mountains and the wildflowers of the Snowy Range of the Medicine Bow Mountains near Centennial, Wyoming are truly breathtaking.

Best scenic drive of the trip:   A tie between Rte 1A, Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Route 240 across Badlands National Park.  The two drives could not be more different, but, on both, we loved slowing down to get a good look.

Best motel of the trip: In the private motel category the winner was Mangy Moose in Grand Marais, Minnesota.

The winner in the chain motel category was the HI Express in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.  This was the biggest surprise of all, as we almost never stay at a Holiday Inn Express (from bad experiences), but this one was a gem.

Best AirBnB of the trip:  Our budget category winner was a studio apartment in Barnstaple, Massachusetts – a comfortable place where the hosts made sure you had everything you could need at hand.

Our winner in the moderately priced category was a cottage in Bath, Maine – a sweet and charming little place.

Best meal of the trip:  Lobster Pot, Provincetown, Massachusetts at the tip of Cape Cod.  We were seated on the second floor with a view to the harbor and shared a grilled halibut entree with garlic mashed potatoes and lobster, leek and roasted tomato sauce.  Very, very tasty.

Honorable mention goes to a great road food stop – the Bedrock Depot in Dinosaur, Colorado. Their veggie burger on potato bun with lettuce, tomato, and avocado was excellent and the chocolate cinnamon ice cream was even better.   Everything was homemade, including the ice cream.  A simple – and memorable – meal.

Best dessert of the trip: We bought a whole apple pie at an upscale grocery store in Shelburne, Vermont.  It was from a local orchard.  Joe is a huge apple pie fan.  We expected it to be reasonably good.  It wasn’t just good – it was truly great!  Joe ranks it as one of the best pies he’s ever had.

We learned so many new things on this road trip (the almost-extinction of the bison, Crazy Horse, Native American astronomy…), tried new foods (cheese curds, walleye…), and we saw 15 new species of birds. (a snowy bunting, pine grosbeak, Lapland longspur…)  The trip was definitely an eye-opener and how lucky were we to get to take such an amazing road trip.  Our advice for anyone who’d love to take a road trip, big or small:  plan your route carefully and then take off on a road less travelled to enjoy a place you’ve never been.  Stay awhile, be curious, learn, take photos, and enjoy the differences.

 

December 2018

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Consider this

We came back to Washington for a visit after a year’s absence and things were decidedly NOT the same.  We were astounded when we took walks in our neighborhood on Capital Hill with the number of houses displaying signs for all to see.  Clearly, Washingtonians want to send a strong message to their neighbors, some of whom are our lawmakers.

”Love Thy Neighbor (No Exceptions)”

”Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  – Martin Luther King, Jr.

”In this house we believe that black lives matter, women’s rights are human rights, no human is illegal, science is real, love is love, kindness is everything.”

”…a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter” – Thomas Jefferson

”Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

”Hate has no home here.”

“Keep our public lands and monuments in public hands.”

”Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. “  – Martin Luther King, Jr.

…and sometimes words aren’t needed for your message.

As 2019 is approaching, many will make resolutions to start the new year off right.  These signs offer a place to start.

 

 

November 2018

 

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