Celebrating Sun & Wind

Days with both sun and wind have been few and far between this summer. We’ve had many windy days, in fact one day it was so windy the sailboat was picked up and tossed on its side. However, like the sailboat tossing afternoon, most often the wind has been accompanied by heavy rainfall and usually lightning as well.

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So when we awoke this morning to both sunny skies and steady winds we wasted no time in raising the sails to take advantage of a morning sail on the lake.

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A morning sail followed by a swim and then lunch on the porch…couldn’t do any better loading the car and heading to the beach.

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What a good reminder take advantage of our backyard! No need to always pack a suitcase or travel when we live in Florida.

TBT: 250 Years of Teaching

What better way to celebrate a new school year than by gathering with other retired educators for a first week of school lunch. Friends from over thirty-five years with more than 250 years of combined service in the Marion County joined us at the same location where we’ve hosted end of year staff parties since 1984. Of course, we missed several who were traveling, because after all, we can now travel on our own schedules instead of relying on the school calendar.

After seeing all of the first day of school pictures posted yesterday, we decided to take our own version.

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John ended his career at Osceola Middle School, the same school where my teaching career began, and a place both Karen and Doug made their marks.

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John and I not only both taught at Stanton-Weirsdale, but we taught there together with Leasa.

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We were also both at Ward-Highlands, but at different times. John worked with Kay and I worked there with Doug.

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John, Leasa and Kay were all members of the South Ocala staff in the ’80s.

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And then John joined forces with both Karen and Kay at Shady Hill.

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While not there together, John and Doug were Reddick Collier Mustangs.

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Somehow John, Maureen and Doug spent over twenty years at Oakcrest, but none of them were ever on campus at the same time.

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Then Doug and I came back together at Ocala Springs where we teamed up with Maureen and Lisa.

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And finally Lisa introduced me to the virtual world of education where we taught together my final five years, and while Lisa doesn’t qualify as a retiree, she joined us for lunch between student calls. We want to provide good retirement mentors for her.

This is the way to spend the first week of school.

Boston: Fun & Games

The past two nights we’ve been watching baseball. Monday’s Homerun Derby and last night’s MLB All-Star game are annual events as well as part of our family traditions.

Last month while in Boston we didn’t attend a Red Sox game, but we did take a tour of Fenway Park.

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The Fenway tour isn’t exclusively for baseball fans. The guides are actually storytellers who include tales about the personalities behind the stadium. Tales of team owners, politicians, sportscasters and players.

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The tour takes place in the grandstands, in the highly sought after seats atop the famous green wall and in the press box with the tour concluding in the stadium’s museum. A great experience for baseball fans as well as those who just want a peek inside the iconic stadium without being subjected to nine innings of baseball.

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Fenway isn’t the only place Bostonians are playing games. One evening we went to Knight Moves a game cafe. It’s nowhere as impressive as Snakes and Lattes in Toronto, but we enjoyed playing Forbidden Dessert and a card game called Exploding Kittens. Nothing says fun like exploding kittens.

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Of course there’s opportunities to pose next to symbols of Boston like Larry Bird’s shoes. And what can be more fun than colorfully painted pianos that appear in the most unexpected places just waiting for someone to sit down and play a little ditty.

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Boston: a good place for some fun and games (so long as it doesn’t involve the Patriots)!

 

 

Boston: Take the Trail

Our celebration of Independence Day started about a month early during our June visit to Boston. We first encountered the 2.5 mile brick path marking the Freedom Trail only a couple of blocks from our condo located just down the street from the Paul Revere House, so while the trail officially starts in Boston Common, we began in our Little Italy neighborhood.

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We weaved our way through the city and through our nation’s history with stops in Boston Common, the Massachusetts State House and the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial taking time to enter many of the buildings, like the Old South Meeting House and the Old State House, along the way.

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We made some mistakes on our trail trek. First, we didn’t pick up a guide. This free resource would have kept us on track and would have helped us identify all nineteen sites along the trail. Instead of sticking to the trail, we got side-tracked multiple times taking pictures, looking for restaurants and just enjoying the cool weather (low 70°s in June!).

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Over the course of our stay, we eventually visited all but one of the historical sites on the trail, only missing the Bunker Hill Monument. Fortunately, Emily and Brian enjoy cemeteries as much as I do. That meant we spent more time at the  Granary Burial Ground than any other location on the trail.

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Our history tour took us beyond the Boston city limits to Lexington and Concord, but not without a glitch. A Sunday trip using public transportation is not supported by the bus line so we found ourselves stranded over five miles from our destination. A few weeks earlier we learned to use Uber so problem solved.

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While waiting for the next bus for the Liberty Ride, we toured the Buckman Tavern where 77 Minutemen gathered awaiting the British marching from Boston.

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And before  leaving the tavern/museum, we helped settle the debate as to whether the Revolution started in Concord or Lexington. Now that we’ve voted, it’s been decided…Lexington.

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The informative narrated tour lasted about two hours and included a couple of stops along the way. It was even possible to exit the bus to explore other sites and then catch another later bus back to Buckman Tavern.

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In addition to the history along the trails, we also encountered some unusual things along the trail like this Edgar Allen Poe statue.

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Or a man with a sign, Give me a dollar not to vote for Trump. Couldn’t resist. Why hadn’t I thought of this scam to earn a little extra money?

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Boston: a great place for a walk.

VRBO v Hotel

When Emily and Brian decided their wedding would take place in Apopka, we delved into the world of VRBO for the first time. Unhappy with hotel offerings in the Apopka area and wanting to shorten our 75 minute commute from home, I searched the Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO) website looking for an answer to our wedding weekend accommodation problem.

I found a four bedroom house on the Wekiva River which served as our base of operation, housed eight for the weekend and hosted more than two dozen guests for a rehearsal party. It also created a beautiful backdrop for pre-ceremony wedding photos. What a find!

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A year and a half later, another wedding, this time in Virginia, I again searched the VRBO website for a house for nine. Success again and at a cost one third of what we’d have spent on hotel rooms.

Of course when planning a trip to Portland, I didn’t even look at hotels. Instead, we stayed in a house complete with raspberries and blueberries growing in the backyard, access to a washer and dryer and an ice chest for our day trips…all for only $100 a day.

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More good luck in Jacksonville for family weekend last August. Five bedrooms, pool and boat lift on the St. John’s River. A perfect place for family fun.

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And most recently, we found a small two bedroom apartment in the Little Italy neighborhood in Boston. We enjoyed being in the middle of the city’s best restaurants and again spent only half as much as hotels.

But staying in houses or apartments instead of hotels come with their own unique problems. The house on the Wekiva has some water issues and the one in Virginia had beetles. In Portland, the doorway to the bedroom was only an inch above my head (the sticky note warns of low ceiling) and while the house in Jacksonville advertised their covered patio as a great place to enjoy a meal cooked on their gas grill, the propane tank was empty and the oven didn’t heat properly. In Boston, we walked up to the fourth floor on the narrow stairway and yes, that’s a step to the toilet and a post in the middle of the small room.

These problems would not have been acceptable at a high priced hotel but were taken with a grain of salt due to other advantages offered by these VRBO properties.

HOWEVER, WHEN THINGS GO WRONG, THEY CAN BE VERY WRONG. Five good experiences…but the bad one in Toronto makes me a little nervous about future rentals. Upon arrival, we found the house extremely warm. The thermostat registered nearly 90° and no amount of adjustment helped. That’s when we found the window unit AC in the closet under a pillow. No wonder we couldn’t cool it off! And the patio touted as a highlight of the property was stacked with wood and overlooked a yard of weeds…nothing like the wonderful patio in Portland.

We didn’t stay in the Toronto property instead moving to two rooms at the Marriott in downtown. Everything worked out, but it can be difficult leaving a prepaid VRBO property uncertain about a refund and possibly exceeding the vacation budget. And we learned that the guarantees offered by VRBO provide little or no   protection.

Read reviews carefully. Try to use Google Maps to get extra information about the neighborhood and pay on credit card to protect yourself. Houses or apartments can be a great alternative to traditional hotel rooms, but do your homework and protect yourself.

TBT: Oregon 2015

At this time last year Lisa and I flew to Portland hoping for a few days of fun away from the Florida summer heat, but we were in for a surprise. Portland was in the midst of a heat wave with temperatures ranging from 95°-104° throughout our stay.  Not exactly the usual 70°-75° temperatures typical during June.

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Our first day was spent on the coast, walking on the beach.

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Day 2: exploring the Columbia Gorge and the waterfalls.

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The next day, the hottest by far, we hiked a portion of the Pacific Coast Trail near Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood.

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We’d seen pictures of Trillium Lake located in the shadow of Mt. Hood and decided it would be the perfect place to wade in the cool waters of the lake.

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Of course, it was Saturday, and we weren’t the only ones hoping to spend the day at Trillium Lake. We circled at least thirty minutes trying to find a place to park and when we finally had success, we walked close to a mile to the lake, only to find wall to wall people, floats and kayaks in the water and chairs, grills and umbrellas crowded together on the shoreline.

We didn’t stay long. Instead, we decided this is a place to visit some Tuesday in May.

The heat didn’t spoil our vacation. After all, we’re used to temperatures in the 90°s, and at least we didn’t have any rain.

It’s a VanFleet Kind of Day

It’s been hard to get motivated to go for a bike ride in the heat of the summer, but when we decided it was time for a twenty mile ride, I knew immediately I wanted to ride the Van Fleet Trail in Mable. It’s a trail I described as flat, straight and shady after riding it the first time a couple of years ago, and those qualities make it possible to not only survive, but to enjoy a summer ride.

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We didn’t start as early as we should to avoid the heat, but we were riding by 8:45 on a beautiful sunny morning.

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During our drive to Mable, we heard a story on NPR about the efforts of Rangers at our National Parks trying to insure that park visitors are able to enjoy the natural sounds as well as the beauty of the landscape and wildlife. Despite the location of the trailhead only a couple hundred yards off SR 50, the sounds of nature were quite evident on the Van Fleet trail. The chirping of insects, singing of birds and bellowing of alligators were just a few of the sounds piercing the otherwise silence of the ride.

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And what a contrast of wildlife – a Pygmy Rattler and a Magnolia bloom.

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As a bonus, I burned 600 calories in less than two hours. It really was a Van Fleet kind of day.

Ready for National Seashell Day?

Are you ready for the first annual National Seashell Day on June 20th? If not, it’s not too late to make plans to hit the beach with bucket and shovel in hand for a little treasure hunting Florida style.

 

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This year’s inaugural seashell event is something created by The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel, a sheller’s paradise. I’m not sure why it’s scheduled for a Monday, but it seems like a good excuse for a long weekend.

The fifty miles of white sand beaches in Lee County are a perfect place to start or add to a shell collection, but they certainly don’t have a monopoly on this beachy pastime.

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It’s nearly impossible for me to walk on the beach without picking up at least a pocketful of shells. You’ll find shells in the cup holder in my car, on the dresser, in my purse and in the washing machine.

Bettie Lou, my mother-in-law, celebrated her own version of National Seashell Day starting forty years ago, scheduling annual trips to Sanibel or Captiva collecting bucketfuls of shells. In fact, we have some of her treasures displayed on the wall and others in a vase on the end table.

Her shelling addiction resulted in more than one parking ticket as she wasn’t one to let a little thing like a No Parking sign prevent a shelling expedition. And she didn’t complain about the $35 tickets…just the cost of having a little fun. GO TO SHELL could have been her personal motto.

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I’m not sure if I’ll be on the beach on the “official” National Seashell Day next week, but I’ll be in Sanibel in July doing the famous “Sanibel Stoop” lathered in sunscreen, wearing my hat and sunglasses, carrying a bucket and shovel looking for the elusive lion’s paw.

Where’s your favorite beach for shelling?

Be on your best behavior!

It’s amazing how many times we run into people we know when traveling. On one trip to New York City we saw neighbors at the breakfast buffet in the hotel in which we stayed, friends from church at a Broadway play, our daughter’s friends in Time Square, and then flew back  on a plane with the family of a former student.

We’ve seen people we know at the beach, at a campground in North Carolina and on a river trip.

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A week ago today, it happened again. A woman came over to our table in the hotel restaurant in Niagara Falls asking, “Mr. McCollum?”

The parents of a student John knew from Osceola Middle School asked if they could take a picture with him so they could show their daughter who they saw on vacation. Of course, he’d pose for a picture. And while they were taking his picture, I photographed them taking it as a reminder that it’s important to be on your best behavior, even when you’re a thousand miles from home.

So is it just us or have you run in to people you know while on vacation?

Toronto: Fun, Games and Food

Upon entering Snakes & Lattes, billed as North America’s premiere board game cafe, I was immediately struck by the extensive library of games lining the walls waiting to be played. There were certainly familiar ones, like Agricola pictured in the window below, however, most were new to me.

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As we headed to our table, we passed game playing customers enjoying a variety of games chosen from the cafe’s extensive selection. I couldn’t help but smile seeing a group playing Mysterium employing their best seance skills to investigate clues to unlock a mystery.

Once seated, we were greeted by a staff member who explained that our $5.00 per person admission enabled us to stay as long as we wanted playing games from their library. In addition, we could order food and drinks…but that was not required. Game gurus were also available to recommend and/or teach games.

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We let Jonathan, our family game guru, do the honors of choosing and teaching us a game. His selection of Cinque Terre was a good one. It had us competing to sell the most valuable produce to the five villages of Cinque Terre.

Ready for dinner, we only stayed to play one game. We ordered some drinks at Snakes & Lattes, but we aren’t accustomed to mixing food and games.

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Our second night, we took in a show at The Second City, Toronto’s famous comedy club. Tickets to the show were a Mother’s Day gift from Meghan and Jonathan, and our “VIP” seats on the rail were close enough for a good view of all of the action on stage while insuring we wouldn’t be included in any of the skits…a good move! The Best of Second City show provided nearly two hours of fun watching the casts’ comedy sketches and unscripted improvisations. What a fun night of laughs!

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This trip was not one of fancy meals. Instead we concentrated on good, standard fare, but with stops at a couple of famous eateries. That means breakfast at Tim Horton’s. How can you go to Canada without eating a donut at one of the country’s 4,413 locations?  So how was the donut? Good, but not something I have to have again. Of course, I’m not really a big donut fan.

Fresh baked goods at St. Lawrence Market was our other breakfast choice. Much more to my taste, and the bagels were terrific.

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Pizza at Pizzaiolo Gourmet Pizza, hamburgers, fries, and delicious milk shakes at The Works, fish, salads, and appetizers at Firkin on Bloor satisfied our taste buds in Toronto. But buffalo wings from Anchor Bar in Buffalo was another must. Credited with inventing buffalo wings, a favorite; and with a restaurant located in the Buffalo Airport, how could we resist? We didn’t. Ate wings before boarding our flight home.

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While our dining experiences won’t be all that memorable, we highly recommend Snake & Lattes and The Second City for fun and games in Toronto.

Tips: More Fun and Games

Hockey Hall of Fame

Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL)

Toronto Raptors (NBA)

Toronto Blue Jays (MBL)

Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall – two of Canada’s most renowned concert halls