February 2016 – Marco Island, FL – Peace River, FL – Crystal River, FL

I think I will make multiple updates to a monthly post until I begin doing multiple activities. This way I can make a February post and then update it as adventures develop. So this is my last posting for February. Remember to click on the thumbnail photos for more detail, especially with the Solomon Castle photos.

February 6, 2016

On the first of February I left Lehigh Acres for Marco Island to spend a week with an old friend from Indianapolis, Gene. I helped Gene to create a facebook account and do some other computer stuff before going out on the river to fish in his boat. Unfortunately the boat blew a head gasket and we had to be towed back into the house.

Here are some photos of the house on Marco Island and the unusual fauna. Notice the large Fan Palm tree.

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Cactus blooming in February!

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It is so much better to have these views as I walk outside rather than the snow in Indianapolis! IMG_2586

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A sunset from the dock at the back of Gene’s house in Marco Island.

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Manatees Swim just off the dock.IMG_2582

We did get to go to the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk in the Everglades near Fakahatchee. These are the photos from the boardwalk.

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 Baby Alligators were at the front of the facility with a momma laying in the water nearby.

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Paula and Gene on the nature hike.

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IMG_2594Gene prepared a 4lb prime rib for Super Bowl Sunday! We watched the game and together shared a wonderful meal. I departed on Monday for Peace River, Wauchula/Zolpho Springs.

On the first day of arrival I found a somewhat dry place to park the RV while I participated in the ‘hookup lottery’. I didn’t get a full hookup on that day and did not attend the drawing on Tuesday.  I met a young couple camped next to me that are traveling the world while home schooling their young daughter. Precocious is the best description of her! On Wednesday I prepared Cubano Tamales and grilled vegetables to share with them. It was a little nippy sitting at the picnic table but all was good!

So here I am all snug in my dry spot with full hookup.

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We have had a bit of a dry spell and as Valentine’s Day approached I began to pull my head out of tax research and paperwork concerning the new RV; insurance and all that jazz.  For Valentine’s Day I wrote a couple of short stories and published them to a specific group of young people on facebook. It seems they were well received, I may do more as time goes on.

The 15th proved to be a great day for kayaking. I joined with two other boats to float 10 miles or so down the Peace River. One family of 4 occupied a canoe and there was a single seater kayak in addition to me. It was great going down the river. Here is the motley crew:

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We only spotted 4 alligators on the way and some turtles. The water is still very high but the trip was well worth it.

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I missed getting a photo of the small alligators so here is Stumpy from the RV Park.

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Each morning I try to ride about 4 miles on my bicycle and then spend my afternoons chilling out. On one of my bike rides I found what looks like an armadillo. This little guy wasn’t afraid of me and kept digging for food in what looked like ant beds.

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20 Feb 2016   Pickle Ball, Bingo and Solomon’s Castle

I finally broke down and went to the Bingo games on Wednesday night. I had no idea what to expect so as I walked in I found a table set up with bingo cards and cash. For $5 I got 6 cards and sat down to wait for the beginning of the games. Those around me seemed alert and ready to play. I found that as the games started I was having trouble keeping up with closing off the numbers on my cards with the numbers selected. At each break in the game I would review the board and close off my missed numbers. Finally I win a game with a $10 payout! Best investment I’ve made in years!

I’ve discovered Pickle Ball too. This is a fast paced game similar to Tennis, Ping Pong, Volleyball, Bat mitten, or Racquetball. The rules of play are rather complicated and I’m still learning them. When I can I’ll pick up a paddle and spare pickle balls to practice with and try to become proficient.

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Less than 15 miles away is Solomon’s Castle. A Russian immigrant has created a Castle in the Florida wetlands using newsprint aluminum sheets as the outside medium. He has also created 80 stained glass windows and the castle hosts hundreds of creations by renowned artist Howard Solomon. Mr. Solomon was not home during our visit but the man is a genius using scraps to create art. I’ve taken a multitude of pictures and will try to comment on them as I can. The tour guides used a script created by Howard Solomon that was full of pundits and humorous quips. I should have had a tape recorder to catch all the nuances.

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We purchased tickets ($10) and found that our tour wasn’t scheduled for another 45 minutes. This gave us time to visit the ‘Boat in the Moat’ Restaurant. The food was good but the service was horrible. If we had not grabbed a waitress, during an infrequent visit to our area on the patio, we would not have been able to order. It was well over 40 minutes before we received our sandwiches. We never received a check and finally went to the cashier in the gift shop and told her what we ate in order to pay! My recommendation is that you don’t go anywhere near the lunch hour but I do recommend you go for lunch and sit in the patio area between the boat and the lighthouse to enjoy the live music and atmosphere.

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Entering the Castle grounds we found these beautiful red fluffy flowers. Much like a dandelion the red powder-puff flower captivated our attention.

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Air plants grow everywhere in Florida. Even the Spanish moss is an air plant much like an orchid is an air plant.

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Our first sighting of the Castle is an almost blinding experience. The sun beaming off of the aluminum printing sheets makes it difficult to look at the castle from certain angles.

Dawn Raye and Paula

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The stained glass windows in the first level of the lighthouse.

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This is our talented host and narrator for our tour of the Castle. Her efforts were worth the cost of admission. Look closely at each of the photos that follow as each of the pictures hanging on the wall are created from wood. Each of the items you see are made from scrap metal items ranging from exhaust pipes, to watch gears.

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The Giraffe and other animals in the background are made from clothes hangers.

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This is an actual tortoise shell. Notice the wig at the bottom. So this piece is labeled the ‘Tortoise and the Hair’.

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Notice the detail on these train pieces. The following photo shows their relative size.

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Notice the floor. It is actually a cement floor that was ‘stamp painted’. This means a shaped sponge/paint brush was used to ‘stamp’ the design on the floor. This was done elsewhere on the grounds to good effect.

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The first piece Howard created was at the age of 4 and is a car pulling a trailer. The wheels were made from his mother’s sewing spools.

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As we began to depart the creations in the yard caught our eye. Not only was there hidden gems in the gardens but the gardens themselves revealed unusual plants.

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At the end of the nature walk we encountered the ‘fence’ with a mural on the side of the building.

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Then we celebrated Mardi Gras at the camp ground! Bring your shrimp, sausage, veggies and place the in a cheese cloth bag to be boiled in the special spices. Yum

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Denny and Diane created for me custom made sun shades that will keep out 95% of he sun, heat and light. Suction cups hold the material on the front window as well as both car doors. Denny even bought a copy of Sandbox to Sandbox.IMG_2712

Feb 22 – Feb 29

I arrived at the Crystal Isles RV Park on the Crystal River and was able to obtain reservations that carries me to March 8th. In discussing Afghanistan I agreed to conduct a 30-60 minute talk on my experiences in Kabul with the NATO and Combined Military commands.

Rain, wind and chilly temperatures kept me inside for a couple of the days but on Friday I was able to go crabbing for my dinner! Alas I didn’t get any crabs and settled for salmon and grilled veggies.

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I’ve begun the rewrite of my book ‘Sandbox to Sandbox’ to include some old pictures and to make the book read better in a more chronological way. At the end I’ll include a few Afghan adventures but the Afghan Journals continue to support those years of my life.

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