Koreshan State Historic Site

Bonita Springs, FL – March, 2017 We had a cold front come through the middle of March and while much of the rest of the country wrestled with winter weather of the white variety, we enjoyed a break from the heat of our Florida winter. On a perfect day with a high of 75 degrees, a slight breeze, and a mostly cloudy sky we chose to visit the state park closest to where we are staying, Koreshan State Historic Site.

The Koreshans were a religious sect that started in New York State around 1880 and spread across the country with chapters in Chicago and San Francisco. They moved their headquarters to Estero, Florida in 1894 to avoid religious persecution. They planned to build a grand city here, a new Jerusalem, built on the principals of community property and celibacy.

At the center of their beliefs was the conviction that the universe existed inside a giant, hollow sphere with the sun and the moon in its center. Here is a representation of the way they saw the universe.

They stayed in tents for several years until they could get their homes built. They never quite accomplished the great city they had planned but they did eventually build a very nice compound. The arts were very important in their society and the entertainment hall was the center of their social lives.

It’s a beautiful, well preserved building.

There were seven prominent women who ran many of the group’s businesses. They lived in this beautiful home.

There were 7 bedrooms which served as the lady’s offices as well.

There was no need for a kitchen as all meals were communal. The woodwork in the home was amazing.

The founder of the religion, Dr. Cyrus R. Reed, had a pretty awesome home as well. I never did find an explanation for the round addition on the side.

Not every member of the sect lived in such luxury. But even their shacks weren’t all that bad.

They were a self-sufficient society with a bakery…

and a woodshop.

These were just a couple of the multitude of businesses operated on their members’ behalves.

They had some extraordinary gardens planned.

But the bridges they built stand out the most.

We enjoyed a nature trail along the Estero River which borders the property and were surprised how clear the water is. We were pleased when we could see a manatee approaching from quite a distance.

The bamboo along the nature trail was awesome. It made a nice wind chime like sound on a windy day.

Koreshan was a great place to spend an afternoon. Admission was only $5 per carload. They have a lot of demonstrations and events. We will likely time a future visit with one of these and/or bring our kayaks with to float the beautiful, clear river. The prior occupants were very interesting to learn about, the property was beautiful, and the walk along the river was entertaining.

We took our daughter and grand-doggy, Sasha, with and the park was very dog friendly.  Of course Sasha wasn’t allowed in any buildings so we took turns looking in them.  We also drove through the campground on our way out.  The sites were nice but close together with only a thin line of vegetation separating them.  But compared to the postage stamp we are renting in our commercial park they were huge.

The whole day we couldn’t help exclaiming often how great the weather was and how pleasant it was to have a break from the hot days we’ve experienced most of this season. We would never complain about the heat but this was a nice intermission from it and was really appreciated. We enjoyed a couple more days of cool weather before the hot days returned.

Sitting

Bonita Springs, FL – January – April, 2017 Since we planned to spend a full six months in one location this winter, Jim and I agreed that it would be wasteful not to try and earn some money. A little extra jingle in your pocket is always nice. We could use the money to supplement our entertainment budget this year and hopefully save a little too.

One of our goals is to explore options for supplementing our income while impacting our lifestyle the least. We want to look beyond the obvious camp hosting, beet farming, Amazon gigs that we’ve all heard about. If you recall, my last experiment in money making was substitute teaching last spring. I hope to find something I enjoy more and that also pays better.

One thing I wanted to try was childcare or possibly senior care. I know it doesn’t sound like the path to a windfall but it can actually pay pretty well these days if you work directly for the client. I was familiar with the Care.com website as I’d used it to hire help in the past. So I decided to create a profile as a caregiver and give it a shot.

I did finally land a sweet gig but several things limited the availability of jobs for me. First, I was honest about only being in Florida for the winter. Many people, even those just wanting a sitter for one night, hope to find someone that they can call on again and count on year round.

Second, I was only willing to work a few days a week at most and required at least three days off in a row every week. There were many jobs for a few hours a day, like after school care, that paid well for 3 or 4 hours of your time but 5 days a week was too much of a commitment. There were also a lot of senior care jobs that wanted you to check in on someone a few hours a day, four or five days a week.

Finally, I wasn’t willing to use our truck to any great extent. I didn’t consider any jobs that required a commute of over 10 miles. I also wouldn’t transport clients. Can you imagine my big truck in a school pickup line? And it is too tall to comfortably transport the elderly.

I applied for a handful of positions, and either was politely declined, or more often never got a response at all. I was contacted by several people looking for care but each time it did not meet my criteria so I politely passed. It’s kind of like dating, looking for the right match, and trying to not let the rejection get to you.

Finally in December I received a message from a couple looking for a nanny for an infant two days a week. The job was only 3 miles from our door. It sounded perfect. I went on an interview and accepted the job.

They needed childcare while one of the parents attended college classes. I agreed to stay in Bonita Springs an extra month until the semester ended. This was not much of sacrifice as we are enjoying our time here very much.

I’m almost exactly halfway through the assignment and I absolutely love it. The couple I work for is extremely nice. All they ask is that I give their child my undivided attention.

When the baby takes a nap I usually clean. They said I didn’t have to do anything but wash bottles and put baby laundry away if I had time. But I don’t feel right doing nothing while the baby sleeps.

Caring for the baby is a joy. I make a couple bottles and spoon baby food into a pudgy little mouth. Mostly I read books, play with blocks and toys, and sing silly songs. We have fun!

Now the important part: What does it pay? I’m getting $15 per hour. I am bringing home double what I did substitute teaching.

I did agree to be 1099’d at the end of the year. This means that I will have to pay self-employment tax on this income. So I will net $12.75 per hour. Not bad for doing something that I love.

I think this experience was a complete success. I expect to get a good recommendation on Care.com from the clients when I’m done. That will help enormously the next time I’m looking for work.

There is a tremendous need for elder care and I will definitely consider that as well. It might not be as fun as playing with a baby but I know it can be rewarding. I put myself through college providing housekeeping and companionship for the elderly.

I definitely think there is potential here for making money in our future. If we had some unexpected expenses and needed to drop anchor somewhere and make hay, I would consider this type of work over, say a retail job. It offers more flexibility and more earnings. I really like that this is something I could do into old age. As long as I am in good health there is no reason I can’t care for others.

So you may wonder what Jim is up to while I am working. Is he a kept man? Far from it! Let’s just say Jim is not sitting on his arse. I will share that story when it is finished.

Bonita and Barefoot Beaches

Bonita Springs, FL – October, 2016-February, 2017  We are loving our winter home here in Bonita Springs, Florida. It is a lovely community and the weather has been pretty spectacular. I don’t want to brag about the weather too much just yet. Winter is not yet over!

We haven’t spent as much time at the beach as we originally thought we would but we still try to get to a beach about once a week. The water got as cold as the mid 60’s in January but on hotter days we still enjoy a dip. It has started climbing and is almost 70 now.

The closest beach to our home is Bonita Beach just 6 miles from our door. There is a large parking lot there which charges $2 per hour. This lot is often full by noon.

You can drive past the lot and there are a dozen or so beach accesses with a few free parking spaces each scattered along the two mile length of the beach. They actually have some spaces large enough for our truck. We can usually find free parking on weekday mornings.

The first day we visited this beach was the day after our arrival in town and the day of the hurricane. There were a lot of dead fish washed up on the beach and not yet knowing much about local conditions my first impression was that the seas were so rough they had beached all these fish where they then died.

I later realized the red tide had killed them and the rough seas may have washed a larger number than usual up on the beach. It was sad but also really cool to be able to see so many different kinds of fish, like this ocean catfish…

and this needlefish.

But the coolest was a baby bonnethead shark.

We came back a few days later for another walk. The smell was so bad we only stayed a short while. We returned to our truck by way of the sidewalk where the smell wasn’t as strong. We enjoyed the greenery in front of the fancy beach houses.

 

And the many quirky mailboxes.

I imagine it would have smelled on our first visit except there was such a strong wind. We were grateful that there was no sign of the red tide when we visited Vanderbuilt Beach during our time in Naples. When we returned to Bonita Beach at the end of October the red tide had moved north and the beaches were again pleasant.

The beach we visit most often is only a couple miles further drive. The Barefoot Beach State Park Preserve is really an extension of Bonita Beach. But the name changes as you travel south and enter a different county and eventually, the protected lands of the preserve.

The primary reason we prefer Barefoot is the ample parking. It costs $8 per car to enter the park or I believe non-residents can buy a parking sticker that is good all over Collier County for around $60. We were lucky enough to have someone lend us their parking pass for the season. They had bought one for a week-long vacation in September and weren’t visiting again until spring.

Barefoot Beach is generally a little less crowded than Bonita Beach. If you are willing to traipse a little ways down the beach from the parking access point you can usually snag a good chunk of beach for yourself. And once you get away from the crowds it’s a nice fishing spot as well.

The preserve is home to the Gopher Tortoise and they are plentiful. We usually see them near the parking lot or from the boardwalk.

Collecting shells is very popular on both these beaches.

I prefer to collect pictures of shells.

And other interesting things we encounter on our beach walks. Like this jellyfish. Am I the only one that sees a tiny alien trapped inside?

Girl’s Day in the City

Tampa, FL – February, 2017 Our daughter planned to visit the Tampa area for the day.  I asked to join her and Jim chose to stay home. So we enjoyed a fun girl’s outing. This was Heather’s trip so she set the itinerary and I just went along for the ride.

It’s a two hour drive to Tampa from Bonita Springs. We rocked out the whole way there, taking turns controlling the playlist. We arrived at our first stop about 11.

Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center is near Apollo Beach on the Tampa Bay. The salt water used to cool their equipment is discharged into a canal and the manatees congregate there, especially on colder days. They have built a very nice nature center devoted to these gentle giants and it is totally free.

Of course, the primary draw is the manatee viewing decks across the canal from the power plant.

We were there on a fairly warm day so there weren’t a huge number of manatees in the water. We spotted at least 6 but they were a good ways away so they were just large, gray bodies just under the surface of the water. A couple of times people asked, “do you see anything?” and we pointed them out.

We were not surprised that this was the best manatee siting we had. There were several sculptures and murals.

The highlight of our visit here was their ray exhibit. They had a shallow pool with about 20 rays swimming around. There were several different variety of rays.

You could put your hand in the water and they would swim under it and let you “pet” them. They had glass windows in the side which made for great pictures except for the reflections. You can see the playground behind me in the above photo.

Since this was a girl’s day it had to include some shopping so we stopped by the Westfield Brandon Mall. It was an extremely nice indoor mall with just about every store you could desire. We enjoyed a nice walk and lunch in the food court.

Next on Heather’s agenda was a stop at Ybor City just northeast of downtown Tampa. Ybor is a historic Latin neighborhood and a National Historic Landmark District which began in 1886 when a large cigar factory relocated from Key West. We found a parking lot and walked the main drag, East 7th Avenue.

The area is primarily an entertainment district now, so it probably really comes alive after dark. But it was still a great stop with interesting architecture, some funky little stores, and a fun atmosphere. It reminded me of Beale Street in Memphis or The Loop in St. Louis. Cigars are still a big part of the culture here. There were a couple bars with quite a few people sitting outside smoking cigars.

By this time it was 4 o’clock so it was time to make our way to our primary destination for the day, the Dali Museum in nearby St. Petersburg. Every Thursday evening at 5 they offer $10 admission to this famous art museum and my budget conscious daughter was determined that was the only time to see it.

The building itself was amazing with strange bubbles of glass protruding from the concrete structure. We explored the outside until 5. This beautiful tree appears to be adorned with ribbon but they are actually peoples’ admission bracelets tied to it.

Once inside a grand circular staircase led you to the galleries upstairs then continued its spiral to the ceiling.

We first visited the Frida Kahlo exhibit which is on display until mid-April. It was a large exhibit with over 60 pieces including her paintings and personal photos. Her art is definitely odd and sometimes disturbing and based on the descriptions of her in the gallery, so was she. The gallery was extremely crowded so we moved on to the permanent exhibit of Salvador Dali’s work and life.

Considered a surrealist, his works were strange but I found them beautiful as well.

The best part of the visit was when Heather dragged me into a little room I never would have noticed. They had a virtual reality exhibit which allowed you to go inside Dali’s work. Luckily there were only a couple people in front of us in line and two people could go at a time.

In less than 10 minutes we were seated side by side in chairs that swiveled 180 degrees and had the headsets strapped to our noggins. We had 3 minutes to virtually wander through a desert landscape with two towers and a herd of extremely long-legged elephants.

We experienced the same landscape but chose different paths through it. I was thrust to the edge of a crumbling balcony at the top of a tower. It was startling and I couldn’t get back to the relative safety of the stairs fast enough. Both of us enjoyed watching the herd of elephants walking practically right over us.

We saw everything we wanted in the museum within an hour. It was a great experience made better by the reduced admission. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it nearly as much if I’d paid $25 to see it.

We rounded up our girl’s day with breakfast at Waffle House as soon as we got outside of the city. Then we made the long trip home.

Everglades Wonder Gardens

Bonita Springs, FL- January, 2017 There is an old roadside attraction located just down the street from our campground. In 1936 the Piper brothers opened The Reptile Garden beside the then new Tamiami Trail. This road is now called Old Highway 41 and the attraction was renamed the Everglades Wonder Gardens somewhere along the way. The Piper family closed the attraction in 2013 and a not for profit organization, with financial assistance from the city of Bonita Springs, purchased and reopened it.

We visited mid-day and mid-week so it wasn’t very crowded, maybe a dozen other guests were there. There were plenty of plants, some very pretty like this sea grape, but despite the name the gardens were not the highlight.

They have a lot of birds and the ones that talked were especially entertaining. Many were real hams.

They had plenty of beautiful birds as well, like this cute little duck.

One highlight of our visit was the flamingos. It was fun to watch the strange way they eat, turning their heads up-side down to swallow.

We watched that couple peacefully for a bit. But when another couple joined them the feathers really flew.

Four was definitely a crowd.

This pair wins the prize as the oddest couple. Apparently they’ve been roommates for many, many years.

There were many peacocks roaming the grounds.

There were a lot of reptile exhibits as well but it’s not always easy to get a picture of their guests under glass.

The stars are definitely the alligators. This baby is apparently adopted.

The alligators are generally in a large enclosure with a swinging bridge for visitors to walk over. We were a little disappointed that this exhibit was closed and is being rebuilt. But they don’t seem to mind their temporary digs.

They are all smiles.

We would definitely recommend anyone visiting this area to check out this Florida institution. The tickets are $12 per person but knowing that the money is going exclusively for the care of the animals and to make improvements to their habitats makes the price easier to swallow. We also highly recommend the Twisted Tangle Café next door. We stopped by for a snack after our visit and thoroughly enjoyed our appetizers and visiting with the owner.

Big Hickory

Big Hickory Island, FL – November, 2016 Just 10 miles from our RV resort is a put-in that offers just about everything a kayaker could hope for. We were introduced to Big Hickory when we joined our campground’s kayak club for their first outing of the year. There were two other couples in inflatable tandem kayaks.

It took a few minutes for them to inflate their kayaks on the beach so I threw my boat in the water and met the locals.

Both couples had been here before so once they got in the water we just followed their lead. We paddled along the edge of the mangroves and then over to a beach only accessible from the water.

Just before we landed between the boats we noticed a lot of dolphin activity in the bay so we paddled back out. These dolphins were more active than any I’ve encountered before. I assume there was more than playing going on but I’m not one to speculate on the romantic interactions of others. This pair came up almost under Jim and he got a great shot with his GoPro which tends to give it that fish eye perspective.

The tide was going out so we landed on the bay side of the beach and walked around the point to the beach. I forgot to take my camera on this walk but the beach looked pretty much looked like every other area beach except it was practically deserted. Our new friends said that it will be much more crowded in season (January-March).

There is a large picnic pavilion and a roped off swimming area courtesy of a local community called Pelican Landing. They ferry their residents over for the day as one of the amenities they offer. About half the beach showed signs of improvement and appeared to belong to them although we walked the length of it without being bothered.

After our walk we returned to our boats on the bay side and ate our lunches while watching the dolphins play. Quite a strong wind was now blowing across the bay and out to sea. So we headed back to the take-out. It wasn’t too hard a paddle and we were impressed with how well our friends’ inflatables handled it.

Jim and I returned for a second visit by ourselves a few weeks later to further explore the area. This time Jim brought his fishing gear and we headed under the bridge to explore Estero Bay.

Just on the other side of the bridge we saw dolphins swimming. Jim fished while I tried to get a good shot of them. They never did get very close so this is the best I came up with. If you zoom in there’s one right in the middle.

We then turned right into the mangroves. I puttered along the edges looking for wildlife. None here but I love the trees.

I finally found this beauty.

And this one.

Then we were almost overrun by a flock of pelicans. They are fun to watch.

I love how big a splash they make every time they land.

Big Hickory Island is between Bonita Beach and Lover’s Key State Park. There is a put-in just across the bridge from Dog Beach west of the road. There is plenty of free parking and a short walk to the water. The blue arrow on this map represents the put in. The orange line represents our path on our first outing there and the red was the course we took on our second trip.

We hope to go again soon and plan to spend a full day on that lovely beach.

Dog Beach

Fort Myers Beach, FL – December, 2016 Our youngest daughter, Heather, has moved to Florida. We are very excited to have her here and have been enjoying spending time with her and our grand-doggy Sasha.

Heather loves the beach and she adores her dog, so we couldn’t wait to take them to Dog Beach.  It’s a beach just for our four legged friends and the people who love them. It is located 10 miles from our campsite. It has a Fort Myers Beach address but it is just as close to Bonita Springs. It is on Lovers Key right between the two towns.

We have now visited twice and had an absolute ball both times. We met some very nice people and some downright adorable dogs. This old girl was used for breeding and gave birth to 54 puppies before her current owner adopted her.

Sasha has shown absolutely no love for the water up until now. Heather has taken her to beaches before and she enjoyed the sand but hated the waves.  She has shown an equal aversion to rivers and lakes.  But she has had very positive experiences at Dog Beach.

For one thing there are no waves. The beach is in an inlet so it is protected. It is also very shallow water, one to two feet depending on the tide. The dogs are so much fun to watch!

The pure joy they exude is infectious!

Dog Beach is all about making friends.

And getting to know them better.

When one throws a toy at Dog Beach it is understood that it may not be your dog that retrieves it.

A young fellow showed up with an old dog and a wake board and I was very curious if the dog would be riding it. They went all the way to the other end of the beach so I got out my camera to spy on them. I couldn’t believe when I actually got some pics of a dog riding the wake board.

It was only upon closer inspection of the pictures after I got home that I realized it wasn’t his dog on the wakeboard. His dog is the black one watching while a random dog hopped on his owner’s wakeboard! He rode it like a pro though! The young man rode it the rest of the time.

We will be making many more trips to Dog Beach. If you are a dog lover you should definitely check it out if you visit the area whether you have a dog along or not.