Trouble in Paradise

The Suncoast

To me, one of the most beautiful things about Florida is the sky. The location on this long sandbar south of mainland America seems to limit the haze that tends to dim the sky in the south and mid-Atlantic states in summer. Here, the cumulonimbus clouds are vivid against the blue sky.

About two-thirds of the way down the state is the Sarasota/Bradenton region, also known as The Suncoast. I often wondered about the nickname and, after living here for twenty years or so, it’s clear why. Contrary to popular belief that it rains everyday at 3:00, there is not much rain along this part of the Gulf coast most of the year. (My Florida friends already know this, so I apologize to them in advance.)

A few unscientific observations:  I’ve noticed that the weather patterns here in Florida are different. It seems to me that in most of America, fronts generally move from west to east. If there is a line of thunderstorms approaching, you’re probably going to get wet. But here in Florida most storms are localized. It can sometimes rain across the street yet your yard stays dry. You’ll watch threatening clouds build over your head but before you know it, they’ve moved on without a drop on you.

Cloud (3)

In the summer, onshore breezes blow moisture from the Gulf eastward across the land baking in the sun. At the point where conditions are right, like in the photo above, thunderstorms form and the sky opens up with rain. Normally, that happens 10+ miles inland and the storms usually move east. But in the last few hours before sunset, the Gulf breeze sometimes weakens and the storms start to drift back toward the coast. But they often fizzle out as the sun goes down. Hence, The Suncoast.

Oscar (2)

Last week I camped at Oscar Scherer State Park, located about a mile from the Gulf. This is one of my favorite parks for its beauty and very convenient location on Tamiami Trail between Sarasota and Venice. Unfortunately, on my first morning there I awoke to the smell of dead fish. Sadly, the news reported we were experiencing another bout of…

Red Tide

I had never heard of red tide before moving to Florida. Apparently, it is a naturally occurring phenomenon reported as far back as the 1840s. What is it? Apparently, it is overly-fertilized Karenia brevis algae that bloom in bays and in the Gulf, reducing the oxygen in the water and killing marine life. It can also cause breathing problems for people. And we humans seem to be making it worse.

The Everglades is an enormous natural marsh that filters water flowing southward from Lake Okeechobee. At some point, people thought it would be a good idea to build a dike around the southern end of this huge lake to turn the swamp into dry land for sugarcane farming. The sugarcane farms create a lot of pollution. In addition, just north of Lake Okeechobee there is open pit mining of phosphate (an ingredient in fertilizer).

Lake Okeechobee is an area where the conditions are nearly perfect for torrential summer thunderstorms. When the rains come, the water in the lake rises along with runoff from the surrounding industries. The dike blocks the Everglades from receiving the water and from serving as a filter for the pollutants. The east and west gates are opened to release great quantities of polluted water into the streams and rivers that flow to the Gulf and the Atlantic.

Dyke (2)

 

Before it mixes with the salt water of the Gulf, the water looks green. Once it reaches the more saline bays and gulf, it turns the water a murky reddish brown. This current red tide bloom seems to have emanated from Charlotte Harbor and has spread south to Naples and north to Sarasota and Anna Maria Island – about 125 miles of prime beaches including Siesta Key Beach, the #1 Beach in America. Not only are fish being killed, but manatees, sharks, dolphins, and sea turtles are also dying. This disaster to our marine life and our tourist economy is being reported on national news and locals say they have never seen it this bad.

Dead fish

A few of our Florida politicians have received big campaign donations to see to it that regulations are minimized for the phosphate and sugarcane industries. We are seeing the real world results of that. This preventable situation is just another example of why we need common sense regulations to keep our planet from being ruined by greed.

After all, as Little Binski, says “If we’re going to go camping we need a safe and clean environment!” And he has a point.

IMG_0713

Florida’s Mt. Dora

A Civilized Change of Pace

It’s nice to have a variety of places to camp in the RV. We love state parks but we also like to explore some of Florida’s small towns. To do that we sometimes stay at a full-service RV park. And that’s what we did last week.

One of our favorite towns is Mt. Dora located just north of bustling Disney World in Central Florida. Located in Lake County, Mt. Dora is surrounded by bodies of water, large and small. Our RV park was called Woods ‘n Water. It sits on the banks of Lake Saunders and is beautifully maintained. I opted for a site away from the lake. While it’s pretty during the day, I didn’t want to walk dogs at night near the little inlet below.

Lakeside

Florida is generally very flat and, after awhile, we transplants from the north yearn for some rolling countryside. Mt. Dora provides that. It sits at one of the higher elevations in Florida, a whopping 184 ft. The town is sometimes referred to as Florida’s New England because of the hills and the architecture. On this trip, I took a drive along the shores of Lake Dora and I was very impressed. Many of the homes on the lake rival this one for their beauty and wonderful settings. This particular house is now a bed and breakfast.

Heron Cay

Antiques Heaven

Just east of Mt. Dora is Renninger’s, a huge antiques emporium with hundreds of dealers. It takes hours of browsing to do it justice. Merchandise ranges from old rusty garden tools to high end antique furniture and jewelry. In addition to the main buildings, Renninger’s hosts flea markets several times a year and people come from far and near to set up shop along the hillside and sell things they have collected. The smart ones have tarps ready for those inevitable central Florida thunderstorms.

Renningers

Downtown Mt. Dora used to be an antiquer’s paradise with dozens of antique shops. However, I was told only one antique shop is left in town. I spoke with two dealers at Renninger’s and learned that recently a wealthy developer took a liking to the town and came in and bought many of the buildings. He raised the rents and many shops went out of business. Sadly, most of the stores now just sell touristy stuff.

A Little History

I’ve performed in a lot of community theater over the years so I like to scout out the theaters in towns we visit. On this trip I decided to see a show at Mt. Dora’s Ice House Theatre, now called The Sonnentag. The company has a 12-month season with a new show every other month. I saw the musical Sweet Charity that I had done 30 years ago. This group of local actors did a fine job.

The older I get the more fascinated I am by history. Although Mt. Dora is not as old as many northern towns in America, it has an interesting past. The original theater opened in 1948 in a converted ice plant on the shore of Lake Dora where the Yacht Club now sits. This blurred little photo reminds me how important it is to take pictures. Maybe it’s the only one still around of this significant bit of history.

Ice House

In 1957 a new theater was built on the east side of Mt. Dora. Even the “new” building needed refurbishing after 60 years and I’m happy to report that everything looks great. The artistic director handed me my ticket at the box office, introduced the show to the audience, and sold me some candy at intermission. It is a true community theater and worth a visit.

Oh yeah, the doggies…

Since I was going to spend more time in town on this trip, I took just two dogs. Rico the psychohuahua travels like a pro. He is relaxed and the motion of the vehicle lulls him to sleep in no time. Binski, on the other hand, is tense. He won’t allow himself to doze off, so he semi-reclines, head nodding, eyelids drooping, fighting sleep all the way. By the time we get to our destination, he is exhausted and has to hibernate for awhile.

Binki Guard (2)

Getting There

Driving an RV is generally harder than driving a car, especially at highway speeds. And in our typical summer rain and cross-winds it can be a real challenge. So, for the 150-mile trip to Mt. Dora I chose some two-lane roads that meandered through small villages and lots of open land. On the day of our return trip, the forecast was for possible severe thunderstorms and hail. I had planned to do a few things that morning but opted for a safe drive home instead. By leaving early we were able to outrun the weather system as it swept south out of Georgia.

My very well-behaved traveling companions deserved a treat, so we made a final stop at McDonald’s for a cheeseburger. And Rico took the time to pose for a photo. An hour later we arrived home safely from another enjoyable trip.

Beggar

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s the Blogger?

Before we go further, you might want to know a little bit about the guy who is writing this blog…

Houses on wheels have been my curse and my comfort. I grew up in a trailer park and was teased about it as a kid. We lived in a series of trailers, 18-ft, 27-ft, and 45-ft. Why do I remember the dimensions? Well, because when you live tiny, every additional bit of room is a cause for celebration. And I’m here to tell you:  Bigger IS better. At least in trailers!

My top bunk was just a few feet below the ceiling and being lulled to sleep by the patter of rain on the roof is still one of my favorite childhood memories. As crazy as it sounds, 60+ years later when I’m out camping in my RV, I look forward to a shower or two just to relive that memory.

Geo LTP

Where was HGTV when we needed it???

My parents worked hard to provide a good life for us. As humble as it was, the trailer was home and it was filled with love. My mom was a wonder. In addition to creating the most amazing pies and cakes in that little kitchen, she kept everything neat and clean. Living in a trailer meant that everything had a place and we learned to put things back where they belonged.

Of course, there were some issues with four of us living in such small quarters. For example, my dad loved country music and bluegrass. My mother was different – she loved classical music. And it was her dream for me to become a violinist. What? Hearing me practice the violin was not exactly what dad needed after a day of work at the steel mill. And my brother was a very active little boy. With his antics and my infernal scratching, my poor dad would sometimes have to escape to the nearest watering hole for some peace and quiet. But in the end, we all survived.

Two Violins

A violin lesson in the living room

My violin teacher, Walter Bialek, came to our home for lessons. When I was about 10, he said to me, “George, you’re a flower in a swamp.” Huh? I didn’t know what he meant at the time but I never forgot that strange comment.

Jumping forward a few years, I began my career as a high school teacher of vocal music and strings. After a few years, I left teaching to live in New York City and perform in shows and on cruise ships.

 

D&S daVinci

Drummond & Starry – Mediterranean cruises – 1970s

That was an exciting time for this kid from the trailer park. But after a while, like most singers, I had to get back to making a steady living. Due to the oil embargo and recession, music teaching jobs were few and far between. So, I went back to college to become a recession-proof elementary school teacher. I taught 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. And I finally retired as a guidance counselor in Venice, Florida.

During my last 10 years of work, spending weekends in Florida’s state parks with my dogs was a great way to relax, clear my mind, and reminisce. Now that I look back, I see I’ve come almost full circle. Although I pushed trailer living to the back of my mind for a long period of my life, I find I’m still fascinated by these amazing little houses on wheels where, as the saying goes, we spend a fortune to live like we’re homeless.

Anyway, thanks for reading. We hope you’ll enjoy our stories.

Pippin (4)

 

 

Florida Critters 1

Little Florida Critters

When we moved from Maryland to the Gulf Coast of Florida in 1996, we were surprised to find that we sometimes go for months without rain. So, the mosquitoes aren’t too bad most of the year. But a day or two of showers provide the conditions for an explosion of the critters. Camping near a swampy area after a rain can be a real no-no, especially in the summer. Rainy season (usually thunderstorms) is June through early October. The sign below could be us at Paynes Prairie State Park a few summers ago.

Mosquito

Other annoying insects are the “no see ‘ums” that you don’t see until they bite you. Dawn and dusk are the worst times. I’ve also been dive-bombed by some deer flies. Larger than a house fly, their bite feels like it’s taking a chunk of flesh. I feel bad for the deer! Luckily, they move slowly enough for your to swat them to death in retaliation.

Some of the worst pests have migrated up from Central America and, apparently, are still marching northwards. (Tomorrow could be your lucky day!) One of my first mistakes in Florida was absent-mindedly stepping on a fire ant hill. These little red-colored critters seem to have organized armies. Just touch a fire ant hill and watch them go crazy! And do they sting!!! Believe me, there is a reason they are called “fire” ants.

Fire ant

Medium Florida Critters

While the insects are bothersome, there are some Florida critters that can kill you.

Binski and I were taking a walk through the campground at Alafia River State Park, a beautiful state park slightly off the beaten track and a favorite for trail biking. I was admiring one of the RVs, not paying much attention because we were in a well mowed area of the park. Then, I felt a tug on the leash. Something had caught Binski’s interest and he was on his way over to take a look.

Rattler

As you can see, what caught his attention was a 6 to 7 foot diamondback that was moving from a pond and across the campsite where a camper had tethered his dog just a few hours before. The snake slowly slithered under the RV and into an open field beyond.

Prior to that day I usually walked two dogs at a time, each pulling in a different direction. Since then I almost never take more than one so I can keep a close eye. Luckily, this rattlesnake was in the open where it could be easily seen. But it was an important lesson about becoming complacent.

If yours are like mine, when you’re walking on trails, they like to go to the edge near the brush, a potentially dangerous place. I’m now wary now of letting them do that. And, although I love retractible leashes, I keep the leash short when I take them on trails.

I saw a bobcat a few weeks ago at Oscar Scherer State Park, just moseying through the campsites looking for chihuahuas. (Hopefully just kidding.) Anyway, it was the first one I’ve seen in the wild.

There are lots of armadillos and big turtles, squirrels and rabbits. And, for those unfamiliar with Florida, we have zillions of little lizards. But they are cute.

Big Florida Critters

Florida is beautiful but it can be a wild place. And developments are often located right next to the habitats of some of the big critters. Shamrock Park in Venice, Florida borders a community where many of my students lived. It’s located on the aptly-named Alligator Creek. When some neighborhood dogs went missing recently, animal control was called, and this is the big boy they found. From the looks of that gator’s belly, he has sure been chowing down on something. There are tales of finding dog collars in the stomachs of nuisance gators.

Venice Gator

There is a community just north of Venice where residents living along the ponds divide their back yards with a chainlink fence. They give the gators a setback of 10 feet or so along the bank of the pond for lounging in the sun, which they seem to like to do in the winter when the water is cool and the sun is warm. The fences offer some barrier of protection for their pets. I’ve heard, however, that if a gator wants to get beyond a chain link fence, he’ll find a way. Kinda gives you chills, thinking about it. We owned one home here on a pond, but it’s not really a priority for us anymore…

The Moral of the Story

Most of the time, camping in Florida is calm and cozy. But, as you can see, it’s wise to keep your eyes open and anticipate dangers for your pets.

After reading through today’s blog, if you’re still interested in Florida camping, stay tuned to Doggystylerv.com. Have a great day!

George and the Kids

Florida Camping

The State Parks

Most of our doggy adventures are in Florida’s state parks. And we are lucky to have so many of them to sniff around in. According to tripsavvy.com 50 of Florida’s 161 state parks offer camping facilities.

Mana

Lake Manatee State Park – I could swear I saw a squirrel!!!

During the warm months, June through October, sites are generally available. However, during “season” which is December through early April, when the “snowbirds” are here, it’s nearly impossible to get a reservation. Like everyone else, I have to book sites 11 months in advance, and be one of the first on the ReserveAmerica website to get them!

In the parks in winter, we see as many license plates fom the northern states as from Florida. Lots of folks visit us from Canada, some of whom are tenting in temperatures in the 30s. Of course, we’re freezing but I assume it’s relatively cozy for them compared to where they live.

God Bless A/C – Camping in the Florida Heat

If you camp in Florida in the summer, try to book a shaded site if you have pets, just in case the a/c goes off for some reason. The summer sun here is brutal and the inside temperature can escalate in minutes.

If you’re not hooked up to shore power, be sure your generator is in excellent working order to power your a/c. In fact, in the summer the a/c is my biggest worry since I do have to leave the dogs alone from time to time. When it’s hot I try not to be away for more than a few hours at a time. It’s a bummer, but their safety comes first.

We’ve all seen the flickering lights and heard that gasping generator sound when something cycles on that draws extra power. In my current RV my generator has shut down when my refrigerator compressor cycled on. It has even decided to shut down when I’ve put out a slide.

Yes, I know that in a perfect world my generator should easily be able to power my refrigerator and my a/c. But what I’ve decided to do is run only my a/c on the generator. I keep my refrigerator running on propane so there is no extra draw or cycling while I’m away that might cause that finicky generator to shut down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doggystylerv Disclaimer

We canines who have been RV-ing for awhile know that there are websites where people share mechanical tips and suggestions for repairs. Doggiestylerv.com is not one of them. Our dad is not a mechanic and can’t offer that kind of advice (even though likes to think he is pretty smart).

On the other hand, our dad has had seven RVs over the years, so he’s had his share of puzzles to work through. We know that each RV comes with its own little quirks that can drive you crazy as you try to figure out what the hell is going on. This is his latest rig and he’s had issues with it already! And, boy have we heard some interesting words as he tries to figure things out!

rv

Anyway, what we can offer are things that worked for us in resolving some of those little RV quirks, especially about traveling with pets. That is part of what we’ll be sharing with you on Doggystylerv.com.

We hope some our experiences will be helpful!

Copilots 4

 

The Family – Mandy and Anya

A few years after Diva passed away, we wanted another toy fox terrier. We found one on the Petfinder.com website and I drove all the way to the Humane Society in Inverness, FL to pick her up. She was as cute as could be.

Where is dinner

Where’s dinner?

As I was signing the paperwork, the lady pointed to another small dog and said, “She is bonded to this sweet little girl, Anya, and they have become quite a pair.” She told me that Anya had been at the shelter for 10 months. Apparently, no one wanted her because she wasn’t pretty – she had unusual coloring and one odd-looking eye. Of course, we decided to take her as well. As I started to leave, the lady looked at the dogs and said, “Come on girls, it’s your lucky day!” And, as you can see below, it was. They went from a cage at the pound to lounging in the sun.

P1020687

Neither dog knew how to walk on a leash, so the process began to train them for their upcoming RV trips.

Mandy and Anya have turned out to be sweet dogs, although little Mandy can be a bit spunky. She does not share her master well. Anya is an all-around well-balanced girl and she has assumed the role of mommy in the family.

https://www.petfinder.com/