Friday, July 31, 2009

Sights in Key West

Key West is an interesting city.

It appears you can get anything you desire--and even some things you don't. Just walk along Duval Street at night after 10PM to see what I mean.

Sitting at lunch near Duval Street on sunny afternoon I spied this sight and really didn't know what to make of it--especially being right under the museum. Trust me--in this area of Key west there are no beaches or places to swim in the immediate vicinity.

But it was a funny sight and we truly enjoyed getting a good laugh--and of course I was quick enough with the camera to record it.

Maybe an escaped mermaid from the Mel Fisher Museum from the wreck of the Atocha.

Manatees, bugs, and wildlife

Exploring the area around Cocoa Beach yesterday we traveled to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge to enjoy the scenery and view some animals in the wild (rather than wild animals in the condo!).

Seeing Manatees in the wild was the highlight of the day. They are really big--and also really hard to get any kind of a decent photo of. But they were fun to watch. The move very slowly and almost gracefully in the water. Possibly the mermaids of the deep.

We enjoyed a great picnic lunch in the park surrounded by the abundant animal life--OK so we had ants everywhere. It was still fun. Even with the smell of bug spray to ward off the locals.

The walking tour near the visitor center provided a nice overview of the area and the geography to include plants and some animals. We did see some fish in the nearby pond.

A great day to remember, all within sight of the massive vehicle assembly building at the Kennedy Space Center.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

It Took Me a While to Get Them All Positioned

I am just learning the joys of underwater photography. It is fun and at the same time frustrating. Fishes really move around, so when I was able to snap this picture of some fishes posing for me, I was happy.

This was my second dive on Friday, July 24th at an unnamed reef after completing my Vandenberg dive. I had lots of time to tool around and enjoy the fishes and the scenery under the water. The reef was only about 20 feet deep and the water was pretty clear--visibility near 40 feet.

I really enjoyed getting all of these fishes grouped together.

Jupiter Island Beach Saving Wildlife

If you've never seen seagulls drive a school of small fish up onto a beach, it is a sight to see--especially if you are with Chris whoc firmly believes every animal is worth saving. So here the family is on Wednesday Jylu 29th tossing small fish back into the ocean to be eaten another day.

OK, I probably shouldn't say that.

She has a big heart and passes that on to everyone around her.

We chased the gulls off and started the rescue effort. I can say that all some hundred of the small fish were returned to the ocean. The gulls--were not amused. They went further down the beach and did it again to the school--which was huge. Chris didn't seem to notice this transgression however.

We drove to Jupiter to do some snorkeling. Note to self--according to the dive shop I visited, there is no snorkeling or diving in the waters off Cocoa Beach. The visibility is just too bad.

So off to Jupiter we went to snorkel in familiar waters. Although the visibility wasn't that good, we did get in some quality snorkeling.

Jupiter is always good for the small fishes that love ot hang out in the rocks off shore. Usually there is a big predator hanging around--barracuda, nurse shark, or tarpon--but today and probably because of the low visability we didn't see any.

But let's face, a bad day snorkeling or diving is still better than a day at work! Hey, and this is still vacation.
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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Vacation Pictures 1

Anyone who really knows me, knows that I love the ocean and the waves pounding against the sand.

Cocoa Beach, July 28, 2009 found the waves especially fun to watch and wade out into.

I snapped this picture to remind me of the waves, and the sound of the ocean as the waves roll in.

Yeah--it probably isn't anythigng to write home about or will it win any awards--but I was there and I remember the day, and the sun, and the white foam.

If this is Tuesday, it must be Beach Day

Staying in a place withing mere feet of the ocean is unbeatable. Long walks on the beach at night, or during the day, or even playing on the beach becomes easy--and almost something taken for granted.

It is easy and fun.

The beach is so close it takes almost no planning, because if you forget something--it is a short walk to retrieve it.

And if you like the animal life at the sea shore--well you can get there early enough to enjoy that, too.

It is so nice to get out to the beach while it is still fairly devoid of other humans, because the animals are still in the area.

The beaches at Cocoa Beach have a lot more people on them than the ones in Jupiter do. We had gotten used to having entire beaches to ourselves, so the thought of sharing the beach with hundreds of our closest friends is something a bit foreign to us.

But, hey, it's all good.

Sun, fun, beach, and the ubiquitous sand.

Monday, July 27, 2009

What's the Captain Doing?

OK--so one of the unique experiences about sailing is that someone always needs to be at the helm.

Not for the scary question of the day--if the captain is on the bow, who has the helm?

OMG we are outta control!

But it all worked out OK. I held the ship steady and until the captain could resume his rightful place.

And our three hour tour didn't end like that of the Minnow. And it was longer than three hours, too.
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Hart & McGarry 2005 Merlot - Review

This Napa Valley wine was recommended to me by my favorite wine person at the ABC Liquor Store in Jupiter, Florida because I was looking for a good Merlot.

I know--merlot's are passe, right? Not true.

This merlot is well worth seeking out. It is very smooth and has a very inviting bouquet which immediately invites you deep into the rich color of the wine for a special experience. The smells of dark berries begins the experience. Once in the mouth there is the pleasing taste of black current and cherries which start forward and then continue across the palette for a smooth and lingering finish.

This is a complete smooth and pleasing wine. I highly recommend it--especially if you are looking for a red that is different from the usual run cabernet sauvingnion or shiraz that are so popular. I know merlot is unpopular right now--but try this one.

Recommendation: Try it. At $15 per bottle it is a great wine for the value.

Monday Musings - July 27, 2009

1. Vacations in new places are an awesome way to explore the country and find new places to think about returning to.

2. OK--I learned something about Key West--I always thought I would like to live there, but now I know I'd like to live there.

3. How crazy is it to love heading miles out into the ocean in a small boat just to jump off it and slip below the surface? Kinda like jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft. But swimming with the fishes is great.

4. Getting away from work and the demands of everyday life is the recipe to rejuvenate the thought processes.

5. Ever notice in a society that there are always those people hanging around who just want to tear down without offering a constructive solution? Think about the emails you get on a regular basis from people who are trying to destroy rather than build up? What's up with that?

6. The sound of waves against a beach is one of the most relaxing sounds I can think of.

7. I wish I was better with a camera so I could capture more of what my mind sees rather than what is really there.

8. Wanna get away?

9. Blue water, good friends, a boat under full sail--what could be better than that?

Cocoa Beach Day 1 - July 26

A day near the beach is awesome.

Today was, therefore, awesome.

after arriving yesterday we could never have imagined the fun we would have today on the beach with "da boys!"

The waves here are something--not huge but very regular and some are big. The beach is broad and wide with very fine sand. It is great for playing and walking on.

We are a short walk from the beach--actually the condo complex is right on the beach. We can see the beach from the windows of the condo and watch the weather come in over the ocean or from over the land.

Well--it is a vacation and someone has to do it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Everyone Needs a Happy Place

While out for lunch on Islamorada, we ran across this setting.

Awesome. I love having a happy place to go to in my mind when life starts crashing down around me.

I would propose this as a nice spot to stop and rest.

Blue sky, tropic setting, and a bit of solitude--except for the someone special you invited along with you.

Try it.

Take a deep breath and pause for a minute to imagine it all.
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If this is Sunday, I must be in Cocoa Beach

The whirlwind vacation of Florida continues with stop three: Cocoa Beach.

We departed Key West yesterday morning and after a short stop at the Ft Lauderdale airport we continued on to Cocoa Beach.

It was sad to say good-bye to Pennie and Scott after a great week in Key West--we had a lot of fun and some great new experiences.

Sailing was one of the highlights. A day on the water at the mercy of the wind and waves. OK--the boat had a motor which was good too since the winds were very light. But it was a blast. It was weird to lay in bed at night after sailing and still experience the gentle rocking of the boat due to the magnificence of the inner ear's ability to stabilize almost anywhere.

Of all the days do far in Florida--yesterday was weather wise the worst--it rained on us almost all day as we drove up the coast. Who knew it was so far from Key West to Cocoa Beach. By the time it was done it was an all day affair. We departed Key West about 10AM and arrived in Cocoa Beach about 5:30 PM.

So now I am back, where my vacation began watching the space shuttle launch. And I am looking forward to a great week with Mike, Nicole and the boys. We've already been out on the beach and now we are ready to rock and roll.

The sun is shining again, the boys are up. Bring on the sand and the sun.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Diving the Vandenberg

Well I actually accomplished one of my big goals for this vacation. I was able to dive the USNS Hoyt S. Vandenberg. The Vandenberg was sunk as an artificial reef about 6 miles off Key West in May 2009--so it is a real new wreck. There isn't a lot of sea life taking residence yet. But, that's not why I wanted to dive the wreck.

I wanted to dive the Vandenberg for the history and to remember a good friend who used to be deployed on it.

But enough of that--the dive was awesome. I had a chance to chat with the dive master on the way out and he did a couple things to make my dive rally special--like taking me over the side to get the picture of the name of the ship on the side. That is normally a bit deep for the usual dive--but it was really cool flipping off the deck along the bow to take the inages of the name, just hovering there with my camera.

Visibility wasn't all that good--but it was still a most awesome dive.

The descent was easy down the line and there was no current--which made the dive easier. The American Flag was not unfurled--meaning no current.

The Vandenberg's most recent claim to fame was a starring role in the movie: Virus. So I guess I need to rent that. There is some Cyrillic writing in places on the ship which supported the filming of the movie.

I had watched some of the videos of the sinking of the Vandenberg and I always felt that the tracking dishes probably wouldn't survive in place--and it is true--the dish has been pulled off its base and is laying on the side if the ship. I spent some time trying to get a good picture of it--but the poor visibility got the better of me.

But--a great day and a great dive. And, if you are thinking of diving the Vandenberg, I highly recommend Bonsai Diving.

There is no better way to spend a day than slipping below the surface of the ocean to see the treasures below,

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Hemmingway House

It has truly been a busy week and we really started it off with a bang on Sunday with a visit to the Hemingway House.

The house is located away from the center of the action, but yet a short walk from where it is happening. It is in a nice neighborhood and has been restored to the condition that it was when Hemmingway lived there.

The house is a museum and one of the unique features is the cats which live and thrive there. There are 44 cats currently living there and they are all descended from a single cat and many are six toed cats.

The house is from the 1800's and is a snapshot of life in Key West in the 1930's. The grounds are well kept and the tour is a definite plus. The tour book says to plan on at least 30 minutes--but in reality you need at least an hour to fully appreciate the entirety of the museum and home. It is chock full of artifacts and memorabilia. Who knew that Hemmingway was decorated with a Bronze Star during World War 2?

Recommendation: A definite place to visit and enjoy. If you appreciate Hemmingway--all the better.

Bells & Whistles 2003: Review

St Marys winery in Penola, Australia has fashioned a good blend of cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, and cabernet franc in its 2003 Bells & Whistles.

The wine is a fine blend and a good table wine. It bristles with fruitiness and warm flavors on the dry side of life. The wine has very good color and the nose is excellent right from the bottle.

The wine is a good middle of the road wine. It is very good by itself with cheese and crackers and also stands well on its own with a meaty dish.

Recommendation: A solid wine for something different. At $17 it probably isn't worthy of a standard house table wine---but its versatility bodes well for being in the wine rack for occasions.

Blue Heaven Restaurant Review

Dinner at the Blue Heaven Restaurant in Key West was an exciting experience.

Although the address is Thomas Street, the entrance is really around the corner on Petronia Street.

The atmosphere includes dining outside under large palms and in a courtyard setting complete with cats and chickens. It is fun and creative as well as relaxing. There is something for everyone here. I did enjoy watching the chickens run across the roof of the building--how did they get up there?

The food was excellent. The wine list is extensive and has something for everyone. The menu is not inexpensive--if you are looking for entrees in the less than $20 range--go elsewhere. But if you enjoy good moderately prices food--eat here. I had the scallops and they were fantastic. The portions are large and filling-so you won't leave hungry.

One of the specialties seems to be the Key Lime Pie which comes piled with a mountain of meringue. Not my idea of the perfect Key Lime pie--but a very interesting version which is something to admire--how high the meringue is piled.

Recommendation: Go there. Enjoy the dinner and the experience. Plan to spend some time to experience everything the Blue Heaven has to offer.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wow am I getting sunburned

Two days and just a short time in the water and I have managed to get sunburned--even though I was applying sunscreen.

But it was all worth it. Snorkeling two days in a row in two different places! Wow.
Today was great tough. We rented and Scott captained a 43 foot sailboat and we took off on our own only with a GPS and some vague directions to a reef. It all worked.

Of course the day began by getting rear ended by a local. Ugh! All because a bicyclist was riding in the middle of my lane, towards me, and I had to stop in order to avoid making him a hood ornament. Fortunately, our vehicle only have a few scratches--the other car though, the whole grille is gone.

But the boat was fabulous. The sailing was all the fun. We tied up at the reef and swam about 300 feet out to the reef for snorkeling--but the visibility was not all that great--call it 18-20 feet. The visibility affected the fish too--at one point Chris and I swam up on and surprised a barracuda. We were all surprised--the fish too. I didn't get a good picture of him before he swam off.

I am learning how to use my underwater camera, too. Like make sure all the water is off the lens before shooting pictures on land--or above the water. Of course, it didn't help that I was treading water while shooting.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Day in the Dry Tortugas

OK--what a fabulous day! And I got to use my Father's Day present for real, too! And this was just snorkeling, I wasn't even diving.

We took a fast catamaran down to the Dry Tortugas some 70 miles away from Key West. The trip took two hours and fifteen minutes each way.

The tour of Fort Jefferson was fabulous, but the snorkeling was even more awesome. We saw one seemingly sea of small fish which undulated in the current and through which tarpon and other fish swam. They were beautiful to look at and enjoy.

The sights were just beautiful.

It was some of the best two hours of snorkeling that I have enjoyed. I would go back in an instant!

History, snorkeling--who could ask for more?

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Jose's Cantina, Key West: Review

Based upon a recommendation from Urbanspoon, we sallied out to Jose's Cantina on White Street for some Cuban food last evening.

And we were not disappointed.

the atmosphere of a small, family friendly place just could not be beat. And the food was magnificent. I had the pepper steak and it was both tender and spiced to perfection. They also make their own sangria--and it is something really special.

The menu has something for everyone. Seafood, non-seafood, whatever you are looking for. And the service was personal and friendly. The atmosphere was family oriented--not an expensive place, but wholesome. You get the sense that the people working there, eat there too!

Recommendation: A definite place to eat and enjoy. Prices are moderate but not inexpensive. Service was good.

Monday Musings - July 20, 2009

1. 40 years ago today man first walked on the Moon. Although I know it is politically incorrect, I sure am glad that he was an American! In fact--forty years later, the only humans to have walked on the Moon were all Americans!

2. Why is it that the slowest car on the road gets in front of you on a two lane road with no passing zones?

3. Some hotels have terrible service, poor maintenance, but a great location and they stay in business. It is all about location, location, location. So I'm saying, don't stay in the Lauderdale Beach Hotel in Lauderdale by the Sea--unless you want an affordable place where you can walk out the door, turn right and be on the beach!

4. Ever notice how traffic signs in unfamiliar places sometimes make no sense?

5. The Fort Lauderdale airport parking situation is the most confusing, counter intuitive situation I have ever had the misfortune of trying to navigate.

6. Key West is a hopping town on a Saturday night!

7. Nothing lowers blood pressure and stress levels faster than a walk on the beach in the morning.

8. Little known fact: there are a lot of roosters (as in male chickens) in Key West. They all seem to have an intuitive grasp of dawn. And many of them live right outside the condo we rented. Alarms clocks are, therefore, unnecessary.

9. Chris likes cats. She wants to adopt one in the neighborhood. Meaning she wants to bring another stray home.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sights on the Beach to Avoid--2009

OK--here it is again this year. Some incredible sights we saw on the beach which we definitely need to avoid. Like the one here--I agree with Michael--they should not sell bikinis in sizes greater than 16. This was something special. We really could not believe this.

But for the women in the crowd--there was George of the Jungle. Who let this guy on the beach? Unbelievable. I don't even want to speculate as to what he is trying to show off. Ugh! Get a life.

OK--for beach wear--modesty is important and be aware of your personal limitations.
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Friday, July 17, 2009

Florida Vacation 2009 Day 3: Jupiter

A beautiful day to begin day 3 on the beach at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. We walked in the morning and the bright warm sunlight to begin the day 3. The water was clear--you could see all the way to the bottom even with the water up to your neck.

It was fun to watch the smallish fish congregate around my legs and occasionally bump into me. A certain member of the team doesn't like this feeling and won't stay in the water when the fish show up.

Today was also the day we chose to visit friends--Fran and Mary, in Jupiter. It was an hour long drive made longer by a detour to repair a bad rim on one of my tires. Yes--my rim was corroded and not sealing against the valve stem--so the tire was losing air. At one point it looked as if we needed a replacement rim--but the Firestone dealer did a masterful job filing off the burr and not toasting the existing rim. So we were back on the road after a while.

Upon arriving in Jupiter we went to our favorite beach on Jupiter Island and did some snorkeling. It was the best snorkeling in this area in about three years. The water again was very clear and warm. I believe it is because there have not been any hurricanes yet this season. the big sighting of the day was a good sized barracuda. But the amount of life present was reassuring after two years of decline. There was an abundance of urchins and I even saw a lobster. I was looking for sharks--but didn't find one.

After some quality time on the beach, we cleaned up and went off to a new restaurant: Guanabanas Restaurant and Island Bar. What a great place. I highly recommend it. It is truly a tropical paradise and the place was fantastic. They have carved a tropical island right in Jupiter. I have never seen a restaurant motif like this before--heavy tropical.

Our drive back to Fort Lauderdale seemed endless with the storms, accidents, and traffic. I-95 north was closed at one place for a fatality accident. Thankfully, we were headed south, but the rubberneckers still created a 5-mile long traffic jam.

Back at the hotel we relaxed and then went out for a walk and wound up in the middle of a street concert. The music was a mixture of jazz and some blues and was very nicely performed. A huge thunderstorm was developing though and the lightning was fabulous. Chris took her camera and tried to get some pictures of light show--with some success.

So now we're sitting in the hotel catching up on the blogging and getting ready for our exciting trek to Key West tomorrow with Pennie and Scott.

Florida Vacation Day 1 and 2

Wow--we have been having some fun already on our vacation.

We departed early on Wednesday to drive to South Florida--a good decision because we were through even Richmond before the morning rush hour. That meant--no driving problems in Virginia!

The drive was uneventful--well at least until we got to the vicinity of Cocoa Beach and realized that the space shuttle was going to launch within an hour. So we detoured! And what a great decision that was. It was cool to see all of the people who still line the causeways to watch launches. And not just Americans. But it was great with people lining the road on both sides to get a view of the launch. There was a great atmosphere as we listened to the radio from one car of the countdown and the excitement built as we all realized that today was the day and we were going to actually see a launch!

All in all we were delayed about two hours in getting to Fort Lauderdale--but it was well worth it.

Day 2 was a very relaxing day which included a long morning on the beach--we are in a hotel right on the beach! The water is warm and clear and we are having a great time. We did some exploring of the area and found a Bubba Gump Shrimp where we ultimately ate dinner.

And day three is at hand--what new excitement in in store?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


You learn a lot about things when you get a chance to examine them closely.

Take my pool, for example.

It is really tough to examine the pool on a normal day. The water gets in the way.

So on Saturday, when I was checking out my scuba gear, I did some inspection of the pool. I would like to say it was fun--but what I discovered is an aging pool that has seen a lot of fun. There are cracks developing which may, sometime in the future need to be addressed.

But that said--it was fun playing with the tools on the bottom.

And of course, my new, improved, good to 200 feet below surface camera. I will never go that far down, so it really isn't a problem.

I got used to the camera and some of the new gear I've acquired, so I should feel really comfortable in the water. I am so looking forward to the next two weeks of snorkeling and diving, and of course the sitting on the beach doing nothing.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Monday Musings - July 13, 2009

1. Amid the peace and quiet of life--there were dogs. Six of them before the weekend was out. And boy do some of them poop. And the geriatric dog of the group fell into the pool requiring rescue.

2. I loved scuba diving in the pool. I got to try out my new gear before actually using it for real and I will be much more relaxed since I am comfortable with my gear and my camera. I was also surprised how little weight I need carry--which is a good thing for control.

3. The weeks before a longish vacation is the worst--all of the planning and preparation come to a head and the panic begins to set in. I guess we need to get really tight before we can unwind.

4. Taking pictures of stuff on the bottom of the pool with my camera was fun--but still life's of screwdrivers and pool return covers are not really interesting.

5. Hot summer Sundays are great for napping on a floatie in the pool and watching a ballgame with the sons. Especially when the O's decide to win!

6. Fruit in the summer. Hmmmm, let me see.

7. Now that the car is back from the repair shop after the accident, you remember how much you really appreciate what you have.

8. I hate it when, the weekend before we are getting ready to drive to Florida, that I discover the vehicle we are taking needs new tires!

9. I wonder why my insurance company makes me print new insurance cards every six months. Like--where else am I going to go?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Pools, Sun, Summer, and Fun

An amazing thing happened the other day as I got home from work! My wife was poolside with her new snorkeling mask trying it out before we got to Key West. That was fortunate because when the new lenses were installed, one of them leaked. Yes, we have old eyes and have had bifocal lenses installed in our masks. I am looking forward to actually being able to see to operate my new camera underwater.

But--an amazing thing? Yup--you bet. She was home and poolside. Being home is a rare event. Being poolside even rarer.

I just love summer days. What better reason do you need for getting to the pool? Or the ocean?

Just the heat of it.

And now, as we are entering the final frenetic stages of preparing for vacation--we have a lot to do to get ready and make the upcoming two-and-a-half weeks a success.

It should be fun, I think. But hey--it is summer. Relax. Sit back. Have a sip of a drink with a little umbrella in it. Get sand everywhere!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Proposal: A Review

So I was dragged off Sunday afternoon after driving for over six hours to see a "chick flick" pretty much against my will. Gag me--how could I possibly want to see a movie like this after seeing the summer's biggest action flick so far?

But, I was surprised. This "its been done before" movie starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds was entertaining. I say, "its been done before" because the plot is about two people who can't stand each other and are getting married to help one of them remain in the country. And yes--by the end of the movie they fall in love. Its been done! Nothing new here except that the acting is really very good and the humor is fresh.

The new part is the wilderness setting of Sitka, Alaska and some really good acting by Betty White who plays the part of an off-beat grandmother. She is really very funny and works extremely well with both Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds.

I actually thought the white puppy almost stole the whole movie--but then I do have a soft spot in my heart for dogs.

The plot is predictable and the acting is good but not great. The situations range from the believable to the wacky--especially one where Betty White is dancing around a fire in the woods. But like an enjoyable meal that you've had before, it all seems to come together for a surprisingly funny, touching, and well paced movie. It was a good way to spend a couple of hours.

RECOMMENDATION: Guys, if you haven't punched your chick flick ticket lately--choose this one. You will laugh and probably enjoy yourself. Be cautious however--your date may actually think you like chick flicks if you show too much enthusiasm. Overall--the movie was good entertainment and probably worth two hours, especially when wrapped around dinner. (But please, don't let my wife know!)
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