Monday, March 31, 2014

Restaurants of Cedar Key, FL - April, 2014

Here's a review of restaurants where we ate in the Cedar Key area March 26 - April 26. Rating key:  Highly recommend; Recommend; Nothing special; Skip it.

The Pickled Pelican and Eatery - The day we arrived in the Cedar Key, we drove into town to check out the small town and view of the gulf. We had a drink on the waterfront deck that was dog-friendly. How nice. Nice ambiance and sweet server. We liked it. Below is a view from the deck. I am sure we will be back for a meal while we are here.
Cost: $$. Rating: Recommend.

Robinson's Seafood Restaurant - This place is owned and operated by a fourth generation local fisherman. They also have a seafood market and offer fishing charters. We ate dinner here our first night in Cedar Key and it was a great choice! They offer a Wednesday night special of buy one dinner and get the second half off (you know I love a bargain). John had the fried shrimp and I had (local) steamed clams as well as their clam chowder. I think they served about 3 dozen clams! We will go back to this place for sure. No alcohol served. Casual.
Cost: $$. Rating: Highly recommend if you're looking for fresh food; Skip it if you're looking for ambiance.

Steamers - Clam Bar and Grill - Small deck (but we got a seat out there) provided great views of the Gulf.  I had a really delicious dinner called "Low Country Boil" that was a pot of steamed clams, mussels, shrimp, crab legs, sausage, corn on the cob, and red potatoes. I didn't care for the sausage (spicy hot) but Sadie really enjoyed it.  John had surf and turf (sirloin steak and shrimp) that was also very good. Yummy margaritas! They were quite crowded (even though it was a Monday night) and as a result the service was not very good.
Cost: $$$. Rating: Recommend.

Tony's Seafood Restaurant - This restaurant is famous for it's wonderful clam chowder, my favorite soup, so it was on our list to visit while staying in Cedar Key. This tasty chowder won the World Championship clam chowder award in 2009, 2010, and 2011. It is canned and sold in grocery stores (at least in FL).  It can be ordered online at

We stopped in for a late lunch. I had a bowl of the clam chowder (divine!) and a nice grilled cheese. And what do you think John ordered at this great seafood place? You guessed it, a cheeseburger and fries! He is not as much a fan of seafood as I am!
Cost: $$; Rating: Highly recommend.

Treasure Camp on the Suwannee - Loved this small, out-of-the-way, casual restaurant located on the river.  They are open for breakfast food was very good (shrimp and steak for John; clams, shrimp, and flounder for me). 

Our server was an adorable, hard-working, 13-year-old daughter of the owner. We had excellent service from both! A first for us, we were served deviled eggs in lieu of bread, as an appetizer. They were delicious!

The views from the banks of the Suwannee were just lovely.

Cost: $.  Rating: Recommend.

Sunset - Cedar Key, FL - 3/31/14

Beautiful sunset as seen from Cedar Key fishing pier.

Cedar Key Nature Railroad Trestle Trail - 3/31/14

In this tiny village of Cedar Key (population 900), there was a railroad, built in 1861 and operational until 1932, to Jacksonville, FL. In the 1880s there were daily freight and passenger services. Cedar, cypress, and pine lumber plus seafood (oysters, fish, and sea turtles) were the primary items shipped. Today, there is a lovely nature trail on the site where it once was built.

This is about all that remains of the railroad.

What I really enjoyed on this short hike, was learning about the local flora.  Here are some that we saw along the way.

Slash Pine - once supported the Florida logging and turpentine industry.  It is widely planted today for the pulp and paper industry.

Cabbage Palm - state tree of Florida and the source of "heart of palms." In earlier times the fiber was used to manufacture brooms.

Red Cedar - Cedar Key was named for this tree!

Spanish Bayonet - native coastal yucca plant - beware of pointed leaves!

Lantana - ornamental perennial.

Prickly Pear - common cactus with yellow flowers. Seed0filled purple fruit is edible (if you dare!)

Saw Palmetto - Small palm; berries are sed for medical treatment of enlarged prostate.

Spiderwort - common perennial herb.

Below is the view of Cedar Key from the end of the trail.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Eight Little Conveniences for your Motor Coach

Following is a list of stuff that we now consider must-haves for our RVing lifestyle.

Command hooks and picture hanging strips - These sturdy hooks are really nice to provide spots for hanging clothes in the bedroom and bathroom; frying pan, cutting board, hot pads in the kitchen; keys and Sadie's leash in the entryway; etc. Easily removable without damaging the wall, these are a must have. Also, we have hung several pictures and even a large plate using the hanging strips and they are secure even when driving.

Electric tea kettle - I sold my Keurig that I used religiously to make tea (all kinds).  It just takes up too much space, so I sold it before we left PA. We purchased an electric tea kettle to heat up water for my morning tea. Now I love it and I am not missing my Keurig at all!  John likes instant coffee (if you can believe that!) so it works great for both of us. Even when we had the Keurig he drank instant coffee - go figure.

Crockpot - We had a large 4-quart crockpot that we used frequently when we lived in the house. Again, too large for our motorcoach we sold it, and downsized to a small crockpot that we now use quite often. It's perfect for meals for two with easy prep and clean up. After a busy day of hiking or sightseeing, it's great to come to a prepared hot meal!

Brita pitcher - We have used Brita products for years for our drinking water. The one we had at the house was much too large for our motor coach refrig. After buying bottled water for a couple of weeks (which I hate because of all of the plastic waste), we found a really nice smaller pitcher that fits nicely in our refrig. With a filter on the potable water hose and the brita pitcher, our drinking water tastes great!

Dish rack - We use the one we had on our boat. It is quite small and folds up into a very compact  item, but can hold lots of dishes and utensils. Very useful. Also, we had a full set of non-breakable dishes including some serving dishes that we brought from the boat.

Paper plate holders - I ran across some heavy-duty, paper-plate holders at TJ Maxx. These really come in handy, because you can reduce your clean up time by using these. An added bonus is that you can use those cheap paper plates because the plate holders provide the stability to hold a plateful of food.  We don't use them for everything, but they are great for sandwiches, etc.

Wine - For years I have drunk my favorite chardonnay, Clos du Bois, that I was able to purchase at a great price in Maryland when we lived in Nottingham, PA. Carrying around bottles of wine and finding this particular brand is just not realistic. So, yes, I have gone the route of boxed wine. After trying several brands (most of which really sucked), I stumbled across the Black Box brand of chardonnay. Honestly it is very good and easy to refrigerate and store. I hope I will be able to find it in other locations!

Plastic bins - We purchased a bunch of plastic bins with handles on the front (for easy removal) and baskets to store stuff in our overhead bins. Everything from spices, games, books, CDs, candles, etc., can be easily organized. The real bonus is that stuff doesn't roll around when we're driving.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Quote - on living

"Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship."

Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge - 3/28/14

This refuge is part of the US National Wildlife Refuge System and is located on the western coast of Florida. It was established in 1979, primarily to preserve the river delta system that was being destroyed by commercial timber firms.

The Suwannee River and nearby bottomland hardwood swamps, pine forests, cypress domes, tidal creeks, and vast salt marshes provide habitat for thousands of creatures each year. It provides foraging habitats for shorebirds as well as nesting for wading birds (ibis, egrets, herons, wood stork) and raptors (bald eagles, ospreys) in summer. Other species found in the refuge include deer, wild turkey, bobcat, alligator, racoon, river otter, eastern indigo snake, and gopher tortoise.

Another point of interest in the refuge is the 28' tall, 5-acre, midden (shell mound), provides archealogical evidence of ancient human habitation in the area. Early native cultures recycled their debris (mollusk shells, bones, broken tools) to fortify the mud flats where they lived, fished, and raised their families. This was a common practice along most of the Gulf Coast thousands of years ago.

Shell remnants.

Primary activities in the refuge are hiking, wildlife viewing, boating/kayaking, and fishing.

We packed a picnic lunch and hiked various trails (Shell Mound, River Trail & Bottomlands Boardwalk and Dennis Creek) and checked out the Shell Mount Pier where folks were fishing. We were able to take Sadie with us as well (always a bonus).

Area near pier.

There was a lovely observation gazebo where we saw a bald eagle (very cool), several herons, and various other birds. It is a peaceful and beautiful setting with well-marked trails and boardwalks across swamp areas.

This place is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Sunrise Sunset - March 2014

Two of the daily wonders of nature I am enjoying more than I ever have in the past are sunrises and sunsets.

They make me think of the beautiful song from Fiddler on the Roof (a portion below):

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze.

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness ... and tears.

It reminds me of how very, very thankful I am for the happiness I now have with John (and Sadie, too, of course) and our kids (well they are adults now...)

Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean at St. Augustine Beach (3 photos in sequence of a sunrise).

Sunset over the marsh lands and Intracoastal Waterway in St. Augustine Beach.

Itinerary - March, 2014 - January, 2015

We spent the last week or so planning our travel plans.  I'll just say this:  It is so much more work to figure this out than I expected! Selecting RV resorts via the internet is a daunting task. Because so many RV resorts near major attractions get booked over the summer, we wanted to assure we could go to the places we were interested in seeing this year!

So here is the schedule as currently defined. We have confirmed reservations at each.

02/26 - 03/26
St. Augustine, FL; Ocean Grove RV Resort
Attractions:  Historical Landmarks and Atlantic beaches

Cedar Key, FL; Cedar Key RV Resort
Attractions:  Gulf Coast of FL, Wildlife Refuges, Shell Mound, Museums
(127 miles from St. Augustine)

San Antonio, TX; Admiralty RV Resort
Attractions: Alamo, River Walk, Missions, Museums, Pool/Hot Tub!
(1,060 miles from Cedar Key)

Amarillo, TX; Oasis RV Resort
Attractions: Historical sites, Museums, Palo Duro Canyon
(515 miles from San Antonio)

Capulin, NM; Capulin Camp & RV Park
Attractions: Capulin Volcano National Park, Sugarite Canyon Park
(176 miles from Amarillo)

Colorado Springs, CO; Mountaindale Cabin & RV Resort
Attractions: Pikes Peak, Florissant Fossil Park, Cripple Creek
(178 miles from Capulin)
Estes Park, CO; Spruce Lake RV Park
Attractions:  Rocky Mountain National Park
(129 miles from Colorado Springs)
Custer, SD ; Custer's Gulch RV Park & Campgrounds
Attractions: Mount Rushmore, Jewel Cave, Wind Cave, Badlands
(355 miles from Estes Park)
Attractions:  Little Big Horn, Crow Indian Reservation, Museums
(228 miles from Custer)
West Yellowstone, MT; Buffalo Crossing RV Park
Attraction:  Yellowstone National Park
(293 miles from Garryowen)

08/28 - 09/01
Heber City, UT; Mountain Valley RV Park
Attactions:  State parks; Park City; Olympic Village
(366 miles from West Yellowstone)

09/03 - 09/17
Grand Canyon, AZ; Grand Canyon - Trailer Village
Attraction:  Grand Canyon
(483 miles from Heber City)

09/19 - 11/19
Pahrump, NV; Nevada Treasure RV Resort
Attractions:  Mojave Desert, Death Valley, Red Rock Canyon, LasVegas
(354 from Grand Canyon)

11/20 - 01/20/15
Tucson, AZ; Desert Trails RV Park
Attractions: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Colossal Cave National Park, Saguaro Prk, Sabine Canyon, etc.
(478 miles from Pahrump)

Establishing Residency in FL

It's official!  We are residents of Florida.

Why did we chose FL as our new home state?  Primarily due to the tax advantages for retired folks. And our financial advisor is licensed in this state (as well as PA).

How did we accomplish this in just one month?  The answer is with  just a little planning...

- About three weeks before we left Pennsylvania, we purchased a mail service (myRVmail). They provide a physical address in Florida that we use for all of our snail mail.
- We completed the USPS change of address forms with the effective date of the new address to coincide with the date we left PA.
- The mail service provides a website that we access to see what mail we have received (listed by sender). We decide whether the piece of mail is something we want shredded or mailed to us. On demand, the mail service will send a package of the mail we want to the address we provide (the current RV resort where we are staying).
- We replenish the account with funds to mail the packages (kind of like EZ pass accounts). This is working out great for us.
- Several folks have asked us how we like the Crestview, FL, area (that's where the address is), and the real answer is that we have never been there. And do not have plans to visit!

Drivers Licenses
- The FL DMV is so darn efficient, it was amazing (particularly in comparison to PennDOT!!) We were required to provide our current PA licenses, passports, social security cards (I could not locate mine, but they accepted a W2 form instead), and two pieces of mail with our Florida address.
- They gave us an eye exam, took our photos, and issued the licenses.
- At the same time, they processed our voter registration (cards have arrived at our FL address).
- No long wait either! Nice!

Vehicle Registration - There were a few steps to this.
- We contacted a local insurance agent in St. Augustine who found the best deal for auto insurance on the Mini Cooper (comparable to what we had on our policy in PA).  Purchased that insurance and cancelled the existing policy.
- The motor coach policy had to be re-issued because we have changed our status to full-time RVing. This improves the coverage limits for contents, etc., resulting in some increase in cost. (A heck of lot cheaper than our home owners policy!)  We'll get nice refunds on the cancelled policies for both the car and the motor coach.
- There is a lengthy checklist of stuff (current registration, sales receipt to prove the vehicle was purchased more than six months ago, proof of insurance, etc.). They also require verification of the VIN # for the vehicle. For the Mini Cooper they verified it in the DMV parking lot. For the motor coach we needed to have the sheriff come to the RV park to complete a form for verification of the VIN number.
- We left with the registrations and new license plates.

PS  John was not very happy giving up our PA tags, but it will be so much easier for us with our new lifestyle to be registered in FL. No annual vehicle inspection and drivers licenses are renewed every 8 years.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Pirate and Treasure Museum - 3/19/14

This museum had some interesting (and valuable) displays. However, when we were there the place was packed with school children on field trips (and I mean packed). The place is quite small and there needs to be better planning for general admission tickets and group tours.

Having said that, here is some cool stuff we saw.

Ahoy matey...the captain at the helm.

A 400-year old treasure chest.

A pistol from the era that would be given to a crewman marooned on a deserted island as punishment for some infraction. One bullet was provided ... theoretically to enable the poor soul to end his misery.

An example of another form of punishment often used by those pirate rascals.

Sunken treasure found on shipwrecks. This one with gold trinkets and silver coins. The second photo is of jewels. 

Fort Matanzas - 3/18/14

This little fort was an interesting piece of history. You need to take a short ferry ride to access Fort Matanzas (no charge). It is a National Monument managed by the National Park Service.

Crucial events in Spanish colonist history took place at Matanzas Inlet.  In 1565 French soldiers were massacred by the Spanish during their zealous efforts to establish a colony in Florida. The construction of Fort Matanzas in 1740-42 was Spain's last effort to ward off British encroachments on St. Augustine. The primary mission of the fort was to maintain control of the Inlet and therefore the southern access point to St. Augustine.

Soldiers were rotated from St. Augustin for one-month tours at the fort with one officer, four infantrymen, and two gunners (that's it!)  A maximum of 50 could be deployed to this remote outpost when international tensions increased.  

The fort could cover the inlet with five guns and holes in the south wall of the tower allowed the infantry men to fire their muskets from inside the fort. After thwarting attempts to gain the inlet in 1742, the fort never again fired its guns in battle.

View from the top of the inlet.

This is one of the two remaining original cannons (and, of course, John).

Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse - 3/13/14

The Ponce de Leon lighthouse (south of Daytona Beach) at 175' is the tallest lighthouse in Florida and one of the tallest in the nation. The tower tapers from a 32-foot diameter at the base to 12-foot diameter at the top.  The brick walls are 8-feet thick at the bottom and 2-feet thick at the top.

View of the steps from the top.

The first beacon light was a first order fixed Fresnel lens that was lit by five concentric wick kerosene  lanterns whose light could be seen for 20 miles out to sea. (Imagine the lighthouse keepers who had to carry that kerosene to the top each day.)  In 1933 the lighthouse was electrified and the lens was replaced with a third order fresnel lens that could be seen 18 miles out to sea.  That lens has been restored and is in use today as a private aid to navigation.

We climbed the 203 steps to the gallery deck (and I can tell you I had to take a few breaks along the way)!  What impressive views from the top.