2.25.2017

The Price of Beer as a Simple Cost of Living Indicator

I have often said if you want a crude indicator of the cost of living in a place, the price of a pint of beer works pretty well most of the time.

Turns out, my crude index has been validated HEREhttps://www.thrillist.com/travel/nation/best-countries-to-live-in-cheap

2.21.2017

Pounding It Out

I pounded out a pretty good day today. With the exception of a couple customer no shows and a headlight out, all beyond my control, everything went to plan. I met up with my buddy Tim at Guitar Center after I got done working at 3 PM and handed off the EDDIE ATE DYNAMITE MAMA award to him. It was for one of his songs, "I Like Your Hat," and I had it because I was the only member of EDDIE able to attend the award ceremony last year. I noodled on some of the pianos at Guitar Center whilst Tim explored e-drums, then I bid Tim adieu and went to Tires Plus to have the headlight fixed. I received some great news too, though I won't be able to disclose it for a fortnight or so. It's like "necessary but not sufficient" type news. Dig?

2.19.2017

Post Free Day Intensity

Sunday mornings are often action packed at our household, and not just after we have a dietary free day. This morning, Deborah and I got up at a leisurely pace. We meditated, then I practiced piano for 30 minutes whilst Deborah packed her gym bag and dicked around the house with the dogs. I cooked and ate some egg whites left over from our key lime pie marathon of indulgence yesterday (the pie recipe only uses yolks). We went to the gym and had a fantastic 75 minute workout that included some lap swimming and hot tubbing. This was all accomplished by 1 PM.

I had felt like I was coming down with a cold yesterday, but I punched it hard in the stomach with some potent "enhanced" zinc lozenges from Life Extension (they taste terrible, but they work...high marks!) and a bunch of OTC meds, so I feel a lot better today (knock on wood), especially after the gym workout.

I'm out driving around this afternoon and I feel like time is flying by, or more like I lost an hour somewhere. It's an odd feeling.

Key Lime Pie

We made two key lime pies today for FREE DAY. They turned out great and were delicious. I actually discovered tonight that there is an upper limit on the axiom "there is always room for dessert." 99% of the time, this is true, but tonight was one of those rare exceptions. Anyway, key lime pie is ridiculously easy and cheap to make, so it is odd that restaurants charge so much for a slice of it. They must make a huge profit margin.

2.18.2017

Today is FREE DAY!

It's FREE DAY.

Deborah and I lead a pretty healthy lifestyle of exercise and healthy eating. But each week we pick a day (usually a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday) to be our FREE DAY. On that day, we are allowed to be as hedonistically dietarily unhealthy as we want. Pizza, ice cream, candy, cake, cheese stix, Chinese buffet, whatever. This serves a threefold purpose. First, it means that we can maintain a healthy lifestyle most of the time and still enjoy the sinful foods that make life fun. There is some tenuous scientific evidence to support periodic cycles of binge eating, to do with human evolution and the hunter-gatherer diet, which had episodes of feast and famine. Second, it motivates us to be good about our eating the other six days of the week. In fact, we have a rule that if we eff up and prematurely eat forbidden treats before the ascribed free day, then that becomes our free day (for both people) and the planned free day is voided (that's not all that is voided after a free day...). Third, the gross way we feel at the end of a free day reminds us why we need to lead a healthy lifestyle most of the rest of the time.

Anyway, today is our free day and we are going to try our hand at making a key lime pie. Among other fun food related activities.


2.16.2017

I Sullied Myself Today

I did a bad thing. I went on Facebook today. Now I feel dirty.

I could make the case that I did something useful whilst I was on there, creating an event for Deborah's and my two year anniversary of unmarried bliss on May 29th, and letting my friends know about a promo for $50 in free rides from LYFT.

But that in no way excuses the fact that I broke my social media hiatus with an unscheduled visit to the Face, and I feel awful. I saw some things on there I cannot unsee. I usually limit my exposure to social media filth to Sundays fortnightly. Two weeks of recovery from the fake news and quasi coherent political ramblings of my "friends" is quite satisfactory. But visiting more frequently than that is nauseating. It's exactly what the Giant Internet Brain wants me to do...instantly gratify my perceived urges, but there is no reason I couldn't have waited for a free Sunday.

Ugh.

That being said, I'm now off to a real world analog social gathering with my Mastermind accountability group at a coffee shoppe. So eff you, Giant Internet Brain!

2.15.2017

Tropical Vay-Kay Day 13 - Foghead

Preamble

I usually don't sleep well the night before I have to get up early for travel, especially when the danger of accidental death by stray gun play is substantially elevated, and last night was no exception. Because of our early morning flight, we decided to get a cheap motel near the Tampa airport last night and drove up from Sarasota after having dinner with the Florida contingent of Deborah's family. It was a little bit too cheap of a motel, as we knew almost as soon as we pulled into the parking lot of the Extended Stay* America about 9 PM and saw all manner of vagrants and undesirables wandering about the property (this is only a slight exaggeration).

Deborah was afraid to touch any exposed surfaces in the motel room and we both washed our hands obsessively before getting into bed. The bedclothes appeared visually to be clean, but I kept imagining bed bugs lurking in the recesses of the closet and dresser, waiting for us to turn off the light so they could come and deprive us of our precious bodily fluids.

Sleep was fitful in the tiny double bed (it was advertised as a queen) of the sh!tty motel, and although I did have dreams, they were mostly of the bad variety, centered on being late for the airport, with all manner of obstacles in my path, and forgetting to do important things, like getting the dogs to the kennel ahead of time, even though this was our return trip home (interestingly, the dogs in the dream were ones that have long since passed on to Doggy Heaven, but dream red flags like this never seem to register when they are happening).

I think I woke up every hour on the hour to look at my phone and make sure I didn't miss the 5 AM alarm, even though Deborah also had a redundant alarm set. Thanks to the regular daily meditation practice I have been doing for the past several months (although, in full disclosure, I was remiss on it during this vacation), I was able to will myself back to sleep each time. Of course, I woke up three minutes before the alarm went off and just got up, because eff it. Deborah got up too and we high tailed it out of that literal rat hole to the airport.

Once we had returned the rental car to Alamo, everything started to go pretty smoothly according to standard airport conventions. We got Deborah a wheelchair at check-in, which expedited our passage through security and got us early boarding onto the plane, or what I loosely call "rockstar privileges." Arriving in Concourse E a good 90 minutes before our Delta flight departed from Gate E71, thanks in good measure to these rockstar privileges, we sought foodstuffs and chose a place called Columbia Cafe to fill our bellies. We ordered omelettes, which were mostly filled with potatoes, and after we ate, I supplemented my breakfast with a Starbucks coffee to help clear my lingering case of foghead, a condition highly correlated with lack of sleep. Deborah also had a case of foghead, but chose to cure hers with actual sleep. We are on the plane, up in the sky, as I write this and Deborah is dozing with her head on my shoulder (aw, how cute!).

The first leg of our flight is about three hours long, between Tampa FL and Minneapolis MN. That's a bit of a backtrack since we are ultimately destined for Madison WI, but it's not that bad. A diabolically wily Madison resident on this plane might successfully cheat the system by causing an in-flight disturbance when the plane is passing over Madison, gambling that this might force the pilot to divert the plane to the Madison so the passenger could get home sooner. However, there are very few selfish, douchebaggy Trump supporters who live in Madison, so I am not counting on getting home earlier than scheduled, which is at about 2:45 PM.

Deborah's nephew Josh is slated to retrieve us when we arrive in Madison. Then we'll go over to our friend Sherry's house and collect our doggies, my Foster and Deborah's misbehavin' Maddie, before decompressing at home at the conclusion of our travel day. It happens to be Valentine's Day, but we are postponing our romantic celebration of it until the weekend, mostly because most of today was lost to travel, but also to avoid the hordes of love addled couples who will be out effing everything up tonight. Am I too cynical? Yes. Yes I am. But I'll spin it into a positive...Deborah and I get to have a full Valentine's Weekend, not just a single, partial day of it (and a school night at that). The plan, which fills me with raw terror, is to go shop for Deborah's symbolic engagement ring, a task I have been dreading, but also would like to put behind me. Don't get me wrong, I love Deborah and want to marry her, but the ring thing is going to have bank account repercussions for some time to come, I'm sure, and this goes against all my instincts about frugality and good money management - instincts that have allowed me to live as a free agent in the cosmos for some while now. I just don't want my free agency thwarted by a severe dip in cash flow that might hasten my eventual need to work for THE MAN again. Deborah knows this though, and she is remarkably understanding. So we are going to shop around to get the "best value" on the ring design she has in mind, and she is going to trade in her old diamond ring from her previous marriage to help offset the cost. I will hold off on getting a wedding ring of my own until after we are actually married (no frills, courthouse style).

Part 1

Whilst sitting at the gate in Tampa waiting for our flight, I researched waterless urinals. That might seem like a weird thing to research, but I was curious. I have seen these things here and there, and whilst I was micturating in a non-waterless urinal at the airport, it occurred to me that waterless urinals must have a raison d'etre, and furthermore they must have some special design to operate in a way that is superior to non-waterless urinals.

It turns out they are pretty simple and genius. In a regular non-waterless urinal, the solution to pollution is dilution, as they say.** The pee mixes with water and when the urinal is flushed, the pee is carried into a curved pipe that acts like an air lock, preventing fumes from coming back up through the pipe. In a waterless urinal, the drain is replaced with an oil filled cartridge. Because oil is lighter than water, the pee is passively "flushed" as it flows under the oil due to the laws of physics and the end result is the same, there is a barrier preventing the pee smell from coming back out (with the exception of the thin film of pee coating the urinal walls, but presumably this is minimal). The oil cartridge in a waterless urinal needs to be replaced after several hundred uses or so, but saves a ridiculous amount of water. So it's a good way to avoid punching Mother Nature in the stomach.

Phase 2

We made it home fine. I did a grocery run whilst Deborah sorted mail and opened the plethora of packages that were piled up on our doorstep (they arrived today, apparently...good timing).

I made us a Valentine's Day dinner of coconut curry with vegetables and tofu. We watched some Walking Dead. I was exhausted from lack of sleep and turned in after that.

Good times.

*Note: I pity anyone who has to extend their stay at such a place.

**Note: I actually know of no more than one person, a university professor years ago, who ever said this.

2.14.2017

Tropical Vay-Kay Day Twelve - Sara Soda

Preamble

I am at the Goldberg house in Sarasota FL, sitting on a nice pleather couch in the living room. Deborah and I drove up here last night from Sanibel Island and will spend the final full day of our tropical vacation here, cruising around various places. We want to get a feel for the lay of the land since we might move here someday (it's a fantastic place).

After we got up this morning and swallowed down a bit of breakfast (Deborah made eggs...I thought they were great, but she said, "Meh."), we swam in Mark and Michelle's screened in pool. Very invigorating. Now I am just waiting for Deborah to get out of the shower so we can start the day's adventures. I took a shower earlier, at which time I came to the realization that I don't think I showered any other time this whole vacation. I know that sounds disgusting, but with all the time spent in the hot tub and pool at the Sanibel condo, there wasn't any need or opportunity to fully bathe. The weather was so pleasant that I did not sweat much and whenever we got back to the condo from any of our expeditions, usually by bike, we immediately jumped in the pool.

Anyway, I'd better end this preamble for now and gear up for today's outings.

Phase 1

We spent a couple hours driving around Sarasota looking at neighborhoods, and even got shown a rental property. There seems to be plenty of reasonably priced real estate options, both for renting or buying. So it's good to know that information if/when we decide to move here.

We had lunch at a mall-based restaurant called Burgers and Beer, which had plenty of good food options. I built my own "burger," although I ordered chicken breast, not beef, as my base, adding feta cheese, pineapple, grilled zucchini, and an over hard egg on top (no bun). It was great. Deborah and I split my side of zucchini fries, which were lightly breaded, tempurah style. The tab was surprisingly modest, making this establishment the "Bud's" of Sarasota, which will make no sense to most people, but my Mom and Pops will understand (Hi Mom and Pops!).*

After lunch, Deborah did a foolish thing. She visited the Tesla car dealership in the mall and got overly excited about all the fancy electric cars she cannot afford. I suppose it is something to aspire to though.

Now we are back at Mark and Michelle's house and it looks like we will just chillax here for a while, then have a final homemade dinner before we cruise on up to Tampa tonight. We decided to check into a hotel there because we have a butt early flight tomorrow and need to return the rental car at the airport in the morning.

Phase 2

We ended up going for a walk around Mark and Michelle's pleasant neighborhood. We saw these turtles.


Deborah's foot started hurting mid-walk, so she and I sat down in a pleasant side street while Mark walked home and then came and retrieved us in his car. Yay Mark!

We had a nice dinner with the Florida based family then did our farewells and drove up to the very low budget motel near the Tampa airport for the night. It's the kind of place where you have to run the AC fan to drown out all the other weird sounds so you can sleep. Deborah hates places like this, but they are simple and cheap. There was nothing on TV at the motel so I read my Kindle book until I got sleepy.

Tomorrow we fly back to Wisconsin, so tune in for travel updates (if we aren't murdered by other patrons of this sh!tty motel (fyi, it's the Extended Stay America by the Tampa Airport North...avoid it at all costs!).

Ciao!

*Note: The first day that we were down in Sanibel, Deborah and I were chillaxing in the hot tub when the precocious 4.5 year old daughter of one of the resort guests wandered over. She said her name was Nora and her dad was over by the pool. When Deborah asked Nora what her dad's name was, Nora replied, "My dad!"

2.13.2017

Tropical Vay-Kay Day Eleven - Wintermission

Preamble

I don't know if Deborah's sister Julie coined the term or heard it somewhere, but during my five mile morning walk with her and Deborah's brother Mark, she used the word "wintermission" to describe the act of escaping life in the cold northern latitudes by going somewhere tropical for a while. That's exactly what I am on right now...wintermission.

Unfortunately, Deborah's and my wintermission ends Tuesday, when we have to head back to Wisconsin. I will "spin that into a positive" though by pointing out that it is still only Sunday morning as I write this, which means at least another full day and a half of enjoying the tropics. I really want to move to the Sarasota FL area within the next three years, the sooner the better. If I do, then I need to find a term to describe escaping Florida's ridiculous summer heat by going up to my folks' cabin in northern Wisconsin in July and August. Any suggestions from my clever readers on a good term for that?

Phase 1

As I said, I went on a five mile walk this morning, along the beach to the Sanibel lighthouse and then back along the bike paths that line the main roads on the island. I normally do my walk solo, but I was joined by others this morning. Deborah and her sis-in-law Michelle walked about a mile with me along the beach until they turned back. Mark and Julie slogged out the whole five miles with me. A couple of dolphins were breakfasting close to shore on our beach leg, and I caught some video. Enjoy it vicariously...



When we got back from our walk, we found Deborah and Michelle down by the pool and joined them. The douchey redneck people were back, talkin' smack about nothing. I don't know why they annoy me so much. Just not my types I guess. But as long as they keep to themselves, they can do whatever they want.

Deborah filled me in on the day's tentative plan, which mostly involves an "early"* dinner at an eatery called Cip's before we drive up to Sarasota, where we'll spend tomorrow, our final full day of our tropical vacation. On Tuesday morning, we'll wake up before the butt crack of dawn to drive up to Tampa for an early flight back to Wisconsin by way of a layover in Minneapolis.

When we came back up to the condo from the pool, I put a load of Deborah's and my laundry in the condo washing machine and made myself a small lunch of a single turkey burger with some cheese on it. I ate it on the lanai while using Mark's small set of binoculars to look for dolphins in the nearby sea. Then I brewed half a pot of coffee and made myself a poor man's latte (half a glass of coffee, half a glass of unsweetened almond milk). I suppose I'll attempt some meditation here shortly, even if it devolves into a power nap.

Today is the sixth Sunday in 2017, so it's my social media free day. I have been on hiatus from social media since the new year, and it has been fantastically liberating, but every fortnight or so, I allow myself some leeway to check in and see if anything important happened in virtual reality world (note: to date, nothing has...). I signed onto Facebook this morning and approved/denied a few friends' posts that I was tagged in, mostly vacation related ones from my fiancée (score!) Deborah that I already knew about. I also voted at least 10 people off of the proverbial island, unfriending those I either don't actually know or don't interact with (it is supposed to be "social" media after all). I suspect they will be none the wiser, but if anyone is offended about this, I want them to think about how retarded that is. Then I logged out again for a couple weeks.

I fell into a fitful power nap this afternoon. When I awoke, I packed my duffel bag in anticipation of driving back up to Sarasota tonight. We are going out for one final overpriced vacation dinner in Sanibel, at a place called the Fish House, before we leave. I have not been to the Fish House yet, so I am curious to check it out. The menu looks pretty good. I might risk getting an order of conch fritters there, just to say I did, but it would be purely gratuitous. I don't even like shellfish all that much, which is why I have avoided ordering paella every time we have visited a place that has it. They put mussels on paella, which to me taste pretty much like licking the inside of a stagnant tide pool (prime mussel habitat).

I was going to bike over to a nearby nature area and look for alligators, but the condo rental office closed early today, so I wasn't able to check out a bike from the corral. I can't deny that I am a little bit bored sitting here on the lanai, waiting to go to dinner in about 45 minutes. Writing this post is helping, but I think I'll pause here and take a quick stroll down to the beach for a contemplative farewell to Sanibel before we bolt, possibly forever (Deborah's folks are likely selling their timeshare properties this year, and although we could still visit Sanibel in the future, there are other places we want to visit...). I'll write some more later.

Phase 2

The Fish House restaurant was pretty good. I broke my prohibition on shellfish and had a broiled seafood platter that included shrimp, scallops, and mahi mahi, with red potatoes and beans and rice as sides. I did not die and the shrimp was actually pretty good. I even had some of Julie's discarded calamari.

After dinner, we made a quick stop at Jerry's grocery store so Julie could buy a few essentials before the rest of us headed back to Sarasota. The drive north was fairly smooth and we chillaxed with the Goldbergs for a spell before hitting the hay. Tomorrow, we'll cruise around Sarasota and see what we can see.

Ciao!


*Note: Early in this case just means trying to beat the evening rush of people, so probably around 4:30 PM.

2.12.2017

Tropical Vay-Kay Day Ten - Full Circle

Preamble

So focused was I on reporting yesterday's free day gluttony, I never mentioned that I finished reading (on the evening of Day Eight) the novel "The Circle," by Dave Eggers. It's a deeply troubling tale about social media, corporate tyranny, and mindless millenials, and also an excellent read. So check it out from the library* as soon as you can and read it. I will also happily pay my copy forward to the first person who asks by way of a comment on this blog post (see comment box below).

Today is a transition. Some time late morning or early afternoon today, we transplant ourselves from Sanibel Beach Club (Sanibel Island FL) condo #7C to condo #8D, a building over. "We" refers to me, Deborah, and her brother, sister, and sister-in-law Mark, Julie, and Michelle, respectively, who are all currently in residence at the timeshare. The latter three people arrived yesterday afternoon, from Sarasota.

Yesterday was Deborah's and my dietary free day for the week, as my regular readers know, and last night we all went out to the Island Cow eatery for some hedonistic dining. But that's behind us now and we'll resume healthy habits today, gradually purging the acquired toxins and adipose tissue over the next couple of days.

We cannot do much today until after the transition to the new abode, but after that happens, I am proposing a trip to the nearby "Ding" Darling nature area for a look/see.

Phase 1

I walked the five mile round trip to the Sanibel lighthouse this morning, accomplishing my daily fitness goal. Nobody else wanted to go with me due to anxiety about the looming transition to the adjacent condo building sometime after 10 AM, but it turned out this was unwarranted worry. When I got back to the condo at almost exactly 10 on the dot, the group was on the lanai waiting for word from condo management on when we should move. A lady from condo staff knocked on our door and told us it would be at least a half hour before any action would be needed on our part. So we came down to the pool for a half hour and that's where we are now.

Phase 2

We're in the new condo unit now. It's a mirror image of the old one. I'm sitting next to Deborah on the mirror image couch, facing west now instead of east. Her sister Julie's in the kitchen making her world famous (in my world anyway) guacamole. I have a couple turkey burgers frying up in olive oil on the stove. These will comprise the lion's share of my lunch, along with the Larabar I just ate.

I am at the pool again. I am not going to say I ever get bored of sitting by the pool, especially when I can work on writing while doing so, but I have definitely had my fill of sitting by this pool. It's just gravy now. Warm, sunny, tropical, awesome gravy.

In the interval between lunch and this episode of poolside lacadaisica, we all went over to the aviary in a nearby neighborhood where there are a bunch of caged parrots and other tropical birds. Deborah, Julie, and I checked out bikes from the condo office and rode the four blocks or so the the place, whilst Mark and Michelle walked. For a quarter, you can buy food pellets and hand feed the ducks, ibises, and other waterfowl that mill around in a little shallow pond behind the parrot cages.

"That's Naegleria heaven right there," I said of the pond to no one in particular, though Mark heard me and asked what I meant. "Naegleria is a brain-eating amoeba that lives in muddy, warm tropical waters like this pond," I explained. "In fact, every year Naegleria kills more Americans than Islamic terrorists do." [#fact]

"I cannot wait to wash my hands," Deborah said, hearing this as she finished hand feeding a ravenous flock of ibises.

I made a concerted effort not to touch any of my mucous membranes before we got back to the condo, where I cleaned my hands with a generous dollop of hand sanitizer in the condo office. I washed my hands again with soap up at the condo and felt mostly Naegleria and Salmonella free by that point.

A new crop of visitors to the Sanibel Beach Club arrived today. Some of them were at the pool and I realized they were Trump supporters as I picked up on some of their conversation. They were saying lots of disparaging and derogatory things about other people and seemed to have an inflated sense of self-entitled superiority, hallmarks of your average American Trumpie. I pitied them but then also completely forgot about them after we left the pool area.

Deborah and I had a romantic 1.25 mile walk up the beach after that, 0.25 miles longer than our walk of a couple days ago. It really seems like Deborah's chronic foot pain is not bothering her as much as it used to.

When I told Deborah as much, she said, "It hurts, but definitely not as much as it used to."

"Is it going to flare up later?" I asked. "Like you'll be lying down and all of a sudden it will get inflamed."

"It did that earlier," she said. "Before we went on the bike ride."

We discussed what we might do for dinner tonight.

"I would really like to make dinner at the condo," I said. "To use up the leftover food before we leave here."

"I just really don't want to be in the kitchen," Deborah said.

"Let's play it by ear," I said. "It's just that a lot of places don't have good food options for us and I am a little tired of the Island Cow."

"I like the Island Cow," Deborah rebutted.

"Oh, I like it too," I said. "It's just that we go there a lot because it is reasonably priced, and so I am just a little tired of it is all."

"Well, we'd probably get grilled fish no matter where we went," Deborah noted, correctly.

"Yeah, I guess you're right," I said. "Well, let's see what the rest of the group wants to do. If they go out somewhere within our price range, we can opt to go, or just make dinner at the condo whilst they are all out."

When we finished our walk, we decided we still wanted to be on the beach, so we got beach chairs from the condo and came back out to face the late afternoon sun in the western sky. When Deborah got chilly, we went back in.

I lied down on the bed in the master bedroom of the new condo and tried to do a bit of meditation, but dozed off. I was awakened by Deborah who came into the room to tell me that a decision had been made about dinner...we would make food and eat it at the condo, rather than going out. She then laid down on the bed and fell promptly asleep.

I stir fried whatever suitable veggies I could find in the fridge. Julie made rice and some chicken fingers. We had fresh fruit for dessert. Deborah slept through all the prepping and eating of dinner, but we saved some food for her in a tupperware for later. I made some coffee after dinner for a little jolt. I'll probably have trouble falling asleep, but whatever.

*Note: Trust me, you don't want to download this book electronically or even purchase it online. That will make sense once you read the book. But also, you should support your public libraries, because they are one of the last bastions against ignorance and our crumbling educational infrastructure.

2.11.2017

Tropical Vay-Kay Day Nine - Free Day is ON!

Preamble

We have been looking forward to today all week. Today is our dietary free day. When we have gone on vacation in the past, we've often been far too gluttonous, eating lots of bad things that make us fat. This year we didn't want to undo the positive results of the good health and wellness routines we've established over the past few months, like eating healthy and going to the gym regularly. We knew we probably wouldn't get to the gym much while on vacation, but we could still control our eating habits, notwithstanding the temptation of the overpriced restaurants on Sanibel Island FL where we are spending most of our holiday.

We decided we would try to shop at grocery stores and make our own healthy meals as much as we could on this trip, in part to save some money, but also to avoid the gluttony trap that it is far too easy to fall into on vacations. We decided to grant ourselves one dietary free day on this trip, so we could enjoy a bit of hedonistic eating. That day is today. There are no limits on what we can eat. We plan to gorge on pizza for lunch and eat key lime pie after a greasy, rich dinner.

Phase 1

It was chilly in the timeshare condo when I woke up this morning. I reached for my phone on the bedside table and the Giant Internet Brain, by way of the Weather Bug app, told me it was 57 Fahrenheit degrees outside, a probable record low for our holiday to date.

I got up and looked out at the Gulf of Mexico through the sliding glass doors of the lanai. It looked like the tide was out.

"Can you look up when low tide is?" I hollered to Deborah, who was on her iPhone, still reposed in bed, as I made coffee.

"It's now," Deborah replied a few moments later. It was a few minutes before 7 AM.

"Cool. I think I'll go for a beach walk after breakfast," I said.

I cooked some scrambled eggs for us both and drank a couple cups of coffee before I hit the beach. It was the first time since we have been here that I had to wear my red windbreaker. A stiff wind was coming out of the east, the direction I started my walk toward the lighthouse at the east end of Sanibel Island. With the tide out, I saw more critters on the beach than usual, including some sea anemones and large marine snails, like giant conchs and whatever this guy is...


When I got back to the condo, Deborah and I decided to decamp poolside for our daily dose of natural vitamin D, courtesy of Apollo the Greco-Roman sun god. That is where I am as I write this. The ambient temperature is considerably more comfortable than it was this morning, and the wind has died down a bit. It's supposed to pick up again this evening, when Mother Nature will be presenting a lunar eclipse show for us just after sundown, if the scientists are to be believed. We may have to bundle up a bit for that, but it should be fully visible from the poolside patio. There's also some kind of green comet passing the Earth right now, reminiscent of the Day of the Triffids, but apparently you need binoculars or a small telescope to see it later tonight. In a minute or two, I'm going to jump in the pool before Deborah and I check out bikes from the condo leasing office and bike to a restaurant called Island Pizza to kick off our gluttonous dietary free day. We've been looking forward to this day of unbridled feasting all week, our reward for disciplined healthy eating on the prior days of this vacation.

Phase 2

We biked to and ate lunch at Island Pizza, as I predicted. We topped off a meal of individual 10" pizzas (yum) and shared veggie lasagna (meh) with a slice each of AWESOMELY GOOD key lime pie (see thumbnail). My pancreas was not at all ready for this onslaught of pure refined sugar and didn't really know what to do with it. I immediately got head sweats and felt a little bit physically ill, but it was still delicious.

"You don't have to finish it," Deborah advised, referring to the half eaten key lime pie slice before me.

"Yes, I do," I said. "I'm committed. Plus, if I don't eat it, you will."

I was glad we had biked to lunch, because we definitely had some calories to burn off. We left Island Pizza and pedaled our loaner single-speed, fat tire bikes west on Periwinkle Way, the main drag of Sanibel Island. All the main roads on the island have bike paths adjacent to them. We stopped at a shop and purchased some souvenir tee shirts. Eventually we circled back around to Middle Gulf Road heading east back to the condo, where we are once again poolside, awaiting the arrival of Deborah's sister Julie and their brother and sis-in-law, Mark and Michelle. It's been posited that this wait could be far longer than anticipated for reasons beyond the scope of this post.

Phase 2

"Let's never do this again," I said to Deborah as we forced down hedonistic desserts after dinner at the Island Cow restaurant. "Until next Friday..."

We were nearing the conclusion of our gluttonous dietary free day, where we were allowed, for one day only, to put whatever foods and drinks we wanted into our bodies. Deborah had been looking forward to eating one of her favorite dishes today, coconut fried shrimp. She sucked down 13 of the battered bottom feeders at dinner, granting me the 14th one just so I could see what she was so excited about.

"What do you think?" Deborah inquired, after I had swallowed the morsel.

I am not a huge fan of edible shellfish, so I thought carefully about how to answer before I replied, "Of all the ways there are to prepare shrimp, coconut fried is a pretty good one."

I had coconut fried snapper (fish), but that was probably a mistake. It was a big slab of greasy, battered and fried fish that pretty much punched my stomach in the stomach. I was actually still pretty full from our massive pizza and key lime pie lunch a few hours prior. Nonetheless, in free day solidarity with Deborah, I ate the whole meal and even ordered dessert, a double chocolate milkshake.

"Excuse me," I said to our waitress when she delivered the pancreas smashing sweet treat. "May I please get a side of insulin with this?"

Deborah ordered key lime pie, again. I had a small bite. Not bad.

We're back at the condo now. Deborah and I made a feeble attempt to go stargazing down at the beach when we got back from dinner, but it was still low tide and a chilly, stiff wind was blowing some unpleasant fragrances from the tide pools directly at us, so we aborted.

There is supposed to be a penumbral (read "weak sauce") lunar eclipse tonight. Unlike an actual (umbral) lunar eclipse, where all or part of the full moon gets blotted out, a penumbrally eclipsed moon just dims a little bit. I can pass on that. Also, the green comet everyone is excited about doesn't even appear in North American skies until like 3 AM or something, and it's not even visible with the naked eye. Meh.

I'm going to go sink into a food coma now.

Ciao!

2.10.2017

Tropical Vay-Kay Day Eight - Free Day Eve

Preamble

Whilst on vacation,* Deborah and I have been loosely but fairly successfully adhering to a "4 Hour Body" diet, originally devised by one Tim Ferriss. The basic premise is that you follow a healthy diet for six days out of every week, but on the seventh day you can eat whatever the @#$% you want. There's a tenuous scientific basis for the diet, to do with genetics and the evolutionary history of humans, but that's neither here nor there. What is relevant is that tomorrow is our free day, which makes today free day eve. Yay!

Today is also a much needed alone time day for Deborah and me. Her folks, Howie and Sandy, are heading back up to Sarasota this morning so they can pick up Deborah's sister Julie at the airport. Julie will come down to Sanibel with Mark and Michelle on either Friday or Saturday. If she comes down Friday, she'll stay in our rental condo Friday night (and bear witness to our unbridled free day gluttony) because she can't move into her rental condo (in the next building) until Saturday afternoon. We may or may not spend Saturday night in her condo before we head to Sarasota on Sunday. In any case, Deborah and I have some respite from family obligations the rest of today and tonight. I'm not sure what activities we'll do, but I suspect there will be a bike ride for sure.

Phase 1

Last night, before I went to bed, I loaded the coffee maker chock full of Chock-Full-o-Nuts coffee grounds and put water in the reservoir, and I told Howie if he got up before me to go ahead and turn on the machine. He got up before me, so there was fresh brewed coffee in the kitchen when I stumbled forth from the master bedroom of the condo this morning about 8 AM.

"Can I make you some eggs?" I asked Howie.

"Oh sure, I'll have an egg," Howie replied. "I thought I'd have it with my leftover steak from last night."

"Just one egg? How do you want it?"

"Yep, just one," Howie replied. "Over easy is fine with me."

I filled a coffee cup chock full of strong, dark Chock-Full-o-Nuts coffee with a dash of unsweetened soy milk before cracking a bunch of organic brown eggs into a butter laden frying pan and cooking them up. Howie warmed his leftover steak in the microwave and I stuck an over easy egg on top of it when it came out. Sandy and Deborah had a couple eggs each and I ate whatever was left, supplementing with half an overripe banana and a tasty apple.

Howie and Sandy hit the road after breakfast and Deborah and I hit the lanai (aka, screened balcony) facing south overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

"Is it supposed to be like this all day?" Deborah asked, referring to the light misty fog that was obscuring the morning sun.

"Nope," I replied. "This is supposed to burn off and be totally sunny by 10 AM." It was about 9 AM. "Maybe in an hour, do you want to go bike around and explore?"

The timeshare condo management company maintains a corral of rental bicycles, free to transient residents like us.

"Sure," Deborah replied.

About an hour later, we headed out of the condo into a bright sunny day, fully intending to check out a couple of bikes.

"Let's check the corral and see if there are even bikes available," I said. We did. There weren't. Only one bike remained in the corral.

"I'm surprised by that," I said. "I guess people must get out on bikes pretty early, when it's cooler outside. Do you want to go for a short beach walk instead? Maybe when we get back there will be some bikes available."

"Yeah, we could do that," Deborah said, and we walked about a mile round trip along the beach.

"Is your foot getting better?" I asked about a quarter of the way into our walk. "I don't think you could have walked even this far a while ago." Deborah has an 11 year old foot injury that still causes her quite a lot of pain when it is overexerted. Walking exacerbates it. Interestingly, biking does not.

"That's true," Deborah replied. "It does seem a lot better. I really think the LDN is helping, along with the Cymbalta."

"What does Cymbalta do?" I asked.

"I take it for pain," Deborah said. "But it's an anti-depressant."

We saw a couple of ibises feeding on the beach.


Upon our return from the beach walk, the bike corral was almost completely full of bikes, but now Deborah was feeling less inclined to go biking, so I begged and pleaded.

"Pleeeeeeeeeez," I whined. "I really want to bike to that Bailey's nature area place and see alligators." Deborah relented.

"OK," she said. "But I need to change into a different shirt."

After her wardrobe change, we checked out a bike lock key and some helmets from the condo office and pedaled our way to the Bailey Tract nature area, where we saw a few alligators, such as this guy.


"I have a riddle for you, Deborah," I said as we tooled around the small nature preserve some more. "What do you call someone who volunteers helping and protecting alligators?"

"Tell me," Deborah requested, after thinking on it for a minute.

I looked her in the eye and said, "It's a 'gator aide."

It was a bad pun.

"Do you mind if we stop somewhere so I can buy a Sanibel tee shirt?" Deborah asked on our return bike ride from the Bailey Tract back to the condo. I didn't, so we did, although we had to stop at several shops before she found one she liked at the Sanibel Surf Shop next to Jerry's grocery store. We also picked one up for our friend Sherry, who is dogsitting for us whilst we are on this trip.

When we got back to the condo, I was almost nauseous from the vitamin D overdose I had been subjected to whilst biking under the hot South Florida sun. I cracked a diet root beer and reclined on the king sized bed in the condo to compose this post, up to this point. I'll probably eat something here in a few minutes and then I predict an afternoon spent poolside.

Phase 2

Deborah and I are sitting on collapsible beach chairs on the beach in front of the timeshare condo, facing the setting sun for maximal warmth and, in about an hour, a romantic sunset (blech!). It actually got kind of breezy this afternoon, by comparison to our previous days here, and even though it is 74 Fahrenheit degrees according to Deborah's weather app, it feels borderline chilly because of the wind and the fact that I'm wearing nothing but a bathing suit. It's still better than being in Wisconsin in February. Sadly, we'll have to return to the northern tundra next Tuesday. Bad as that is though, we still have a good solid four more days here and we are going to milk it hard.

After the bike ride I so eloquently documented in Phase 1 of this post, Deborah succumbed to a power nap and I read some more of my novel, "The Circle" by Dave Eggers, which, no doubt by design of the author, further fueled my hatred for the Internet, social media, and the millenial generation that has been assimilated by the Giant Internet Brain (resistance is futile!). It's a fantastic book. I thought it might be, after I heard an NPR radio program suggesting that it had ALL the computer-generated criteria of a bestselling novel. But I wasn't entirely sure, because "50 Shades of Grey" also ranks high on many of the same criteria. Now, as I approach the final 20 pages or so of the novel, I am 99% sure it's fantastic. The 1% of doubt I have is that I cannot currently figure out how the main character's inner conflict will get resolved in those final pages. If the author pulls it off, I will give the book full marks for awesomeness.

Up at the condo, thawing on the kitchen counter, are some chicken and fish filets that I'm going to cook in butter (buttah!) for dinner after this romantic sunset nonsense goes down, although it might not...

"Honey, I am so cold!" Deborah just yelled at me from her beach chair a foot away, because she's listening to music and can't regulate the volume of her voice. Even though it's 74 degrees and we are sitting in direct sunlight, she is bundled up in a hat and black hoodie, with a towel over her legs. She and I have very different core body temperatures. I'm completely comfortable here in my bathing togs, barechested and bareheaded. She's cold.

"Do you want to go to the hottub?" I asked. "If we do, we might miss the romantic sunset...but it's only going to get colder as the sun goes down."

"Then I vote for hottub," Deborah said, without hesitation. That's what I love about her...she puts pragmatism ahead of gushy romantic sh!t. So it looks like I will have to pause my writing here to go immerse myself in hot water. Stay tuned...

Phase 3

I cooked up the fish and chicken for dinner, as well as a bit of stir fried veggies to use up some of the produce lingering in the condo fridge. Deborah made a salad too. It was a good feed. I had not eaten lunch, so I was pretty hungry. Only about half the stir fry survived my ravenousness and is now back in the fridge in a Tupperware container.

"Can I turn on the TV?" Deborah asked. "I want to get more news about the travel ban case." Apparently, less insane people on the bench of some appeals court somewhere ruled that Donald Trump could take his Muslim travel ban and shove it right up his moronic arse. It seemed like a common sense outcome, but in this day and age you can't be too sure. I didn't care to have annoying news on while we ate and stated my objection, but told Deborah she could do whatever she wanted.

"You know Trump lost the case," I said. "What more do you need to know? Is more analysis by political pundits going to change anything?"

She knew I was right, but she's a news junkie, so she turned on the TV anyway. Some liberal commentators were congratulating themselves and lambasting Trump's lunacy, as they must do to get the kind of ratings their advertisers pay big money for.

We're on the slow descent toward bedtime now. I'm writing this post, Deborah's washing her face, and we're probably going to toast the conclusion of a fun day with a couple of diet root beers now.

Ciao!

2.09.2017

Tropical Vay-Kay Day Seven - It Is Only Wednesday

Preamble

Last year at this time, Deborah and I were on a cruise ship "sailing" the high seas of the Caribbean. It was a good time, though I don't feel strongly compelled to ever repeat the experience. It's something I checked off my bucket B list, but it was never on my bucket A list. The only reason I did the cruise last year was because it was more or less free and I wanted to know what a cruise was really like.

After the cruise last year, we spent a week at the timeshare condo on Sanibel Island FL that Deborah's parents own. This year, we are only vacationing at the time share for a week and spending the additonal days with Deborah's family in Sarasota FL. It's been pretty awesome so far.

Phase 1

Deborah's dad Howie had his mind set on going to the Lighthouse Cafe for breakfast, notwithstanding Deborah's and my goal to eat out less this week, to save money and to eat healthier. I didn't really want to go, but Howie said he was buying, so I collected myself and we went. I had passed the Lighthouse Cafe on one of my long walks earlier in the week and remembered seeing their sign advertising the "best breakfast in town." I haven't been to enough Sanibel Island breakfast places to assess this claim, but it was pretty good.

After we ate, I decided to walk the 2+ miles back to the condo by way of the beach, and began slathering on sunscreen at the table in preparation for this. The Lighthouse Cafe was, not surprisingly, a couple blocks from the lighthouse on the eastern tip of Sanibel, a barrier island that runs west to east. I proceeded there to begin my beach walk.

During the two+ mile trek along the beach, I saw some elaborate sand castles that someone had built, and quite a few dolphins feeding a few yards off shore. Here's a decent video of the dolphins.


I also called my mom en route and we talked for a goodly amount of time about various things.


When I was close to the condo, I saw Deborah and her mom, Sandy, sunbaking on the beach. I finished my conversation with my mom and hung up. Moments later, Deborah's dad, Howie, came down to the beach and wanted to go on a beach walk of his own, something we had discussed earlier over "the best breakfast in town." So I joined him and did a couple more miles of walking. All told, I walked over five miles this morning and burned about 800 calories. My feet were killing me afterward, mostly because of having to compensate for the slope of the beach. But I felt great. During my walk with Howie, we came across a large beached jellyfish. I have no idea what species it was, but here is a picture. If any of my readers can identify this jellyfish, please leave a comment.


After the walking was done, I rested for a spell. Then Deborah and I did a grocery store run to pick up some food for our final few days on Sanibel, mainly salad fixings and some veggies. As I have remunerated before, we are making an effort to avoid eating out at restaurants for financial and health reasons, and we've been doing a pretty good job of it.

"My dad wants to take us out tonight," Deborah informed me as we drove back to the condo from Jerry's grocery store.

"I thought we were trying to eat out less," I said, feeling anxious about exorbitant ritzy restaurants with limited food choice options.

"He's buying," she said. "He wants to celebrate our engagement." Oh yeah, Deborah and I decided to become officially engaged this week, after living together for over a year as domestic partners effectively already married. But people seem to need these things to be officially "on paper," so...there it is. Woohoo! That's part of what I called my mom about. Before you get too excited though, we've been planning to get hitched for a long while, since we are perfect for each other, so it's the natural next step, and it's just going to be a quick and quiet trip to the courthouse. We'll plan some kind of party after the fact, but it was one of my prenuptual conditions that there be no ceremonious fanfare about it. I get extreme anxiety about stuff like that, so I need to set good boundaries.

Back to the condo, we donned our swimwear and went down to chillax poolside, Mad Men style. I swam a little and then read some more of my creepy novel about social media called "The Circle," by Dave Eggers. The Circle is a huge, monopolistic social media marketing firm with it's creepy privacy invading fingers into everything. The plot centers on main character Mae's experience working at (and being manipulated by) the company, which is basically a fictional Google (eff Google!). It's a pretty good book. I bought it after hearing a public radio show about a computer algorithm that predicts which novels will make the New York Times Bestseller List. Apparently, "The Circle" was the only book that met ALL the criteria used by the algorithm to choose a bestseller, so I thought, why not? Normally, I try to get my books from the public library, especially now that I am willfully reducing my consumerism to boycott Donald Trump's presidency (as soon as he resigns or is removed from office, I will begin patronizing Corporate America again...please join me in this passive aggressive revolt!).

Phase 2

We went out to dinner at a ritzy fish place called the Timbers. I tried to order a kind of fish I hadn't had before, fortuitously one of the less expensive ones on the menu, but they were out of it, so I went with my usual standby, grilled grouper. I asked for extra fresh vegetables as a substitute for potatoes and that wish was granted. I had anxiety the whole time we were there. I'm just not comfortable in fancy restaurants, even if someone else is buying. I'm not sure exactly why, but it's a fact.

After dinner, we spent some time in the hot tub back at the condo before winding down for the night. I'm getting deep into the "The Circle" novel and will more than likely finish it before we leave Sanibel on Saturday, as long as people quit harassing me. My anxiety is diminishing now.

In the morning (soon after this post publishes and you read it), I'll make eggs and coffee for Deborah's folks before they have to head back up to Sarasota. Then Deborah and I will go find something interesting to do, perhaps by bike or kayak. Stay tuned.

Ciao.

PS. Recalling our wild manatee sighting a couple days ago, even though the waters we saw it in were technically too cold for the sea cows, I'm wondering if global warming is allowing manatees to linger in cooler waters longer. Purely speculative.

2.08.2017

Tropical Vay-Kay Day Six - Land Hermit Crabs

Preamble

Having prematurely accomplished my vacation adventure goal of seeing a wild manatee in the wild, and getting bonus points for an up close and personal encounter with a dolphin, I'm toying with the idea of adding an extension goal: to find an elusive land hermit crab before we leave Sanibel Island. This is not as easy as it sounds, unless it sounds not very easy to you. They are called hermit crabs for a reason. I am not sure what that reason is, but if they are anything like human hermits, they probably hide themselves to avoid being found.

Land hermit crabs live in empty snail shells that they find. So when they are on a beach littered with empty snail shells, I imagine it's the perfect camouflage. The key to finding a land hermit crab, me thinks, is to look for snail shells that appear to be moving. That may require some stealth on my part, because hermit crabs have the ability to retract into their rental mobile shell homes and when they do, they appear as still as all the empty snail shells around them. My hope is that I can find a land hermit crab under a rock or a stump, but I need to consult the Giant Internet Brain on what is optimal hermit crab habitat.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to enjoy the tropical fun in the sun here on Sanibel Island FL.

Phase 1

8 AM. Mark and I took a 5k walk on the beach this morning and I collected a few good sea shells. We talked a little bit about the Cambrian Explosion, the evolutionary epoch in geological history that gave rise to many of the calciferous shelled creatures whose discarded carapaces we found so aesthetically pleasing.

2 PM. I'm currently reposed on a poolside recliner chair grappling with a major dilemma. I am exposed to direct sunlight and the sunscreen I put on earlier today is long gone. I should move to the shade or put on more sunscreen, but both of these options necessitate expending some effort. The shade option probably is the most parsimonious. To put on more sunscreen, I either have to borrow some or else go back up to the condo to score mine and Deborah's.

Me: "Do we have sunscreen down here?"

Deborah (on the poolside recliner beside me): "No, I put it on before we came down."

I actually ended up choosing the more difficult option and went back up to the condo to grab the 30 SPF in the yellow aerosol spray bottle. Returning to poolside, I angled my recliner chair more toward the sun, reclined, and administered sunscreen to my more vulnerable surfaces.

"I'm going to get rid of these tan lines," I told Deborah, revealing my pasty white upper quadriceps beneath my bathing suit and applying sunscreen to them.

I had finished reading my library book, "John Dies at the End" (actually, he doesn't), so I read my own book, "The Circle" by Dave Eggers, while Deborah and her family debated where to go to dinner. I didn't add anything to the conversation because A. I did not want to add variables to an already potentially complicated conversation, B. I didn't really care where we ate dinner as long as there were some healthy options for Deborah and me (she knows our dietary guidelines and was perfectly capable of handling the conversation without my input), and C. I knew that Deborah's dad, Howie, wanted to go to a place called Doc Ford's, and so that's probably what we'd end up doing. There is an open mic night at some establishment on Sanibel Island tonight, and I wouldn't mind checking it out and perhaps even performing, but not enough to complicate the plans of the rest of the group, so we'll see what happens there.

Phase 2

We went to Doc Ford's for dinner. It was a decent place and had healthy options for Deborah and me. There didn't seem to be much interest from the group in going to the open mic night, so I didn't press the issue. I'll just inwardly resent everyone for not wanting to go, except for Mark; he totally endorsed us going, even though he and Michelle were heading back to Sarasota and would miss it anyway.

"What songs are you going to play?" Mark asked me in the men's room at Doc Ford's.

"It sounds like we probably aren't going," I replied.

"Oh, really? I think you should totally go."

"Well, if we do, I'll probably rip two or three original songs."

After we bid Mark and Michelle safe travels on their trip back to Sarasota, Deborah and I climbed into the back seat of her dad's car.

"Are we going to the open mic?" I asked Deborah quietly.

"No," Deborah replied. "Is that OK?"

"OK. Fine. No problem," I said. "I'll just resent you all for the rest of the night and into tomorrow." She knew I was kidding.

Honestly, I don't resent anyone wanting to sit in the hot tub back at the condo vs suffering through a couple hours of amateur songsmithing just to hear me play two, or maybe three, of my spectacular original songs. The chances of some record label producer being there and realizing how ridiculously ahead of their time my songs are and signing me to a billion dollar record deal on the spot at the conclusion of my short set seem pretty slim. So hot tub it is...guaranteed to warm the cockles.

Phase 3

We spent a while in the hot tub chatting with a family from Rochester MN, also vacationing here at the Sanibel Beach Club condos. Eventually, I got out and walked down the paved path from the pool area toward the beach, letting the sea breeze cool and dry me.

Returning to the hot tub patio area, I asked Deborah if she wanted to go down and sit on the moonlit beach for a while.

"It's chilly," Deborah said. Chilly by Florida standards is 65 Fahrenheit degrees, especially when you are clad only in a bathing suit, so she wasn't wrong.

"We can go up and change into warmer clothes," I said. "I need to grab a couple beach chairs anyway."

We did this. Once on the beach, we discussed our increasingly less hypothetical future plan to move to Sarasota FL. Most of Deborah's family endorses this idea every time we bring it up. We have a few minor details to sort out, but I am liking the scenario more and more. I'm at a great point in my life to make this sort of a change, but I am also at a great point in my life to make any kind of change I want. Life is too short to waste time dicking around in Wisconsin when I can be dicking around in Florida instead. Anyway, this is what we spent our time on the beach batting around.

Now Deborah and I are back up at the condo, sitting on the balcony (she calls it a lanai) listening to the sea. I suppose we'll retire to our bed chambers soon. I am not sure what the plan is for tomorrow. There was some talk of a boat tour around the island, but I'm not too keen on that, so I am hoping I can dissuade the group from this idea. Deborah's stomach is bothering her, so I asked her to exploit that condition to help neutralize the threat of a boat tour. We are trying to be frugal with our money on this trip.

"We should go to Pube Licks tomorrow and get some groceries so we can make food here," I said. "I don't want to be eating out all the time; that could get expensive."

"Oh we definitely will eat here," Deborah said.

"Let's go shopping first thing tomorrow so we don't get sucked into going out somewhere," I said.

"Totally," Deborah said. She's so great. That's why we are perfect for each other.

2.07.2017

Dear Foggy Frosty Madison

Hi Madison Peeps!

What's shaking? I hear through my channels (mostly the Weather Bug app) that Old Man Winter is having some commitment issues with the Midwest. Fog in February sounds very passive aggressive. It should be blustery and below zero this time of year in Wisconsin. Sorry that it's just being stupid there.

I'm in Florida. I'm not trying to gloat, it's just a fact. So I was thinking...if the Wisco winter has got you consternated, I encourage you to vicariously enjoy my Florida vacation shenanigans by way of my blog travelogues here. Tune in any time or SUBSCRIBE for regular updates.

If you're new to my blog, peruse the past five or six installments. You'll see some pics of tropical scenery and a couple cool videos of close up wild dolphin and manatee encounters in Tarpon Bay off Sanibel Island FL.

There's more cool stuff to come this week. I'm on the hunt to find land hermit crabs...

Ciao!

Tropical Vay-Kay Day Five - Manatee Mania and Dolphin Delight

Preamble

I seem to recall reading somewhere that the best formula for giving a speech or writing an essay is threefold. First, you tell your audience what you are going to tell them. Second, you tell your audience what you told them you were going to tell them. Third, you tell your audience what you just told them. I'm going to try the formula here.

I'm going to tell you about our kayak outing on Tarpon Bay today, which far exceeded all my expectations about getting punched in the metaphorical face by Mother Nature. I'm also going to show you two videos of a dolphin getting up close and personal with us and a rare sighting of an elusive wild manatee, respectively, that were captured on said kayaking trip.

Phase 1

"If a guy were to see a manatee, where would be the most likely place?" I asked the girl behind the counter at the kayak rental place on the shore of Tarpon Bay.

"Out in the bay," she said. "They feed on sea grass, which is all over out there. The water is a little too cold for them right now, so they might not be there, but we saw one yesterday. They are not on the trail though."

The trail that the girl was referring to was not a land based path as most of us landlubbers think of it. She was talking about a waterway that wound through the mangrove forests surrounding Tarpon Bay on the north side of Sanibel Island FL.

I'm a realist, so armed with that information - from a seemingly trustworthy source - I set my hopes reasonably high, but established that failure to see a manatee was a very real possibility. Tarpon Bay is a pretty large expanse of water and we would only kayak across a fraction of it this day. My big picture goal for this Florida trip is to see a manatee (or several) in the wild. If I didn't see one today, we had a backup plan to go see some in a much more reliable viewing location in Fort Meyers tomorrow.

It's somewhat of a fact of nature that when you least expect to see something, that's when you'll see it. I had my mind so focused on seeing a manatee that I gave no thought to the possibility of seeing a bottle-nosed dolphin up close and personal, which is exactly what happened.

We were kayaking with Deborah's brother and sis-in-law, Mark and Michelle. They spotted the dolphin first, splashing around near the entrance to the aqueous trail through the mangroves as we approached it.

"I think it's feeding," Mark said. We were a little way behind his and Michelle's double kayak. I pulled my smart phone from my pocket and turned on the video camera as Deborah paddled us toward the aquatic mammal. Usually when I try to film things in nature, they don't cooperate at all. But then this happened. Forgive the cheesy soundtrack I added.


I quickly added see a dolphin up close and personal to my mental bucket list and subsequently checked it off. We paddled on into the mangroves and had a pleasant trek through the area, seeing lots of waterfowl and jumping fish (called mullet). We were probably in the mangrove forest for about an hour or so. The so-called trail went in a big loop and eventually spit us back out in Tarpon Bay at the same spot we went in.

Since Deborah's shoulder hurt, I was doing the lion's share of the paddling in our double kayak, so I decided to paddle us out toward the middle part of the bay, where the water looked darker and was presumably deeper, in a last ditch effort to find a wild manatee grazing about before we had to head back to shore. Mark and Michelle followed us. Unbelievably, a short time later and not too far away from us, a gun metal grey snout broke the surface of the water and we heard the unmistakable* exhale of a wild manatee. I hastily but carefully pulled my smart phone out of my pocket again to try to capture untamed nature as a string of ones and zeroes on its memory card. We were not entirely sure if we were seeing just one manatee or a couple, but whatever the case, it or they were far less cooperative than the energetic dolphin above. Eventually though, I captured this pretty footage. Note the rounded tail flipper of the manatee that appears briefly, confirming the sighting.


We followed the manatee(s) around for a while, trying to get more visuals, but it/they were very shy animals and we were starting to feel a bit stalkerish, so we eventually let them be and returned to shore.

To conclude, in the course of just a couple hours of kayaking, we had encountered two cool large aquatic mammals. My primary bucket list goal for this week was to see a manatee in the wild. I had been fairly certain I could accomplish that goal, because there is a place nearby in Fort Meyers where wild manatees congregate at this time of year, in the warm discharge waters near a power plant (the ocean temperatures get too cold for the beasts in "winter," so they migrate to warmer inland waters). However, that would have necessitated a somewhat lengthy drive to Fort Meyers and a $6 toll on our return trip to Sanibel after MAYBE seeing manatees. I am really grateful and thankful to Mother Nature for simplifying matters considerably. We had planned to go kayaking in Tarpon Bay anyway, and I would have been fully happy and content paddling around the mangroves, even if we didn't see any marine life whatsoever (although, were that the case, it would probably mean some kind of ecological disaster had transpired). So my expectations were far exceeded today and I crossed a primary goal off my bucket list ahead of schedule. Plus, as an added bonus, I saw a frisky dolphin up close and personal too. So you see how I came back around and basically concluded by summarizing what I already told you?

Here's an additional fun fact. We learned last Friday, whilst kayaking off Sarasota FL, that manatees can transition between salt and freshwater at will. But what we did not learn last Friday, because we didn't ask our naturalist guide, is what do manatees drink when they are in salt water?

We speculated that perhaps they are able to drink and process salt water, but the Giant Internet Brain contradicted that hypothesis. In fact, manatees can only drink fresh water, not salt water, so they must periodically find a source of fresh water. They can go about a week without drinking fresh water. There...you learned something today.

Phase 2

After the kayak outing, the four of us returned to the timeshare condo, by way of a quick grocery store stop, and chillaxed poolside before making a home cooked dinner that included salad, chicken, fish, turkey burgers, and some Larabars for dessert.

Before the kayaking, I'd like to note, Mark and Michelle took Deborah and I out for a great lunch at a place called the Blue Giraffe. I had mahi mahi fish tacos that were superb, so much thanks to M and M for that nice lunch outing.

I'm currently sitting on the balcony of the second floor condo facing the sea, listening to the soothing sound of the waves in the night. It's mostly cloudy, about 65 Fahrenheit degrees, with a gentle sea breeze out of the southwest. There's a little bit of wet weather passing by us to the east, around Fort Meyers, but it doesn't look like any weather will make it to where we are. And this is pretty awesome...


Ciao!

*Note: Truth be told, I had no idea what the exhale of a wild manatee sounded like before that moment.

2.05.2017

Tropical Vay-Kay Day Four - Soup Bowl Sunday

Preamble

I'm sitting in the living room of the time share condo on Sanibel Island FL that's owned by Deborah's parents, and where we'll be staying through next Saturday. I've got my feet up on the wicker ottoman associated with the wicker chair I'm sitting in. I'm waiting for a veggie egg fritatta to finish cooking in the kitchenette and the smell of the feta cheese I sprinkled on top is punching me in the nose right now. Deborah is on the couch to my right surfing the Web for information on how hard it is to get licensure as a nurse in Florida, a step closer to our moving here (turns out, it's not too hard). For me, it's pretty simple. Once I get my car licensed in Florida, I can drive for Uber and Lyft here all I want. Boom.


We have an action packed agenda today. The first order of business is to go on a bike ride around Sanibel Island. The time share office lends out free bikes and helmets to guests and this should go smoothly provided there is a bike in my size. It's cloudy outside today and there was fog this morning. It's "chilly" by Florida standards, with temps in the lower 60s, laughable by comparison to Wisconsin, where it's in the mid-20s. I'll be biking in shorts and a tee shirt. Depending on how far and long we bike, we may stop somewhere for lunch, which will present some dichotomous mental challenges, such as what restaurant to eat at and whether to order a cup or a bowl of fish chowder.

After accomplishing the bike ride, we'll probably go swimming in the pool at the time share. If I can squeeze in a beach walk later this afternoon, I can call it a triathlon. That would be superb. There is some sort of sports ball thing going on today that may incapacitate a large proportion of the general population in America. I am looking forward to pretending it's a zombie apocalypse, taking advantage of the abandoned shops and streets.

Phase 1

I'm back in the wicker chair after a roughly eight mile bike ride around Sanibel this morning, per the aforementioned agenda, during which we saw an anhinga, a stork, and some alligators. We also did some window shopping for some souvenirs that inspired a FAWM song idea for me, entitled "Chee Boo Tiki."

I thought of it when I told Deborah I preferred shopping at the "cheap boutique-y" (chee boo tiki) type places rather that the fancy ones.

We biked along an unpaved nature trail where the 'gators were (Achtung Alligatoren!), then on the bike path along the busy main drag of Sanibel called Periwinkle Drive, then down some quieter back roads to return to the condo. It was superb.

That pretty much concluded Phase 1 of today's activities. I'm about to go change into my bathing suit in anticipation of Phase 2, aqueous activities by the pool.

Phase 2

I'm reclined on a poolside reclining beach chair, getting a megadose of vitamin D and writing. We've already swum and hot tubbed. The super annoying beeotchy lady from yesterday was down here earlier, yacking away at the top of her lungs to anyone who would listen. Today, she was an expounding on how water is better than Gatorade for hangovers and dehydration. She wasn't wrong, just annoyingly opinionated. Anyway, she's gone so it's a lot more peaceful down here now, mostly us and a bunch of quiet old retired people.

I spoke too soon. I had not even finished writing the prior paragraph when she paraded back into the pool zone and started yacking again. Now she's ranting about how she doesn't understand why the financial markets are closed on weekends, when shops and department stores are open. What a doofus!

I'm almost overdosing on vitamin D right now, so I either need to move into the shade or get back in the pool. Deborah, reclined beside me, seems unfazed by the early afternoon sun. It's almost 1:30 PM though, and before long we are going to need to make some lunch.

Phase 3

No sooner had I written about the need for sustenance when Deborah said she was hungry. We made our way back up to the condo and she whipped us up some salads whilst I cooked a couple tilapia filets.

After we ate, we sat on the balcony overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Deborah called her brother and sis-in-law to discuss tomorrow's action packed agenda, which involves kayaking in Tarpon Bay. The discussion centered on the best time to go, when the tide is about halfway in or out. Low tide is at 1:30 PM tomorrow in Sanibel, if you care, so we need to go kayaking mid-morning or late afternoon, depending on when Mark and Michelle arrive.

"Do you care if I go for a beach walk?" I asked Deborah after she got off the phone. "It'll probably take me a couple hours."

She did not care.

Phase 4

I walked along the beach toward the east end of the island, collecting a few cool looking sea shells as I made my way toward the lighthouse on the eastern tip of Sanibel. The tide was coming in. It was about a two mile walk down to the lighthouse. On my return trip, I decided to follow the bike paths that run alongside many roads on the island. This gave me a chance to see some of ye olde island, less touristy and more residential than most of Sanibel. I saw a cafe advertising "the best breakfast on the island" and wondered if we might check the place out some morning.

The return walk was 2.4 miles because of the orientation of the streets. I felt pretty good when I got back to the condo, notwithstanding a truckload of sand in my beach shoes. I had achieved my goal of doing a triathlon today, biking, swimming, and power walking. Deborah had fallen asleep by the time I came through the door about 6:30 PM, moments before the kickoff of some sort of sportsball game on the TV that everyone seems really excited about.

"I had an idea on my walk," I told Deborah. "I was thinking we could take advantage of the sportsball to go have a romantic dinner at the Island Cow [restaurant], because there probably won't be anyone there during the game.

Deborah agreed and this proved true. We had a nice meal at the modest local eatery. I had fresh caught local snapper, blackened, and Deborah ordered grilled shrimp. The sportsball was on at the restaurant and Deborah had a view of the small TV on the wall there. She wanted to get back to the condo before half time, and I made this happen, notwithstanding a small delay so that I could identify a bright "star" in the sky overhead using Google Sky Map. It turned out to not be a star at all, but two planets, Mars and Venus, almost superimposed on each other in the sky. I could almost discern them as two points of light really close together, but not quite.

I'm writing this while lying on the king bed in the master bedroom at the condo. Deborah is watching the sportsball out in the living room, but I have no interest whatsoever in the sportsmanship nor the outcome. After I wrap up this post, I'll probably read a bit more of "John Dies at the End" before getting a glorious night's sleep, thanks to my roughly 4.5 mile power walk today.

Ciao!