15 in 15

Two years ago we started a tradition of developing a list of things we’d like to accomplish during the year. The list includes places to go and activities to participate.
Time is set aside on January 1st to discuss the ideas each of us has listed throughout the year so we can choose the items for the year. This year’s list started with more than two dozen suggestions and after adding those included on both our lists, we talked about the pros and cons of each of the remaining activities.
Some of the things to consider before adding to the list:
Is it something both of us want to do?
Do we have time to do it?
Can the activities be disbursed throughout the year?
Are the costs manageable?
This year’s list includes two weddings, two big trips, monarch butterflies, lighthouses, camping, and a triathlon. Looks like it’s going to be a busy year.
In preparation for creating the 15 in 15 list, we spent time on New Year’s Eve looking at our pictures from 2014 of the 14 activities we checked the year’s list.
A trip in Birmingham to visit John’s aunt and uncle.

Completion of the Tamiami Triathlon in the Everglades.

Eating pancakes at DeLeon Springs.

A camping trip in Southwest Florida during Spring Break.

Searching for and funding shark’s teeth.

Visiting springs of Florida.

Learning to make paella.

Watching sunrise on the Atlantic and sunset on the Gulf in the same day.

Spending sunrise at the Boneyard on Amelia Island.

Riding the Ft. Gates Ferry across the St. John’s River.

IMG_5748.JPGRelaxing and having fun during Family Weekend.

IMG_5676.JPGParticipating in a Bioluminescence Paddle.

IMG_5750.JPGSpending the day at Fairchild Gardens enjoying the Chihuli display.

IMG_5688.JPGSwimming with manatee.


What a year!


14 Down: Mission Accomplished

Well before sunrise on December 29th we started the day driving to Pete’s Pier in Crystal River to swim with the manatees, the final adventure on our 14 in 14 list. This was not our first attempt to swim with the manatee this year. A visit to Blue Springs in March found manatee in the spring area but swimming was prohibited. Then in July we swam in the springs in Crystal River where I hoped we’d by lucky and find a couple of manatee so I wouldn’t have to brave the cold later in the year, but they were not cooperative.


Since the only way I could possibly get in the water in December was with a wet suit, we decided to break down and pay to go with a charter company which turned out to be a great decision! Not only are wet suits included in the price, we didn’t have to trailer the boat for an hour on a foggy morning and we didn’t have to do battle to find a place to anchor the boat and then leave it unattended while we ventured back to Three Sisters Springs.

Instead, we eased into the not so cold water and spent nearly two hours enjoying the spring and the gentle giants resting in the area.


As our “captain” talked about the warmer than usual weather pushing the manatee back out to the open water away from the spring coupled with the sight of hundreds of brightly colored noodles with snorkelers from more than two dozen tour boats already in the spring, I thought the day was going to be a bust…a 5:00 wake up, cold water, a lot of people, no manatee…that sounded like  wasted time and money.

Fortunately, only about 30 minutes into our trip one of the tour companies starting rounding up their group taking well over half of the people out of the spring making for a more pleasant experience.

In fact, the six critters in the spring had stationed themselves in a manner that enabled the the humans to cluster in small groups of six to ten swimmers making it possible to get up close and enjoy the time in the water.

We only swam (actually floated) with six manatee, but a cow and calf made up one pair and there was a pregnant cow which is expected to give birth any day now according to the preserve volunteer. Now that would be a sight to see!


What a wonderful way to end 2014! (And thanks to my wonderful underwater photographer and husband for capturing these images of the manatee.)


We’ve lived only an hour from Crystal River for over 35 years. I have to ask myself what took so long?


13 Down; 1 To Go


I’m sure some people would say we cheated, but our list of 14 things to do in 2014 is our list; so if we want to change one of the original goals, we can. And that’s just what we did.


On January 1st of this year when we sat down to prepare the list, we both included go to a Christmas boat parade as one thing we wanted to do this year, and up until about a month ago we fully planned to go to the boat parade in Fort Lauderdale, Pompano, or Jacksonville. But then we learned that a new Dale Chihuly exhibit would be opening this month at Fairchild Tropical Garden.


If we had that information on January 1st, our list would have been different. So instead of a boat parade, we attended the art in the garden kick-off. There’s just not enough time to get away another weekend this month for a boat parade so it will have to wait until 2015, but a weekend in Miami for art, shopping, bicycling, and eating at favorite restaurants completed the 13th adventure of the year.

And this Saturday, we’ll watch the annual Lake Weir boat parade so technically, we can check off the boat parade and enjoy the Art in Fairchild.

It’s Springtime in October!

We met our goal of visiting 14 springs months ago, but we’re still touring Florida springs, this time in the panhandle. One of the world’s largest and deepest fresh water springs, Wakulla Springs is known for its sparkling water and diverse wildlife, not only in the state, but world-wide. While this claim may seem far-fetched, on our three mile boat tour down the river we were accompanied by a German family and a group of tourists from Japan as well as some out of staters who were enthralled by the sight of alligators and manatee.

The spring itself covers approximately three acres and flows from a cave near the dive platform in the swimming area of the park. In addition to the riverboat tour we took, glass bottom boat tours are available which provide a glimpse of the mouth of the cave some 100 feet below the surface.

Numerous fish, birds, and alligators inhabit the river and since we were on the water on a cool autumn day with temperatures in the 50s, we even saw several manatee congregating in the 69º water of the spring.

After our boat tour we rode our bikes to the park entrance.


This is where the smaller Sally Ward Spring is located.


Our goal: 14 springs in 2014. Wakulla Springs #18 and Sally Ward Spring #19. It’s springtime in October.

12 Down; 2 To Go

My love of ferries resulted in the addition of a ferry ride to the list of 14 in 14.

When I realized that there was not only a ferry I hadn’t ridden in the state of Florida, but that it’s located in Marion County, I insisted that riding the Fort Gates Ferry was a must.

On our return from Jacksonville we took CR 308 in Putnam County to the Gateway Fish Camp where we boarded the two car ferry powered by a tug boat mounted to the side. The ferry operator collected the $10 fare, guided us on the boat, blocked the wheels of the vehicle, and then we were off.

A ferry has crossed the half mile stretch across the St. John’s River for some hundred fifty two years, and I’m not sure the boat used isn’t the same one in use for the first crossing.

After the short ride across this wild portion of the St. John’s, we disembarked on the west bank of the river and continued on our way home following the bone jarring seven mile dirt Forest Roads 62 and 29,part of the Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway, to US 19 in Salt Springs.

Looking for a chance to step back in time? Then you may want to consider taking a trip on the Fort Gates Ferry.


11 Down; 3 To Go

Paella became a family favorite thanks to Angela, a housekeeper who watched John and his brother when they were in elementary school and who cooked a Cuban meal for the family each Tuesday while their mother attended classes to earn her Master’s Degree at the University of Miami.

Angela fled Cuba with her family and took refuge in Colombia for a time while awaiting a visa to the United States. As a result, her recipe combines both Cuban and Colombian traditions, making it a little different than other paella recipes.

For years, John’s mom promised to teach us how to make paella. Unfortunately, it never happened. On more than one occasion, she’d start explaining the process but would get distracted and never completed the directions. And of course, she never wrote down a recipe.

IMG_7645So we decided that one of our goals on our 14 in 14 list was to recreate the paella recipe. I cultivated about a dozen recipes that we used to find the proper ingredients and cooking tips. This was more difficult than expected since we don’t use mussels or calamari in our version of paella. And while it’s not perfect, it’s close enough to claim success. We’ll continue to tweak the recipe, but in the meantime, paella will make a reappearance on our table.

Ingredients: (serves 6-8)

  • one boneless butterflied pork chop
  • two chicken thighs
  • 1/2 pound bay scallops
  • 1/2 pound cod filet
  • 2/3 pound shrimp
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 Tablespoons Safrito
  • Ocho Rios Complete (use to season meat as cooking)
  • 4 cups rice
  • 1 can ( 8.5oz) Le Sueur peas
  • Adobo powder (to taste)
  • Optional: Canned asparagus and pimento


  1. Heat 2 teaspoons butter on medium in a large Dutch Oven.
  2. Season scallops with Ocho Rios and then add scallops to hot pan and cook for about 4 minutes.
  3. Remove scallops from pan and add another teaspoon of olive oil.
  4. Season cod with Ocho Rios and cook fish ’til flaky.
  5. Set the fish aside and add another teaspoon of olive oil to pan.
  6. Season pork chop with Ocho Rios and brown on both sides.
  7. Set aside pork chop and add approximately 6 cups of water to the pan and bring to a boil.
  8. Add the chicken thighs and the pork chop to the boiling water ’til cooked thoroughly. (The pork chop will cook more quickly than the chicken.)
  9. Reserve 4 cups of the liquid in the pan, bring back to a boil, add 2 cups of rice and cook according to package directions.*Add shrimp after 12 minutes – see step 10.
  10. After 12 minutes fold shrimp in rice and cover for the remaining 8 minutes.
  11. Dice pork chop. Skin and dice chicken. Pull fish apart while the rice is cooking.
  12. Add pork chop, chicken, fish, and scallops to rice and fold in 8 Tablespoons of Safrito.
  13. Season with Adobo according to taste.
  14. Add peas and then place in oven at 250º for approximately 30 minutes or until ready to serve.
  15. Optional: If desired, top paella with asparagus and pimento before placing in the oven.

Serve with Cuban bread, salad, and sangria or wine.


10 Down; 4 To Go

Family Weekend is another yearly event that’s we’ve included on our list of 14 in 14.

Usually celebrated the first weekend of August, Family Weekend is a time for all three girls, two husbands and one fiance’ to join us at the lake for boating, swimming, games, food, and fun.

This year Family Weekend was postponed because Daniel’s family was celebrating the return of his brother from an overseas deployment on our traditional weekend…a pretty good reason for a change. While it’s not easy to find a time that works for all eight of us, the weekend of the Walk to End Alzheimer’s was chosen since everyone was committed to participating in the walk.

Friday afternoon in the midst of thunderstorms we started gathering and by 9:00 we were all together cooking, eating, and laughing.

Saturday started with the walk and then lake time and board games and of course more food and laughter.

After brunch on Sunday, we hung out, talked, watched a little football, played some more games, and toasted Sarah and Daniel, the newly engaged couple, before everyone started heading back to the hustle bustle of another work week.


My favorite holiday of the year doesn’t appear on any commercially made calendar. Instead, it’s one we created – Family Weekend!

Rainbow Repeat

The first week of August we visited our 14th spring of the year to accomplish our goal of visiting 14 springs in 2014. The last week of August we went to Wall Springs in Tarpon Springs…the 15th, and we also went back to Rainbow Springs for an after work swim and picnic.

Previously known as Health Springs and used as a health spa in the early 1900s, Pinellas County began purchasing Wall Springs and the surrounding environmentally sensitive land in 1988. Although the park covers some 210 acres and has nature trails, a pier, a playground, and several picnic pavilions, few people were using the park on the Sunday afternoon when we visited. Perhaps this sign explains why:

IMG_7536too many prohibitions!

Our repeat to Rainbow Springs was more successful. On January 1st, Rainbow Springs was our first spring visit of the year when we took a “First Day Hike”. Cold and rainy, the weather made it difficult to do much more than walk through the park…definitely not a good day to enjoy the water.


Last week we drove to Dunnellon after work on Wednesday for an afternoon swim and then ate sandwiches in the picnic area for a different kind of date night.

Couldn’t have asked for a better day! HOT, but without the typical afternoon thunderstorms…just right for a swim in the cool spring water. I was surprised that the water is five feet deep when you step off the dock…no chance to ease into the water.

And I love the warning sign overlooking the swimming area. (That’s John swimming just beyond the sign.)

The Rainbow Repeat proved to be a success.

9 Down; 5 To Go

After nearly 40 years of talking about watching the sun rise over the Atlantic and then set over the Gulf on the same day, we added Sunrise/Sunset to our 13 in 13 list. We started the day in June of last year on Miami Beach watching the sunrise through the clouds after a thunderstorm and the evening ended much the same way watching the sunset from the Naples pier after being chased to the car by lightning less than an hour earlier.

This year we decided that Sunrise/Sunset deserved another year on the list. In fact, we made this a new tradition, one that will be witnessed from different beaches each year. Our 2014 sunrise destination...Canaveral National Seashore, and just as we crossed the boardwalk to the beach the sun began to peek over the horizon.

We kicked off our flip flops and walked south down the beach toward the launch pads visible in the distance and came across turtle tracks from a nest that hatched earlier in the morning as well as a crab that posed for the camera. Of course we both took pictures waiting for the perfect sunrise shot.

Finally the sun broke through the clouds.

After leaving the beach we drove the Black Point Wildlife Drive, a trail Meghan had taken in the spring where she’d seen birds, gators, and even a bobcat. However, we didn’t have any such luck. I guess it’s either sunrise on the beach or wildlife at sunrise. We’ll have to try this drive another time.

Then we were off to Dunedin on the west coast for sunset, but first a stop at Eli’s BBQ for some ribs, pulled pork and all the fixin’s. After a short nap, we biked the Pinellas Trail to Honeymoon Island to work off our lunch.

And for the final stop, we loaded the bikes in the Suburban and drove across the bridge to Clearwater (I refuse to ride that bridge…much too difficult.) and then unloaded the bikes on the west side of the bridge and rode the rest of the way to Clearwater Beach.

We passed the crowded public beach and found a restaurant near St. John’s Pass, ordered a drink, and relaxed while waiting for the final leg of our trip.

Sunrise and sunset, 2014, without lightning or thunder, who could ask for more?

Wonder what two beaches will be the site of 2015 sunrise/sunset?

8 Down; 6 To Go

Bioluminescence –noun; the production of light by living organisms

Last month I made reservations with A Day Away Outfitters and Kayak Tours for a 10:00pm kayak tour on the Indian River Lagoon in hopes of witnessing the magical light show produced by the plankton. We scheduled for the Friday before the new moon since viewing is best on dark nights.

The tour met at the Haulover Canal Launch where we checked in and were issued life jackets, whistles, paddles, and either blue, orange, or green glow sticks. Our group, the blue group, was first to launch and from the first stroke of the paddle, the water lit up with eerie bluish green streaks. Every disturbance in the water created light!


We watched the kayak glide through the water trailing the light. We dipped our hands in and marveled at the light produced by the drips. We splashed and paddled. We created swirls. But the most amazing light was produced by the fish swimming through the water.

Mullet streaked through the deeper water (deeper = about 4 feet) and darted through the shallow water launching themselves through the air. One even ended up in one of the kayaks…fortunately the boat of one of our guides, although another fish hit one of the kayakers before falling back into the lagoon.

A Day Away warned us that bringing cameras would prove useless for capturing the experience, but we brought a water proof camera nonetheless. They were right. You can’t capture the ghost-like glow but ghost-like really does describe what we saw. The same spooky light used in movies or by Disney to represent the phantoms sailing through the Haunted Mansion.

Our ninety minute tour didn’t return until midnight almost thirty minutes late. No one was in a hurry to get back to shore. Bioluminescence in the water and a star filled sky overhead mesmerized the blue group!

Eight down, six to go on this year’s list of 14 in 14.