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?


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.

Green Cove Springs

While driving to Jacksonville to visit Sarah and Daniel, we passed a sign in Green Cove Springs pointing to the Spring Boil.IMG_7760 Well, of course, there’s a spring in Green Cove Springs. We found it, located across the street from City Hall.

The natural sulfer spring flows into the city pool. And I love the spring data on the sign indicating the depth of the spring, the water temperature and flow as well as an analysis of the minerals. How strange!

The water moves quickly through the public pool where it exits and travels a couple hundred yards to the St. John’s River.

I guess the goal of visiting 14 springs in 2014 was not ambitious enough. Springs Park makes number 17!

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.

7 Down; 7 To Go

This summer we’ve devoted a great deal of time meeting the goal of visiting at least 14 of Florida’s springs, and I’m pleased to announce “mission accomplished”!

In fact, we bicycled the newly completed Spring to Spring Trail starting in Volusia County at Lake Monroe Park and stopped first at Gemini Springs Park and then at Green Springs Park so not only did we meet our goal of 14 springs in 2014, we threw in an extra park for good measure.

Our first stop, Gemini Springs. Since swimming, boating, and fishing are prohibited at Gemini Springs, we pretty much had the park to ourselves – with the exception of photographers taking engagement and family pictures in the park. The old Florida look provides a perfect backdrop for photos.

We continued on to Enterprise, the home of Green Springs, and I believe I discovered the most beautiful spring in Florida. The sulphur spring was a popular spot for tourists from the 1880s and was promoted with promises of good health as early as the 1840s. Even today, the area remains wild.

No swimming, no fishing, no canoeing just the quiet of nature…including a host of mosquitoes. Coat yourself in bug spray and take a walk on the wild side!



Crystal River: Spring #9

We spent the day on Crystal River swimming and snorkeling in a couple of the springs in Kings Bay. Since the constant 72° temperature of the spring attracts manatee, we hoped to swim with the gentle creatures so we could check off another activity on the 14 in 14 list; but no such luck.

DSCN0022Manatee prefer the springs in the winter but finding them during the warm weather months is a bit more challenging. However, since I’m not fond of swimming when the weather’s cold, looking for the manatee on a summer day was worth a try.

We finally anchored the boat and made our way back to Three Sisters Spring, the ninth spring we’ve visited this year. Fortunately we avoided crowds by going on a Thursday morning, competing with only about two dozen swimmers and kayakers.

Even I enjoyed swimming in the refreshing water of the spring, and it was the perfect place for John to test out the underwater camera the girls gave him for Father’s Day.

We continuing exploring the Kings Bay region, and John jumped over for some more snorkeling. I decided to remain in the boat, afraid I wouldn’t be able to get back in without the aid of the shore (a good move).

No manatee, but an otherwise perfect day exploring yet another of Florida’s magnificent springs. And now we have an excuse to make a return trip!