Thursday, March 3, 2016

Leaving Florida

This week James has written a chapter on our month in Florida, and Hana has included a recipe for Sour Orange Pie. As always, thanks for reading & enjoy!


 I remember this time last year taking a walk at night through St. Augustine hoping I would be able to return to Florida again, although under different circumstances. Last time I was here my dad was in the hospital with double pneumonia, along with another infection, along with already having leukemia and autoimmune. He went into the hospital because of breathing difficulties, and died the next day for a total of ten minutes. It was a miracle that he came back. At his age and weight alone his chances of being brought back according to statistics were less than seven percent, and that is without the cancer and compromised immune system. It would take me a couple chapters to explain all of the events that led up to this and to show that God can work in some mysterious ways. It was a week of incredible spiritual awakening. When I saw my father in the hospital he was drugged and hooked up to a respirator with his hands tied to the bed. Exactly a week later he was off the respirator and recovering quickly. 

  I took some long walks by the ocean last year, praying for my father's health, but also trying to put my own life into perspective. I would have never guessed that I would be in Florida again a year later. Now we are here and I have been able to spend a month with my dad and his wife Rosann. It seems like I sneezed and the month was passed. As I have gotten older and hopefully somewhat wiser, time with family has become more important. It is going to be harder to leave here than anywhere yet knowing I have to say goodbye to my father and go back out on a long journey, but such is life. Sometimes we take the time we have with people we love for granted, but even when you don't take that time for granted there just doesn't seem to be enough of it. 

  We went back to St. Augustine to spend the day. We were originally going to celebrate the anniversary of the date my father had his experience in the hospital, but according to him every day is a celebration for the life he was given. I would urge everyone to look at life that way. I don't expect it to be a dry departure from here, and inside I will probably cry enough tears to keep my minnows alive in for a while. 

  While most of the people here are retired snowbirds, once you get out and talk to people the age gap doesn't make much of a difference. Our campsite is spacious with plenty of shade from the trees. There are all types of classes offered from woodworking to clowning. There are two swimming pools and a hot tub, which I was exited about at first since I could easily burn some extra weight that I put on without damaging my joints, but after a few days I developed an issue with my skin that I assumed may have been from the chlorine. After one swim I took a shower an hour later and the water felt like hot lava being poured on my legs. Now I just sit and read western novels that I picked up from the small library they have here while Hana swims. I didn't ever expect myself to be interested in these types of books, but when I was a kid I loved wild west cowboy movies, so my interest is inspired by nostalgia. In spite of the corniness of some of the stories, there is a historic element to them which is getting me exited to head west soon.

Ronnie & James
   This park is so large that you can walk three and a half miles around the perimeter. While some of the snowbirds are in rv's like us or fifth wheels, there are others that are in more permanent park models. There is plenty of shade, and I can't seem to get enough of the spanish moss. In the back of the park is a long, winding canal with a marina and fishing boats. The canal goes through a large swamp with nothing but trees poking out of the water, and leads to several connected lakes. I was telling Hana during a walk that I wish I could go fishing on a boat before we leave and only moments later we talked to a guy who had just been fishing and he offered to take me out. I was happy to take his offer, and learned that my new fishing companion used to chase hurricanes as a profession. He also refers to anyone that has a house that isn't on wheels as "dug in." Ironically, I found the honey hole right away while fishing from the shore, and we ended up fishing that spot from the boat just a little further out than I could cast from shore. We caught about ten good sized crappie. It was dark when we headed back, and my friend's lights weren't working so I sat at the front of the small boat with a flashlight guiding us through the narrow, winding canal. Ronnie already had problems seeing at night, but he still had an idea where all of the stumps were. 

  After fishing anywhere for a while you get to be friends with some of the locals. One of my other buddies, Jim, is loaded with information. He is also from Michigan, and used to run a charter. He is a large man with a long white beard and hair longer than mine. Everyone calls him Santa Claus. He warned me about fishing the one spot at night, and claims he would not fish out there alone without a gun. 

  Jim also told me about a Mexican man and woman that fish at that spot at night. He said many times people were catching fish just fine until that woman sat down next to them, then nothing. He said that couple would just pull in one after the other all night long. One night at 2 am I went out there when a good storm was brewing up. I went up to the spot to find a short Mexican guy with a bucket full of crappie. I fished with him and caught nothing while he pulled in one after the other. 

  "I think I heard about you," I said to him.

  "Did Santa Claus tell you about us?" he asked. "He tells everyone about us."

The storm was coming in, along with a lot of lightning. The Fish Sorcerer I was with was getting nervous about the lightning, and told me how his friend got struck and survived. He also told me of other fisherman that were killed. "When the fish are biting they just can't pull themselves away." I was thinking I was about to become one of those fools, but at the same time my best fishing experiences have been in rainstorms. Sometimes I didn't even catch anything. Nonetheless, I couldn't pull myself away. 

  I had already been out for hours with nothing, and I was hoping he would leave soon so I could catch some fish because he had all of his lines in the honey hole. I talked up the lighting while I contemplated if I was actually fearful of it or not. Finally at three am he called it quits when the rain came down hard and the wind was blowing like crazy. He gave me some minnows before he left, and I cast my line in the spot where he was getting all of the fish. He wasn't even in his car when I finally caught a good size crappie. After that I continued to catch one large crappie after another, one that would have won a Master Angler Award if I was in Michigan. I was ready to call it a night when at about five am everything calmed down and Santa Claus pulled up in his red truck. I stayed out a little longer to talk with my friend, and didn't finish cleaning the fish until 7 am.

   I was fishing with the Fish Sorcerer and his wife a couple of nights later when a girl in striped spandex with rolled out hair walked out of a sports car and onto the pier. She asked me what I was going to do with the fish after I caught them. When I told her I was going to eat them she asked, "Why are you going to do that?" I suppose she thought fish is better from the store. She got back into the sports car for a while until a white truck pulled up. She sat in the white truck for about a half hour, then went back to the car while the truck sat there. There was a little more going back and forth until she stayed in the white truck that suddenly blasted a hip hop song and took off, while the dude in the sports car sat and waited. How a fishing pier becomes a place of prostitution, drugs, and robbery isn't beyond my understanding, but most places I have been fishing at night you don't really want to be there alone. You could bring a weapon, but I most times I would prefer to avoid the situation. I would rather deal with the rain and thunder than some of the weirdos that come out at night.

  Just before I was going to call it quits there was a boat with all it's lights off speeding into the shore. "They got over the limit," a woman said. After they loaded up the boat on it's trailer the men walked up to the pier and asked if we wanted catfish. They said we could have as much as we wanted. I walked back with them to find that they had at least fifty catfish all piled up on one another in two wells. One of the guys told me they snagged them all. While there is no limit on catfish, if a game warden were to check them out and find the large three pointed hooks that they dragged on the bottom to get the fish they would get into quite a bit of trouble. I took three while others took more. 

"The Lord works in mysterious ways," the woman said to me. 

  So far I have heard quite a bit of stories about that pier. Santa Claus told me he was once approached late night by a dude in his pajamas. Sometimes when fishing alone people have gotten mugged and scammed. Santa Claus' buddy Sean told me once at three a.m. a woman pulled into the parking lot with an older woman, both claiming to run out of gas. For some reason he trusted her enough to give her the keys to his truck, much to the disbelief of his companions. Sean claimed that after about three or four hours his truck was yet to return and e started to sweat a little. She finally returned around 7 a.m. without any gas. When he asked the younger woman why she didn't get any gas she replied,"I only had a dollar!" Relieved that he got his truck back, Sean then handed the woman a twenty. 

 Before I end the fish talk I do have to brag that I caught the largest largemouth bass yet at the spot using a rubber worm. There are no pictures because I was alone early in the morning and did not keep him. He was a little scraped up from an escape he made from an alligator, and I felt that boy deserved to go back in the water. The excitement alone of looking into that wide open mouth when pulling him in was enough for me. He felt like he weighed at least five pounds. At first I regretted throwing him back because of all the meat he had on him, but looking at the freezer full of fish I have I realized I didn't need to kill such a beautiful, strong creature. Now looking back I am glad that I threw him back. There are plenty more big bass out there.

   Hana seems happy out here, and I am hoping we return again next winter. I know she is anxious to be on the move, as I find myself wanting to stay. I am still not ready to be dug in, but time is going by too fast since I finally have the opportunity to spend time with family. The dogs are loving it because there is a large dog park for them to run around in everyday. 

  One day Santa Claus gave me a large order of spare ribs that he had just gotten from a guy called Grandpa. I ate some of them, and gave the rest to my dad and Rosann. It had been a while since I'd had ribs, but they tasted like the best ribs I ever had. They were seasoned just right without being drowned in barbecue sauce. Later that day my dad called me and told me to find out who Grandpa was so he could get some more of those ribs. Today I found out he has a stand just down the street from us. His ribs go for eighteen dollars a slab. It is my guess that Santa Claus barters with him for fresh caught fish. 
  Within a mile of us not far from downtown Leesburg is Venetian park, which is right on Lake Harris, and full of winding canals where bass, crappie, catfish, and other types lurk beneath the lily pads. There are about six bridges that go over the canals. If you go here at daybreak there will be a few regular fisherman. By nine the park is loaded with birdwatchers who will drop some bread on the ground and watch the various exotic birds flock. At night some of these birds almost sounds like humans having conversations. The regular bird feeders have a style about how they do it. While some sit on a bench and feed the birds a little at a time, others will briskly walk tossing handfuls of bread into the air while flocks of birds seem to appear from nowhere.

Since we have been in Florida I have become pretty well acquainted with pelicans. There were two regulars named Eddie and Edgar at the pier in Carabelle who eat all of the small fish people catch, and when they are full they leave. There was one here in the rv park that would sit in the middle of the street near the canal, and was not phased at all by passing cars or golf carts. The story is he came with a flock of pelicans that were moving away from a storm. When the flock flew off, he stayed behind. One night I discovered that the Pelican had been run over by a big rig that was speeding, and did not stop after it hit him. Later I heard that the rig tried to miss him, and stopped and got out after they hit him. Whichever is true, the pelican was probably sick and the rig was the remedy. Nonetheless, I missed that pelican for a while. 

  One of my biggest concerns about traveling for a year was being away from my parents. I suppose it comes with age, but being near family is more important to me at this stage in my life than ever. I appreciate every minute that I get to spend with my family. Fortunately my mom was staying on the coast with Uncle Al and Aunt Debbie in Mediera Beach this last week. We spent a nice afternoon sitting in the shade looking out over the Golf Coast. My Uncle still looks the same as he did 20 years ago. I look forward to seeing my mom in Michigan in the summer, as well as visiting Al and Debbie in their new Northern Michigan house when it's completed.
James & Mom, Chris  
The other day I had a chance to go fishing with my Dad and Rosann. I work up at 5:30 a.m. to make sure and get the best spot possible on the pier. For whatever reason the fish just were not biting, and the only thing caught was a baby gar. Even though fish are the primary goal, anyone that truly loves fishing knows there is more to the experience than catching fish. It was great to be able to be out there enjoying the day, and I was happy to see that my Dad was able to cast out as far, if not a little farther than me.

Words cannot express how happy I was to have this past month. It is never easy to say goodbye, and as Hana likes to joke she is going to have to drag me kicking and screaming yet from another campground. 


Easy Sour Orange Pie

I wanted to try and update a key lime pie recipe once we got to Florida and realized the park was FULL of sour orange trees and people were just throwing the unwanted fruit in the garbage(!!). Sour oranges can be easily used anywhere you would use a lemon and they are great for this recipe! I also made an orange cleaner using vinegar/water/orange juice & rinds. James used them for salad dressings, and I also want to try making marmalade. So many uses!


• 1 can sweetened condensed milk
• 1 8oz package room temperature cream cheese 

• 3oz sour orange juice (about 1 large or 2 small oranges)

• Zest of 1 or 2 oranges, split in 2

• 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

• Graham cracker crust, or smashed up graham crackers for a base - parfait style

Mix the cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk until smooth, then throw in the juice, vanilla extract and half of the zest. Mix again! Top with some more zest, then cool in the refrigerator 4 hours or over night. The Deliciousness to Overall Ease ratio is strong with this recipe, which is probably why we made it THREE TIMES this month!