Wednesday, November 30, 2011

February 2011 Rolls around

So here we are catching up to the present, we made it to 2011 in the winter escape saga.

Weather was not fun in Michigan, again.  My dad drove down from the UP to travel to Florida with me.  Unfortunately, he had quite a bit of trouble during the trip, and decided he would not be driving any more.  Oh, well, I have driven all that way by myself, and at least I had his company on the journey.  Jim and Ginger joined us ten days later.

The second house we looked at was still for sale, and the price had dropped considerably.  We made arrangements to see it again.

It was still spooky and dark inside.

The windows on the east side were covered with hurricane awnings grown over with vines and bushes.

The bathroom had a very ugly shower surround making it very dark. There is a window inside the shower.

The garage was converted into two small bed and bath units and a family room.  I could not figure out how to use those two units.  They did not have access to the house.  One's entry was through the back yard, the other opened onto the driveway.  The big double carport was in poor condition, but Dad fell in love with it. He could just picture himself sitting there, tending steaks on the grill and visiting with the neighbors.

Inside was very dark.  Furniture was listed as "negotiable."  It looks like it has been there since the house was built, 1963.  Curtains covered the windows and some could not be opened.  The dark paneling seemed to suck up any light and made it difficult to see details. The carpeting was shag. It was loose and had wrinkles but looked otherwise in good shape, for orange and brown shag.

Master Bedroom, again very dark, only lamp is on opposite side of bed from door.  No en suite bathroom. 

 Backyard is a jungle, very small but completely fenced.

Kitchen is not too bad.  Appliances were relatively modern.

There were no pictures in the listing of the odd arrangement in the other bedroom.  A small door led into a step down dark closet with the house water heater in it. On the other side of the water heater, another door opened into a fully tiled half bath.

The third bedroom was on the other side of the kitchen.  I had a problem with the access doors in that bedroom and the master bedroom.  You had to go through the master bedroom to access the garage from the house.  In the small third bedroom, there was a door leading to the back yard.  Personally, I prefer bedrooms not to be throughways that everyone uses.

We looked the house over carefully.  I still was not that impressed with it, but the neighborhood was just right, and the new price was closer to our budget.  Jim and my dad were in agreement that the house was solid and well built.   Our Spanish house landlord is a general contractor, and we had him look over the house as well.  He agreed with Dad and Jim, the house was solid and had "good bones."  It was in need of a new roof, new AC and probably furnace.  I had my doubts about the plumbing and electricity as well.

OK, we decided to make an offer.

Next time, the ups and downs of real estate and the outcome of our offer.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Is This the ONE?

February, 2010 finally came, and we headed to Titusville to stay in the Spanish house again.  This time it was DH, his mother and me making the trip in two cars.  DH and his mother were staying ten days, and then heading back, at least, that was the plan.  The weather was ferocious in Michigan but got milder as we headed south, and we truly enjoyed hitting palm tree country and sunshine. 

Once settled, we contacted our realtor, Anita Lytle, and set up some appointments to view homes. I was truly excited to see the one across the street from the Spanish house, because I love the neighborhood, and the neighbors, too.  The house was a Craftsman style that was built in the 20s and looks good from the outside.  It had three bedrooms and one bath, while we were hoping for two baths or at least, 1.5 baths.  The back yard was completely taken up with parking structures, with parking for six big vehicles and very little open space.  That was a big negative for us, but we felt we could work with it.  Inside though, the house had been redone, removing all the Craftsman character. It did still have nice wood floors and just a little woodwork, but it was updated to modern.  I did not like it, and we found it was a bit small for us.  It was also out of our price range.  Well, on to keep looking.

DH was waffling between a winter haven and a retirement home with lots of elbow room outside and in, and space for him to collect cars.  I found the perfect house, a newer construction with a huge porch on the front and a huge Florida room on the back, a two car attached garage and a six car outbuilding.  It was way out of our planned budget, but if you want a retirement home, honey, we COULD afford it.   Well, that kind of proved maybe we didn't quite want all that space, just yet. But it was a lovely home. It has since sold for quite a bit less than the original asking price.  

We saw quite a few homes, and Anita remained patient and upbeat, plus she kept nudging us toward reality as far as our expectations for what we could get for the money we wanted to spend.  We didn't see anything we could agree on so no house yet.

DH left for Michigan and Mom decided to stay with me, to keep me out of trouble, I think.  We spend the remainder of the month bumming around, eating shrimp and seafood, drinking Margaritas and getting  in lots of walking.  One night, poor Mom was horrified to see a Palmetto bug in her bathroom.  She screamed and screamed, which nearly gave me a heart attack until I found out she was OK.  Poor Mr. Bug was dispatched by my size 8 flatfoot weapon, and peace returned.  The landlord profusely apologized the next day and sprayed the place.  We didn't see any more bugs.  I have been having a hard time getting Mom to agree to come back to Florida with me, though.  I didn't put a link because they all have horrific pictures. Palmetto bugs look like ginormous roaches.  They don't crunch when you flatfoot them, though.

In May, DH had a conference in Orlando, so we came over to Titusville for a few days afterward.  It was distinctly warmer than February, and we kept seeing all these little black and red bugs flying around in tandem.  Strange looking.  I asked our landlord about them.

"Oh, those are the lovebugs!"  He explained they are harmless to people but you have to clean them off your car all the time because they can damage the paint.  He said they are  a relatively recent phenomenon, and they have two seasons, late May and September.  Apparently their population exploded since the 70s.

Not dissuaded by Palmetto bugs or Lovebugs, we went looking around neighborhoods we liked to see if any houses were for sale that we hadn't seen yet, and that might be in our price range.  We went riding up our favorite streets, Indian River Avenue and Riverside Drive.  These streets border the Indian River just south of Historic Downtown Titusville.

Downtown Titusville is not a huge mercantile zone.  There are two or three restaurants,  a coffee shop, a dress shop and some antique shops, mainly.  My favorite is the Sunrise Bread Company.  They have wonderful bread, scones, rolls, cookies and espresso, plus they have Wi-Fi.  It would be great to walk there, which is one reason we love the nearby neighborhoods.

We saw three houses along Indian River Avenue that were newly listed since February!  We got to see two of them. One had an offer and was not being shown.  Both were higher than we wanted to pay.  The first one was a smallish place with a tiny yard that backed onto commercial property on US 1.  The yard was well landscaped and private, though.  It had a one car attached garage and a one car driveway.  The inside was beautifully updated and charming, but some of the rooms were pretty small.  This one was about twice our price range.

The second one was by itself on a street between Indian River Avenue and Riverside Drive, with a potential view of the Indian River from the eastern windows.  We couldn't tell because the hurricane awnings were down on that side, and were overgrown with vines and bushes so they couldn't be opened.  The elder owners had been gone about five years, and nothing had been done since except mowing the lawn and light cleaning inside.

DH was really impressed with the construction of the house. It was built of cement block in part and brick in part.  It had a huge two bay garage. One bay was for an RV, so the garage was extra tall, extra long and extra wide.  There were two one bedroom and bath units built into the RV part, and the RV door was replaced with a wall and entry door to one of the bedrooms.  The other half of the garage had been converted to a family room, but the garage door was still there. There was a storage room built above the family room.  In front of the garage door was a wall of screen with a door, so you could open the garage door for air.  The two car wide driveway outside had been covered with a carport which was in sad, rusting condition.

Inside the house were two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen and living room, and a converted porch that had been made into a bedroom and a den.  The east windows of this part were completely blocked by the hurricane awnings. The floor was mostly covered with a late 60s brown, orange, black and cream shag rug which was loose and wrinkled.  The walls were covered with dark paneling.  The old furniture was all there.  It was hard to see much because there weren't many working lights, the curtains were all closed, and the hurricane awnings were down over the windows on one side of the house.  I conceived a dislike for the place because of some major issues.  
  • There was no bath attached to the master bedroom.  
  • The kitchen was cramped and dark.  
  • The entry from the garage into the house was through the master bedroom. 
  • There was a peculiar little door in the other original bedroom that led to a dark box of a closet with the water heater in it.  There was another door on the other side of the water heater which opened into a half bath that looked like it was from a 1960s gas station.
  • The laundry was on the back porch, and there was no space for it inside.
  • The two units in the garage weren't really usable as part of the house. How do you ask your mother-in-law to sleep in the garage?  And I want a garage, darn it!
DH was inclined to really like the house because of the build quality, and I was inclined to really dislike it.  We did like the location.  On looking it over, we could tell there would be some substantial work needed asap to the HVAC, roof, electrical and plumbing systems. The place was priced lower than the other houses of similar size in the area, but the others were all updated, while nothing had been done to this place.  It looked like at least $30,000 would be needed to bring the house up to standard. The house had been recently listed, so we decided to follow it and see how it was going, and if it was still available in February, we would look at it again.

We headed back to Michigan, with DH thinking this house could be the one, and me thinking, No Way, José.

This is second place we looked at in the Indian River Avenue neighborhood:

Doesn't it look kind of spooky with those bent trees hanging their branches down?  They are live oaks, I think, with a bit of Spanish moss.  

Back in Michigan, we continued to debate the pros and cons of the house.  Next time, I'll tell you the results of the debate, and what happened next.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Jumping the Gun

OK, I was going along all nice and chronological, and my next post was supposed to be about how I house shopped from far and near, but I am here in Titusville right now, and I just have to post a bit about the here and now.

The weather is a bit unsettled, with some storm fronts scudding across, yet it is also sunny in between, and the temperatures are balmy, in the low 80s. The weather man says we have some fronts to get by before we come up with perfect weather for the weekend.  In Detroit it is cold and gloomy and windy and rainy, and the power has been knocked out a time or two. I am glad to be here! 

Florida Today is predicting Winter Weather tonight.  Here is what they call winter weather:

Temperatures tonight will dip into the mid-50s and only rise to about 72 tomorrow. These temperatures will be the norm through the weekend, NWS forecasters said.

Bring it on!

My faithful dog Ginger is busy chasing lizards in the fenced yard.  It is her new mission in life to exorcise the world of chameleons and geckos or whatever they are.  I, on the other hand, having watched them expertly catch many gnats on the screen in front of me here, really wish to preserve the little creatures, as they are performing a valuable service. Anyone trying to enjoy an evening walk while surrounded by a cloud of gnats will doubtless agree with me.

There was a huge ominous black cloud going over and a lot of wind.  The temperature dropped a lot, into the 70s it feels like.   It's lightening up now, looks like it missed us, at least this part of it.

Back to the Chronological Order of the Tale

I left off the story heading home from Titusville in March 2009, with plans to return the next February.  Back home in Detroit, I was interested in what kind of homes were for sale, as the real estate market was really starting to change.  I wanted to keep track of the market in Titusville, and see if anything really interesting came up.  Researching on the Web, I found listings on several different sites, and subscribed to some of them:

Realtytrac monitors the foreclosures, preforeclosures and auctions in any given area.  You can sign up for a seven day free trial, and after that, there is a monthly fee, or you can cancel.  This site seemed most helpful in identifying distressed property, so if you are interested in that, it's a great resource.

Zillow is another site that will show you what is available in any given neighborhood.  It might not be the most up to date, but it has a lot of information on some of the houses in any given neighborhood.  I found this one most helpful, because I could use their maps to explore an area and then narrow it to look at a specific block.  This is a free site.

Florida Today is a local news site for Brevard County, of which Titusville is county seat.  Their real estate search is powered by and you can customize the search to fit your interests. It is another free site.

The Brevard County Property Assessor provides full information about any particular property you want to look up.  Program the search engine for Real Estate Records by Property Address in most cases. You can find the owner name and information, square footage, tax information and more. Plus they have great aerial maps of the homes.  With a little practice, you can look up places by tax ID number if that is the only info you can find on the property.  Some sales sites will hide the address and just give the tax ID number.

I had a few other sites I looked at but these were the workhorses for my search.  They helped me identify which neighborhoods I might be interested in, by proximity to shopping, the Indian River, exits off I-95,  and more.  I also used the map programs, like Google maps, and Bing, to look more closely at homes that caught my interest, and to identify resources in the neighborhood. You can program Google Map to show you restaurants, grocery stores, pharmacies, churches in the area of the home in the Search Nearby field.   I liked the Bird's Eye view on the one site, and I liked to "drive" up and down the streets to look at the neighboring houses in the Street View feature.  Next best thing to actually being there.

Over the course of the summer, I compiled a list of houses I might like to see.  I contacted a realtor who sent me listings from her company's site, Tropical Realty.  These were very helpful as well.  The realtor told me that I could not expect to find these same houses still for sale in February, but she would help me whenever I needed help to see a listing or find out more about one, or any way she could help me.  She has now moved on to Re/Max which also has great listing information available. I recommend this realtor, Anita Lytle, for any realty issues in Brevard County.  She is very knowledgeable of the area and real estate in general.

To make a long story a bit shorter, come the next February, I did get in touch with Ms. Lytle, and we looked at some of the very houses I had listed in the summer. Real estate was not moving so much.  We came up with the same objections from Dear Husband, the ones in the neighborhoods I like were "too cheap."  Well, we can keep looking.

Next time:  We find The House in The Neighborhood that DH wants!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy

The worst thing about Michigan in February is the darkness.  It really seems as though the are no sunny days from sometime in late January through early March.  It's all dreary darkness with cold and slush and ice thrown in to make a mix of misery.  In Florida, it really seemed that there was sun on every single day. Even on days when it rained, it only rained for a couple of hours, and the sun was out the rest of the day.  My spirits improved so much, and my dog and I got to walk outside a lot more than we would in cold slippery sloppy Michigan. 

My sister came to spend two weeks with me in Titusville, from cold, dark and icy Seward, Alaska.  She spent nearly 24 hours in flight and layovers to get to Orlando.  All the same she felt it was worth it.   We ate oranges and walked out in the sun, took convertible rides in the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge, and rode the airboat.  We also tested many of the local eateries.  Among our favorites were Dixie Crossroads, Corky Bell's, Catfish Cabin.  Check them all out and see the different offerings. The fish is so fresh, it is nothing like what we can get in most parts of the midwest.

We enjoyed some shopping expeditions, too. Ron Jon's Surf Shop was a lot of fun, featuring two big floors of surf and beach gear and decor and fun items.  We also had a wonderful time at Cocoa Village, which is a beautiful old fashioned style shopping area sited right in old downtown Cocoa.  There are gift shops, home decor, clothing, linens, crafts, artists and a hardware store that is over a century old.  One shop has items made from recycled materials like pop tabs, gum wrappers, tin.  Ice cream, coffee, sandwiches, and sit down fare can all be obtained.  We tried Ossorio for the ice cream and coffee, and they also have nice pizzas and sandwiches.  You order at the counter and wait while your food is prepared. There are lots of tables both inside and outside.  Murdock's is also really good.

You might guess that I was getting pretty attached to the place.  I originally planned to try Titusville for one winter, and then try another place the next winter. I was flirting with the idea of Tubac Village, an old town reviving as an artist colony south of Tucson.   We've been in Arizona and really liked the Tucson area a lot.  But as the month went on, I was having a hard time sticking to that.  Titusville had its hooks in me already.

Titusville is a good sized small town, something over 40,000 residents.  It started in the 1850s as Sand Point, but the post office was short lived. After the Civil War, Confederate Col Henry Titus arrived to settle on land owned by his wife Mary Hopkins, laying out streets and building a hotel and donating land for four churches and a courthouse. Railroads arrived and a station was built in 1892.  Citrus produce was a prime product shipped from the area.  The town grew up and down the river bank.  Indian River City was four miles south.  The railroad ran north and south a short distance west of the river, and much of the development hugged the shoreline.   US Highway 1, Washington Avenue, follows the shoreline and carries city traffic.  You can drive north on Highway 1 up past St. Augustine and Jacksonville, and on up to the Canadian border in Aroostook County, Maine.  South it will take you to Miami and beyond to Key West. Nowadays I-95 will speed you along the same general route about five miles west of US 1. 

Mmy rental house is in old Indian River City.  The house was built in the 20s.  Many of the houses standing in the area today date from the teens and 20s.   I was comfortable with the area, and on our walks, my sister and I would look for houses for sale, just for fun.  We didn't see many, and none were from the older era.  There are a lot of what I would call infill house that came along later, in the 50s and 60s, producing a uniform look in lot size, with a few of the older large farm style lots remaining.
I started to explore other neighborhoods, just to expand my house hunting territory.  Houses on the other side of the tracks were newer, 50s and 60s, and as you head west and north, you come into 70s, 80s, 90s and 21st century neighborhoods. Midway to downtown, there is the La Cita Country Club neighborhood, quite upscale, beautiful houses, with neighborhood rules on property maintenance.  La Cita is a beautiful private golf course where you can be a member whether you live in the neighborhood or not.  Likewise, living in the neighborhood doesn't make you a member.  Nearby is Royal Oak Country Club, a municipal golf course.  It has fewer amenities but is still very nice, with homes in the neighborhood ranging from about  $90,000 to $300,000.   There are no restrictions.  I was thinking maybe a golf community would be a good investment.  There is easy access to shopping from both of these two communities, and the golf courses would be attractive to retirees wanting to improve their winter options.

This first year I was there, February 2009, the housing markets were still near the top of the bubble range of pricing. Sellers were beginning to realize they could not recoup the value of their home as established during the bubble, so prices were coming down.  The shuttle program shutdown was in the offing, and people were beginning to worry about being able to sell if they needed to move.

We were feeling like we could get a nice house for a reasonable amount if we could agree on the neighborhood and kind of house.  We did have some serious disagreements on those points.  I wanted a three bedroom one story house in "the neighborhoods" between US 1 and the tracks.  Hubby wanted more space, a bigger house, and a HUGE garage.  Or did he?  "Tis true,. every house we looked at in my target neighborhood, he nixed as "too small" or "built too cheap."  Every house in the golf neighborhoods was "too costly" or "not the right look."  I was partial to some houses built as a community just south of St. Theresa's Church, off Court Street, on Royal Palm Court, Citrus Court, Flamingo Court.  They were all built in the 1950s, from the same plan, three bedrooms, 1.5 baths, carport.  The baths were really creative. One opened off the master bedroom, just the toilet and sink.  Another door opened to the tub with shower. In that room, a door opened to the other half bath which opened to the hall.  I've been told this is called a Jack & Jill bath, with private facilities and a shared tub.  There were lots of palm trees, nice big lots, and most had big Florida rooms on the back.  They were also "too small and too cheap."

Hubby liked some houses up along Indian River Avenue south of downtown.   Of course, they were listed for upwards of $600,000, and most were two story Victorian style, with 1.5 baths.  I nixed those because we couldn't afford them, and I wanted a one story house.  I did love the neighborhood, but couldn't see how we could afford it at all.

And so we left Titusville to return to Michigan, our appetites whetted but no sign of agreement.  Our landlord offered us the Spanish house for the next February, and all I had to do was leave the deposit.  Done!  We will be back!

Next,  how we continued to house hunt and plan expeditions for February 2010.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Meeting some Florida fauna up close

We did have a lot of fun that first month.  In addition to pigging out at Dixie Crossroads a few times, we explored lots of other fun dining experiences.  At Dixie Crossroads, they start you out with a big basket of corn fritters dredged in powdered sugar.  It is impossible to stop eating these things, but be careful, once you get rid of them, the wait person will bring you another basketful.  If you don't exercise some will power here, you won't have room for the wonderful dinner.   Their specialty is Rock Shrimp, a hard shelled little critter that was considered commercially unprofitable until the regular shrimp had a local crash.  Still, it took Rodney Thompson, founder of Dixie Crossroads, to figure out how to shell these shrimp and make them available for good eats.  The rest is history.  The little guys really do taste like lobster.

Now about that airboat ride...   We asked our landlord about that, and he explained there were two outlets nearby.  Midway Airboat Rides is out Hwy 50 almost to Christmas, and then there is Loughman Lake Lodge out by Mims.  He was partial to Loughman Lake Lodge because they have a restaurant and you can get something to eat.  This trip, we opted for Midway because it was the closest.  We appeared at the appointed time, and were introduced to the resident potbelly pig, who would squeal with pleasure when you scratched his back.

After we got situated on our boat, the captain promised to show us lots of alligators, but also some other interesting sights.  We got a wonderful tour, as he explained about the cattle ranches, and how the cattle got along with the alligators.  He showed us an Indian mound at a fork in the river.  It seems these mounds were made by piling up shells from generations of dinners.  It sounds like they were built for living platforms in the swamp, rather than for ceremonial purposes.    He also took us into a grove of tall cypress, and he turned off the engine so we could hear the silence.  It was quiet, but for a bird twitter now and then, and the lapping of the water.  He said sometimes there are reptiles to see in there, but not today.  He pointed out numerous birds along the way, ibis, herons, a couple of sandhill cranes, my favorites.

And of course, lots of alligators:

My favorite part of the trip was the diversity of it, how many different things the captain pointed out and explained to us.  We have taken the trip again, and also the Loughman Lake one, with much less information. Those trips were mostly just alligator viewing trips.  So kudos to our captain of the day, wish I could remember his name!

The airboat engine:

We had to wear ear protection, this thing is LOUD!

After we disembarked at the end of the trip, we were introduced to Hollywood, a baby alligator, and we got to stroke him and even hold him if we wanted to. He had a band around his jaws so he couldn't bite, and we had to hold him just so, not like cuddling a baby, but like holding out a hero sandwich to show it off.  His skin is so soft, like a baby's. 

There are so many interesting things about the St. John's River area, and the coast, all different from anything I ever saw in Michigan.  I got to know a lot about the birds and plants and animals of Michigan, but I have a whole 'nother world waiting to be learned down here in Florida.

Next post will cover more fun things, and how we started house shopping.

Monday, September 12, 2011

I'm getting used to this place

I had lots of company coming in for this first month, and several road trips planned as well.  Sister flew in from Alaska for  a week, and DH flew in for almost two weeks.  We planned an expedition to San Antonio, Florida, home of St. Leo University, to visit friends who live across the Lake from the school.  We drove cross country to Bradenton to visit relatives, and there we were introduced to a truly Old Florida dining experience, the Linger Lodge.  Then of course we had to visit DH's brother in Winter Park.

I learned the difference between Old Florida and the rest of Florida.  Indian River City where I stayed is Old Florida. The houses were built in the 50s and earlier.  There are certain styles, Spanish, like my house, farm style, mid-century styles.  Many do not have AC unless it was recently added.  Windows open, and there are lots of shade trees and plants that cool the walls on the sunny side of the house.  The yards are sometimes big with room for fruit trees and garden vegetables, sometimes small and easy to care for.  In most neighborhoods, the house designs vary, though there is one neighborhood in particular that looks like it came from a 1950s Florida dream, all the houses the same design but all different pastel colors. When you get into the houses, you find neat, divided 3/1 floor plans, tile or terazzo floors, big screened patios out back.

The newer parts of Titusville contain a lot of tract developments that would be at home in many other parts of the country.  Ranch style or split level houses, even some colonials, cheek by jowl with similar houses, all with attached garages and neat lawns.  They look very nice but not unique.

My neighbor and landlord is a wonderful source of information about the history of Titusville, the homes and families, also the plants and animals, and even the rocks.  There is a kind of big soft rock you see often in yards down there, it's grayish tan, and has lots of little shells in it. There are some amazingly shaped specimens, some holding mailboxes in front of houses.  When I asked, the neighbor told me it's Coquina.

I was walking around the neighborhood with Ginger every day.   I was actually getting interested in the place, and I kept looking for houses for sale, just in case.  I saw a few houses I might actually be interested in, but nothing was for sale.   The house across the street was for sale, but priced too high for us.  When we eventually did look at it, the layout and rooms were too cramped for our tastes. It had been updated, and the Craftsman features were all gone inside.  That was a shame.

Excitement!  One day, there were three birds perched on the telephone line in front of the house.  I have seen plenty of birds do that in my time, but not this kind. These were quite large long legged white birds with long  curved bills.  They looked amazing, teetering there on the thin wire.  I hurried to get my camera, but alas!  They took off.  I looked them up and found they were American White Ibis.

DH and I traveled to Bradenton where we stayed overnight with his cousin and wife in their new condo.  That year, they had bid high to get into that condo and the development was growing all around them.  A central business district was developing, with shopping, restaurants and a theater.  They took us to the Linger Lodge for lunch, saying it was uniquely old Florida.  The place was a hit with us, all right.  To get there, we wound a couple of miles through an upscale neighborhood with large brick and stone houses set back on wide lots with lots of huge old trees.  Somehow we ended up in an old 1940s-50s campground with the Linger Lodge at one end of its community building.  We dined on a deck over the Braden River, feasting on such delicacies as Conch Chowder, Alligator Bites, Grouper, Catfish,  Key Lime Pie, Orange Blossom Pie, and of course, Margaritas. 

Next:  My sister and I go on an Airboat Ride on the St. Johns River

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Fruits of Florida

One reason I decided I like Florida is kumquat pie.  We have visited friends who live near St. Joseph, Kumquat Capitol of the World.  Nearby Dade City hosts the Kumquat Festival the last Saturday in January.  This coming year, it will be January 28th.

 Kumquat Festival

We have never yet made it to the Festival, but we did once stop in at a store at the Kumquat Capital and indulge in a piece of Kumquat Pie.  What the heck is a kumquat, you might well ask.  It is a lovely little olive sized orange.  The skin is the sweet part, and it does have a bit of sour orange flesh and several seeds. 

Since DH (Darling Husband) was planning on joining me the following week, I was anxious to acquire some kumquats and make a pie to celebrate his arrival.  I set out the next day to explore the fresh produce market and the local Winn Dixie.  I had never shopped at Winn Dixie before.   There were indeed kumquats at the produce market, and they were nice and plump and bright orange.  I got a pint of them, and some Plant City strawberries. Those are the biggest, juiciest, most fragrant strawberries ever. 

Plant City is about 100 miles WSW of Titusville, south of the Green Swamp and next to Lakeland, winter home of the Detroit Tigers.  It's the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World, and hosts the Strawberry Festival, usually in March.  In 2012, it will be March 1-11.  Being that I arrived after the Kumquat Festival and was going home before the Strawberry Festival, it would seem I was going to miss all the fun.  Well, I could at least enjoy the fruits.

To be sure, the little Spanish house I rented came with a beautiful yard sporting several citrus trees, navel and Temple oranges, tangerines, grapefruit and bitter orange.  I was invited by the host landlord to help myself to as much of the fruit as I could eat.  There were also two or three loquat trees.  I had never heard of a loquat.  It's a little oval yellow fruit the size of a cherry.  Its stem end looks more like a peach stem than a cherry stem, and the flavor of the fruit is somewhere between peach, cherry and apricot.  There is a big pit inside the loquat that some people say is edible and some say it is not.  I didn't try the pit, but I did eat loquats, and eventually made a pie out of them, using a Cherry Pie Recipe.

I found a recipe for Kumquat Pie, and went on a shopping expedition to acquire the ingredients and an important bit of equipment.  I thought a stick blender would be helpful for chopping up the kumquats for the filling.  Other than processing the kumquats, this is a very easy recipe.

Kumquat Pie
1 baked pie crust, I used a graham cracker crust
1 can condensed milk, like Eagle Brand
1 8 oz tub of Cool Whip, thawed
1/2 cup lemon juice (I used the bitter orange juice, it was really sour!)
2/3 cup pureed Kumquats (my pint made enough for three pies)

You have to get the seeds out of the kumquats, which is a pain.  Cut them in half and dig away. Then puree the kumquats, skins and all.  Measure out what you need and put the rest into plastic bags. You can freeze them. Thaw and drain before using. I would use the liquid in the 1/2 cup of lemon juice, maybe.

Now whip up the condensed milk in a bowl. It will thicken somewhat. Beat in the whipped topping, then the lemon juice. Beat til thickened. I used the stick blender for this job.  Add the pureed kumquats and blend in.  Pour the mixture into the pie shell and refrigerate for several hours before serving.

This pie is a hit with everyone who tries it.  I gave a pie kit to my host, pureed kumquats, pie shell, condensed milk and Cool Whip.

Now, I didn't just eat and make pies the first few days.  Ginger and I did a lot of walking along the Indian River and up and down the streets of the Indian River City section of Titusville.   The weather was balmy and beautiful.  I was starting to think I could get used to this. 

Next, meeting some of the local flora and fauna, and an expedition on the St. John's River.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Getting There

Winter of 2009 rolled around, all cold and snowy and inhospitable.  I couldn't WAIT to head south for my very first solo excursion, a whole month in sunny Florida.  I really had no idea what to expect.  I packed up my car, got the dog settled and harnessed in the front seat and took off. 

Heading down cold and snowy I-75 through Ohio and the remnants of a huge ice storm in Kentucky were motivating.  Every time I stopped to walk Ginger, we had to fight snow and ice.  Huge snowbanks restricted the walking areas and it was cold and gray.   The first rest stop past Berea, KY we saw our first grass and we were both excited about that.  That night, we slept in Asheville, NC. It was cold and frosty, but at least there was no snow frozen on the sidewalks or roads. 

Next morning, we set off heading south on I-26, and it got more and more springlike the farther we went.  I was so happy!  I stopped at the abundant NC and SC rest areas, many of which had speed traps set up.  An officer in a patrol car at the north end was clocking cars and six or eight cruisers at the south end would take off and pull over speeders.  They were doing a spanking hot business.  Luckily, Ginger and I wanted a lot of exercise so we stopped to walk instead of speeding by.

Getting off at Pilot for gas and lunch at McD's,- near Bowman, SC, I decided to do a walkaround to check my rubber. I was horrified to find a huge sidewall bubble on the right rear tire, right at the rim.   No way was I going anywhere on that tire!  I called AAA, naturally.  I have a donut spare and planned to have that put on and limp on to a place where I could get a new tire.  AAA informed me, not so sweetly, that on a Sunday afternoon in South Carolina, I was not going to get a new tire.  Further, the lady said, I was to take down my own spare and make sure it had enough air in it, and have the tools ready or the "technician" would not be able to help me.  I thought that was odd indeed, and informed her that I needed help with all that due to arthritis.  Pre-arthur, I probably would have changed the thing myself, but these days, I'll take the help, thank you. It's the policy, she told me crabbily.

Fortunately, when the young man showed up with the tool truck, he had never heard of that policy.  He cheerfully changed to the donut, hoisted the dead tire onto the top of my load in the back seat, and gave me the card of a garage just 15 miles down the line that had tires available 24-7.  He even called them to make sure they had the right tire for my car.  An hour and a half after we stopped, we were under way again.  I drove my heavily loaded car 45 with the flashers on in the right lane, down I-26, onto I-95 and off at the first exit to Billy's place.  They were great!  They fitted my tire, put the donut back up under the trunk, and sent my on my way, less than an hour later.  One thing, the Hess Station across the street didn't have coffee after 1 pm. 

9606 Charleston Highway, St. George, SC
(843) 563-8436 ·
I called my landlord to let him know I would be about three hours later than my original ETA of 5 or 6 pm. We traveled on with no further mishaps down through Georgia past Savannah.  I-95 doesn't have a lot of development or tourist services through SC and GA.   We arrived safely in Titusville at 8:15 pm.

Next... I make a Kumquat Pie

Thursday, September 1, 2011

I decided I didn't like February in Michigan

It just so happened that February, 2008 was, as usual, cold, gray, icy and snowy.  It was hard to walk in our neighborhood with unplowed, slippery streets and no sidewalks.  There was no sun to brighten the days, and cold wind discouraged all but necessary outings.  I seemed to get less and less fit and more and more depressed with each passing day.   Dog wasn't too happy either.

Adapting to cold dark and snowy Michigan

Why were we still here in dreary Michigan?  Well, DH (darling hubby) couldn't take time off.  A week in Dallas in January seemed to make February in Michigan even less tolerable.  What to do?  Since I am retired, I am actually free to go.  Hubby can come down for a visit or two during the month and it will be fun, right?

I started hunting for vacation rentals to take my mind off the weather. There are websites where you can search and find rentals for anyplace, for any size group, even pet friendly rentals. I looked for beach properties in Florida.  Aaah, with the pictures and sandy beach descriptions, I was happier.  I found a few places that I really liked, in Cocoa Beach and over on the Gulf in the Sarasota area.  This could work!  I actually decided to rent a place for the following February!  I narrowed the choices down to a place right behind RonJon's Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach, when I suddenly learned, NO DOGS ON THE BEACH, just about anywhere in Florida.  Now, I have gotten serious about actually renting a spot and spending the next February in the relative balminess of central Florida, but I don't need to spend extra for beach property if I can't walk my dog on the beach, right?

I found I could save many hundreds of dollars for the month if I didn't care if I was close to the beach.  Then this place jumped out at me, a Spanish villa in the Indian River City section of Titusville.

It was attractive, the price was right, but Titusville?  Whoever even heard of Titusville?  Time to study up on the place.  I found it is the heart of the Space Coast, right across from the Kennedy Space Center, and Ground Zero for launch junkies wanting a good place to watch shuttle and other rocket launches.  Not only that, it is right across from the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge and Playa Linda Beach, miles of pristine, undeveloped, uncrowded beaches on the Atlantic.  There is lots of shopping and some nice restaurants, including the famous Dixie Crossroads,  plus it is minutes from Cocoa and less than an hour to Orlando.  Done!  I nabbed the place for the next February and settled down contentedly to weather the rest of my last February in Michigan.

Here is a link to Titusville's Visitor Portal that showcases the beautiful parks, museums and activities in the area.

Sneak preview:  I am just back from working on my new-to-me house in Titusville.   Lots of pix in the future posts.  How did this happen?  Story to follow.