Welcome to my "Florida" blog

Being a third generation Florida native, I'm completely enamored with the diverse beauty of this gorgeous peninsula. For most of the year the weather is divine which makes exploring its unlimited nooks and crannies fun and easy.

Wherever I go I appreciate nature and the world around me. Come along with me as I share the places I visit and perhaps a few other amusements I find interesting along the way.

(FYI: Every post prior to January 1, 2009 was previously published and imported from my garden blog)

Friday, March 7, 2008

A Little Bit of Paradise PT 2: Cortez Village

My soul always begins to leap with anticipation and delight as the horizon of endless-blue starts to edge into view, with the array of palm trees signaling nearness to the salty air and the gulls flying overhead. Just before you cross over the bridge to get to Longboat Key (to the South) and Anna Maria Island (to the North) there lies the sleepy little fishing village of Cortez.The village is located on the northern edge of Sarasota Bay. It is one of the few remaining working waterfronts left in Florida.

Now I have to tell you, hubby and I thought we were the original discoverers of this wonderful little fishing retail store about 15 years ago. For that many years (or more) we vacation annually at Longboat Key for a couple of weeks in the month of May.

To find the Starfish Co. Fresh Seafood Market you will travel through narrow neighborhood streets dotted with cottage homes that display boats and ropes and anchors and such for "yard art".

The retail Market features fresh local seafood including Grouper, Snapper, Mullet and Stone Crab from local waters and local fishermen.

This is one of those places that if hubby and I get anywhere near this area we make a detour to purchase fresh seafood that I will cook up right away---usually mixed platter style. We've even been known to drive all the way down there just for their fresh seafood on certain occasions- like last Father's Day when the men wanted seafood instead of steaks for their special day.

A little over ten years ago the Seafood Market changed ownership and the new owners ingeniously added an open dockside restaurant (pictured above).

The sign at the order window - which was a good reminder for me - "Hey, Meems, you're on vacation!... no need to be in a hurry." Although I was so hungry I was about to eat my right arm.

It was 2:00 in the afternoon last Saturday and we had to wait in line to order and wait for a table to be vacated before we could eat some lunch.

There isn't a single fancy thing about this bayside eatery. Which is what makes it what it is. As you can see by the open seating and the commercial fishing boats docked every which way next to dockside.
We were so shocked when we pulled up outside the Market and couldn't find a parking place. Shocked and sad all at the same time. Somehow 'the whole world' now knows about this fabulous little joint with fresh cooked seafood served in white boxes by a waiter who 'hollers' out your name from the door of the kitchen.

You can see mangrove islands, Jewfish Key, Longboat Key and Bradenton Beach in view beyond dockside. Add to that the local commercial fishing fleet and you've got one of the most scenic outdoor 'old Florida' eating places found on Florida's Gulf coast.
Add to THAT the natural and abundant wildlife that literally perches in and around dockside within a few feet of patrons. There were several Great Blue Herons which in my observations make great fishermen themselves but if they find a hang-out that offers fresh seafood hand-outs they become the best loiterers (is that word?) as well.

Pelicans can do their share of loitering and perching. This one right next to the wooden picnic table we finally found to enjoy our lunch.

Happy to see the white pelicans are still in town for winter. We saw them in groups last month while staying on Captiva Island. What an amazing bird. With its long pink snout... errrr... I meant to say bill ... I found myself mesmerized by its graceful swan-like movement through the bay in and around the boats and docks as if it were the only bird in the water.

The food was well worth the wait as always. Now don't all of you run right over there to eat - we might NEVER find a parking place next time.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A Little Bit of Paradise- Anna Maria Island Florida

Anna Maria Island with miles of white sandy beaches, crystal clear gulf waters and fabulous seafood restaurants is one great place to visit. I always look for accommodations that have that feeling of "old Florida" with a laid-back linger-longer sort of style in peaceful cottages. No highrises or condominiums for this beach goer. No, I look for wood floors, lots of windows, porches, foundations built off the ground, small properties and lots of lush foliage. If you are a regular reader of Hoe and Shovel you will remember that I am a Florida native and a lover of all things "beach". Which makes it a good thing I live in Florida.

Hubby and I are beginning to fit right in with the 'snow-birds' making our weekend get-away trips to beaches in the winter like all the northerners. While I recommend our beaches anytime of the year (except July and August when the heat makes it a lot less fun) the winter is a perfect time to enjoy Florida's great beaches. I can see why it is the height of tourist season.

As a side note: Just in case you want to plan a trip to Florida- the fall is a beautiful time to be on the sand and surf too and the rates drop dramatically.

This past weekend we stayed on Anna Maria Island. The weather was 'Florida perfect' with 50's at night which gives us cool mornings and 70's by mid-day. A Floridian couldn't ask for more!

The simple garden pathway leading to the beach from our cottage.

A pleasant 1.5 hours drive south of the Tampa Bay Area you will find what I conclude as some of the best coastline beaches in Florida. We often make day trips to this area due to the convenience and smaller town feel as compared to the Clearwater/St. Petersburg area in Pinellas County. Don't get me wrong, there are some wonderful places there, too. We just prefer Manatee County beaches.

The private area for sunbathing. I took this photo very early before the loungers stake their claim to a chair.

If this powdery white sand with tracks in it were not dappled with sea oats and gulf waters in the background one might mistaken it for snow. It's what I think of when I see it anyway.

Laughing Gulls making their squawky music together in their early morning glee. Or maybe that was me with the glee and the birds with their squawking???

We witnessed an extraordinary sunset as so often happens this time of year. This is the beginning of how it unfolded on this crisp, clear Saturday evening.

In the minutes prior to the sun rotating out of sight all the wildlife seems to come alive with activity. The birds are especially visible scouting about for their last meal of the day.

It was one of those sunsets that painted the sky from its setting-position to the other side of the horizon with vivid pinks, purples, orange colors & cloud designs --we couldn't stop ooooing and awwwing. "Oh, look over there." "Wow, look up at that cloud now." "Look, look how deep those colors have gotten." And on it goes admiring the handiwork of God.

As is the case so often with sunsets here-- the variations of color progress and evolve long after the sun is set. As every minute passes, more color and deeper colors appear.

So refreshing is the sun, the sand beneathe my feet, the salty air, the birds and their song. My soul is renewed from the rest, the walks on the beach, the uninterrupted lounging and reading, the lush tropical greenery and flora that accompanies beach habitat.

I'll post next on the birds, trees and such... stay tuned for part 2.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Explosion of Pink

In Florida there are few, if any, flowering trees that can come close to the particularly showy blossoms of the Tabebuia or Pink Trumpet Tree.

There are no leaves on the tree during flowering but I love the contrasting silvery wood of the branches.

The 3" long, trumpet-shaped flowers appear in spring and can be pink, purple, or yellow, depending on the species.

I spotted these spectacularly flamboyant trees planted in two rows of 5 in front of a business down in Manatee County (about 1.5 hours South of me) while on our out of town trip this weekend. Don't they make a stunning display against the blue sky?
You would plant this tree in full sun but you'd have to live in the warmer parts of South Florida or another frost-free humid climate. They are native to the Amazon rainforest. Pink trumpet is a semi-deciduous tropical tree that grows to an ultimate height of 50 ft and requires little maintenance.
What is your favorite flowering tree?