Vacation 2016: 3000 Miles and 3000+ Smiles!

When I was a kid, my parents and I would go to Florida almost every year to see my “snowbird” grandparents who spent most of each winter at Daytona Beach.

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Ruth-Sharon-Daytona1959   Ruth-GDaddy-GMa-Sharon-Florida1969

My last trip to Florida was when I was 21, so as we started planning our 2016 vacation–taking into account the time we could take off (one week), and the anticipated costs of a road trip–we decided to do a Florida “Sampler.”   Little did we know that it would turn into a Florida “Full Course”!  What an awesome vacation!

We left home on Saturday, June 11, 2016 and first drove to the Nashville area to see my oldest son and daughter-in-law. After a fun evening there, we left early on Sunday, June 12th heading for Florida.

They say that “getting there is half the fun,” but I’d question that when it involves driving on the interstates around Atlanta!  We finally opted to hop off of I-75 to make our way through the peanut fields, groves of pecan trees, and beautiful farmland of southern Georgia.  Yes, this is definitely my preferred method of travel!

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It was a long drive for one day (864 miles!), but we made it to a remote area on the coast of Florida in time to watch the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico!

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That night we stayed at a very “retro” motel in Cross City, Florida, and it reminded me of motels my parents and I would stay at when we were traveling in the 1960s. But it was clean and comfortable, and I loved seeing the Spanish moss hanging from the trees.

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On Monday, June 13th, we continued to explore the west coast of Florida, going to the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, the Cedar Key National Wildlife refuge, and then to the village of Cedar Key.  Lots of different birds were out and about in these pretty settings.  And I was pleased to see a large bat house at the Lower Suwanne refuge!

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We also stopped for a while in the town of Crystal River.  We didn’t see any manatees, but apparently large numbers of them spend the winter there. We did, however, see more birds, including this little Bluebird in a palm tree.

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We briefly checked out the Homosassa State Park, which looked absolutely fabulous, but we didn’t have the recommended 3-1/2 to 4 hours to spend there because we were heading to Clermont, FL that evening.  We’ll catch the state park during our NEXT trip! 😉

Clermont is a lovely central Florida city, and home to my double-first cousin Patt and her family.  We went with them to one of their favorite hang-outs where we ate, drank, talked, and laughed together for hours.  SO much fun! Love these people. <3

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On Tuesday, June 14th, we headed back to the Gulf coast and met up with one of Wayne’s musician friends for lunch in Tampa.  They used to be in a band together in the 1970s, but hadn’t seen each other in 30+ years! (John is on the far left in the picture of the band; Wayne is the guitar player in the black shirt towards the front.)

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Side note: I have no memories of ever being in Tampa before, but here’s photographic evidence from 1959 showing me with my parents in a pool somewhere in Tampa, FL. 🙂

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Anyhow, we said goodbye to John (after another fun eating/talking/laughing experience!) and continued south, crossing Tampa Bay on the amazing Sunshine Skyway Bridge.  We also stopped at the rest area there, and the weather was just about perfect–cooler than it was in Virginia that week, with nice breezes off the Gulf.

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Sarasota is about 30 miles south of Tampa on Rt. 41, and it’s home to the Ringling School of Art and Design.  While my art students have been accepted at a number of fine art schools over the years, Ringling seems to be a favorite.  One of my former students is a Ringling graduate, one is a senior, and another will be starting his Ringling experience this fall! So cool to finally see the city–and the Ringling campus–in person!

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We really enjoyed driving on Rt. 41 (also called South Tamiami Trail), and we went through the little towns of Osprey and Nokomis (haha, yes, we started singing…), before passing through Port Charlotte (beautiful!), and ultimately reaching our destination for the evening, Punta Gorda.

Ah, another Gulf coast sunset! We ate dinner at “Harpoon Harry’s” waterfront restaurant.

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After dinner, we enjoyed seeing the unusual (to us!) combination of palm trees and the rising moon. 🙂

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On Wednesday, June 15th, we drove another hour or so down the coast to Fort Myers, and then took McGregor Boulevard towards Sanibel Island.  These are views that some of my family members know well!

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Once on the island, we stopped by Blue Dolphin Cottages.  My cousins stay there each time they visit Sanibel (usually in October), and we had the pleasure of meeting Beth, the manager.  When I introduced myself, Beth said that she knows my cousins quite well: “They’re all CRAZY!”.  Haha, yes, those would be my people.  😉

But oh my, what a beautiful place! And there were protected turtle nests on the beach!

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Our next stop on the island was the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.  While trams and guided tours were available, we opted to drive through the refuge so that we could stop whenever we liked–and we stopped frequently!

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This bird, an Anhinga, is also known as a “Water Turkey” due to its broad tail, or “Snake Bird” because of its habit of swimming with just its head and long, thin neck out of the water. Fascinating creature! It would be completely submerged at times, but we could tell where it was because lots of small fish would suddenly dart across the surface of the water.

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Still on Sanibel Island, we went to Bowman’s Beach to get more up close and personal with the Gulf of Mexico.  I’ve said that if I had a “bucket list,” swimming here would have been one of the items on the list!  The water was gentle, warm and quite salty, and it seemed to offer greater buoyancy than the Atlantic Ocean. What a wonderful and relaxing experience!

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Sanibel Island was most certainly a highlight of the trip, and we really hope to go back when we can spend more time there!  As it was, we left Sanibel in the late afternoon to make a quick trip to the east coast of the state via “Alligator Alley.”  Yikes!

There were extremely tall fences to our right (separating us from the Big Cypress National Preserve and the Everglades Wildlife Management area–and all of the critters who therein reside…), and acres and acres of sugar cane fields to our left as we streaked eastward on I-75.

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We arrived in Boca Raton that evening, and met up with another one of Wayne’s musician friends!  Wayne and Stan go WAY back; they were in a band together in the Richmond area when they were still in high school!  In the band picture below (circa 1963), Stan is 3rd from the left on the keyboard, and Wayne is 4th from the left (singing) with his brother, Craig, beside him.

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Stan worked as a music director on cruise ships after getting his “big start” with “G.L. Cole & the Shades,” 😉 and he’s STILL out there making music with the Blues Brothers Soul Band!

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Late that evening, Stan drove us to a dock near his house, and he and Wayne continued to catch up and fill in the years. 🙂

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So pretty amazing–we started the day on the west coast of Florida in Punta Gorda, went to Sanibel Island, met my cousins’ friend at the Blue Dolphin, toured a couple of wildlife refuges, went swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, drove through Alligator Alley, and ended the day on the east coast of Florida under a moonlit sky!  As my cousins say, we do “get around”! 🙂

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On Thursday, June 16th, we started making our way north on Rt. A1A.  Both coasts are very pretty, but so, so different!  Let’s just say there are far more stoplights on the Atlantic side! 😉

Deerfield Beach:

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Delray Beach (I guess we were in the “Wright” place):

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Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse:

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Bicentennial Park Beach:

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Interesting signage at this beach, by the way!

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While at Bicentennial Park, Wayne took a moment to let the ocean wash away time.  We’ve done this each time we’ve been to a beach over the last several years. <3

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Further up the coast near Cocoa Beach, we stopped at Lori Wilson Park.  Wayne got down to the beach before I did, and this is what I saw when I walked over to where he was sitting.  So sweet!

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This is a beautiful, beautiful beach, but with the storm clouds brewing both to our north and to our south, we knew we wouldn’t have a lot of time to get in the water before it stormed.

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While we weren’t out long, we truly marveled at the amazing–and constantly changing–colors of the sky and ocean!

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By that evening we reached Ponce Inlet, just south of Daytona Beach.  Before going into the “town,” we stopped at a park when we spotted birds.  LOTS of birds!

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Ponce Inlet was a place I remembered going as a child, and yet it had changed almost beyond recognition.  When I was a kid, it was pretty “rural,” but now hotels and condos line the shoreline.  Thankfully, one place I remembered was still in operation; the Inlet Harbor Restaurant:

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Of course it had changed a lot since my childhood….

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…but we were lucky enough to enjoy another beautiful sunset, while enjoying a delicious seafood dinner!

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The next morning, Friday, June 17th, we drove to the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, another place full of memories.

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Finally, we arrived at Daytona Beach–where you can still drive on the beach!

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So very much has changed in the last 38 years (!!!), but it was still nice to see this wide, wide Atlantic beach–and to remember. <3

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After we finished our drive on the “world’s most famous beach,” it was still fairly early in the day–and time to start for home.  After driving 864 miles from TN to FL, we knew we could do the 700+ mile drive home.  Wayne and a friend drove it in one day in 2012, and my parents and I drove straight through the last time we were there in the 70s.

Best laid plans, right?

Just over the Florida-Georgia border, an accident on I-95 slowed traffic to a crawl.  Rather than sitting on the interstate for hours, we opted to take a quick side trip around the pretty and historic city of Savannah:

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In addition to admiring a lot of the architecture, we did a drive-by SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design), where some of my art students have done summer programs.

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Back on the interstate, we’d barely gone 40 miles before another–and apparently far more serious–accident shut us down again!  To add to the frustration, there were warnings for severe weather.  Not good….

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When we finally, finally crept to an exit off I-95, we took it, not wanting to be trapped on the open road in the event that the dire weather predictions actually played out.  From this point forward, let’s just say that things got “interesting.”

As the storm hit, a few other interstate refugees joined us under the canopy of an abandoned gas station. The winds raged, the lightning flashed and the rains poured!  The weather maps on my iPhone showed that the huge line of storms was still basically north of us and moving along I-95 (the route we planned to travel), so when we finally left the gas station, we headed west on back roads instead of returning to the interstate.

Oh, my…  We had to wonder if this was a good idea as we drove through heavy rain on unfamiliar roads, dodging downed trees!  We were also concerned about possible flash flooding, as there were several low areas covered in water!

We finally reached some semblance of civilization (we passed through several small towns that had lost power and had significant wind damage), and ultimately turned onto Rt. 321 North in Fairfax, SC.

The weather had improved, and I drove while Wayne rested.  This scenic “European detour” led us through small communities named Denmark and Norway! Imagine that!

We realized that our plan to make it home in one day just wasn’t going to happen, so throwing in the proverbial towel, we stopped for the night just south of Charlotte, NC, near the Carowinds amusement park.  Pleased to say that the Motel 6 there “left the light on” for us. 😉

The next morning, Saturday, June 18th, we were up and on the road early (after a wonderful breakfast at Cracker Barrel, paid for with a gift card!), and we had smooth travels.  We stopped at a beautiful park on the Dan River, where we took a moment to bless and prayer for the health and safety of the life-giving water (as we’d done at almost every body of water on this trip, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean), and we stopped again at a park in Lynchburg, VA on the James River.

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Almost home, our final stop was at the cemetery where my parents are buried.  A small seashell from Sanibel Island was added to the collection of rocks and other things we’ve gathered and placed there since we began traveling in 2013.  (The handmade brick is from the house–no longer standing–where my mother was born in rural Nelson County, Virginia.)

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This was truly an amazing 3000-mile journey.   We are so thankful that along the way we were able to connect and reflect with family and friends; that we were able to see so many wild and beautiful places and animals; that we have the health, stamina (!) and means to make a trip like this, and that we were able to safely return home–tired, but happy–and in full awareness of just how richly blessed we are. <3

June 28, 2016:  Want to play along?  This link is to an interactive map of our trip:

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1mGgfqO4xRiaq4OlmKWFhU-KjXRo&usp=sharing

Trip-Map-June2016

Posted in Animals & Wildlife | 3 Comments

Sewing the “Barbados Bag” by Pink Sand Beach Designs

I’m still a relatively new “sewist,” but I felt ready to tackle this pattern for a cross body bag from Pink Sand Beach Designs:

I liked the look and the size of the bag, and I hoped I would learn a few new techniques in the process of putting it together.

When I received the pattern and looked at the instructions, however, I was completely overwhelmed.  There were so many pieces!  And so many steps!  I’ve made a variety of purses over the last year, but I’d never seen anything quite like this one….

Encouraged by the number of positive reviews written by people who had successfully completed this project, I finally just started cutting out the pieces.  (I opted to use three different fabrics–a floral, the pink and the black–instead of the five that the pattern called for.)   Then I carefully followed the instructions line by line, step by step, without reading ahead or really trying to anticipate how all of the pieces and parts would fit together.

By the time I got the front and back pieces done, I realized it was actually a very well-thought-out design, with very clear, precise instructions. The pictures that were included in the pattern were quite helpful, too, though I wish I could have found and watched a video tutorial before I started; sometimes I need to *see* in order to more quickly understand…

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Feeling a bit more confident, I decided to make an adjustable strap.  I’d never made one before, and it wasn’t an option in the pattern.  That said, the pattern had directions for an attached strap (but I wasn’t sure which length would be right for me) and it also had directions for making a detachable strap.  Had I followed the directions for making a detachable strap–and then made it adjustable–I would have saved myself some trouble….

Instead, I wanted to make an attached adjustable strap, and I went to Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts to buy the hardware for it.  To my surprise they didn’t have exactly what I needed in the store, so I decided to improvise….

Well, trip #2 to Jo-Ann’s (the same day!) involved getting more hardware…. Despite carefully pinning and testing the position of the strap before sewing it to the bag, I still manage to twist it!  Of course I didn’t know this until I turned the bag right side out when I was completely “finished”! Darn!!

To fix this, I had to cut the strap, untwist it, and then re-connect the two strap pieces by sewing them through a piece of hardware that matches the hardware on the other side of the bag.  Kind of looks like I planned it that way. 😉

But hey, it all WORKED and my “Barbados Bag” is finished!

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There are pockets everywhere!  There’s a “hidden” slip pocket, as well as a zippered pocket on the front:

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There are two slip pockets on the back, as well as two slip pockets inside.  The top of the bag has a zippered closure.

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The finished size is 10-1/2″ wide x 10″ tall x 2″ deep.  It’s a good “every day” bag, as well as a perfect “vacation” bag, with room for everything.

Will I make it again?  Maybe.  It’s one that takes a lot of time to put together, so it’s not something I anticipate making to try to sell.  But would I enjoy playing with other color combinations and fabric patterns?  Oh, yes! 🙂

Update: June 21, 2016:

I used this bag exclusively on a week-long trip to TN and FL and I LOVE it!  I was able to fit my over-sized wallet/checkbook combo in it, as well as my cell phone, keys, portable pharmacy and much more.  I’ll probably make another one as soon as I get a chance. 🙂

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More Sewing Projects!

Right as the school year was ending, I decided to make some small makeup/cosmetic/gadget bags for my 7 female advisees as end-of-school-year gifts.  Of course I always get good ideas when I don’t have a lot of time to follow up on them, but with a whole lot of cutting, fusing and sewing, I got them done!

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I had so much fun making these, that I started making more.

And even MORE!

I changed a few things from the first ones, adding zipper tabs, and also adding a ribbon pull to the zipper.  I LOVE combining different outer and lining fabrics and colors, and while there IS a lot of cutting and fusing (i.e. “time”) involved, I’ve found that it’s helpful to cut several pieces of interfacing, several pieces of fusible fleece, several pieces of lining, several zipper tabs, and several pieces of fabric at one time.  And then it’s helpful to do all of the pressing and fusing at one time.  Then, with all of that done, it’s a relatively quick process (hahahaha) to sew them together.

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I really love how these are turning out–and there are more in the works!  If you click on a picture, you’ll see a larger view. 🙂

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An Unexpected Visitor in My Classroom

With the school year finally winding down, May 23rd was a “review day” for the upcoming semester tests and exams; graduation is on Saturday, May 28th.  During the second class of the day, I (again) started going through things the students should know to be prepared for their second semester art test.

At one point, while talking about artist Claes Oldenburg, I happened to glance up, and then I stopped–mid-sentence–looking toward the ceiling.  One of my students followed my gaze, and then loudly asked, “WHAT IS THAT?!”

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It doesn’t take much to totally de-rail an end-of-year test review, and this little guy hanging above our heads accomplished that with ease.  The girl who asked the question was already out the door by the time I answered her question: “Um, it’s a bat.”

The students were (obviously) distracted by this unusual classroom visitor, and after quickly covering a few more key points in the review, I sent everyone to the library to use the rest of the period as a study hall.  Aside from their distraction, I was concerned that the bat might start flying around the room, which could put both the kids and it at risk.

To digress for a bit, I like bats.  Really.  I first started learning about them in 2005 when I found a baby bat in some bushes on the side of my house.  It was still alive, but very weak, and I was completely at a loss as to what to do with it.

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I contacted The Wildlife Center of Virginia, and they put me in touch with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in my area who specializes in bats.  Robin gave me some instructions over the phone, and then she came to my house that evening.  She said that I had a maternal colony of Big Brown bats living in the louvers of my attic (not IN my attic), and that the baby had fallen out of the louvers. She took it home to care for it until it was ready to be released.

In the years since then, I’ve had a number of baby bats fall from the louvers, and with Robin as backup (in addition to the classes I’ve taken through the Wildlife Center), I’m a pretty competent and safety-minded “rescuer” and “first-responder,” though I’m still not a permitted/licensed rehabber. My job is to keep a baby hydrated and/or fed, and to give the mother bat a chance to retrieve her baby by putting it on a piece of mesh that is raised up towards the louvers.

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If the mother doesn’t claim her baby after a night or two, then Robin steps in to care for it, releasing it when it is capable of being on its own.

During the Spring of 2012, I was involved in an unbelievable number of rescues, and I became increasingly concerned about the well-being of these little creatures which play such a vitally important role in our environment.

Between the loss of habitat and White Nose Syndrome, some areas in the northeastern United States have seen a decline in bat populations of approximately 80%. (http://www.nwhc.usgs.gov/disease_information/white-nose_syndrome/)

I haven’t had a maternal colony of Big Brown bats here since 2012, and last week I checked with my neighbors across the street.  They haven’t had any at their house (roosting behind their chimney) for a few years, either….

Just last Friday, I asked Chris, one of our maintenance guys at school, if he had seen bats flying around the campus, because several years ago I was involved in a rescue there: http://art-rageous.net/BigBrownBat-Winter2011.html )

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Chris said that he’d seen a few flying–and that he’d safely removed a couple from one of the buildings on campus recently–and I told him about my interest in and concern for bats.  I told him to let me know if he ever found any he needed help with.

Well, as it turned out, Chris was the one who showed up this morning to help me with the bat in my classroom.  It was still hanging onto the wall when he arrived, and it was still there when he returned with a ladder.  (I didn’t want to use the flash, so I brightened this image in Photoshop.)

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It appeared to be an adult, and it didn’t move or make a sound until Chris gently pulled it from the wall, wrapping it in a heavy, folded-up shirt.

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Fully alert at this point, it squeaked and protested; scared out of its wits, but doing its very best to look fearsome.

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After I snapped these pictures, Chris placed the bat on a nearby tree and we both expected it to immediately fly away.  It didn’t.

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Realizing that it was probably dehydrated, I went back to the art room to get some water and a clean paintbrush.  Over the years, I’ve re-hydrated–and fed–a lot of baby bats by delivering liquids to them via a paintbrush:

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It was still on the tree when I got back with the water, but as I moved closer, it turned around, stretched its wings out, flapped a couple of times, and then flew off towards the woods.  Yay!

These days every little bat in every little colony is important, and I’m so glad that this one appeared to be okay.

The following article about Virginia’s bats was published in 2013, and things aren’t improving in the state or in the nation. The risk for extinction is real. 🙁

http://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/article_890ae3b7-9956-5458-a054-2e35176136c5.html

 

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Bear Creek Lake State Park

After a couple of rainy weeks with gray, dreary skies, the weekend of May 7-8, 2016 was warm and beautiful in Virginia!  On Saturday we made more progress on the travel trailer we’re renovating, and on Sunday we decided we were long overdue for a day trip adventure.

We decided to go to Bear Creek State Park.  There are several ways to get there, and we opted to travel east on I-64, then south on VA Rt. 15.  The drive took approximately an hour and a half.

After paying the $4 entrance fee, we drove through the campgrounds, looking for sites that appealed to us.  We really liked sites #1 and #3 in Acorn Loop.  Both are pull-thru sites, close to the bathhouse, with water and electric hook-ups.

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Our next stop was the lake.  A few people were out in canoes and paddle boats (which can be rented near the beach), but we enjoyed simply relaxing by the water for an hour or so.

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It was so nice to just sit for a while!

While we plan on camping at Bear Creek Lake, we decided to drive around to the other side of the lake to check out the cabins.  Very impressive!  Some, like this one (#4) have water views.  Yes, I could see myself in one of those rocking chairs, looking out over the water!

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When we left the park, we took a variety of back roads, and we were delighted to see several fields full of buttercups!

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There were wonders everywhere!

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Our route home took us through the historic town of Scottsville on the James River.  We enjoyed a late picnic lunch beside the river, while watching the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies “puddling” in the mud near the river bank.

027-JamesRiver-Scottsville  026-Butterflies

We detoured to stop by two cemeteries where I paid my respects to my mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother, and a great-great grandmother.  It seemed like an appropriate close to a beautiful, relaxing Mother’s Day.

056-Witt-Cemetery  065-Sky-Mountain-Hebron

Things took an unexpected twist, however, shortly after we got home.  I walked out on my porch around 9:00 pm, and I was stunned to see a large BEAR in my back yard, tearing down my thistle feeders!!  When it heard me, it ran across our small garden area, easily scaled the 4-foot fence, and disappeared into the woods.  Whoa!!

After making a few phone calls to alert my neighbors (I live in a suburban neighborhood, not out in the middle of nowhere!), I was surprised when my security light came on again because the bear was dragging a bag out of my trash can!  WAY too bold!

After chasing it off a second time, we went out the basement door, armed with two pots that we banged together to make a lot of noise.  We retrieved the trash bag, and brought the trash can into the basement.

I’ve lived here since 2001, and this is a first….  I frequently have deer in the yard (along with raccoons), but a BEAR?! Uh, no….

Some time later, I realized that the Universe must be having a belly laugh at our expense: Yep, our Mother’s Day adventure was to Bear Creek Lake State Park! 😉

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