Monday, July 31, 2017

Hitting the Water in the Florida Keys

Our primary objective in the Florida Keys has been cancelled due to the weather. That doesn't mean we still can't see what's swimming around out on the reef, we just have to tackle it from another angle. But first, we have to talk about another quirky find.

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Yesterday, as we got rained out from one adventure to another, I was looking for something other than simply than going back to the hotel to watch TV. Traveling down the Overseas Highway near our hotel, I saw a small sign on the median simply saying "African Queen" with a symbol for a U-Turn.

I follow the sign to a tour boat dock and there it is, the African Queen. This is the boat used in the movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. After the filming was over in Africa, the production left the boat behind.  Found partially sunk in Cairo, the current owners bought it and brought it back to Florida for a restoration.

Wandering over to it, we note that it's just like in the movie and, when the captain turns on the steam powered engine, sounds just the same, too.  

It's now available for tours of the Key Largo marina. Unfortunately, it is not wheelchair accessible, though.

Fortunately, there's a large glass bottom boat docked next to it that the operator says is so we plan on taking that the next morning for a tour.

Now it's a day later and we're rolling onboard the boat. Tim stakes out a spot near the front of the boat by the underwater window.  Other passengers board, the boat is maybe half full, and we launch towards the Atlantic Ocean.

Gently and slowly we pass big waterfront mansions with pools at the water's edge. One even has a waterslide built in to go right into the channel. Once we've cleared the marina, the captain boosts the engines for the half hour ride out to the reef which sits seven miles offshore.

Even though we're seven miles out, the water is still shallow...anywhere from eight to forty feet deep...and a skeletal metal lighthouse stands on the shallowest part of the reef.

Now, the captain puts the engines on idle as we drift lazily over the reef, taking in the damsel fish, parrot fish, barracuda, and more. The colors of the coral shine vibrantly in the sun-filled, clear water.

The guide on the boat picks up a mic and begins the description of what we see but starts with a warning to remove any sandals or anything loose so that they don't fall into the well where the underwater window is, followed about ten seconds later by a lady next to Tim dropping her flip flop in.

" I just said," the guide goes on, "please remove loose items so that they don't fall in. For the lady that just dropped her shoe, we can negotiate how much it will cost for me to go down and retrieve it later."

A kid at the other end takes this as his cue to toss his stuffed animal in, too.

Except for a couple of clueless fellow passengers, it's still a stunning sight to see all the sealife below.  No, we didn't get to actually get in the water to go snorkeling like we wanted to but this is probably the next best thing and it's accessible too, including the bathroom on board.

We drift this way for about an hour before it's time to fire up the engines for the ride back.

Tim and I take this opportunity to sit on the fantail and enjoy the ocean spray on this hot, Florida day.

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Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Cocktail Hour: Belgians on Ice, Part Deux or Part Twee

Felt like something different for this week's Cocktail Hour so I decided to expand upon our original Belgians on Ice post.

Today, I needed to go to the store for some groceries and remembered that the Stater Brothers in Glendora is right next door to Lone Hill Liquor, home to a vast array of beers.

Letty likes the sours, so I'm looking for something she'll enjoy without breaking the bank like the sour rye I see from the Bruery that goes for around $24 for a 750 ml. bottle.  There is a great selections here and I end up settling for the Rodenbach Grand Cru at about half the price of the Bruery's version.

For me, it's been a long time since I've enjoyed a St. Bernardus brew, so I go with the hyper-strong ABT 12, which clocks in at 10% alcohol.

First the sour...Rodenbach is a classic Flemish Red Ale made in Roeselare, Belgium. It's sour, real sour my wife hint of sweetness at all. That's fine with her as she likes her sour ales as sour as possible.  It's aged over two years in oak barrels and has added bacteria to impart that tartness.

When it hits the tongue, the first thought is vinegar, like the malt vinegar you put on fish and chips, but let it linger a little bit and you'll find a rich savoriness in the background that's quite interesting.

I admit, I'm still developing my taste for the sour ales but each time I try, I like it a little more.

The St. Bernardus is an abbey ale, a quadruppel, which goes down very smooth like a good Belgian dubbel like Petrus or Kwak. It explodes with a rich, deep, almost sweet taste that goes down like velvet.

At 10% alcohol, this one will kick your ass if you're not careful...I think I'll need a nap after this bottle.  Only drink it if you're somewhere you won't have to drive from any time soon.

It's a delicious beer with a well-hidden kick.

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Friday, July 28, 2017

The Fates Are Angry in South Florida

When I booked this trip, the highlight was meant to be snorkeling at the coral reef located off of Key Largo. Tranquil Adventures charters a boat with a pool lift built into it to lower disabled passengers into the water.

Upon arrival a couple of days ago, I called Captain Mick...owner of Tranquil let him know we were here and when we should go. We settled upon today.

Today dawns windy and cloudy. It's still warm to hot. I call the captain and he says we're still on. I ask him a few questions...does he provide towels, what kind of sandwich he'd like us to bring him, etc...and then he asks if we plan to go in the water.

"Well, yes...that's the whole reason we booked so we could go snorkeling," I tell him.

Every other month we will ship you (6) of our Classic Series wines (4) reds and (2) whites each chosen for the varietal and regional character. These wines are chosen from hundreds tasted each month delivered with a 20 page newsletter He tells me the weather and water is way to choppy to do that. All we'd be able to do, basically, is to take a boat ride.  We agree to forgo the trip. Accessible snorkeling will not be on the menu for our Keys trip as we'd hoped (we'll try to make up for it somewhat in the next post).

Now we've suddenly got a free day with absolutely no plans. I jump on the computer Googling "things to do in Southern Florida" and find the Everglades Alligator Farm about an hour's drive away near Homestead.

I see that they also have airboat rides through the Everglades. Sounds like fun so we load up the car and go.

It's still cloudy and starting to sprinkle when we arrive.  Letty heads inside while a gentleman  sitting in a rocking chair on the porch warns me "they don't let handicapped people ride the boats."

"Really?" I ask him.

"Yeah, I'm a amputee from the knee down and they won't let me on."

I go inside to get more information. The lady at the ticket counter tells me that's not true and that they have an accessible dock and the staff will help lift and transfer the rider into the boat. She offers to let me inside for free to inspect the dock and boats to make sure.

Yep, everything is as she says it is so I head back in to make our arrangements except when I do I see a video monitor above her head with what looks like a weather map.  It shows a system full of yellow and orange spiraling into an area of red and a blue dot. I ask the lady what the blue dot is.

"That's us," she tells me.

"So you mean that red, orange, and yellow system is heading right towards us?"


(Not the actual map we saw but similar)

This does not look even remotely good, thankfully we found that out before buying tickets.

We start to head back towards the Keys when we spot a produce shack called Robert is Here. Yes, that is a strange name for a fruit stand but Florida...

Letty wants to stop and buy some fresh fruit for later (check out the size of the guava she found). I pull in but while she's inside, I figure out this corner spot will be very hard to get out of so when I get a lucky break in traffic, I move to another parking spot about fifty feet away.

Oh, the hands of fate dealt with us then...that red and orange spot? It arrived while my wife was inside.  A deluge of Biblical proportions hit and hit hard. Visibility dropped down to about 100 feet.  The awning over the entrance funneled the rain into a water wall rivaling the majesty of Niagara.

Tim and I were waiting in the car. My options were to leave him alone and go find Letty to tell her we moved or to wait inside and try to spot her when she came out. I went for plan B.

A few minutes later, I see here come out, getting absolutely soaked, looking the other way.  I honk. Nothing. I honk again, a little more intensely. She walks the other way.

Only one thing left to do..."I'm sorry Tim, you'll just have to wait it out here for a minute while I get your mom."

I dash through the rain and find Letty knocking on the window of a similar looking van.  I grab her arm..."that's not our car," and run her back to ours trying futilely to get inside ours before we get too wet.

It's not happening, we're both soaked to the bone. The driver's seat of our rental van is mildly flooded but at least Tim's still dry and happy in the passenger seat.

When we hit Key Largo, the rain has gone. It was more focused on the Everglades than the Keys.

We call the day a wash and spend some time at the Happy Hour at our hotel's beachside Tiki bar before retiring to the room for the night.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

CEREBRAL PALSY STORIES: Keeping Up Squeaky Clean Appearances-Taking A Shower

Showering! It's a dirty job but everybody has to do it!...Even those individuals who are disabled like me. Since I am disabled from having had Cerebral Palsy all my life, I do have to have my dad help me in getting my weekly showering needs taken care of.
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For us, there are two important things that help make all of our lives a little easier when it comes to giving someone like me a shower. The first is that the shower in my bathroom is a roll in shower instead of a bath tub. For people with disabilities of any kind, having a roll in shower in the bathroom is much easier to work with in the long run as compared to a regular bath tub.  The second thing that makes it easier for me and my family is that we also have a shower chair for me to sit on that we can more or less easily maneuver into the shower without too much difficulty.

Another thing that I should point out about the roll in shower and the bathroom that I use in my house is that when we first into the house where my family and I live at now, the bathroom that I use for all of my bath rooming and showering needs was not fully accessible enough at that time to meet my specific bath rooming needs. Just to give you an idea as to when my family and I moved into the house we currently live at -we moved there in December of 1995 when I was 8 years old.

As I mentioned above, the bathroom that would eventually become mine to use was not fully accessible for me to use at the time when we first moved in. To overcome this obstacle of what would be an obvious remodeling job to the bathroom in order to meet my specific needs, we enlisted the help of the San Gabriel/Pomona Regional Center who provided us with a grant to help pay for the bathroom remodeling job. For the record, our house has a total of 2 bathrooms. The one that I use for my needs and another one that my parents use.

To make a long bathroom remodeling short, it was successfully remodeled pretty soon after we first moved in to meet my needs for the most part and it's pretty good to me in the 20+ years that I have been using it.

Getting back to what this post is really about though and that would be how I take a shower, when it comes to my weekly showering needs and routine.

During the  week, my routine usually begins with an initial shave, a full body scrubbing, and cleansing with help from my dad, Darryl. On Saturdays, I have what is without a doubt the most relaxing one of the week that get to have. That is because on Saturdays, my dad will give me the opportunity to have a nice relaxing spa day in the shower to start the weekend in which I do the best I can to my capabilities and or abilities to give myself a shower. The main reason why I don't get to have a spa day during the week is because there is simply just not enough time to take advantage of the benefits of having a spa day.
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When I have my Saturday spa days, I am usually able to wash my body with a wash rag consisting of the upper portions of my body including my face, arms, chest and stomach. I can also wash and scrub the upper parts of my legs right up to about to where both of my knees are. My disability with Cerebral Palsy does present some physical challenges for me in that I am pretty much unable to thoroughly wash the part of my body that my dad and I like to call the nether regions which includes the private parts on the front end of my body and the buttocks on the back end. 

Another thing that is sometimes physically challenging for me during some of my showers is that either one or both of my legs or feet will go numb from having to sit on the shower chair over a prolonged period of time. When this happens, it will usually take a while for my legs and feet to wake up and for the numbness and tingling sensations to disappear. By the time that I am transferred back into my wheelchair, the numbness and tingling sensations in my legs and feet will usually dissipate and go away once I am back in my wheelchair safe and secure.

Once the soap scrubbing with a wash rag is complete, the next of my spa day Saturdays is for me to grab the shower head that is connected to a water hose so that I can be able to rinse off the soap that is still on my body at this point. During this time that I use the shower head to rinse off my body I should also point out that just like mostly everybody else, I sometimes do sing in the shower while I rinse off just for fun and to help relax me even more than I already am at that point during my spa days.

After I finish the washing and rinsing off portions of the shower, my dad will then come back and help me with shampooing my hair and brushing my teeth with an electric tooth brush. Once that is complete my showering usually comes to an end and all that's left to do dry off and get dressed with my dad's help once again.

To help dry me off and get dressed, my dad will help me do so while I'm still in the shower. 

Once the drying off phase in the shower is finished, my 
dad will then roll me back over to my room to help me get dressed and ready for the rest of my day or night. What I wear usually depends on what time it is during the day. If I have my shower during the morning or if we have to go somewhere afterwards during the afternoons or at night, then I will usually wear my regular articles of clothing just like everybody else such as a T-Shirt, shoes, pants, shorts, leg braces and so on. If I don't have to be fully dressed to go out somewhere, then I will usually wear just my T-Shirt, some socks and a pair of boxers or briefs so that I can relax and be more comfortable during the night at home.

After I'm finished getting dressed, my dad will then transfer me back into my power wheelchair so that I can be free to roam around the house again on my own and get on with the rest of our day or night in our life until the next time my showering schedule returns. With that in mind, it's time to wrap things up and for me to get ready for the next wash, rinse and repeat cycle of my weekly showering routine.

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Tim Musick
Copyright 2017
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Monday, July 24, 2017

It's a Never Ending Spring Break - Spending the Day in Key West, Florida

Another travel goal for me has been to drive the Overseas Highway in Florida from end-to-end.  Now that we're at the northern end in Key Largo, it's time to take a day to drive the 100 miles or so to the southern end in Key West.

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While I had pictured miles and miles of driving over open water between little islets over a vast bridge built across an ocean, in reality, most of the time is spent on solid ground with little bridges connecting the islands in the stream.

It's only when you get to Seven Mile Bridge (exactly as the name implies), between Marathon and Big Pine Keys, where that vision of driving over the ocean meets with reality but the other ninety or so miles is not like that at all. Off to the side, we can see the original railroad bridge that has since fell to ruin.

There is little in the way of traffic congestion today and the GPS takes us straight to the monument marking the southernmost point in the continental United States.  I only wish it could point us to an open parking spot.

After letting my wife out to take pictures (there's a block-long line of people wanting to take portraits with it, that's why none of ours are close up), Tim and I drive around the block and pick her back up when we return.

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We do manage to find a spot, a handicapped spot at that, along the curb on Whitehead Street which runs parallel to the most famous street...Duval Street...but one block south.

Skipping breakfast at the Hampton Inn, I notice a nice looking place near the corner. On one side is the Six Toed Cat, a nifty little cafe with ramped access through the back. The name comes from the edifice on the other side of the corner, the Hemingway House and Museum, which is known for the colony of six toed cats that live there.

The food is delicious and the coffee strong. My wife digs through her fish Benedict while I have the All American bacon and eggs breakfast.  I share my bacon with Tim in exchange for a few bites from his pancakes.

It is a very good way to start our day in Key West and, considering where we are, a very reasonable priced one at that.

The owner is very friendly and easy to talk to. This comes in handy. The one thing I wanted to do while here in Key West is to try an authentic daiquiri. I have a real hard time finding a bartender...including in the Caribbean...who can make one. This was Hemmingway's drink and this is Hemmingway's town, I'm sure someone here can do it right.

I ask the owner where I can find an authentic daiquiri. "Avoid Sloppy Joe's and all the tourist bars on Duval Street. They all make it from mix," he tells me. "Go two corners down, turn left, and go a block. Look for the Blue Heaven Bar. They make a very good and very authentic daiquiri from scratch using only the top ingredients."

I thank him and we wander off to the Blue Heaven.

A lushly overgrown walkway invites us to the open patio in back where we grab a table by the bar.

Three daiquiris are made from scratch and, yes, they are heavenly. Attitudes properly adjusted, we head a couple of blocks north and head down Duval Street.

Duval is the touristy heart of Key West, running from the Atlantic Ocean in the east a little more than a mile to the Gulf of Mexico in the west.

It's like a permanent Spring Break here, lined with bars, restaurants, liquor and drug stores, and souvenir shops of dubious quality.

Live music pours from the clubs. Loud, free spirits line the sidewalks. It's the last place you'd expect to find a quiet respite but yet, we do.

We almost walked right by it. We weren't looking for it but the sign promising the Oldest House in Key West and 'Free Admission' drew us in.

Built in 1829, and home of the Watlington Family, it was moved to it's current spot at 322 Duval Street in 1836.

Bahamian shipwrights built the house so well and so flexible, it has sustained no hurricane damage over the years. That's a big factor in how it ended up being the island's oldest house.

A docent takes us on the ground floor rooms (ramped and wheelchair accessible).

Afterward, we take a few minutes to meditate in the back yard gardens.

Outside, we continue onward to the west end of Duval Street where we meet a tour guide trying to wrangle her dispersed clients into an oceanside happy hour. 

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We wander back to where we started where a salesman at the Mel Fisher gallery lets me hold a coin recovered from the wreck of the Atocha, a 600 year old Spanish ship laden with treasure that Mr. Fisher found and recovered hundreds of millions of dollars in treasure.

The piece I hold in my hand is priced well north of $25,000.

Before we call it a day here in the Conch Republic, we take one more quite break in St. Paul's Church, listening to the organist practice and taking in the spectacular stained glass windows.

One more stop commiserating with the owner of a nearby ice cream shop over cold treats before we head back over the ocean to our hotel in Key Largo.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Saturday, July 22, 2017

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: A Big Ole Taste o' Texas

I wanted to run this cocktail hour a couple of weeks ago but I never figured it would be so darn hard to find a bottle of Lone Star beer in this state.  I'd about given up when I saw that Bevmo listed online so the next time I was at their store, I stopped in a grabbed what may be the last six-pack in Southern California.

To go along with our recent trip reports on Texas, we wanted to do a taste-off of the two most iconic Texas beers, Lone Star and Shiner Bock.

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It's 105 degrees on the patio, so we move this shoot into the house. My neighbor Scott joins Tim and I as we pop open a couple of cold ones to evaluate.

The Lone Star, made by Miller in Fort Worth, under contract to brand owner Pabst, is a pale lager. It's a weak tasting beer, like many other macro brews like Bud, Coors, or even it's sibling brand, PBR.  It'll do on a blistering day like the one we're experiencing today.

Shiner Bock is made by a much smaller company, Gambrinus, in the little town of Shiner, half way between San Antonio and Houston

It's a darker beer but the taste is still weak, maybe just a tad more barliness than Lone Star. Neither have any hoppiness to discern.

We give just a slight edge to the Shiner Bock but neither one are going to the top of our shopping list. Still, it'd be a fine beer to pull a chair and watch some chicken sh*t bingo with.

Let's close with some Texas beer drinking music...

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Darryl Musick
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Friday, July 21, 2017

We'll Get There Fast So We Can Take It Slow: The Florida Keys

We're really racking up the miles on our Southwest Rapid Rewards accounts this week. This is the third flight in that time span, this time from Houston's Hobby Airport to Fort Lauderdale.

It's an early pickup from the hotel so we forgo breakfast there to get it at the airport. Unfortunately, least the terminal we're not one of those that has a decent, sit-down breakfast place to relax it. It's yogurt and fruit in the terminal waiting area.

Southwest again steps up to the plate with helpful access to the plane and a pleasant, on-time flight. A little over two hours later, we're deplaning in Florida.

While the flight was just peaches and cream, the car rental counter not so much. About 50 people in line with two agents checking in at a counter that was built to accommodate at least a dozen. 

Eventually, video terminals were set up so agents in remote areas could check us in online. My agent was in Arizona. 

It was a short stroll from there to pick up our Grand Caravan which, although nice, was not as nice as the two Nissan Rogues we had in Texas. A touch more expensive, too.

Programming our hotel's location into the GPS, we follow the on-board voice of reason to be on our way. Soon, we are not on our way too well. On the Reagan Turnpike, which has billboards along the way calling itself the "Less Stressway," we pay for the privilege of sitting in non-moving traffic. 

Eventually, we clear the clogged traffic south of Miami and finally get moving. At Homestead, the turnpike ends. The road narrows, and we get into the swampy area of south Florida and signs warning of crocodiles crossing the road before we get to the first bridge taking us from the mainland to the first of Florida's southern islands, the Keys.

This first key is to be our base for the next week, Key Largo.

After a couple of hours, we end up at today's destination, the Hampton Inn in Key Largo near the top end of the Florida Keys (at the top I referred to our accumulating points on Southwest, I should also note that our Hilton HHonors account is getting a very healthy boost these couple of weeks).

Not able to book an accessible room here, I took a chance after getting the details of the regular rooms and booked us a junior suite. It'll do, barely, at it seems they took a regular room, crammed a king sized bed along with a sofabed, a table and chairs, and a small coffee and microwave center. 

The bathroom will be adequate, though, and the manager sends up a bath chair for Tim.

Being on the beach, the room and the hotel in general smell a little musty but there's a nice beach here, a pool with a lift, and a tiki bar separating the two.

It's not near as nice as the hotel we just left in Houston but it is nice enough. It'll do.

One thing I promised Letty when we came here, she can eat as much seafood as she wanted (I'm not a fish lover) while we were here so our first stop is to go across the street for dinner.

"Street" is a relative term here. It is the only road to cross, indeed the only road through Key Largo, but that road is the heavily traveled Overseas Highway. It takes a little patience and planning but we do eventually find a spot to cross over between traffic.

Dinner is at the Catch, a laid back diner with a beach vibe to it although it's not on the beach side of the road. 

Letty has a very nice crab cake dinner, Tim goes with fish and chips, while I get the cheeseburger. We just missed happy hour so the beer is full price but it's still very delicious and reasonable.

After the afternoon of traveling, we retire back at the Hampton to relax and create a plan of attack for the rest of our time in south Florida.

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Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved