Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas in Miami

Andrew and I took some time off for the holidays, and drove down to Miami, where I grew up and where many of my family still live. We spent 3 very relaxing days at my brother Glenn's house, from where we set out on some adventures. On 12/26 we cycled up scenic Old Cutler Road, the easternmost road in old Miami, which follows the curve of Biscayne Bay along the edge of waterfront property that surrounds some of the area's grandest homes, and visited Fairchild Tropical Garden, 83 acres of meticulously landscaped gardens hosting thousands of tropical species.

A purple-flowering bromeliad specimen:

One of the many iguanas that roam Miami, this fellow is an unwelcome invasive species that is probably descended from a stowaway in a box of fruit from the Caribbean:

Here, Andrew is next to a silk floss tree (Chorisia speciosa):

After 2 hours exploring Fairchild, we were getting hungry, so we headed south on Old Cutler, and took a detour to Black Point Marina for an outdoor lunch at the waterside bar & grill. Check out the price for stone crab claws: $3.25 apiece!!!

We managed not to feed or get eaten by any cocodrilos

and headed back to Glenn's for homemade eggplant parmigiana, my favorite Italian dish! Thanks, Glenn!

Next, Andrew and I visited Everglades National Park. We entered from the Florida City end of the park, where we encountered this very strange creature in a Cracker Barrel parking lot:

We even managed to sneak up and get this closeup:

This particular species has never been spotted by either of us in Alachua County, so it was a special treat!
Our first stop in the Park was Flamingo, where we saw, but unfortunately didn't get to photograph, a flamingo flying overhead. We hiked the Snake Bight Trail north of Flamingo, where the mosquito population was surprisingly sparse. Here I am, on the boardwalk at the end of the 1.6-mile hike through mangrove and hardwood hammock:

The salt marsh is impressive! A good pair of binoculars would have been welcome, to see the wading birds that were just out of reach. We could identify reddish egrets among the birds feeding in the shallows.

The weather was fabulous, and the walk was very enjoyable, anyway.

Our last stop on the way out was Royal Palm, where we hiked the Anhinga and Gumbo Limbo Trails. Andrew overlooking the slough along the Anhinga Trail boardwalk in the early sunset light:

A tricolor heron on the Anhinga Trail:

Gumbo limbo trees at sunset along the Gumbo Limbo trail:

After leaving the Everglades, we made one last stop in Florida City at Robert is Here, a tropical fruit stand that supposedly serves the best milkshakes in Miami.

We didn't feel up to waiting in the long line for a milkshake, but we bought some sweet, juicy mangoes and avocado honey to enjoy later.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

New tile, biking, & hiking the La Chua Trail

With the remodel progressing smoothly, Andrew and I found that we had a lot less "house stuff" to worry about this weekend than in the past several weeks. The only remodel-related thing we've done all weekend was picking up the new kitchen tile on Saturday morning. Here's a photo of some of the porcelain tiles for our new kitchen countertop and backsplash. Pictured is a sheet of 1x1" mosaic accent tiles, one of the 4x4" bullnose trim tiles, and one piece of sink molding that will form the front edge of the counter. We are both very happy with the soft-washed pale blue color.

The plumbing and electrical inspections should be completed on Tuesday, and then things will really get moving. The drywall guy, cabinet installers, and tile setter will be called in next. The almost-daily FedEx and UPS deliveries have slowed way down, and the only things left to order are the subway tile for the bathroom, and a faucet for the console sink. Oh, and a medicine cabinet, but I'm still looking online, hoping to find the perfect one.

Andrew and I were able to get in a 30-mile bike ride on Saturday afternoon for the first time in weeks. We rode the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail, and took a side trip up to the Overlook for a great view of Paynes Prairie.

Today, we hiked the La Chua Trail, starting from Boulware Springs State Park, just a few miles from Andrew's house. There really are bison on Paynes Prairie, though I have never managed to see any. There are also lots and lots of alligators.

The weather started out great: 78 degrees, sunny, and windy. Perfect weather for a hike.

This is some sort of water control device. You can tell from this photo just how low the water is, and how relatively dry it has been around here this winter.

We saw dozens of Big-Boy gators basking in shallow water and along the canal and lake banks.

Here's one especially big guy, right along the path. Say, "cheese!" That's it, big fella!

We also saw this gorgeous Great Blue Heron in a small water hole just next to the trail. He obliged us by alighting right on the path, where this photo was snapped!

Meanwhile, we could hear sandhill cranes everywhere, but at first only managed to see them flying overhead.

We finally found where they were hanging out, at a big watering hole near the wildlife viewing deck.

We admired the great view from atop the deck, but noticed dark black clouds building to the west across the Prairie.

The rain won, in the end. We raced back to the car the last 1/4 mile or so, and drove home dripping wet!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Foggy sunrise, and the new tub.

I had an early staff meeting, so was on the road a bit earlier than usual today, and snapped these views of the North Florida sunrise on a foggy December morning.

The kitchen ceiling is now finished...

The plumber finished the rough-in for the kitchen faucet....

And...our clawfoot tub was delivered today!

Monday, December 15, 2008

New Kitchen and Bath in Progress

The work officially began on December 2nd! The first really noticeable difference was the replacement of the kitchen window. The previous window was so long it came down to within 2 feet of the floor. Since new cabinets are going in, and the farmhouse sink will be beneath the window, it was necessary to replace the window. Here is the new window. Beneath it you can see the framing for the old window. The old window will be saved and reused in the workshop, eventually.

A section of the old drywall has been removed where Durock will go to provide a backer board for the tile backsplash.

We marked with blue tape where Durock will need to go for the tile that will be installed behind the gas range.

My favorite new change so far: the new cypress beadboard ceiling that is going in!

Wow, is that gorgeous!

Yesterday, Andrew helped me remove the old wallpaper border. We figured, better to take it down now and get it out of our way before the cabinets go in. All it took was a bucket of water, a couple of rags, and some determined peeling. We were finished in less than an hour. It's now apparent that the kitchen was painted pale blue at some time in the past.

Dixie checking out the hole in the floor where the plumber and electrician access the crawlspace:

Dixie "helped" with the wallpaper, too.

Meanwhile, in the bathroom....
The new closet flange, minus (temporarily) the toilet. Not the most exciting part of the remodel, I know, but we were thrilled, since a few months ago we had to take out the toilet and repair the old, broken flange to stop the toilet from rocking and leaking.

The new vent stack:

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Belated Thanksgiving Eve photos

We spent a lovely Thanksgiving Day in Cedar Key, FL with Andrew's family. Everyone helped out by cooking and bringing something. Andrew's sister, Caryn, suggested a stuffing recipe from Epicurious. It's a family favorite (Andrew remembered it, so I knew it must be good). With recipe in hand, we started cooking:

All good stuffing starts with bread cubes. Andrew cubed 3 loaves.
Next came the sauteed veggies: chopped celery, red onion, garlic, red peppers, and fresh oregano and rosemary from The Cottage's garden.

Next, we added raisins and toasted pine nuts. The aroma was wonderful!

We brought two other dishes, roasted winter vegetables and mashed rutabagas (one of my family's favorites. To me, it just isn't Thanksgiving without them). We spent hours in the kitchen. I had never seen Andrew cook before, although he has a beautiful kitchen that is incredibly well-stocked with gadgets, utensils, cookware, and mixing bowls- what a surprise! Thanks to Mom and the girls.
Andrew helped with prepping the veggies: