Sunday, February 17, 2008

Parasurfers at Fort DeSoto Park

We've never seen so many parasurfers in one place. This was at the eastern point of the island. There was a lot of traffic around Fort DeSoto Park, and we thought that maybe there was a parasurfer event or race going on. We inquired about the increase in traffic at the bike rental shack, and found out that this is the beginning of Spring Break traffic. The parasurfers were here because of the weather. They were enjoying the breeze.

A parasurfer leaps into the air.

A parasurfer in front of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

After watching the parasurfers we went to the north beach to go for a walk. The air temperature is warm enough, but the water is too cold to go swimming. It was fun walking along the beach and kicking around in the water. The sand was like powdered sugar and the water was crystal clear.

These two guys walked by eating chips out of snack baggies and were mobbed by seagulls. They weren't feeding the birds. The seagulls must have been attracted to the crunching sound of the snack bags.

They tried running away and the seagulls followed. I've never seen anything like it. Seagulls can be obnoxious beggars. We've brought picnic food to the beach, but were never mobbed like this. Note to self: Don't bring chips to the beach in bags that make crunchy noises.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Tiffany Glass at the Morse Museum

We visited The Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Garden, FL. They have a large collection of art glass by Louis Comfort Tiffany. The pieces are from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The color and detail of the windows is impressive. There are many different styles of art represented: Art Nouveau, Arts & Crafts, and "Hudson River School" style paintings to name a few. There are other American artists and different media such as paintings, jewelry, pottery, and furniture. The Tiffany collection is the heart and soul of the museum. The additional pieces by other American artists and media bring the historical setting to life.

Many of the windows were salvaged from mansions in the Northeast before demolition. I tried to imagine the types of settings they were in. It would be interesting to see some of the other architectural pieces that the museum has collected. The Morse Museum rotates its collection seasonally.

Most of the trip was on I-4. The electrical towers along the road in the photo have wooden pallets and old satelite dishes attached to the tops of the towers to encourage birds of prey to nest there. There have been birds in the nests in January and February. Today I saw a bald eagle flying along the road.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Gamble Plantation

We visited the The Gamble Plantation Historic State Park Ellenton. The Gamble mansion is the only surviving antebellum plantation house in South Florida. The house was the home of Major Robert Gamble. The grounds were an extensive sugar plantation. The house is one of the only surviving tabby block constructions. Tabby is made from crushed seashells and lime. It was built around 1840.

The heat and humidity in Florida takes a toll on buildings, furniture, and textiles. They eventually decompose. The house is being renovated to prevent further deterioration. The Florida Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy bought the mansion in 1925 to prevent it from being demolished. The Gamble Plantation's tie to Civil War history is that the former Secretary of State of the Confederacy, Judah P. Benjamin, sought refuge here after the war. He is an interesting character. Benjamin was born a British Citizen in the West Indies. He attended Yale, was a lawyer in Louisiana, and became the second Jewish U.S. Senator. After fleeing the U.S. he became a barrister in England and Queen's Counsel.

Some of the floors, like in this hallway, had floor coverings made of varnished sail cloth. The decorative patterns were painted using stencils. It was a precursor to linoleum type coverings.

The original contents of the house deteriorated long ago. Replacement furnishings styles are from between the years 1840-1857. This shelf reminds of one at Grandma Apple's house.

Portrait of George Washington and South Carolina Confederate Battle Flag on the wall of the office.

The office.

The workroom.

The Gamble Plantation was one of the first sugar plantations to use steam powered machines. There were 200 slaves working the plantation.

There was another house on the grounds from the late 1800's called The Patterson House, but we didn't get a chance to tour it. They also had a festival with craft booths and food. There was a lot to see, and we'll probably go back some time.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

STS-122 Shuttle Atlantis Launch

We went to Kennedy Space Center to see the launch of STS-122 Shuttle Atlantis. Since didn't have tickets for the unobstructed view of the launchpad, we went to the parking lot to view the launch and beat the crowd out of the parking lot. There weren't very many people in the parking lot, but those we saw made a tailgate party of it. Some folks lounged in camp chairs in shady areas. There was a guy laying on a beach towel on the pavement. We talked to some people who were sitting in and around a pick-up truck near our car. One of the guys was from Monroe, Michigan. We used to live near Monroe. There were also people on top of vans with cameras.

Shuttle Atlantis launch. The shuttle's booster rockets are visible at the top of the flame. They are two white cylinders. You can click on the photos for larger versions.

Shuttle Atlantis roll sequence.

Shuttle Atlantis roll close-up. The pinpoint of light at the end of the cloud is the shuttle.

The mission of STS-122 is to deliver the European Space Agency's Columbus Laboratory to the International Space Station. We walked through some lab modules in the International Space Station (ISS) exhibit. They're shaped like soup cans that are big enough for people to walk through. It is a big deal when one of these modules gets installed. It's like adding a new room to a house. Previous missions prepared hardware on the ISS to install the new module. European Space Agency astronaut LĂ©opold Eyharts flew to the ISS with the crew of STS-122. Flight Engineer Daniel Tani, who flew to the space station on the STS-120 mission, will be returning home with the STS-122 crew.