Egret hunting near a breakwater on Clearwater Beach, Florida

Kapok Tree Inn ...Today

A couple of months ago, I posted some photos taken in the 1970's of the Kapok Tree Inn of Clearwater, Florida. You can see the post here.
Since the Kapok Tree building was taken over by Sam Ash Music, the gardens are still in existence and used for parties and weddings. Last month, I was able to visit the Kapok Tree gardens and was pleasantly surprised - they looked better than they did about five years ago, but nothing compares to the way they looked in the 60's and 70's.

I have to say the statues and fountains show signs of aging such as staining and wear; they've taken on the look of the old world and actually look pretty good. The marble columns and floors also have the antique look and have worn well. The gardens don't look too bad, but could stand a little TLC by someone who really knows gardening, but overall, the place is still nice. It kind of reminds me of a person's garden that was once fantastic but they grew old and couldn't do much work in the garden anymore. After 20 years you stop by for a visit and it isn't what it once was, yet it still has great "bones." A few days of work and it could be great again.
At the front of the building, the Kapok Tree still stands. It seems to have lost a large bough and from the smashed marble benches and railing below, I'll bet it fell with a bang. I noticed some construction equipment in the area, so I'm hoping the smashed items are going to be fixed soon. If Sam Ash Music (or whoever owns the building) would restore the broken items and just pay a bit more attention to manicuring the gardens and cleaning the empty paper cups from the fountains, this place would look fantastic again.

There's always hope.

Fort DeSoto

Fort DeSoto Park, just outside of St. Petersburg Beach, Florida is another great place to visit for a trip back in time - to the Spanish-American War. This fort was constructed to guard the entrance to Tampa Bay, yet not a single shot was fired in defense in all the years the fort was manned.

During WWII, the island on which the fort sits, as well as a few others, were used by the US for bomb practice. Each time I visit, I get knocked back into the times when soldiers wore wool uniforms in the Florida sun, and fought a relentless enemy - the mosquito.

You can walk through the fort and on top of it. From the water, the fort appears to be a hill of sand with a few palm trees on it, but behind it are four mortars capable of sending a shell the weight of a Volkswagen over three miles!

There are lots of things to do at this park, hiking, biking, camping, fishing and swimming on what was named Florida's best beach of 2005.

There are tales of hauntings at this fort, and in the fort, one does get a strange feeling while walking through the dark, concrete rooms. Almost every time I visit, a distant thunderstorm adds random "booms" to the quiet sounds of birds and waves - like distant explosions from a battle that never happened.

I don't believe in ghosts, but I have to admit one rather chilling thing did happen at the Fort in 1995. I was walking with my wife along the outside of the fort, right next to the entrances to the various rooms when we heard the muffled conversations of a crowd of people coming from inside one of the rooms. We decided to peek in to see what was going on inside. A chill ran down our spines when we discovered we were the only two people within hundreds of yards of the fort. It wasn't until a few years later that we read about the supernatural activity at the fort. Somehow I'm a believer in supernatural activity at Fort DeSoto, somehow a sound of a crowd reverberated in the fort...but ghosts - no such thing!

Caladesi Island State Park

Right next to Clearwater Beach is Caladesi Island State Park. In the mid to late 1980's, a hurricane connected the state park to Clearwater Beach, so if you're crazy enough to walk along the shore from the south end of the beach you'll run into it. It's got to be a 4 mile walk in the sand one way (if not more) so I always have to give myself enough time to get there and back. About 3/4 of the way there, you notice the lack of builings and people and finally you arrive in "The real Florida."


The beach narrows due to the dense vegetation

As much as I don't like to lay on the beach, this is one of my favorite places to visit - no motels, no crowds just natural beauty to explore. There are three miles of trails winding through the island beneath the Sabal Plams and Pine trees, but you'll have to watch out for the occasional Diamondback Rattlesnake. (I've never seen one).


View of a path leading to the beach

According to the guidebooks, the only way you can get to Caladesi Island is by boat. You can pick up a ferry from the Dunedin Causeway. It's a fun ride, but I really like the walk from Clearwater Beach.

Day Two on the Road

The second and final day of driving took us from Ashburn, Georgia to Clearwater Beach, Florida.
Right down the street from the motel we stayed overnight was the world's largest peanut, a monument to the peanut growers of Georgia. I remember seeing this next to interstate 75 when I was a child; it was one of those landmarks we would search for along the way (and continue to do so today). It's interesting to see how many things have remained and how they've changed.
Since it was right next to the road, we stopped for a picture or two, then on to our next stop in Lake Park, Georgia - a $3 book sale where we always find some cool books.
They must advertise this bookstore for 100 miles north and south, it's the "King Frog" or "Rock City" of southern Georgia. At least they have some good books.
After a few more hours of driving, we'd arrive on Clearwater Beach!

Lookout Mountain, Tennessee

The first day of our annual trip to Florida began at 6:00 am on June 15th as we pulled out of the local Dunkin' Donuts with two coffees, three chocolate milks, and a dozen donuts. This year we were planning on driving from Chicago to Ashburn, Georgia as we have done in the past. That's about 870 miles, a good distance for a single day of driving.

Just after dinner- a few miles west of Chattanooga, Tennessee, we decided to take a little detour to Lookout Mountain. A couple of years ago the mountain was covered in fog as passed, so this year since it was clear, we drove up. I remember a place called Point Park that had great views of the valley and memorials to the battles of Lookout Mountain.

We arrived and parked a couple of blocks away on a residential street. Beautiful homes lined the road, most with views of the valley. We arrived at the park and began to explore the cannons, panoramic views and monuments. We were the only five people in the park-my kind of place!

A view of the Tennessee River from the top of Lookout Mountain (elevation 2392 feet)

The views are great and it is said you can see seven states from some points on the mountain.
With all of the Civil War era cannons around, it's easy to slip back in time to the Civil War era and imagine what it was like for the soldiers to keep watch and fight on this plateau.

Mike aiming the cannon!

The kids enjoyed being able to see an entire city from above. They began picking out landmarks along the interstate below so they could turn around when we passed the landmark and look up at the mountain to find Point Park.

The kids look out over Chattanooga at sunset

We left the park just as the sun went down, and prepared for our three to four hour drive to Ashburn, GA. We drove down the narrow, twisting two land road to the foot of the mountain and picked up I-24 east. As we drove east on 24 we hit the landmark the kids and I picked out from the top of the mountain (a yellow billboard next to the river). They turned and searched for the mountain and then for the stone building where they stood previously scanning the valley below. Christopher was able to find it and couldn't believe how long it took us to drive to the little yellow dot we picked out in the valley.

Fun on the 4th!


Tommy waiting for the village fireworks to start.
3 second time exposure

Happy 4th of July!

Hope you all have a great 4th!

Ed in the News


It seems the biggest (newly married) railfan of the Chicago area was a witness to a train accident on the Northwest side. Eddie was going in to work when he saw the accident. He was interviewed by four networks and aired by three.


Here's the whole story:

Look on the right side of my page to see the link to his blog "Eddie K's Railfan Blog"

Dinosaur World

Walking through a garden filled with life-sized dinosaurs in Plant City, Florida.

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Fort DeSoto Park

We're checking out an historic fort near St. Petersburg, Florida.

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On the road

A great day at Disney World!

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World's Largest Peanut

On the road in Ashburn, Georgia

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Auto Detailing

Anyone who has known me for a long time knows that I love a clean car. So much that before I married and had a family, I would wash my car at least 5 times a week and wax it once a week from March to November. Needless to say, now that I don't have the time to do that anymore, when I clean my car I'm especially happy.

Since high school, John, Steve and I would detail our cars every Saturday. Detailing means washing, drying, polishing, waxing, shampoo every little spot on the car. The door jams, hinges, in between the hood and the fender - every possible spot on our cars was clean including the engine. This would take up a good part of our Saturdays since a detail on a moderately dirty car could take 6 to 8 hours. Sounds like a long time, but when you're using cotton swabs and toothbrushes to get the dry wax out of every seam in the car, the time flies.

Most people would wash, dry and wax their cars and feel good about it. Not us. Just like painting, it's the preparation that takes the time and makes or breaks the job. If you look closely at a car in the sun, you can see millions of tiny micro scratches caused by washing, and just everyday use. I have to get rid of as many of these as possible or the paint won't look deep and wet.

This is the process that takes the longest, Meguiar's makes a great line of products called Mirror Glaze and they vary in intensity. Each one is applied to the paint and worked in by hand or with a rotary buffer until almost dry, then wiped off before it dries. This is a lot harder than waxing because you get out of it only what you put in. The products I use are numbered 2, 4, 7, 9 (the lower the number, the more abrasive) and if I have some difficult spots on the car, I'll use #2 or #4 which actually makes the paint dull by putting in millions of microscratches, but it's removing the bad layer of oxidation. Then it's followed up with #7, a reseal glaze that removes the microscratches and makes the car look wet. I'll use #9 if there are any swirls left in the paint from the rotary buffer and finally the car is ready for wax.

Here's a photo of my car after the Mirror Glaze but before the wax. My car is a 2001 Intrepid with 113,000 miles on it ( I drive a lot), so it gets used, but it still shines!


And a close-up of the trunk showing how deep the shine is.

You can't see the pearl finish, but in the light the dark blue has a pearl luminosity that almost glows- if you polish it properly.

New Front Door and Trim


I finally got tired of the old metal front door we had, so I replaced it with a woodgrain door. It has the warm look the foyer needed. After the new door, it was clear to me that I needed to enhance the boring, store-bought trim around the door. I did a little shopping and came up with a bunch of trim that looked good together and created a formal entrance, without overpowering the house.

I also had to install new trim on the rest of the windows on the front of the house, so everything would tie in. It's a pleasure to approach the house now!

Civil War Days

Saturday was a beautiful day for a trip to the annual Civil War Days at Naper Settlement in Naperville, Illinois. As we entered the Civil War era camp, we noticed the crude replica tents the re-enactors set up to sleep in, as well as the wonderful aroma of around 50 campfires (most with meat hanging above). Hundreds of re-enactors were busy with their rustic way of life; some brought their babies swaddled in 1800 cloth.

The battle re-enactment was great. We were forced to stand behind five or six rows of people, but we were able to see just fine. The battle used black powder muskets and era cannons which filled the air with light gray smoke. I couldn't imagine how smoke-filled a civil war battlefield would have been given the huge amount of smoke these few guns put out in such a small period of time. It must have been almost impossible to see anything. During the larger battles of the Civil War, it has been said that so much sulfur was released into the air that after a few days of fighting, the sulfur would seed the clouds and rain would begin to fall.

Here's a shot of a single Union soldier - notice the fire exiting the barrel of the musket (but please don't notice the guy taking his picture in the background)!

Carthage College, Kenosha, Wisconsin

A quick visit to Carthage College for a copyright workshop turned into a 4 1/2 hour drive in heavy Chicago traffic. I gave myself three hours to drive less than 100 miles on interstates and I probably averaged 20 miles per hour! What a headache.

The conference was informative, and I was able to take a few quick shots of Lake Michigan and some Carthage landmarks on my lunch break.
Lake Michigan Shoreline Kenosha, Wisconsin

The conference was in the main library which had an auditorium seemingly equipped for performances and perhaps videography.

Hedberg Library, Carthage College

The Kissing Rock is a landmark of Carthage College. Click on this link to read about its history. It has been painted many many times by students and organizations. It appears this time it was painted black and colorful feathers were stuck to it. I'm not sure if it has anything to do with the fact that Carthage removed the feathers from its logo last year, or if it's just supposed to be pretty. Maybe someone will comment....

Kissing Rock


Part of growing up on the south side of Chicago was spent shopping along Archer Avenue, between Kedzie Ave. and California Ave. This was before Walmart and all the others became so prominent.

I can remember "Archer Avenue Big Store" a department store that took up a good portion of the block just north of Sacramento Avenue. This was an old fashioned, private owned department store with worn out hardwood floors, and wide terrazo stairs leading to the lower level. I spent most of my time on the lower level looking at the toys when I was young, and then graduated to the decorations and housewares around Christmastime as I grew up. I purchased my first set of miniature Christmas lights for $3.99 sometime around 1979. Before then, most Christmas lights I knew of used the large, colored glass bulbs, so it was a treat to get a set of the tiny ones.

Another well known store on this section of Archer was Neisner's, a variety store that sold everything from greeting cards to mothballs, clothes to vases. The old five and dime with a lunch counter! Where have those days gone?

My mother would take us there for lunch occationally, where we would sit at the counter on the swivel stools attached to the floor and watch the cook make our lunch. The long Formica counter held a variety of juice fountains that cycled the different colored juice to the top of the clear, rectangular container where it dripped down the sides creating a fountain of juice. Soft drinks were served in paper cone cups placed inside aqua colored plastic holders similar to the ones shown here. conecupsodacup1When the cup was in the holder, an hourglass shape was created. Using a straw to get the last drops of juice out of the pointed end of the cone cup made a lot of noise!

After lunch it was off to the toy department! I still have a little red firetruck, Santa Clause figure and assorted other toys and decorations from that store. Neisner's had some other prominent features of dime stores of the time: A photo booth where you could get six pictures for a quarter; a record bin where you could get a 45 rpm record for under $1, and an original stamped tin ceiling complete with tin crown moulding.

Neisner's closed in the early 1980's, but was replaced with another variety store called McCrory's. I worked there for about seven years from high school and through college; it was close to home and a fun place to work. While ripping out some old shelves in the store basement, I found the cast iron Neisner's sign that was originally mounted on the brick facade of the building.

The sign is about 14 inches long and weighs at least three pounds. It's part of my small collection of things from the past that I won't part with.

5 cents to a dollar? Where can you buy anything anymore for 5 cents?

The "Right" Way to Look at Things


Here's a sign I ran across while driving in Lockport, Illinois.
Such a bold statement for a business, I had to get a shot of it.

Disney World 1973

Originally opened in October 1971, Walt Disney World has grown into an American institution. My first visit was in 1973, when the park was only about a year a half old.

Stepping onto the ferry for the ride across the lake to the main entrance was exciting. Here's a view of lake with the park in the background- not much there yet!


The Disney officials did not allow any photos of the rides or attractions, so we didn't get too many photos at the time.

I do remember admission was a lot different than it is today. Back then, you purchased a booklet of tickets. You needed a ticket to get on every ride, so basically, you could only go on a ride once (unless they had different types of books for more money).

I also remember they were planning Space Mountain at the time, and we saw the area fenced off and under construction. So many rides have come and gone, including 2000 Leagues under the Sea, the submarine ride. If you pretended not to see the strings, the fish appeared to be swimming in the water. Here's a neat site with a lot of photos of the ride, including behind the scene pics:

It was probably the most crowded place I've ever been. We still talk about the crowd, but in those 30 years, Disney has really learned to keep that crowd moving. I'm sure it's more crowded now than ever before, but the lines move pretty quickly and you no longer remember the crowds more than the fun.