As we entered month two of our stay in Summerfield, FL, we had settled into a regular routine that included walking, tai chi and yoga for Jan and pickleball for Phil. We both continued to attend weekly beginner line dancing classes. Although we still struggled to remember what steps go with each dance, they were becoming more familiar to us.
We continued to explore various RV parks in the area for possible stays next winter for us and/or our friends. On February 5th, our travels brought us back to Inverness and we stopped for a late lunch at Stumpknockers. We ate indoors and enjoyed the décor on the walls. That evening, we attended a fireside social at the campground but it was rained out within the first 15 minutes. The following night, we went to the community center and listened to the Beachbillies Band. Jan practiced her line dancing skills with some of the other campers.
Jason arrived in Orlando on Saturday, February 13th for a weeklong visit. Although it was rainy many of the days, it was definitely better than in Nashville, where they had extremely cold and snowy weather. On Sunday, we drove to The Villages and attended a crafts fair at the Spanish Springs Town Square. After visiting the many booths, we relaxed in the square and listened to live music. We then drove through numerous neighborhoods to show Jason what The Villages was all about.
On Tuesday, we drove to the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. COVID had forced the closure of the visitor center, boats, reptile house and the underwater observatory, as well as cancellation of the educational programs. Despite this, there was plenty for us to see. We spent several hours on the Wildlife Walk. We saw several manatees and massive schools of fish gathered around the bridge and in the spring. In addition, we strolled the boardwalk and were able to see numerous species of mammals and birds in their natural habitats. Most of these animals had been rescued and are no longer able to survive in the wild. This included a hippo, gray wolf, foxes, a black bear, alligators, as well as eagles, owls, flamingos and many other types of birds.
On Thursday, February 18th, we drove two hours to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Merritt Island. We began by visiting the Space Shuttle Atlantis, which had covered 126 million miles of space travel. After looking at numerous exhibits related to the space shuttle program, we did the Shuttle Launch Experience. This attraction is a flight simulator on par with what astronauts experienced in training. After riders are belted into their seats, the platform rises and seat rumblers and shakers rattle riders through the turbulent main engine start, the firing of the solid rocket boosters and then their separation over the next six minutes. Air bags in each seat sink and rise to capture the sensation of the 17,500-mph liftoff of a NASA shuttle.
Our next stop was at the IMAX theater where we watched the 3D movie, Journey to Space, and learned about designing space vessels for travel to Mars. We then went to Journey to Mars: Explorers Wanted, where we learned more about future missions to Mars.
We next went through Heroes & Legends, which focused on the astronauts of the early space programs. We then walked through the Rocket Garden, containing rockets from NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.
We had selected Thursday for our visit since that was the day the Perseverance rover was scheduled to land on Mars. Perseverance had been launched in July 2020 for its six-month journey to Mars and 2-year mission on the planet. Our final stop of the day was at the Atlantis North Lawn where we sat on the grass and watched the NASA TV live-stream on a large projection screen. We were able to observe the Mission Control room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA and listen to the live commentary as the rover approached and successfully landed on Mars. Watching the excitement of the JPL personnel during those critical last few minutes was quite captivating. Seeing the first pictures from the landing site was memorable.
For dinner, we stopped at the Island Waterfront Bar and Grill on Merritt Island. We sat on the patio which provided us with views of the river. We each had a different type of fish but were all very satisfied with our meals.
On Saturday, it was time for Jason to return home so we drove back to Orlando. We stopped for a dinner of made-to-order burgers at Mooyah.
On Tuesday, February 23rd, Phil was able to get his first dose of the COVID vaccine at a community college in Sumter County. He had registered in January but, since Florida had subsequently announced that only Florida residents would be eligible for the vaccinations, he was surprised to get an appointment. Phil took his US passport as identification to the drive-through vaccination site but no questions about residency were asked. He has an appointment for the second dose on March 23rd.
On Friday, we were sitting outside when a blast of wind blew through our site, interrupting an otherwise still afternoon. Both of our screens were ripped out of the ground by the wind and blown skyward. The screens had been anchored into the ground by bungee cords and tent pegs. As the screens strained against the winds, the bungee cords stretched until they pulled the tent pegs out of the ground and rocketed the tent pegs into the air. Most of the tent pegs were discovered on the opposite side of our rig and a couple of bungee cords had to be retrieved from our rooftop. Our neighbor’s awnings and frames were badly damaged so we considered ourselves fortunate. The whole event only lasted a few seconds and appeared to be isolated to our area. We mentioned the wind gust to others in the campground and nobody else seemed to have experienced the excitement.
Later that afternoon, we attended the Strawberry Festival at Brownwood Paddock Square in The Villages. The Festival began at 4 pm and, when we arrived at about 4:20 pm, we had to cruise around the huge parking lots quite a while until we found a parking spot. We first ate dinner at City Fire American Oven, then wandered around and visited some of the many booths. We made a couple of purchases, including some Plant City strawberries. We then watched the Paul Bunyon lumberjack show. Finally, we retrieved our chairs from our car and found a spot to watch the live entertainment in the square. Since there was a 45-minute wait to get a seat in the square, we set up our chairs outside and kept moving closer as people left. We got back to the campground around 8 pm and were able to listen for an hour to the band, Darkhorse, who were performing poolside.
On Saturday, February 27th, Phil participated in a Pickleball round-robin tournament. Each of the 20 participants played six games with a different partner. After a very poor start with a newbie partner in the first game, Phil did OK the rest of the day.