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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Villages Community Watch

I just finished running errands in preparation for our next vacation.  There are always lot's of details to take care of before a trip.  One of the stops was to sign up for the Villages Community Watch service.  This is a wonderful service provided for residents.  This organization regularly performs random patrols of the Villages. For a small weekly fee, they will stop and make a special check of our house several times a week while we are away.  Our neighbors know we will be gone and they will also be watching the house, but they are elderly and you never know when one of them might get sick.  She has not been well and has been in the hospital several times over the past year. If something happens and they aren't around to watch, we at least know that someone is checking to make sure everything is all right.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Lights

Last night we drove around the Villages looking at how different people decorate for Christmas.  I would post pictures, but Ray convinced me just to look and enjoy without the camera,  So I will have to describe what we saw. 

Mostly it was like any other neighborhood, with some people going all out, some doing nothing, and everything in between.  Our local newspaper printed a map and addresses of houses that people wanted to show off, but we didn't really follow it.  We went looking for some of the ones near our house, then took a random drive through the various Villages.  The best ones we saw were on 3 cul de sacs in the Village of Santiago.  These 3 cul de sacs are right next to each other, so I think they are having a competition.  Each one had a theme.  In one, every house had the same lit angel, another had the same lit spiral tree.   At the end of each cul de sac there is a circle and they each decorated that as well, running the power out from their houses, across the road to the circle.  All 3 were done up beautifully.

We also drove through 2 of the town squares - Sumter Landing and Spanish Springs, to see what was going on for Christmas Eve.  Both have Christmas trees and had entertainment as usual, but they weren't singing Christmas Carols.  Sumter Landing was more crowded than Spanish Springs.  I attribute that to the face that the restaurants are close to the square and the square is in the center of the Villages, while Spanish Springs is further north and has fewer restaurants on the square. 

We were going to try a more methodical approach to seeing the lights tonight, but by this afternoon Ray had come down with a cold and wasn't feeling up to the drive.  We'll save the rest for another night.  I will note that we don't have much up this year.  Due to the construction of our new golf cart garage, the outlets in the front of the house are disconnected and anything else would be in the way of the workers.  We put out red and green light bulbs in our garage and front door entrance lights, hung some pine garland on either side of the garage, and put a few decorations in our front windows, but that's all for this year.  We will definitely make up for it next year.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Disney World from the Swan Hotel

We spent 3 nights at the Swan hotel, at the edge of Disney World.  I talked about our visit to the Hollywood Studios park the first night in my last post.  The next day we visited Epcot.  A boat from the Swan & Dolphin docks takes visitors to a back entrance near the Great Britain pavilion.  This is a very convenient, uncrowded entrance,  since it is only used by guests coming in on the boats from one of 4 hotel resorts. 

Epcot World Showcase Tree
Most of the pavilions in the World Showcase were decorated for Christmas and there were odd Christmas trees every so often around the park.  At the France site, a photo shoot was going on with the French version of Santa - Pere Noel.  At the U.S. pavilion, Santa and Mrs. Claus were having their photo taken with a line of children.   In the center of Italy's courtyard, an old woman was on a platform telling an Italian Christmas fable.  Germany and Norway were well decorated, but I didn't see anything else going on.    In the Future World section, a large Christmas tree was decorated in the center.  Throughout the park, poinsettias were the only other decoration.  Other than that, the park looked like it always does. 

Santa and Mrs Claus, U.S.A. Pavilion
Each night we went back to our hotel room and watched fireworks from there.  We were on the 10th floor, with a view of the Dolphin hotel and the lake.  At first we weren't sure which fireworks we were seeing.  We could hear the Epcot fireworks but were at the wrong angle to see them and the display we saw was in the opposite direction.  By the second night we figured out that we were seeing the display at the Magic Kingdom.  Although the park officially closed earlier, they were selling tickets to a special holiday party after hours, which included a special fireworks display at 9PM. 

The third day we visited Magic Kingdom.  There was a Christmas tree at the entrance and Main Street USA was decorated for the holiday, but the rest of the park appeared to be unaffected.  Although our phone app said this was a very low attendance day for Magic Kingdom,  it seemed that the most people were in the new Fantasyland section that just opened.  We went on a few rides in other areas with wait times of 15 minutes or less while to new rides had wait times of 45 minutes and up.

We left Disney World in the afternoon and headed for Universal Studios.  They also offer discounted annual passes for Florida residents, and they are much less expensive than the Disney passes.  Even if you don't go into one of the 2 parks there, you get free parking for the City Walk section at the entrance.  This area has movies, restaurants, nightclubs, and the Blue Man Group theater.  We had tickets for the Blue Man Group show Friday night, so that's where we were headed.  This show was unique and excellent.  I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it, but will only say it was loads of fun and worth the price.  Just don't sit in the front center section the first time you see it.

Best of all, the drive home after the show was only about an hour and a half.  The Villages are located so that it is very easy to enjoy all the entertainment options of the Orlando area, and still make it home at a reasonable hour.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Walt Disney World -Hollywood Studios

Another perk of living in the Villages is the community's proximity to Orlando.  It only takes a little over an hour to get to Disney World.   The regular tickets are about $80 per day, depending on home many days' tickets you buy.  The annual pass for Florida residents is $452 the first year and $410 for subsequent renewals, so if you visit the parks 6 days over the year, you've made out.  By the end of this year we will have visited Disney World 8 days.  

In all the years we have been vacationing in Florida, we never got to visit at Christmas, so we thought we would spend a few days here this week.  We could have driven back and forth, but we had some Sheraton hotel points that allowed us a room at the Swan for 3 nights.

Tree at entrance to Hollywood Studios Park

We arrived late in the afternoon, so traffic was light.  With an annual pass, we never worry about getting to the parks early to get our money's worth.  What we don't see one day we can catch the next time.  There is always transportation provided from the Disney resort hotels to the parks.  From the Swan & Dolphin resorts, we took the Disney boat shuttle to Hollywood Studios. The Christmas tree in the photo on the left greeted us as we disembarked from the boat.

At first we thought this was the only Christmas decoration, but we soon realized that the best would have to wait until after dark.  We went on the Studio Back Lot Tour ride and stopped for pizza before heading for the Fantasmic! show.  The amphitheater fills up fast, so we tried to get there early.  45 minutes before the start, the seats were more than half full.  This is a wonderful show.  It takes the theme of Mickey's dream from Fantasia and modernizes it with characters good and bad from all of Disney history.  They use water fountains, music, fireworks, projectors, and live performers combined to create an enthralling show. I was glued to the action for the entire show. They warn that this may not be suitable for young children, since some of the scenes are very scary. 

Streets of America Christmas display
  The show is put on twice a night, at 6 and 8. I was glad we went to the early show, because it left time for the main Christmas event The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights .    Disney has set up millions of lights along the "Streets of America" section and every 10 minutes the lights dim and then put on a show choreographed to Christmas music.  It is fantastic to see.  We videoed it, but you'll have to wait until I have time to edit the video and post it to my YouTube channel (Lois1Ann).

It was a wonderful day.  We took the boat back to the hotel and rested up for the next day's adventure.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Swimming in December

I really love living in Florida, even more than I ever expected.  When we first started looking for a house here, we were looking for a house that had a pleasant view in back, golf course, pond or meadow - anything not looking into another house's back yard.  A pool was not in our requirements because there are so many community pools in the Villages, we thought it would be easy enough to use one of them.   We had a pool at our first house and it was hard to maintain.  We were at a high elevation, backing up to a forest, and the pool was not heated.  As a result, the water was usually cold, frogs loved to jump in an die from the chlorine, and we spent more time cleaning it than swimming in it. 

When we found our perfect house with 2 bedrooms, office/computer room for each of us, and a view of the burrowing tortoise preserve in the back, we were a little hesitant about the fact that it had a pool.  It was a very nice one though, heated and screen enclosed, with no trees around to shed into it. We decided we could hire a pool company to keep it clean and chemically balanced.  As it turned out, the pool is one of the features I really love about our new home.  I don't think we would be swimming as much if we had to go to the community pools.   They are nice social spots and good if you want to spend a few hours poolside, but that's never been our style.   I love being able to put on my swimsuit, go out the back door, swim for a half hour, read on a lounge chair for the next half hour while I dry, and then go back inside  and continue with whatever else is planned for the day.  What's more important, is that we can get this type of exercise in almost every day, year round.   Unless it's rainy all day, the weather is usually good enough to fit in an hour for the pool sometime during the day.  Today the outside temperature was in the 70's but the pool is heated to the low 80's so it feels good.  Getting out, I just need a good towel and a light cover up.  That and a good book to read while I'm waiting for my suit to dry enough so I don't drip in the house, make it very pleasant.  I can relax more it that hour each day than I can anywhere else.  Now, when we are traveling, that daily swim is what I miss the most.

Friday, December 14, 2012


We rarely went to the movies in Maryland.  The local theater was old and not well kept.  The floors were always sticky.  Other more modern theaters were at least an hour away.  Having gotten out of the habit, we didn't try the theaters here until yesterday.

There are now three theaters in the Villages, one at each town square.  Each theater has 8 screens for a total of 24 screens within 20 minutes of our house.  The Rialto theater in Spanish Springs is the oldest and the one closest to us, only 5 minutes away, so we decided to try that one first. 

Our first pleasant surprise was the price.  Admission for Villages residents was $6.75 each. A large bucket of popcorn and 2 large soda combo was $11.75.  Even senior tickets at the theaters in MD are at least $8.50 each and I know the popcorn combo is at least $15. Upon entering, we found a nice, spacious lobby with a Christmas tree to one side and a small but fully adequate snack counter.  After getting our popcorn, we handed our tickets to a gentleman dressed in a regular usher uniform and he directed us to the correct theater.  There appeared to be about 150 seats in the theater.  They were comfortable, reclining seats.  The screen was up high so there is no concern about seeing through the person in front of you.   They use a digital projection system, so the movie was crisp and clear.  The digital sound system was also excellent.  All together, this was a very pleasant experience and I am sure we will go to the movies here more often than we did in Maryland.

The movie we saw was "Lincoln" with Daniel Day Lewis and Sally Fields, and I highly recommend it.  The acting was excellent, the story line moved well so that the 2.5 hours went by quickly, and the direction lived up to Steven Speilbergs' usual excellence.  In my opinion, this film deserves several academy awards.

After the movie, we walked on the square to see the Spanish Springs Christmas tree.  The square looks very festive and inviting.   All in all, this was a great afternoon in the Villages.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Retirement Projects

I am really enjoying retirement here in the Villages, even though we've barely scratched the surface of things to do.  First, we can wake up when we're ready, with no alarm jarring us our of sleep. I get up and go outside to find the daily newspaper on our driveway.  This is the local paper, the Daily Sun, which gives a little national news, but is mostly focused on things happening in our area.  Over breakfast I read the paper, then spend a little time exercising.  Then after a shower I get dressed and proceed with whatever I feel like doing with the rest of the day.

In an effort to reduce clutter, I have been working on 2 long-term projects.  One is to scan all the documents, recipes and photos we have collected over the years.  The photos I will eventually give to someone in the family, but the documents and recipes get recycled, slowly eliminating some of the clutter we brought with us.  This is easy to do while I am doing other things, because my scanner is in my office (formerly the breakfast nook) right off the kitchen.

The second project is to rip all the LP's we have collected to MP3 files and add them to my iTunes library.  From there they will be available to play in the house or on my iPod when we travel.  I now have 16, 905 songs in iTunes.  Most are from our CD collection, which I ripped a long time ago.  I'll probably be working the rest of the year on the LPs, since they have to be played through in real time in order to copy them.   I start the day by putting a record on the turntable while I'm making breakfast and continue playing as many as I can throughout the morning.  Then, later in the day, when I get a chance, I copy the resulting files to my computer and edit them to remove unwanted scratch noises, split the albums into individual songs, and add all the info such as artist, album name, composer, genre, etc.  It's time consuming, but fun.  Ray can never tell what kind of music he'll hear me playing each day.  This week it is a 21 record set of his called "The Swing Era", with music from the 1930's through the 1950's.  It's great wake-up music. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Rainy Days & Mondays

The last few days have been overcast, with a few good storms rolling through.  There was even a tornado watch Monday afternoon, but it didn't materialize.   It seemed like a good time to clean the house, bake cookies, and decorate the Christmas tree.  There are lots of things going on around here, but sometimes I just don't feel like going out.   Since we haven't joined too many of the clubs here yet, there is no pressure to go anywhere. 

We are having a golf cart garage added to the front of our house, so we can't put Christmas lights outside.  I draped a few plastic garlands over the palms in front of the house, away from the construction and Ray put red and green bulbs in the garage and porch lights, but that will be it for this year.  Some of the houses on our street are decorated to the hilt.  The newspaper printed a map of where houses are located that would like to show off their efforts, so we are planning a few drives around the Villages to see the lights.  We'll probably do it over several nights, taking it a section at a time.  There is so much to see.

The newspapers are full of holiday concerts, cookie exchanges, and charitable giving efforts going on around us.  It's not only the churches who are sponsoring these, but many of the clubs are doing something as well.  The bicycle club collected new and gently used bicycles to give to area children.  At least one of the craft groups sewed stuffed toys for children in the hospital. We dropped off our gifts for needy children at the church on Sunday.   On Monday we went looking at some chairs for our living room and found the store is offering a $200 discount if you donate $50 to the Children's Hospital in St Petersburg. It is so nice to see so many people getting into the spirit of giving.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Neighborhood Ladies

One of the things I like about the Villages is how friendly most of the people are.  Our next door neighbors, a wonderful British couple in their 80's, were quick to introduce themselves and have proved to be excellent neighbors.  They have lived here since the neighborhood was first built, know most of the people on the block, and keep a good watchful eye on everything that goes on in the neighborhood.   We live on a long street that cuts through the center of the Village of Santo Domingo, Madero Drive.  Very soon after we moved in,  I was invited to join the "Madero Ladies" bi-monthly luncheon.  The ladies on the block get together every other month and go to lunch together, visiting a different restaurant each  time.  It has been a great opportunity for me to meet our neighbors.  

So far I have been able to make 4 of the past 6 luncheons.  Usually they are on a Friday, but this month it was held yesterday (Saturday) because it was the only time they could get a reservation at the chosen restaurant.  This month's choice was the Nancy Lopez Legacy Country Club.   There are about 30 Executive golf courses and 10 Championship golf courses in the Villages, complete with country clubs.  Several of these were designed by famous golfers, such as Nancy Lopez, and bear their names.  I had heard good things about this restaurant, and I was not disappointed.  The food was good and the service was excellent.

About 20 women usually attend these luncheons.  Each time I have been able to sit with different ladies, so I am slowly getting to know a few of the women.  Only talking to them once every other month doesn't make it easy to remember everyone's name, but maybe after I've lived here for a few years I'll get better.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Lego Christmas

Even though there is so much to do here at the Villages, there are also a lot of interesting and fun activities a short distance away. Central Florida has a number of parks and attractions, and most of them offer deeply discounted resident and/or senior annual passes.  We have taken advantage of this for several of our favorite parks.

On Friday, we drove down to LegoLand to see what they have done in the way of Christmas decorations.  The annual pass for this park for seniors (60+) is just double the price of a one-day pass.  We bought our passes right after I turned 60 this summer. This is already the third time we have gone, so we have gotten our money's worth.

LegoLand is on the site that used to be Cyprus Gardens.  A small portion of the park is still maintained with the original garden paths and gazebo, so there is a section to get away from the crowds and enjoy nature.  Instead of the live women who used to walk around dressed as southern bells, there are 2 life-size lego southern bells near the entrance of the nature path.

The rest of the park consists of Miniland, shops, and various games and rides with the same theme as some of the popular Lego kits. Miniland is a section where small versions of various cities such as New York, Las Vegas, Miami, and San Francisco have been created.  A new section (or at least one we didn't notice before) has wonderful recreations of scenes from Star Wars.  

At the entrance to Miniland, there is a sign inviting you to see how many Santas you can find in the Miniland displays.  We found 2, but we didn't look real hard.  I remember there was a scavenger hunt for something else in the displays the last time we came, so this must be something they to all the time, changing with the season.

The ride areas are divided by theme. There is a techno area with a kid's driving school, flying school, boat rides and a show on being a fireman.  There is a jungle area where the ride consists of jeeps on a "safari" to see life-size Lego animals.  In the Medieval theme area there are playgrounds and a jousting ride.   For really young kids there is a farmyard playground.   What used to be a water ski show with girls in bathing suits is now a pirate show with Lego costumed skiers.   It is a lot of fun watching the children, seeing the Lego creations, and just enjoying a nice walk through the park. 

The shop area is decorate for Christmas.  There is a large (20 ft?) Lego Christmas tree with Lego ornaments, several full-size Lego Snowmen, and Christmas lights and garlands on the stores.  In other areas they have put out lots of poinsettias.  

Walking through this park always makes us wish we were kids again, or at least had a kid we could take with us to enjoy it all.  Nieces and nephews with young children, are you listening?  Come visit us and we'll take you there.  It's only a 2 hour ride from our house.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Worship and Sharing for Christmas

In addition to all the entertainment here, there are 10 places of worship that are accessible by golf cart:
  • Church on The Square
  • New Covenant United Methodist Church
  • St. George Episcopal Church
  • St. Timothy’s Catholic Church
  • Hope Lutheran Church
  • Fairway Christian Church
  • Temple Shalom
  • First Baptist Church at The Villages
  • Open Bible Lutheran Church
  • Chapel of Christian Faith

 In addition, there  are 19 other churches of various denomination listed in the Villages official directory and I know of 4 other Catholic churches close by that are not listed.  Unlike other areas we have been in, religion is thriving here.  We have attended 2 of the Catholic Churches and both have been full at every mass.  That means that there are lots of activities to participate in associated with these as well.  I have already mentioned the concerts held at St Timothy's, but I haven't touched on the volunteer opportunities.  Although the Villages is a senior community where most residents are financially comfortable, and some may be considered well off, the surrounding area is not always as fortunate.  The Villages provides employment opportunities for many in the area, but that isn't always enough.  Many of the churches in the area run soup kitchens, fund raisers, and other projects to help our neighbors.  St Timothy's has an active St. Vincent de Paul Society that provides groceries and other types of support to needy families in the area.

For Christmas, like many other churches, St Timothy's has a giving tree where parishioners can select tags off the tree and buy gifts for area children.  I'm sure the other area churches have this as well.  In other parishes we've belonged to I have seen tags for one gift per child, but here, there are 4 for each child - 1 for clothes, 1 for a gift certificate for shoes and 2 for toys.  There are enough people in the parish that if each person takes 1 tag, all the needy families registered at St Timothy's will be taken care of. 

Since we don't have any children to buy for, we felt we could take 3 tags, 2 regular and a 3rd request for a little larger gift.  Many of the toy tags were already gone when we got there, so we got tags for clothes for a boy and a girl and a bicycle for a boy.  Yesterday was Christmas shopping day and we had fun selecting the gifts.  Now all I have to do is wrap them up and leave them under the Christmas tree at the church. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Nutcracker

Monday night we went to Savannah Center again, this time to see the Nutcracker, performed by the Dance Alive National Ballet.  This is a professional ballet company based in Gainsville, Fl.  So, you can see, we get more than just local talent here.

 The performance was very good, although the set changes took longer than I would have liked.  I think there were a lot of people in the audience who had never been to see the Nutcracker and didn't know what to expect.  When the curtains closed between acts 1 and 2 for the scenery change, it appeared that some people thought this was the intermission and got up to use the rest rooms.  The fact that the overture was playing and the house lights were down did not make an impact.   This scenery change took at least 10 minutes, so it could have been an intermission.

The only thing that really bothered me about this performance was the audience, not the ballet.  I guess you might call me a concert snob, but I get annoyed when people talk during a show.  In this case, there were people all around us talking during the ballet and, to an even greater extent, during the overtures.  Granted, the overtures were recordings, not a live orchestra, but they are still an integral part of the ballet.

OK, enough of that.  The ballet was very enjoyable and  I saw a number of little girls during the intermission dancing around the lobby, obviously inspired.  Shows at the Savannah Center and several other venues are open to the public, but residents of the Villages get a discount.  The theater is set up with about 25 rows of floor seats and a section of bleacher seats behind.  For the first few events we attended here we had floor seats but this time I got seats in the bleachers because, for a ballet, I wanted to be able to see the performers feet.  For the future, I will stick to floor seats.  Both of us had knee pain by the end of the evening because the seats are stationary and there is just nowhere to stretch your legs.  This is one of the drawbacks to being both tall and old. ;-))

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Central Florida Lyric Opera and St Timothy's

The first production we saw when we were in the process of moving to The Villages was put on at the church we subsequently joined - St Timothy's Catholic Community. The music director of this church, Bill Doherty, is also the General Director of the Central Florida Lyric Opera Inc.  Several times a year he brings some of the opera singers/students from the Lyric Opera to perform in concerts at St Timothy's as well as some of the other venues around The Villages. Over the past year we attended 3 of these concerts. The first was a Christmas special last December. We also attended a Broadway Hits concert over the winter and a Patriotic music concert for the 4th of July. There was a 4th concert featuring an opera singer from Italy, but we were unable to get to that one. They are putting on the Christmas music concert again on December 11th, but we have other plans and won't make it this year. There is just so much to do in this area that we constantly find ourselves having to pick and choose between all the great options.

The Lyric Opera performers are excellent and we are really fortunate to have the opportunity to hear them perform within 5 minutes of our house. These concerts also raise money for the church, and other good causes when the performances are scheduled for other area venues. The sound system in the church is reasonably good, but at mass this morning, the pastor announced that the church is getting a new sound system sometime between now and Christmas. We are looking forward to more concerts next year with this enhancement.

Mr Doherty also directs the church choir and just returned from a trip with them to Italy, where they visited several religious sites and performed at a church in Rome. The choir is fairly large. This isn't too surprising considering the size of the parish, but what was surprising is the fact that it also includes a handbell choir. I have never attended a church that had a choir like this. It was a wonderful surprise. St. Timothy's is another one of the many wonders we have found here in The Villages. There are enough activities sponsored by the church to keep a person busy, even if they didn't look at the 60 pages of activities published every Thursday in the Villages Recreation News.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

White Christmas

We have now lived in the Villages for almost a year and every week I find new things that make me glad that we moved here.   On Friday night we attended a "musical" production, put on by the community theater group and we had such a great time that I just had to talk about it.  As a result, I decided to start this new blog.  I may not post regular entries here, but whenever we do something interesting or see another performance, I will try to write about it here. I will also write about things that have happened in the past year.

This week we had tickets to "White Christmas" at Savannah Center.  This is one of the large regional recreation centers in the Villages, with a room set up with a stage for shows.  This is the second time we have seen a show here, but I'll talk about the first one later.   "White Christmas" was a musical loosely based on the movie of the same name, but will a story line altered just enough to make it unique and surprising.   However, the most interesting thing about this production was that all the actors and actresses were residents of The Villages and members of the community theater group.  That means they were all our age or older, singing and DANCING on stage and they were great.

Now that isn't to say there weren't a few sour notes, mis-queues or corny jokes, but there were some really talented performers in the bunch.  We were amazed at the dancers and the cast invited the audience to sing along on some of the familiar tunes. It was a really enjoyable show.  This was the first time we have seen a show put on by our "neighbors" and I am now looking forward to seeing more of them in the future.