Friday, February 27, 2009

A Big Guy Folds

The Rocky Mountain News ceased publication today.

I sit, almost in shock. I am a retired newspaper editor. So I know the pressure to both evolve and survive is eating away at the foundation of my business. Papers will close, reorganize, lose a lot of money and readers. I know that. Over the next year, the landscape will change dramatically.

But in my gut, I know newspapers will survive.

Some bigs ones will survive. And some little ones will survive.

We will have geographic cornerstones of big newspapers in this country
to herald the changes, both political and financial. Our small
community weeklies will survive, too, because, frankly, they lack the
arrogance of mid-sized dailies. I see the mid-sized dailies as the big
losers. They are the ones that will go down.

If my assessment is right, how can it be that The Rocky Mountain News
is gone? It's a cornerstone. And now it's gone.

Does this mean newspapers will really be gone someday soon?

I have a friend who has worked at The Rocky for years. I sent her my
condolences. She sent me a reality check:

"All is good," she wrote. "Today feels like a good start to .... something else."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Danger of Expection

The name sounds impressive, doesn't it: The Loggerhead Marinelife

Pass it by on Federal Highway in Juno Beach, FL, and it looks
impressive, too, with its heavy landscaping and tall windows
reflecting the Florida sun.

The literature tells an impressive tale: The center sits adjacent to
one of the most heavily nested sea turtle beaches in the world. Sick
and injured sea turtles rescued from the Atlantic receive life-saving
surgeries and medical treatment at the center's hospital. The turtles
recuperate under a watchful public eye. Which means we, the public,
are welcome to come in and visit them.

I'm impressed. And excited to visit the center.

We arrive when the center opens at 10 a.m. and already lots
of kids mill about, getting their pictures taken in front of sea
turtle statuary or digging through piles of sea shells.

Oh, I see, there's a storytelling event at 10:30 ... that's why all
the kids.

A volunteer docent, of sorts, turns us in the right direction to weave
through a museum/education center to learn about the turtles, the
other sea life off the coast and the endangered mangrove eco-system.

We read every word, observe every object. It takes all of 5 minutes to
absorb the museum/education center.

That was quick.

But, I'm excited to visit the patients.

Well, out on the side patio are a half dozen sea turtle "hospital
beds," circular tanks about 5 feet across and 4 feet deep, and a
few oblong, shallower beds. Nearby signs tell the patient's stories:

A heavy fish hook pierced Libby's tongue.

Gideon can't sink. He bobs around the water's surface like a fishing

Ichabod, shown above, suffers from lots of maladies, including
Barnacle Bill Syndrome (which means when he came to the hospital, he
was underweight, listless and covered in barnacles.)

There are about 10 patients in all. We visit each one, I snap pictures
(lots of them) and we prepare to leave.

That's when I notice the storytime has yet to being. Parents and
grandparents struggle to entertain the waiting tots.

We've been at the center barely 20 minutes. And our visit is ending.

What did I expect? More, I guess. Just more.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pay Back Days

My yesterday is the anthesis of my today.

Yesterday, I cuddled up in a lounge chair and merged with a good book  outside my motor home. I unfolded briefly to get water, then returned
to my literary world of intrigue, starring Clint Eastwood.

You see, I'm reading Michael Connelly's "Blood Work." It's an old
title, first published 11 years ago. Later, Clint starred in a
movie made from the book. I knew that. But, I never saw the movie.
Even so, as I read, I hear Clint's voice. See his face. Watch him
squint as only Clint can squint. (Anyone remember Rowdy?)

I got "Blood Work" in a swap at Padre Island National Seashore.

I've learned that book swapping is part of RV culture. I find
unattended small stacks of books in RV park bathrooms or laundry
rooms. All are up for trade. My in-laws, hosts at Jonathan Dickinson
State Park in Florida, stock a stack at their park with Christian books.

In brief, I give a book, I get a book.

So, yesterday, I spent the day immersed in a fair trade book.

Today, reality drags me to the laundromat, the dog groomers, the cleaners, the grocery store, the pharmacy.

I package up food, stow away winter clothes (it's in the 70s, ahhh), change the bed linens and clean out the motor home's water system.

While I accomplish a lot and feel pretty good about ending my day with a great dinner at a waterfront restaurant near West Palm Beach, I miss Clint.

His voice is gone.

He's been replaced by Paul McCartney and his mournful:

"Oh, I believe in yesterday ..."

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Burned-Out Blob

I'm nicknaming Florida's Jonathan Dickinson State Park Camp Demo.

We hear bulldozers, chainsaws and trucks. We see death and destruction
all around us. They are killing off plants and animals -- including feral pigs -- not native to Florida. (We saw some of the pigs. Two mommas and their babies. I hate knowing they are done for.) They are tearing things down to rebuild them anew. They are in a period rebirth after hurricanes blew down so many trees over the past few years.

On top of all that, the campground looks just plain dirty. A controlled burn designed to rid the area of unwanted underbrush also charred the trees and shrubs. Sooty palms surround our campsite. It's just not nice to look at, or touch.

We wear blinders as we bike ride because we want to enjoy the exercise, fresh air and 74 degree weather. We just don't look at the soot or the cleared land or pay much attention to the huge machine chowing down on tree stumps.

Members of our family volunteers here, so we know the hope behind the
disruption. There's to be a longer bike trail (as it is, we hop off and on a paved bike trail to ride five miles between campgrounds) and one of the campgrounds is being remodeled into a RV Resort (which means  it'll cost more next year than the $20 a night we  pay this year.)

So next year, it'll be great here.

This year, well, at least we're spending quality time with family. And that's great.

FYI: The campground is north of West Palm Beach on the Atlantic side of Florida.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Recharging Our Batteries

After church today, my sister-in-law Pam (from Troy, NY) invites us to
a day at the beach (in Jupiter, FL) with her (and her husband) and her
best friend, Claire (from Saskatchewan) (and her husband).

I jump at the offer and hop in Pam's truck. Allen, my husband, jumps
on his bike and pedals in the opposite direction.

Both of us need recharging. Because he's an introvert, he's renewed  
alone. Because I'm an extrovert, I renew in a crowd.

Both of us are now restored to a full charge.

(In the picture above, Claire in at left, Pam at right. Me? I'm all
smiles behind the camera.)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

With Every Breath They Take

I can hear them breathe, but I can't see them. Not yet anyway.

I'm told there are nearly 50 West Indian manatees just below the
surface. Be patient. And watch. I do, along with 30 or 40 other
people who've come by Blue Springs State Park near DeLand, FL, at 8
a.m. to see the winter migration of the manatees.

The manatees aren't migrating far. They are moving into the warm
spring waters (72 degrees year round) from nearby St. John's River,
where the water is below 60 degrees. The air temperature is 34
degrees. There's frost on the grass I'm walking on. Shiver.

Fog hangs over the springs, making it difficult to see the manatees,
but I hear them breath.

The massive mammals surface every three to five minutes to fill their
lungs with air. They don't raise out of the water, or even break the
surface much to do it. Instead, they poke the tips of their noses,
just their nostrils, out out of the water. They suck in one mighty
breath. INHALE. They don't exhale. They submerge.

Multiply that inhale by 50 and it's like the water is alive.

When the fog lifts and the sun moves in, the sea cows' forms take
shape just below the surface. Click on the picture above to get a
larger image. Perhaps you can make out the 12 or so manatees hanging
out at the water's edge. And then imagine hearing them breath.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Look, Up In The Sky!

I'm sitting at the Rally of the Giants in New Smyrna Beach, FL, trying
to look like I know what's going on. (I don't know why ... I guess I
want to fit in, not call attention to myself, look cool ... who knows.)

But before long, I can't help myself. "Oh, look at that!" "Why is it doing 
that?" "How fast is it going?"  "Where's the smoke coming from?"

I question out loud, for anyone to answer. And someone always does. I
pay no attention to whom, because we're focused skyward, craning our
necks and shading our eyes to watch humongous radio-controlled (RC)
airplanes whirl and dive and zoom and spill at the DeLand Municipal

I find I'm alone in my ignorance. Those around me chatter
enthusiastically about the nuts and bolts of their game. It turns out,
they belong to the Deland FL Golden Hawks RC Club. All fly the RC
planes as a hobby, yet pilot the real big planes in real life (well,
some retired from the air a few years back). They're super savvy. And,
super absorbed by the planes overhead.

So what happens next surprises me.

As the sky fills with RC planes (like the one above shown before take off), in drop 10, 11 no 15 skydivers, all
swirling and circling many hundreds of feet above the planes. We're
mesmerized by the spectacle.

I'm clicking away taking pictures when PLUNK. My camera dies. RATS!

I lay it in my lap, wiggle the controls, try to turn it off. Nothing.
No response. I look up in exasperation and see an odd sight: one of
the RC planes, a replica of a World War I biplane lays IN PIECES on
the field right in front of us. WHAT? WOW! HOW?

My pilots are oblivious; they're still rubber-necking the skydivers.

LOOK! LOOK! I holler. The men come to attention, eyes forward and
immediately a buzz entwines them. "Did you see it go down?" "Did
anyone see it?" Does anyone know what happened?" "What happened?"

They exchange possible causes while we watch a rescue vehicle -- a red
golf cart pulling a wagon -- whir onto the field, collect the plane
remains and whir off.

They dispatch one of their own to bring back some answers. While they
wait, the crash talk begins. Not all have cracked up their $1,000
investments. But most have. One did it multiple times. Ouch.

The scout soon returns, reporting "too many maneuvers" did the biplane in. It's a casualty of the sport. No chance of repair. Oh well.

With the excitement over, chatter replaces the buzz.

And they all look skyward again.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Brush With Fame

I love the things museums treasure.

So I'm excited about visiting the Henry A. DeLand House Museum in DeLand, FL. I've been to DeLand many times and yet I know
very little about it. So off I go to the DeLand House.

The sign says "Ring the doorbell," so I do. The elderly man who
answers looks more like a rabbi (or a gardener) than a guide. His long
beard falls to his chest; his pale blue eyes water with age. He's
wearing an old checked shirt and dark pants (dungarees?) held in place
by suspenders.

He tells me he's not the guide. Someone will be in to help me. He
leaves me alone in the room.

I wander around and peer at the glassware (just like my grandmother's)
and at the paintings. I notice one depicts an elderly man with a long
beard that falls to his chest. I also notice a bust in the corner of
an elderly man with a long beard that falls to his chest.

Finally a woman, Diane, enters the room and begins my private tour,
but not before apologizing. You see, she says, the real guide is a
Broadway trained dancer and is in the other room, but he can't do my
tour. (I don't ask why; I feel I'd be rude.) And the town's famed
historian, Bill Dreggors, is also in the other room, but he can't do
the tour either. (I don't ask why; again, I feel I'd be rude. I am,
though, a touch perturbed.)

So I'm stuck with her, she says. And she's just a clerk in the
museum's office.

Diane, while enthusiastic and charming, is unfamiliar with much of the
house history. So she reads from a series of papers to conduct the

But when she talks about Dreggors, she needs to read nothing, It comes
from her heart.

He's one of her heros. Even the town's officials feel that way.
They've named a park after him (The Bill Dreggors Park) and had his
likeness painted as a mural on a wall downtown (see the photo below). The bust I noticed
earlier is also a likeness of him as is the painting.

I hesitate. I connect the dots.

"Is he the man who answered the door," I ask.

Why, yes, he is.

I smile. Satisfied. As I said earlier, I love the things museums
treasure. And I can tell, this one sure treasures Bill Dreggors.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The One That Got Away

A fish tale unfolds before my eyes here at Canaveral National Seashore in New Smyrna Beach, FL. I sit
in the middle, not euphemistically, either. My beach blanket and I are
center court, watching the fisherman on my left lob envious glances at
the one on my right, who fails, repeatedly, to return the glares.

He can't.

He's too busy.

The guy on my right has two lines in the surf. He's busy working them
both as bam BAM fish hit his lures as soon they hit the water.

The angler on my left stands with his fists buried in the waist of his
cutoff jeans, eyeing his one line, almost sadly, as it ebbs and flows
as steadily as the surf inhales and exhales.

He looks back at the other guy, the one who keeps catching fish, then  
stomps through the sand to go talk to him.

Of course, I don't know what was really said, but here's what I think
happened. Unsuccessful angler asks successful angler, "Hey, buddy,
what's your secret?" Successful angler says, "Take a look!" And then shows him how he's using two
lures, one at the end of his line and one about four feet into the line.

It's the second lure that's catching the fish. (I can see some of this
happening, as one guy points to the lures and the other guy nods.)

OK. Back to what I know happened. Unsuccessful angler trudges back to
his pole, reels it in, measures up four feet and attaches a new lure.
He casts off.

Successful angler keeps catching fish. Unsuccessful angler stands
for a while watching his line bob steadily with the waves, then sits
down on his bait bucket and pulls out a newspaper.

It must be a good read because Mr. New York Times doesn't see what I
see. His pole jiggers, turns left, then right, then it bows like a
willow in the wind. HEY MISTER! LOOK LOOK LOOK!

He just keeps on reading. And soon, the dance is over and the line stops wiggling.

When successful angler packs up his stuff and leaves, unsuccessful
angler notices. And checks his line. He notices the missing lures,
packs up his bags and leaves, too.

And so I wonder, and I wonder if he wonders, too, how big was the one
that got away.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dog Park Humor

I chuckle when I hear it. Allen chuckles when I tell him.

Now, I tell you.

This playful couple from the Barkley Square Dog Park in DeLand, FL, is
Bonnie and Collide.

Bonnie explains it this way: When her Catahoula mix was a puppy, he
was always running into things.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Poodle Connection

A 16-hour soaking rain washes away our plans for a romp in the dog
park. Wet sandy soil loves curly poodle hair. I don't like sandy
poodle hair.

So we leash up the pups for a brisk walk around Florida's Topsail Hill Preserve instead.

As we circle casually, a red car creeps up behind us and we hear, "We
just had to come over. He wouldn't stop whining until we did!" We
turn and see a Royal (very big) Standard Poodle leaning out the back
window of the red car, whining with excitement to see our dogs, who
are also Royal (very big) Standard Poodles.

Our dogs wiggle wildly to see him.

The red car pulls over and out leaps Nickie (leashed), who runs over
to play with our boys, Jake and Josh. The scene these three very large
dogs make draws quite a crowd. But wait. This crowd isn't just
watching. From its midst springs a fourth Royal (very big and hairy)
Standard Poodle. His name is Pierre.

So, in an instant, we have four very big dogs and 10 people connected
with them (one dog has six to himself) milling about the street
attracting more gawkers. Including a fifth Poodle, but this one is
tiny, about the size of one of our guys' heads. Her name was Francis.

We exchange pleasantries and collect our big guys to pose for
pictures. If someone sends me a copy, I'll post it here.

The Poodle Convention doesn't last long. As quickly as it begins, it
ends. And as I walk away, it dons on me that few things in life turn
strangers into friends without cause faster than kids and dogs.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Queen For A Day

My dogs smell like dog parks. Ever smell a dog park? Awful. Just awful. So, I need to scrub 'em down. But how?

Otto's shower stall might work, but even with begging, cajoling and tugging, I can't get them in there (well, they really can't get past ME to get in there. It's a small area.). We have a hose outside, but it's  short and these dogs are tall.

Most groomers are closed on Sunday. And anyway, I don't want to pay $50 per dog to have someone else wash and brush. I, therefore, need a place I can do it myself. 

I Google "self-serve dog wash fort walton beach fl" and find U Scrub A Pup. What a great name! I use my GPS on the address (the business is in a town with a girl's name, Mary Esther), and find it's an hour away. I sniff the dogs. I can drive an hour in beach country. No problem.

I tug on some ratty clothes and load up the dogs for their day at the salon.

I wish I had dressed better.

From the minute we enter the door, we are treated like royalty. The place is spit-shined (not a dog hair in sight!) and smells divine (no wet doggy smell at all).. It has a little picket fence inside and stainless steel wall tubs with steps for the bigger dogs. I am personally fitted for an apron of my choice -- fluorescent pink, green, yellow or blue and I'll bet there's a designer label inside (I choose pink) -- so my ratty clothes stay dry.

The owner waits on me throughout the process. He starts the water and holds the wand back from me until the water reaches a perfect, comfortable 97 degrees. The shampoo is all natural, with a hint of watermelon. A second shampoo is tearless, so I am to use it on their heads and ears. He refills the shampoo bottles the moment I empty them. Did he just call me Madame? My Lady?

I'm offered an endless supply of shampoo and water and, once the scrubbing is over, I'm plied with soft, white towels to dry them off, making the blow drying faster.

By the time I finish brushing and drying, the boys look splendid. And everyone gushes.

I feel special. I really do. Even in my ratty clothes. Have I sprouted a crown?

Before we leave, we pay $37 (pennies compared to how rich I feel!), and then the owner asks us to pose for a picture for his dog wall (above). 

But, of course!

So soon Jake, Josh and I will adorn that wall alongside all the other princes and princesses, kings and queens of U Scrub A Pup.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Woe Is Us

We are ready to go. And I am excited.

I've waited months for this day. It's the Big Party.

The Big Party defines this weekend soiree of friends who own the same
kind of motor home (ours is a Navion, named Otto). We will tour each
other's motor home (sort of like a parade of homes), then settle into
a fish fry and bluegrass jamboree at Grayton Beach State in Florida's northeastern panhandle.

I'm so excited. So we batten down Otto with the dogs inside and hop
into the car. But wait. We need our wallets.

I climb back into Otto and WHAM! The smell! The mess! Fresh plops of
doggie diarrhea line up on the carpet. And they're bloody. And they're
coming from Joshua, our 7-year-old Standard Poodle (see the pic). Poor

Thank God for Nature's Miracle. I scoop, dab and scrub up the poop
(sorry), then run out to let Allen know the party is off and we're on
call, watching and waiting for Joshua to get better or worse (so you
aren't left hanging to the end of the story, I'll tell you now, he got
better without medical intervention.)

OK. I'm sad. We won't get to party today. I'm disappointed. And I'm
feeling sorry for myself. Not just because we miss the party, but now
we have to houseclean, too.

We run to Wal-Mart to buy a carpet shampooer and the store is jammed
with people. Where'd they all come from? Accidently, I ram my buggy
into Allen's right heel, then the lady behind me rams her buggy into
my right heel. I close my eyes. Woe is me.

OK. Emotions are high on a day we were to party. On Valentine's Day.
We have a sick doggie, our heels hurt, we have a dirty carpet and now
we have to pay $40 for what is probably a cheap carpet cleaner.

That's when I see real tragedy.

A woman, probably 10 years my senior, has fallen down on her face. In
Wal-Mart. There's a pool of blood under her nose. Her glasses are
sitting in the blood. A crowd is gathering. Managers are running
toward her. 911 is called. We keep on walking, to avoid gawking.
Outside is a fire truck and an ambulance.

Lesson learned.

We turn the corner on our selfish emotions and head home, a little
ashamed, but wiser.

Friday, February 13, 2009

There's One In Every Crowd

Our lunch visit with friends is cut short by clouds and wind
threatening to dampen our bike ride back home.

Today, "home" is Topsail Hill Preserve State Park in Florida's
northwestern panhandle. Our luncheon is at Grayton Beach State Park,
about eight miles away, with 30 or so "friends" from an Internet-based
social group of people who own the same kind of motor home we do (the
Winnebago Navion or View).

It's my husband, not me, who has befriended these people on the
Internet. He recognizes names and is happy to put faces with them. I
do a lot of smiling and nodding. I know nobody.

The weather forecast calls for a downpour tonight. Apparently, tonight
gave way to this afternoon by the looks of the sky. So we know we
have to skedaddle.

We make one more pass over the buffet table (I grab what looks like a
cherry oatmeal bar, a small one) and head for the bikes, which are
leaning up against small palm and pine trees. We have one raincoat
between us, so we decide to wrap our cameras and extra shirts in it to
keep them dry, if the rain comes.

I tarry momentarily to scan the crowd and realize, they remain
mostly strangers. Perhaps, in time, I will get to know them, but not
today. My unfamiliarity translates into awkwardness as I say good-bye.
Who am I talking to?

As I pedal away, I hear a few tentative farewells. I'm not feeling
loved here (well, that's a bit strong. I'm not feeling, um, familiar?).

We pedal up the road, and I stop abruptly to snap a picture of a
beautiful landscape. As I walk back down the
road to catch the scene, I snap a picture of the group I just left.
That's posted above. Do you see what I see? Can it be so? Is there
someone watching me, waving wildly to say good-bye? YES!

I smile. I feel I have a new friend. I have arrived. Someone went out
of her way to show me she cared. Tomorrow, I'll sit next to the waving
woman at lunch. And ask her her name. And call her my friend.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

State Park Humor

We return to Topsail Hill Preserve State Park near Destin, FL, for a few days and I'm eager for some new and exciting things to do.

I Google the park and on its home page, I find this entry:

"On February 14, 2009, at 9 am, please join the Rangers of Topsail Hill and ask them all of the questions you can think about park wildlife in our Breakfast with a Ranger Program. To cover the cost of food, please bring $4 ...  or BRING YOUR OWN BREAKFAST."

So there.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Wheel Adventure

My day is defined by wheels.

Wheel Deal No. 1: At 3:50 a.m., I engage in battle with stubborn
gates at a gated community in Tarpon Springs, FL. The open-sesame card
fails, leaving me inside the fence and my friend's husband, and idling
car, outside. He gives up the fight. "Idiot fence," he grumbles and
drives away. He's already dropped off his wife, who later tells me she
sprinted nearly a quarter mile to another gate, where she saw another
car driving out. She slid in on its dime.

Wheel Deal No. 2: At 4:15 a.m., I file in behind another friend's car
to caravan to a hospital in Tampa, FL, where he is to have surgery. I
think Tampa and see skyscrapers. I imagine the 45-minute ride as a
blur of gas stations, fast-food eateries and stop lights. Instead, we
pass through miles and miles of wooded land. Lots of signs warn me
about deer crossings.

Wheel Deal No. 3: We arrive at the hospital shortly before 5 a.m,
and line up for the free valet parking, But the valet must still be
sleeping. So we wait, with five or six other cars. At 5 pronto, the
valet, a rastafarian-like man in blue arrives and practices his art
with perfection. WIthin seconds, he's dancing around each car,
unloading the occupants and exchanging keys for call tickets.

Wheel Deal No. 4: By 9 a.m., I return to reclaim my car and find the
man in blue is now multiple men in blue, and they all want to exchange
my call ticket for my car.
The lucky one gets twice the tip, because as I yank a dollar from my
wallet, another falls out, under the car. The blue man dives for it.
In a flash, he gets that one and the one I'm extending in my hand.

Wheel Deal No. 5: At 9:05 a.m., I slide behind my wheel and crank
the engine to discover it's already running. Can you hear the gears
grind? One of the multitude of blue men gives me the thumbs up and
says "Been there, done that."

Wheel Deal No. 6: It's 10 a.m. and I arrive back in Largo, safely.
Amazing, because I'm too tired to drive.

Wheel Deal No. 7: It's now 10 p.m., and I'm a passenger in Otto as
we wind our way north on the Gulf side of the state. We've counted
more than 20 deer.

At some point tonight, the wheel excitement will end because I'm flat-
out tired anyway.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It's What's Inside That Counts

My brother-in-law Bob is excited about leading Allen and I on a bike
ride through his neighborhood in Largo, FL.

We are a surreal train of sorts, Bob on his scooter, Allen on his
recumbent and me on my 21-speed mountain bike. We wind (at 10 mph)
through residential streets, where, whether the houses rank from low
to high income, there is little privacy. The lots measure the length
of the houses sitting on them.

And, it's congested.

So when Bob says he's taking us to his duck pond, I think he's taking
us to a public park, where kids escape this concrete to bounce a few
balls, ride bikes, climb a few monkey bars.

What he leads us to is a tiny, fenced-in pond carved out of a vacant
building lot. It's little more than a water drainage site. We stand outside the fence. There is no gate to get in.

It looks pathetic, compared to what I imagined.

But inside those ratty-looking fences, are five ducks and seven
turtles, all of whom paddle over to see us when we pop our heads over
the top of the stockade fence.

It's magical. They are all curious. We are, too. We stand spellbound, outside the fence, unable to get in, 
completely distanced from our odd surroundings. We must look like
turtles ourselves, because the only thing these little guys can see
are our helmets, heads and necks.

Before we leave on Wednesday, I'm going back to this little urban
water hole. And see the ducks and turtles again. Inside the fence.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Landscaping Differences

I am excited about visiting a childhood friend for dinner
tonight. She lives in Palmetto, FL, in a Key West blue house with
three French bulldogs.

We knew each other as kids in West Virginia. I now live in Syracuse.

I ponder what hostess gift to buy and I decide I want to giver her a
bonsai Tree of Health because she's a doctor. Great idea, even if it
is short lived.

The first place I shop I find a beautiful gardenia, in bloom. Its
fragrance erases my bonsai plans. I buy the gardenia. And admire it.
It's a delicate, beautiful plant. We don't see them often in Syracuse.
It's just too cold there.

On the walk back to the car, my sister-in-law, who lives in Florida,
tells me about her gardenia, a wild, unruly invasive bush she's tried
for years to kill. How can that be? The gardenia is a delicate,
fragrant little plant. Up North. Down South, left to nature's whims,
they grow into ogres.

Well, it's too late to switch gears. So we head to Palmetto with the
delicate, potentially invasive, beautiful, soon-to-be-unruly plant in
a pretty green- and pink-wrapped pot in the back seat.

We park to the side of her beautiful home facing the Manatee River and
pass through a welcoming picket fence to find my dear friend racing out to greet us and reaching for her gift. She smiles beautifully, beams actually, and says,"We love gardenias."

That's good, because as we hand her the gift I notice evidence of what my sister-in-law foretold: We are standing between two very large, recently cropped gardenia plans that stand as sentinels to my friend's front porch.

They are huge. Not quite ogres, but standing nearly five feet tall and about twice that around.

My potted gift is puny.  But it is well received, with love.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Nail Salon Humor

I really need my nails done, so I stop by a corner salon in Largo, FL.

A tiny and pregnant nail tech (that's what the certificate on the wall
calls her) flashing a very toothy smile motions for  me to sit at her station. 

"Put hands in." I stare, stupidly. She pushes my hands into a red cup
to soak. OK, I get it. Her English is broken. But I think it's for
effect, because it improves with each story she tells. And she tells a
million of 'em.

She's due in July, the baby had better like the heat. Her husband
wants Chinese food for dinner; he can just go down the street and buy
it. Her sister-in-law works at a nail salon in Syracuse (which is near
where I live) and slides to work in the snow. Philadelphia has THE
BEST Chinese food; and she should know, because she's Vietnamese.

And then, she insists, "Next time you come here bring all 10 nails." I
cock my head.

"What am I supposed to do with this? Why'd you leave the nail at home?"

She picks up my pinky (the one with the nail broken down to the quick)
and flashes it to the other techs. They giggle  with her.
At me.

But, I giggle, too. Because she's funny. And I find it quite enjoyable
to have a tiny, pregnant Vietnamese comic cracking jokes while
she files and paints my nails. Her stories are funny. And, she's got
a million of 'em.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Things Are Not As They Seem

"You Rules Do Not Apply Here."

That's the advertising mantra for a favorite video game, Obsidian.
They describe my feelings this morning as I reflect over the past 12

My rules do not apply here.

Here's what happened (or, rather, not):

We call ahead to a Wal-Mart in Port Richey, FL, to make sure we can
park our motor home overnight in the parking lot. We spend many nights
parked in Wal-Mart lots while we are on the road. It's a common
practice called boondocking.

"No problem," a service representative chirps. "Just park
near the garden shop end of the store."

Then, the warning flags begin cluttering the field.

1. We pull into the lot and immediately see there is no space at the
garden shop. The lot's not crowded; it's too small
for a motor home. So we wind our way to the outside end of the lot,
where we find room. But, wait, there's more.

2. There's a scary looking, very old motor home already here. Often,
this means a poor exhaust  system will  smoke us out.

3. We park next to a McDonald's 24-hour drive through. Fill in the

4. We get out to walk the dogs and find the police swarming around
three nearby cars. And we don't know why. We lock our doors AND windows.

5. We get ready to climb into bed on this 30-degree night, and my
husband turns the heat OFF.

That's my Top 5 list for a Bad Night.

OK. Here it is morning.

And I got a great night's sleep. Peaceful, uneventful, comfortable. Bliss.

Therefore, my rules do not apply here.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Bitter To The End

We stop at a park in Homosassa, FL, because it's just too beautiful to
ignore. (See Allen's picture above).

Live Oaks sweep their gracious arms in welcome. Palm shrubs fan a
gentle breeze. Spanish moss drips and dangles everywhere. It's so old-
fashioned. It's like the Florida of my youth. And it's peaceful

On one side of the street is a picnic grove. On the other, ruins of
the Yulee Sugar Mill (the picture below shows the sugar cane press, where
the juice was rolled out of the cane).

We walk the dogs through the grove then just inside the forest's
edge, where palms entwine with other vegetation, creating a natural
arch that beckons us deeper. Deeper, however, reveals more trash than
romance, so we retrace our steps back to the picnic area. That's when
I spy the orange trees. Full of oranges.

The fruit is too high in the tree to reach. It's ripe, I can tell, and
it's ready to plop into my hands, if I can only find something to
knock them off the tree. Like a stick. Or rock. I scout around and
find, VOILA! A beautiful, perfect, blemish-free orange right on the
ground, ready for me to scoop up and take home.

So, I scoop it up and sniff. Sweet. Orange blossoms. A real Florida
orange. Mine. All mine. OK. I might share it with Allen, after dinner.

We finish our excursion by touring the ruins, then it's back into Otto
and back on the road. I think often of my orange. My special orange.

After dinner, Allen Googles Homosassa and discovers the plantation
grew more than sugar cane. It was famous for ORANGES! The plantation
was one of the first in the state to grow sweet oranges budded from
sour stock.

In honor of his discovery, I peel my orange, savoring the sweet,
earthy aroma spritzing from the peel. I accidently rip into one of the
section and quickly lap up the escaping juice.

And shudder. My sweet find is sour. Very sour. Inedible.

But, perhaps historic. Yes. I like to think my orange, my special
orange, is part of the original sour stock from which evolved an
entire industry. It was just too beautiful to ignore.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Dog Park Humor

Scruffy is the cat's meow. All the Santa Rosa Beach, FL, dog park visitors scratch behind his ears. Most of the visiting dogs run past and body slam him to play. He's a pip! But what is he?

"I paid PetSmart to do his DNA," the owner remarked. "The test came
back part German Shepherd and part Weimaraner.

"They gave me my money back."

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Tall Tale From The Woods

We embark upon a brisk bike ride today because it's cold (about 47
degrees F) but sunny. And brisk means we pack nothing. Not even
my camera. (ARGH!) Because we won't be gone long.

We head down a paved bike trail at the rear of Topsail Hill Preserve
State Park
in Santa Rosa Beach, FL. I then remember a path suggested
to us by the campground attendant. "Go straight at the bend," he
jerked his head to the right. "You won't be sorry. There's a lake at
the end." Can we bring the dogs? "Just watch out for the 13-foot
gator!" Ha ha.

So today at "the bend" on the bike trail, we go straight (without the
dogs) and pedal slightly uphill and downhill on hard-packed sand
through a forest of pines.

It's solitary out here, with hundreds of palm plants and wild lavender
bordering our lane and mingling with the trees. And then, it turns
ominous, blackened by a long-ago controlled fire, the kind used to
clear wooded land for construction. Tall pines weathered the fire,
sustaining burns around their trunks, but living nonetheless. Bravo,
brave pines.

At the end of the lane, about a mile into the woods, we reach the
small freshwater Campbell Lake.

Immediately, I regret my decision to leave my camera behind. I see
what would have made a great picture instead of this tall tale: a
slithering s-shaped indent in the sand just at the water's edge. Just
the right footprint left behind by an exiting 13-foot alligator, who
heard us coming.

Really. That's what I saw. I really did.

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Bike 'N Ride Adventure

We climb on our bikes, turn right and keep going, going and going.

The day is perfect for a bike ride: partially cloudy, 65 degrees, no wind at all. We vow to experience the area slowly. But just ride and ride and ride. And we sure did.

We are on a paved bike trail alongside Route 30-A, a beachfront road curving slightly around Florida's Emerald Coast. Small eclectic communities dangle off the road like handmade charms on a twisted hemp bracelet. There's Dune Allen, Blue Mountain, Seaside, Seagrove, Watercolor, Alys. Like siblings, they're similar, yet each is unique.

The towns co-mingle with glistening white beaches and small coastal dune lakes.

The first town we reach is Dune Allen, which touts itself as the earliest interracial community in Florida's panhandle. A plank-and-metal bike bridge across Stallworth Lake lures us off our path.

As I cross I hear plink, plop, plop, plink. Little living things I cannot see hop out of my way, into the water. The bridge spills us into long-established neighborhoods hiding behind the glamour of waterfront tourist condos.

We smile. The ride is delightful. It's just what we wanted. We are spinning our wheels casually and enjoying the scenery. And soon, we head up the hill toward home.

A construction worker hollers, "Hey! You've been riding a long time!" "Really?" I respond. "Yea, I passed you going the other way more than an hour ago!"

Wow. I'm proud of my endurance (this is the first long bike ride of the season). Back at the motor home, we trade our bikes for our car to continue our excursion. That's when we see the other towns, each with its own flavor, its own personality.

Much later,  I discover the map above and realize our big bike trip, the one I am so puffed-chest proud of, the one the construction worker gave me a verbal pat on the back for, was actually only a few miles of what turns out to be a long-established 20-miles of scenic coastline.

I'm crest fallen. But, I vow silently, I will do those 20 miles ... next time I'm in the area.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Kick Back For The Kick Off

We went to church, had breakfast at Cracker Barrel, let the dogs romp
at the dog park, road our bikes to the beach and now it's time to kick

'Cuz it's Super Bowl Time.

We're rooting for Arizona.