Saturday, December 5, 2015

Murphy's Law in Manic Mode

Have you ever opened your big mouth and wished you hadn’t? Well…yes, but only in retrospect.

I think it was December of 1989. A bunch of us were eating lunch together at work. Ray was telling us about how he raised and supplied the dressed quail for the gourmet meals served on this casino cruise ship out of Jeckyll Island, Georgia. Hearing only casino cruise ship, I piped up and said, “Wow, that sounds like fun. We ought to do that sometime.” And that’s how it all started.

Ray got free tickets, Sandra offered to drive their motorhome, and the six of us made plans to go the following Saturday. The Christmas tour was happening on Jeckyll Island meaning we could even do some shopping. We picked a motel in Brunswick and everyone made their reservations.

Four of us, Sandra, Shirley, Jim and I, pulled out of Sandra’s driveway in Gainesville around 3 on Saturday, plenty of time to make the 150-mile trip and catch the Emerald Princess before it left the dock at 7. We’d pick up Ray and his wife on the way.

At Ray’s house we got the grand tour of the quail operation, and then Cheryl, his wife, had to show us her angel-making pottery studio. I admit she did beautiful work, but I was getting antsy about the time. Finally, we all piled back into the motorhome and sped up 301. Cheryl found a deck of cards and four of us sharpened up our poker skills as Sandra headed to Georgia while Shirley kept her company in the passenger seat.

We arrived in plenty of time, and since dusk was falling, we decided to look at the Christmas lights on Jekyll Island even though rain was misting down. Caught up in a line of sightseers doing some gawking of their own, we snaked along through the dazzle of rainbow colors. When we stopped at an intersection to wait for traffic to move, it happened. The motorhome’s engine sputtered and died. Sandra tried and tried but nothing would bring that critter to life again. Long before the days of a  cellphone for everyone, Ray hoofed it to a shop to call AAA. “Yes, they would send someone right over.” Uh huh.

We waited, and watched the time tick by as traffic curled around us. Finally, someone from AAA came and took Ray to pick up a rental car in hopes that we could still make our 7 o’clock deadline. It didn’t take long and Ray was back with a…tiny little compact mini something, the only thing the car agency had left. How in the world were we all going to fit into that? Not easily.

By now it was pouring rain and we still had to find the dock. Ray insisted he knew exactly where it was. He reversed direction through the crowded streets and soon came onto a main highway. I was scrunched in a corner of the backseat and watched out the steamed-up window as Ray swerved between orange construction barrels. They marked a narrow lane to our progress. We came to the business section and off to the right I could see the water. I thought yes, Ray knows what he’s talking about. Then I realized we were going the wrong way on a one-way street. I think I shouted something remarkable like “We’re going the wrong way.” Ray was not fazed and quickly righted our direction, but now we were going away from the water instead of toward it.

In the end after many twists and turns trickier than Algernon’s maze, we found the dock, but the beckoning lights of the Emerald Princess were bobbing on the horizon off in the distance. There would be no quail and no poker this night.

Our disappointment was quickly replaced by hunger pangs. The immediate task now was to find our motel, the La Quinta Inn, and hopefully, it would have a nice restaurant. We were travelling down the line of orange barrels again with the squeaking windshield wipers about to fly off their hinges. In desperation, Ray pulled into a gas station and asked for directions. Following the attendant’s excellent advice, we soon arrived at the motel and went in to register. They had some kind of trouble with my credit card and had to put it through several times, but finally we all had our key cards and trouped up to our rooms to freshen up before dinner.

After Jim opened our door, I stretched out on the bed in complete exhaustion from all the stress of the drive. I moved around trying to get comfortable and smelled a strong pet odor from the bed covering. The sign in the lobby had said “pet friendly.” This trip was going downhill by the minute. Jim phoned the desk and asked if someone could bring new bed linens. After cleaning ourselves up a little, we joined the others in search of food. By the time we got back, we supposed everything would be new and fresh.

We all met at the front desk and were told about a nice seafood restaurant within walking distance. Even though it was still drizzling, it was better than getting back into that phantom of an automobile. It wasn’t far and we found the food and service to be tolerable. We all felt a lot better after our hunger pains subsided. The rain had stopped when we left the restaurant so we walked around a bit before going back to La Quinta.

Our room was in the same shape we had left it, still smelly. Jim called again and was assured someone would be right up with new bed linens. I yanked the comforter off and threw it out in the hallway, a big improvement almost immediately. The top sheet had to go too. Now we were coverless and chilly with nothing to do but wait. No one ever came and we finally fell asleep covered up with towels.

In the morning Sandra contacted AAA and we were directed to the garage that had the motorhome. There we were informed it had a faulty fuel pump and, no, they didn’t have one. It would need to be ordered. In the meantime the mechanic would fiddle with the old one and see if he could fix it. He thought the problem had occurred when the main gas tank had switched over to the auxiliary tank. Plugged into the garage’s electric, we relaxed in the motorhome, made some coffee, and discussed options.

Shirley’s husband was due to fly into Jacksonville that morning from a business trip to Dallas. She left a message at the Jax airport for him to call our garage and soon it was arranged for him to pick us up in their van, their large comfortable van.

The ride home was uneventful except for one stop we made near Baldwin. Ray expressed his desire to look at the hundreds of lighted wire-shaped reindeer and Santa Clauses peppering a field near a roadside market. He already had a few of the yard ornaments and wanted more so the rest of the way I rode nose-to-nose with Rudolph.

When I got my credit card bill a couple of weeks later I realized Murphy’s Law was not yet finished with me. I was charged twice for my lovely stay at La Quinta

Friday, November 27, 2015

A Drink From the Fountain

One day last summer I went on a group bus trip to St. Augustine, only around 80 miles from my house. We met at a local farmers' market site to preregister and wait for the bus. It was my first trip of this kind. Well, we waited and waited...and learned the scheduled bus had cancelled and we were getting a replacement. It showed up about a half hour late and we rolled out of the parking lot at 10:30 instead of 10 o'clock. Not too bad, but I was wondering if I was jinxing things with my newness *Facepalm* .

Fortunately, that turned out to be the only problem of the trip. Palatka, a small town on the St. Johns' River and a little over halfway, provided our lunch stop, a lovely restaurant called Corky Bell's. With a setting on the river and good seafood and vegetables (I had green beans and collard greens), we were now starting off right. After a small piece of key lime pie, I walked their deck and boardwalk and floating dock out onto the river. Perfect.

There were 28 of us, all "seniors", but sort of surprisingly to me, all were in good humor with no grumbling. Everyone was friendly and chatty with some jokesters sprinkled in. And, remember, the temperature here was nearing the 100 degree mark.

Re-boarding the coach after lunch, we traveled past the corn and potato fields of Hastings, a teeny-tiny town but with potato renown. The scenery reminded me of Delaware with its vast wheat and soy bean fields.
With our full bellies, we arrived in St. Augustine in no time, picked up our on-board guide, a real Minorcan descendant, and made our way to the Fountain of Youth, our main destination. At Ponce's Place, being who we were, our first stop was the modern bathrooms *Laugh* .

All of us drank from the Fountain with 20 minute promises Later, at the gift shop, I decided a souvenir coffee cup with the Fountain's insignia might help do the trick. I'm trying it now and will let you know.

Ponce's Place was interesting with its beautiful entrance on Magnolia Avenue and its strutting peacocks, even some white ones. Our guide was an excellent storyteller in period costume, pretty darn hot for Florida in June.

Later, we toured St. Augustine, with our guide enlightening us on all its famous history. Our driver got a real workout on those narrow congested streets and curvy parking lots, but he was a pro. After visiting the "welcome center" and its well-stocked gift shop, we headed home, without incident. Mopsy greeted me at the door with that "where have you been" look. Actually, it was more like "where's my food?".

Monday, November 9, 2015

Vinegar Fries and Cowpies

The Delaware State Fair was in my hometown, and while growing up in the fifties, it was a highlight of many of my summers. School let out during the middle of June and the hot lonesome days of an only child dragged by until the last week of July, fair time.

My clearest memory of a particular fair is when I had an actual job and earned my own money to spend on whatever I wanted. Local businesses set up shop in special sections of the fair, usually near the agricultural and farm displays. A mobile home company parked a couple models in one of these areas and enticed fair-goers with signs and smiling salesmen to wander through the shiny, new homes on wheels.

Each morning until lunchtime, my job was to keep these brand new trailers clean by sweeping and dusting and sometimes mopping up tracks from a surprise rainstorm. The showers cooled things off and left the air rich with an earthiness, but afterwards the sun shone down with a vengeance and soon returned the mud to dust.

I can’t remember exactly how much I received for my stunning service, but I do remember thinking it was a fortune. It was my very first job. Being a fair employee, I didn’t have to waste money on an entrance fee; I could stroll right in proudly displaying my employee pass.

Receiving payment for my labor each day, I couldn’t wait to spend it on rides, sweets, and those win-a-prize for your prowess thieves, um games. I tried my hand at the ring toss to win a stuffed monkey, attempted to pitch a nickel in a plate for a real live goldfish, aimed a very small ball at some stacked milk bottles for a huge panda bear, and targeted a moving duck in a watery canal for a prize of my choice. However, hauling around prizes was not a problem since my athletic abilities were practically nil.

I paid to gawk at the bearded lady exhibit and stared in open-mouthed amazement at the eardrum-shattering motorcycles roaring around inside a wire globe. I bought walking sundaes that melted down my arm in ninety-plus degree heat, pulled off gobs of cotton candy with that sweet, over-toasted smell, burnt my mouth on juicy hotdogs that had rolled round and round on metal warmers for hours, and gobbled vinegar fries, my very favorite of all. My mouth waters now as I imagine the crispy, salty, sour crunch of those hot fries lying on my tongue and squishing between my teeth.

Small fans on counters blew the smells and made non-hungry customers search for their origins. Food smells permeated the air like watercolor on wet paper. Nobody strolled the circle of the midway without food and drink at some point. Even the diesel smell of some of the engines used to power rides did not dampen cravings for fair food.

Other parts of the fair had fans, not to circulate the smells, but to get rid of them. In the heat of late July, farm animals are not dainty critters. The cattle, horse, hog, sheep and fowl barns housed nature with all its good and bad odors, but a kid my age hardly noticed anything bad about the fair, even the pesky abundant flies. Cowpies were just another scent, no better and no worse than the nose-tingling sweet tartness of warm cherry pies in the 4-H barn.

Sometimes I would meet up with schoolmates, and then I would have enough courage to go on rides like the whip, the octopus, the tilt-a-whirl, and a very tame roller coaster. I was more of an eater than an adventurer, and once I remember the two being too close together with a not very happy result. Hot dogs and being spun in a circle through the air do not agree with each other, but I won’t go into specifics on that one.

No matter what happened, nothing dampened my childhood romance with the fair, and I never stopped looking forward to a daily new adventure during the last week of July. And it continues to make others happy, one thing from my childhood that hasn't changed.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Summer Saturdays

Growing up I lived just outside a very small town in Delaware not too far from the Delaware Bay. My very happiest memories are of Saturday trips to Rehoboth Beach where the bay meets the ocean. Sometimes I was allowed to take a schoolmate or maybe my cousins, but even alone as an only child, they were my happiest days. I could always count on finding a friend at the edge of the waves.

The ride through small towns seemed to take forever, thirty miles of anticipation. Depending on the wind direction, about five miles away I could smell the saltiness of the bay in the air and see circling seagulls. Air conditioning consisted of rolled-down windows, and the wet breeze blowing across cooler seawater couldn’t compare anyway.

Saturdays were popular for beach visits and I was the lookout for a parking spot, as close as possible because of all the important things we had to carry. There was the drink cooler, beach chairs, blankets, towels, my transistor radio, a beach ball, and beach bags with important personal stuff. This was where parents became important. UV protection was unknown. I just fried with Coppertone when I thought to use it. Usually I got the job of running to the umbrella guy with money for portable shade, and he would follow me back and plunge the stake into the sand at the spot my mom had chosen to spread our blanket.

Then, at last, to the water, there were waves to ride. Wet, squishy sand between my toes, icy water at first, breakers trying to beat me back out, all memories I wouldn’t trade for a zillion dollars. Not too far out, the ocean floor dropped off, a little trough of broken shells where the breakers washed out the sand. I had to get past this or the breaking waves battered me, but once beyond the drop-off, all the fun began. Waves twice my height or more depending on the calmness of the day rushed toward me. When the wave was exactly the right distance, I had to jump with the buoyancy of the water and ride over it. What a feeling, as though I was tiny and someone was picking me up and slowly letting me down. These days were long before Jaws. No one gave sharks a second thought.

Sometimes, if I forgot to look, a wave would sneak up on me, and I would have to dive into it. Then my knees got skinned up and I might swallow some salt water. I didn’t mind at all. I loved it so much, someone would have to come drag me out even if a thunderstorm came up. I can remember begging to stay in while lightning streaked across the sky. And when I finally did come in, my fingers looked like prunes.

Of course, when it stormed there were always other things to do, the penny arcade, bumper cars, Dolles saltwater taffy, souvenirs to look at, hot dogs, ice cream, colored ices. Rain cooled off the searing heat of the boardwalk and made barefoot walking possible, but sometime splinters were a problem. Who cared about a little rain when a person was soaked already.

The ride home was a whole lot quieter. In fact, I usually slept, only waking when the car stopped in our driveway. The memories of the day returned as I looked at my wrinkled fingers, squirmed in my sand-filled swimsuit, and accidentally touched my sunburned nose. But they were good memories and I could hardly wait until the next Saturday to do it all over again.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Another Thanksgiving

The following true story is really about thanks giving, about receiving and knowing how to accept a gift.

Seeing all the decorations in stores for Thanksgiving brings back the memory of a particular one. It was early November of 1993. My husband and my employer ganged up on me to make an appointment with a dermatologist about a mole on my temple that looked suspicious to them. They wouldn't give up, and I finally decided to go.

The doctor barely glanced at the mole before telling me I needed to see a surgeon right away. She made the appointment for that same afternoon, something I thought impossible. The plastic surgeon echoed her words. The very next day he removed the mole and the surrounding tissue and did a skin graft. Just before Thanksgiving I received the lab report. The mole was indeed an invasive malignant melanoma, but thankfully the surrounding tissue was clear.

I had a huge bandage (it seemed huge, anyway) and some stitches. I was very thankful for loved ones and dear friends who would not take no for an answer.

The morning I went for the surgery everything was so poignant. I remember the chill in the air as we raised the garage door. In fact, I can almost feel it right now, the feeling was so intense. As I looked outside, moving soundlessly through the sky, and huge because it was so close, I saw the Goodyear Blimp, in town for the football game the next day. The quietness of it and the chill in the air steadied me somehow.

My daughter had come from a little over eighty miles away to go to the doctor with us. She only had one child at the time, my grandson, Jimmy, who was 2 years old. Of course, she left him at home with his dad. When we got back home from the surgeon’s, she wanted to stay and cook Thanksgiving dinner for us the next day, but all I could think about was the pain I was feeling and how my son-in-law must be climbing the walls by now with Jimmy. So I emphatically said "no", and Jim and I spent a lonely Thanksgiving eating chicken noodle soup.

My point is...why couldn't I have accepted the gift my daughter wanted to give? What a wonderful Thanksgiving it could have been, but I was stubborn and thought I would be putting everyone to a lot of unnecessary trouble. The important thing I overlooked was the happiness it would have given my daughter to be doing something for her mom. She was trying to show her love and support for me, and I actually refused it

I was always taught to give is better than to receive, but now I wonder at the truthfulness of that. Perhaps, to receive a gift can be giving a gift as well. And sometimes it is better to receive than to give. Many times, I think, it’s one and the same thing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Endings and Beginnings

Driven by hormones, the mysterious future, and a sense of life everlasting, we laughed and sang as the cars spun over the macadam, marking time. A caravan of headlights shining through the twilight carried me and my classmates to one last hurrah in June of ’62.

All twenty-something of us water babies chose a long stretch of deserted beach along U.S. 1 as our destination. There would be no one to complain about the noise of our carousing.

We parked behind the dunes, discarded our shoes and trudged up and over the still-warm sand as the waves rolled in under the full moonlight.

Some of the guys dug a deep pit in the sand while others looked for anything dry enough to burn. It was graduation night, and we were having the customary celebration. Someone struck a match, and soon a blaze rose high into the moonlit skies. Sparks caught on passing breezes imitating flying stars, twinkling brightly, then, disappearing forever.

We swayed to transistor radio music as drink lulled our senses. Longtime classmates, we partied together, most likely for the last time. Soon reality would top everyone's agenda.

Innocence would evaporate like smoke swallowed by the salty air and only the embers’ ashes would remain to forge lives from remnants of youth.

But this night we all felt as though we could reach up and touch the moon with ease. We were on the precipice looking over, ready to step off.

Now, it seems a dream almost, someone else’s life, so long ago. I wonder how many of our dreams came true. Six of my classmates are no longer on this earth, but they live on in my memory, stuck in the jargon of one through twelve.

Two others are Facebook friends. We share memories and keep current on the surface, but the freedom of teenagers is gone. Now we are trapped between what should be and what is, what to share and what not.

I wonder about the rest of them and sometimes catch a glimpse of a familiar name in my hometown newspaper. Obits used to be my thing, now not so much. But curiosity still plagues me. I find it's true - I never learned anything from listening to myself.

I was valedictorian of my very small high school class, giving one of those speeches about going out and fulfilling our dreams, a speech like all others, meaningful yet meaningless.

Success, thought to be measured in worldly terms, can only be measured by the individual and is not continuous, but intermittent with failure. If we have no comparison, how would we recognize one from the other? Much of my life seems to have been accidental, determined by fate even, yet I am satisfied by it and have few regrets. In my eyes, it has been a successful life, and until it’s over, I’ll do my best to live it the same as I have done. As someone once told me, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Good advice, I think.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Life in a Trunk

Inside the trunk are two large family Bibles, seven photo albums, two small books (Cogswell Compendium of Phonography and Intermediate Course in Mechanical Drawing), a lady’s jewelry box filled to the brim, three Phillies cigar boxes (two missing  lids), all filled with miscellaneous contents, a Polaroid camera in its case with a boxed flashgun and instruction booklet, many financial records including tax returns (even a 1975 audit letter), a half-full box of powder blue writing paper, a framed photograph of Grandmom, memory books of Grandmom’s and Poppop’s funerals, a like-new Buck knife in its box, three extremely sharp household knives, and on the bottom of the trunk like shelf liner, two newspaper sheets dated March 30, 1945, with articles about the “A-bomb” and “Jap Elections.”

The outside is Army green and measures 16” wide by 30” long and 13” deep. Not a big trunk but heavy with contents when I got it. Although it’s made of hard cardboard, it has reinforcing black metal strips wrapping all the corners. Leather carrying straps protrude at each end. Two black metal locking devices adorn the front on each side, and an Elgin padlock, closed with no key, dangles from the top catch, securing nothing. A black metal band goes all the way around under these locks.

I have no idea how Uncle Johnny acquired the trunk or where it came from. I don’t remember ever seeing it before. It came to my home in Florida via I-95 from Delaware, a trip back home Jim and I took together in 2000, a journey to attend Uncle Johnny’s funeral.

Johnny was born in 1914. He was the oldest of nine children, the son of Arthur and Emily, farmers in Caroline County, Maryland, located on the east side of the Chesapeake Bay. He worked the farm with his dad until 1952, when his dad’s deteriorating health required them to give it up. Uncle Johnny never married, and he continued to live with his parents after they moved to Kent County, Delaware. Not well educated, he found a job driving a truck for a furniture company, Liebman’s, in Dover.

His dad died in 1960, and Uncle Johnny took care of his mom, continuing to work for Liebman’s until he retired at age sixty-five in 1979. His mom, my grandmother, passed away in 1981. Uncle Johnny lived alone until he died on May 20, 2000. He was 85. As his favorite niece, I inherited his trunk.

I didn’t know a lot about Uncle Johnny; he was quiet, not much of a talker. After we moved to Florida from Delaware in 1978, I called him a few times each year and always sent his favorite oranges and grapefruit for Christmas. Now, that seems like so little. I know he had to be lonely.

He was a good son, dutiful and kind. I remember hearing about the bursitis in his elbow. Someone said a car had sideswiped him as a young man, damaging his arm as it rested on the open window. I remember a visit when I was five or six years old, begging for bologna and ice cream as I got to accompany him to the store.

He loved going to the annual Delaware State Fair in Harrington and also to the horse races held there each fall. He always planted a garden (wow those tomatoes), and every time I asked how he grew such red juicy ones, he said it was because of the marigolds he planted around the outside edges. According to him, they kept away the bad bugs. Turns out, he knew what he was talking about. Of course, that rich Delaware dirt didn’t hurt either.

He visited us once in Florida when another brother made the trip in 1983. A few months before that, Johnny learned he had prostate cancer. He had the surgery and made changes to his lifestyle. He appeared at our house in blue jeans and white tennis shoes, and at 69, he got around better than I did at 39. During his visit he asked for Special K and a glass of cranberry juice for breakfast. But he was still very quiet.

When Jim and I returned from Delaware with the trunk, I was more than anxious to see what was inside, my nosy nature being what it is. As I write this, I again look inside the trunk. Each time seems like the first as it takes me back, a virtual time machine. I have tried to keep it as it first appeared to me.

I’ve spent many hours “inside” this trunk and continue to find out things I didn’t know every time I open it up. Surprisingly, Uncle Johnny saved many local newspaper clippings about me, inserted into photo albums, things I had forgotten about. He couldn’t have imagined the pleasure his gift has given me. I hope he’s up there somewhere, looking down and smiling, happy that I’m learning more about his life and the kind of person he was. Some of the things I find make me wish I could call him up and ask, “What was that for?”

But now, it’s a life in a trunk, solitary, suspended, creating some questions with no answers.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Apollo

One of the hardest things I had to give up when we moved to Florida in 1978 was our fishing boat. I knew it would be a very long time, maybe forever, before we had another. It’s not that I love fishing so much, but that I love the water, salt water, in it, on it, even under it.

So not very long after we got to Florida I began to look around for charter fishing trips. The closest I found was one out of Crystal River on a boat named The Apollo. Who could not feel safe and love that? I later found out the owners, the Standard family, boasted generations of fishermen. I don’t remember our pilot’s first name, but he did look seasoned by the wind and salt and sun.

The boat pulled out of the dock at seven sharp so we had to leave Gainesville very early. Unlike many people I always enjoyed getting up in the dark preparing for an adventure. It’s almost like writing a story. You’re not exactly sure what’s coming but you have an outline, and you know it’s going to be exciting.

It was dark at 5 o’clock in the spring of the year when we got on I-75 south and exited on 121. We wanted plenty of time and would use any extra for a stop to enjoy a second small breakfast. With our car windows down, the air smelled clean and felt cool, and the farther we went, the brighter the stars got in the dark sky above.

It was only a little after six when we turned onto 19 South with just a few more miles to our destination. With our anticipation rising, we opted not to stop anywhere, continuing on to the dock site while sipping our Thermos of coffee.

When we found our turn-off, we wound around and between several canals to finally sight the crowd of happy fisherman waiting in front of the big white boat. Guess they were eager, too. We unloaded what we had been told to bring and joined them.

The boat was a real fishing boat, closed bow, pilot’s cabin (with a tiny little head just big enough to do your business and get out) and an open stern area with a few attached wooden seats, a bench for fish-cleaning, and a well for our catch. And underneath the deck, we could hear and smell the idling diesel engine. Mix that with the salty brine hanging in the crisp morning air, the brilliant sun just peeking above the trees in the distance, and you have a picture of true beauty to a fisherman. A chest-high railing ran the length of the port and starboard sides, meeting at the point of the bow for lots of fishing room.

When we were allowed to board, I perched on my favorite spot, the raised part of the closed bow. Here I could feel the bump-bump as we crossed the waves and my face would be powdered with salt spray carried by the wind. And I could see everything.

As I remember, it was around ten o’clock before we dropped anchor. Our boat was a slow one, and we were told we would be going over thirty miles out to find the fishing grounds (radar was involved). Soon, a couple of deck hands passed out fishing gear and squid for bait. I found a spot, baited up, cast over, and prepared to wait. The cool breeze and warm sun made me sleepy. No one got many bites so after a short time, our captain decided to move on. I took off my squid and returned him to the sea a little worse for wear. With my rod propped against the railing, I returned to my favorite spot. We moved slowly so some people trolled. I knew this would result in tangled lines when we stopped. It did, so I had plenty of time to re-bait and cast over when we were at a full stop.

I got a bite right away, a very strong one, and most everyone’s attention was riveted on my line. After some maneuvering and help from one of the deck hands, I landed a huge grouper, black grouper I think the captain said. This must be the spot. Most everyone had their hooks in the water, got bites, and landed something; happiness all around.

We moved a few more times as the bites slacked off, and by 2 o’clock the captain said it was time to head back in to the dock. Just at that moment I hooked onto something that would not let go. The captain came over and helped me wind it in. As it appeared on top of the water, he said, “That’s fire coral. Don’t touch it.” He sounded excited. I thought to myself, Don’t worry.

He reeled it in and gingerly got it off my hook with heavy gloves and a tool. When he said he’d like it for his aquarium and had been trying to catch one, I said, absolutely. Although it looks just like coral, later I learned it's not really a coral but related to the jelly fish. So glad I gave it away to someone who wanted it.

The one I caught looked like this. 

On the ride back in, the deck hands weighed and cleaned our fish. My grouper came in at second biggest catch of the day, which provided us and Jim’s brother a few excellent fishy meals. And, of course, the ride home was much less exciting than the ride to The Apollo.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Early Bird or Night Owl

Which are you? Do you get up at the crack of dawn raring to go? Or do you like to sleep in and then stay up until all hours of the night? Who do you suppose has the best attention level? I’ve always wondered about this.

As I think back on my younger years, I realize I’ve changed from a night owl to an early bird, but not without help. If you have a cat (or a dog), you’ll understand what I mean by the word “help.”  Nothing pleased me more when I was growing up than to read into the wee hours of the morning. When it was time to wake up, my mom cajoled me out of bed to ready myself for school. That became a habit. I learned to depend on someone else to get me up.

The habit became a problem in college. Roommates are not dependable alarm clocks. There were so many distractions to keep me up like the student center for late-night snacking and meeting friends, and those parties and dances that went on forever. All my classes were early ones, and my daytime attention level suffered from lack of sufficient sleep and showed in my grades. I managed to moderate my behavior by getting to bed by midnight and waking at 7 A.M. to the jingle of my new alarm clock. My grades improved, but I always felt “sharper” late in the day.

After marriage, and children, my sleep hours got muddled again. I couldn’t say what I was, night owl or early bird…just all the time fowl!

But now, at my advanced age, I think I am a night owl. I continue to read late into the wee hours even though Mopsy, my kitty, wakes me between 5:30 and 6 A.M. I compensate with daytime naps.

Recently, I stumbled onto a couple of interesting studies. Some researchers at the University of Liege in Belgium attempted to answer my question. Who has the best attention level? Night owls or early birds? Using volunteer participants from both groups and magnetic resonance imaging, they monitored the volunteers’ brains for focus of attention, peaks and troughs of alertness, and cognitive performance throughout the day. Working in a sleep clinic, participants were allowed to follow their normal sleep schedule. Upon arising, they were tested after 1.5 hours and 10.5 hours of wakefulness. They were asked to perform tasks requiring sustained attention.

At 1.5 hours the attention levels of the two groups were found to be no different, but after 10.5 hours of being awake, the night owl group was found to be much more focused than the early birds. Does this surprise you? It did me.

Two mechanisms controlling alertness were determined to be responsible for the difference in the shift between the two groups, specifically, our built-in circadian clock which is triggered by light, and that part of the homeostatic process that says “you need to go to sleep after being awake a certain number of hours.” This pressured the early birds to think more about sleep than their task at hand. It had been thought prior to this study the two mechanisms operated independently, but upon observing the MRI’s, it’s now known they are always interacting together.

Most importantly, this study tells us a night job definitely would be inappropriate for an early bird, but, conversely, a day job would be appropriate for a night owl. Well, 
let’s hear it for the night owls! 

In another more recent study our very genes have been linked to early bird or night owl tendencies. Scientists discovered a “wake up” gene, PER 1, which is linked to our circadian timing. Researchers genotyped volunteers and were able to compare sleep-wake cycles to genetic profiles. They made an interesting discovery. They found that variations of this gene affect our circadian rhythm and are shown to play a part in the timing of major medical events, even heart attacks.

This study population discovered that early birds tend to have major medical events, including death, typically around 11 A.M., while night owls were more likely to pass away around 6 P.M.

This discovery opens the door to new ways for managing our health. If we pay more attention to our natural circadian clock, perhaps our health could benefit by knowing when we’re most vulnerable, especially in relation to timing exercise, medicine, and medical treatment.

After thinking about these studies, I wonder if it’s wise to try to change our natural wake-sleep habits. Perhaps, it would be less stressful to listen to our inner signals. Now, if only I could  get Mopsy to cooperate.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Getting My "Fix"

Every few months I have to get my antique fix by driving south a few miles to a little town named Micanopy, known to outsiders as the scene of Michael J. Fox's movie, Doc Hollywood. To locals it's a haven for antique browsers, not that you need be antique to browse but sometimes it helps. It's not far from my house, around 12 miles according to Google maps, but I like to travel the scenic route instead of I-75. I drive south down 441 through Payne's Prairie. I-75 crosses the Prairie but it somehow seems "removed". Timewise, it takes me around thirty minutes.

If you’re with company and hungry, there are some good eating places at the 441 intersection with the town, Pearl’s for barbecue and Blue Highway for pizza. Before I stopped eating meat, I can attest to the fact that Pearl’s has exceptional brisket. And you can’t beat the place for people watching.

If you’re looking for scenic, Micanopy is advertised as the town that time forgot. All the buildings have a long history. The town is named after a chief of the Seminole Indians whose name, and thus the name of the town, actually means “head chief.”. When I first came to Florida, I pronounced it "my can o' pee" and later discovered many newcomers do the same. Here is the real way to say it. The main street is Cholokka Boulevard...otherwise known as antique alley.

I normally hit the shops upon arrival, but this time I decided to walk out the kinks from the drive. The entire street is not very long and I managed to go from one end to the other crossing over to opposite sides for the journey to and fro. There is a very old Episcopal Church which I would have recognized by the red door without the prominent sign. I was raised Episcopalian and Jim and I were married in a small Episcopal Church, but now I'm not sure what I am???? A sign outside caught my eye and made me wonder exactly what it meant. It read "Paid Child Care". The church pays for childcare, you pay for childcare, don't expect to bring your child into the sanctuary...what?

A little farther on stands an old, old building, the Mosswood Farm Store. Inside are jars of honey, vials of essential oils, and homemade pastries...and lots of other homemade stuff. It seems like a family affair with a couple of generations present and the cutest little blond-haired girl was running around. She kept eyeing me like I was from outer space. Here is a pic. Yes, I said it was old, a 1910 cracker style house. They have an outdoor wood-fired brick oven where they make their artisan breads.  Smell that sourdough? And the coffee and espresso bar mixed with the smell of homemade brownies, well if you weren’t hungry when you came in, how could you resist those aromas?

On the way back down the boulevard I stopped in at the Micanopy Historical Society Museum, an old wooden barn-type building.  An older man and woman greeted me as I entered. Through conversation I found out they were volunteers and perhaps married. They were very friendly and encouraged me to sign the “guest book.” Originally owned by J. E. Thrasher, the museum was a warehouse for cotton, or maybe turpentine, and then for the shipment of wooden boxes before cardboard came into being. A railroad spur came close by. The thing that amazed me most....did you know a bobcat is smaller than a largemouth bass? Stuffed examples of each resided in a glass case. There were lots of old tools for men and women. Would you consider two tubs with a wringer in between them a tool? There were old typewriters and sewing machines and even a dress-up area for kids where they could try on raccoon caps and cowboy and Indian outfits. Lots of pictures of Seminoles, old Army uniforms, and lots of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings stuff since Cross Creek is nearby.

After traipsing through a few antique shops, I treated myself to a scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream at the local ice cream parlor. I ate it outside on the old porch of the huge two-story. Really a three-story if you count the little A-frame on the very top with its own porch and white railing. I got friendly with the resident kitty (no ice cream for kitty, though, chocolate is poisonous to cats). I ate and she purred. A family passing through sat at a table near me. I know they were passing through because they were discussing how they had never heard of "My can o' pee."

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

How To Survive No A/C

Did you ever wonder if you could survive without air conditioning? Last weekend I was put to the test. I had several errands to run on Friday and arrived home hot and tired late in the afternoon. Opening my house door I expected a rush of cold air and the welcoming eyes of my kitty. Neither happened. The blast of air was warm and kitty was mysteriously missing.

The worst possible thing had happened…air conditioning failure and worse...failure after office hours and before a weekend. As for kitty, she was sacked out in the rocker, enjoying the warmth. Cats are weird, aren’t they?

Rockin' Mopsy

I went straight to the thermostat and read the 84° with a sinking feeling. Wondering if what worked for my computer might work for my air conditioning, I flipped the switch to off, waited a minute, and flipped it back on. Nothing. And nothing left to do but call my a/c serviceman.

After listening to his pleasant-sounding voice message starting with “unless this is an emergency”, I left the required information after the beep. Upon hanging up, I wondered is this an emergency? Nah, I can tough it out.

I checked the thermometer on the back porch and to my surprise it read 83° so I left the porch door from the house wide open, raised the window next to my computer, and turned on the ceiling fan at full blast. I felt the humidity pouring in. This is Florida. But what else to do? I tried thinking myself cool. That worked about two minutes.

Well, I did manage to make it through the weekend with no a/c. On Saturday I continued reminding myself hourly that a hundred years ago people had no air conditioning, which did not help as much as I thought it should. I tried to keep busy but found a lot of napping took over. I already had plans for Sunday, a trip to Cedar Key for a seafood dinner. My vehicle’s air conditioning was one of the highlights of the outing. Sunday night was a killer.

Monday finally came along with my repairman. It took him about two minutes to determine the cause of my breakdown (a/c, that is). The little line outside where the water comes out was stopped up. He blew it out and voila…fixed. I forgot to ask what caused that, I was so relieved to be able to look forward to coldness again. And the very best part (almost)…he didn’t even charge me anything. Wow! I guess he thought I had suffered enough.

So, the answer to my question of how to survive with no a/c is take lots of showers (no hair dryers allowed), give in to all naps, stay underneath ceiling fans at all times possible, conserve energy (lazy is good), drink tons of iced tea…and go for lots of rides in an air conditioned vehicle. That’s all I know.

Saturday, July 11, 2015


I was thinking back this morning to what I was doing this time last year, and it occurred to me...kayaking. Yes, I had just finished a kayaking class (community ed) at Santa Fe College. It's a very vivid memory since it was my first (and so far, last) time doing the K thing.

I had my in-the-water kayaking lesson early on a Saturday morning in July of 2014 at Poe Springs Park on the Santa Fe River. What an experience, good and bad.

My first surprise was the seat. This was a sit-on kayak. I'm not sure what I expected but the seat was hard plastic (just like the kayak) with a little piece of detachable plastic-covered foam for a backrest. The instructor (Simon Legree) actually said he would detach the backrest if we used it too much. Posture is important, just like Mommy said.

After a few warm-up exercises and watching Simon demonstrate some paddling techniques with us standing in a circle, we (six of us including the instructor) were told to unload the kayaks (two per boat). I asked how much they weighed...Simon said 55 pounds. Okay, I can do half of that. We placed them two by two in a row down the side of the road leading to the boat ramp. It was early so all was deserted. Simon pointed out some poison ivy along the side of the ramp.

I looked out at the river and with all the rain we had been having, there was some flooding and a swift current. We put our two-piece aluminum paddles together...again...stored our water bottles and dry bags, and got a quick lesson on the anatomy of the kayak. All of them were 16' long and chartreuse except for Simon's. His was blue. And I noticed his paddle was offset while ours were not. He said you had to be more proficient for that kind.

What I was worried about, getting into the kayak, was the easiest part of the day. Not a problem at all, barely in the water at the edge of the boat ramp, easy-peasy. We were told to row upstream against the current while we were nice and fresh. We looked like Papa Duck and his ducklings...except Papa Duck could talk yell. "You're not rowing with your torso." Torso? WTH? This life jacket is so tight I can barely breathe let alone twist. Okay, calm down, Connie. Did I mention I had never been in a kayak before in my life? Hey, I was almost seventy (seventy-one now)...somebody feel sorry for me. Nope! Keep paddling.

Finally, Papa moves over to the shoreline and us ducklings follow. Simon gives us a quick demonstration of in-the-water rescue; that is, if you are dumped, how to get back into your kayak, by yourself. Okay, that all makes sense. He made it look so easy. And off we go again, underneath a huge oak tree limb, hanging across the river, beautiful. 

Now, Simon turns right toward a very, make that very, narrow opening into a little pond-like area on the side of the river. The opening is wide enough for one kayak and riddled with cypress nubs and a water depth of about 6". Simon backs up some, paddles like hell, and speeds through the opening. I sit and watch as my cohorts all take a turn, some two or three times, before making it through. Everyone is through but me. I try my best but end up having to be helped, not pretty. In the little pond, we learn to do 360 degree turns, clockwise and counterclockwise, with paddle strokes called forward and backward sweeps, not nearly as hard as it sounds. I sip some water from my bottle.

Rested, we are ready to head back out into the river. I go last, again, but make it through this time on the first try, as did everyone else. Whew! We paddle a little farther upstream. Blue dragonflies light on my bow for a free ride. The river is beautiful, the breeze cool, but the sun is getting hot. Several other paddlers, canoes and kayaks, are in the water now, all heading downstream. We all say "hi" and smile as we pass and wonder when we will get our "free ride."

The river is getting too crowded so Simon turns and heads us back downstream. We gather at the side first, and he says we will go a little distance past our boat ramp to an eddy he knows at the side of the river. There, we will practice our self-rescue part of the course. We follow him out in a line, staying to the right of the river. Paddling is a breeze now. Before I know it, we are passing our boat ramp. It is packed with people. Soon, we are at Simon's eddy - too soon.

Simon demonstrates, falling over the side of his kayak and flipping the boat. Little handles are on each side of the cockpit, not for carrying, but for turning upright when flipped. He demonstrates the maneuver. Reach under the boat with one hand, grab the handle, and push up the closest side with the other hand...voila, upright. Everyone takes a turn and, of course, chicken little (me) is last again. The water is only about waist high, and I have no fear of water. It's the getting back into the boat part that is making my heart pound. I am pretty tired and my legs are feeling a little leady. But I am game, the water is cold and should be refreshing even though it is muddy from the storms.

Contrary to what I thought, my kayak is extremely difficult to turn over. I actually dumped myself, and my kayak stayed upright. So, I had to turn it over manually and then upright it. That was the easy part. Getting back into it was hard, especially with my feet getting stuck in the mud. I need to work on upper body strength, obviously. But I finally wriggled back in and took a breather and a few more drinks of water.

We headed back upstream to our boat ramp. I was last getting in and very tired, but I made it...yay! Is kayaking as much fun as I thought? Um, uh-uh. But the ride downstream is beautiful.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Rescue

The three-year mark of my husband's passing is coming up and I feel like just maybe I am reaching a turning point. I am beginning to remember more happy times than sad ones. Family and friends will help make the 19th a lot more bearable.

A friend invited me to lunch yesterday and we visited a nearby restaurant, one Jim and I went to hundreds of times. At first I thought it might be difficult but it wasn't. At times, I could almost hear his words enter our conversation, the surroundings were so familiar and we were so at ease. I know he is not here physically, but he will always be with me. I hope this doesn't sound crazy but I feel like somehow he is guiding me along. Jim was always the strength in our marriage. I seemed to flip out over every little thing. But now I sort of feel a calmness settling around me.


A few days ago I rehung my hummingbird feeder outside my computer window with my other birdie things. I've seen the little hummingbird drinking many times already. He (or she) must have been standing by waiting for it. He is here now drinking and making tiny little "humming" sounds almost like a bumblebee. Sorry, I was too slow to capture Mr. Hummingbird.

And yesterday morning I was drinking my coffee in the swing on the back porch and all of a sudden a squirrel's nest crashed to the ground from one of the pine trees. One little baby squirrel, which didn't even look like a squirrel but like a teeny naked mouse, rolled out onto the open grass and let out the loudest squeaks imaginable. It sounded exactly like Mopsy's squeaky mouse toy. Something to the right of the porch caught my eye and there was this cat I had never seen before. Well, of course, I shooed him away, way out of the yard. I came back to the swing to watch, hoping the mom or dad would come down to get the little squealer. He must have dropped three or four stories. I have thirteen huge pines in my back yard.

I was about to give up when, yep, here she comes, cagey at first, going up and down another tree, sniffing in the birdbath, dashing back toward the fence, each time getting a little nearer on the forward onslaught. Finally, she got to the nesting material, nosed through it, then made a mad dash to the little one, nosed him around some (I saw his legs kicking), picked him up in her mouth just like a cat picks up her young, and sprinted out of my yard with him. I watched and saw her go up one of my neighbor's trees. She said my yard was too dangerous *Rolleyes*.

Then I started wondering whether that was really one of his parents. Maybe a neighbor squirrel family witnessed the event and called the Squirrel Department of Social Services, and that is who the rescuer was. It does seem like the squirrelly parents should be charged with negligence or something, after all, four stories is nothing to sneeze at. They built inadequate housing.

Okay, enough of this nonsense. The little baby was rescued and I am happy.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Free is Good

Mopsy is always begging for pieces of grass or dandelion leaves to eat. You may wonder how I know this. Whenever I go outside and come back in, she is waiting at the door with that look in her eye that says, What did you bring me? If I have the aforementioned greens in my hand, she promptly snatches them away and chows down. Seed sprouts scattered by the birds are some of her favorites, very tender.

Sometimes I grow the stuff they call "cat grass", but she chomps away until it is gone in no time. And it's expensive and takes times to grow.

Recently, I saw something on Pinterest that gave me an idea. It was a pin of an eaten-down romaine stalk with the caption, "Don't throw out your old lettuce." The romaine is placed in a squat container with about an inch of water in the bottom. I looked up the safety of romaine for kitties and found it is their perfect greenery.

Now Mopsy has her own window garden.

There are three little glasses of romaine at different stages of growth. It is amazing how fast it grows. You can practically see it! And Mopsy crunches away at the tender tops whenever she wants. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

How to Save a Lizard (from a cat)

Mopsy, the great huntress, is waging war on lizards. If there is a lizard season in Florida for the little speed demons, it must be now. They seem to be everywhere. Of course, Mopsy is a house cat and has to make do with what is available on my back porch. The porch is screened but lizards seem to appear out of thin air, and Mopsy is not content with biting off their tails as normal cats do. No, she uses them for playthings, tapping them with her paw to make them go, the torture queen. She never tires.

I have roll-up blinds all around the porch and have to keep them rolled down to keep Mopsy from climbing the screens. Otherwise, the screens would be hanging in shreds. She sits underneath the blinds, watching and waiting patiently and is always rewarded...dumb lizards. I keep the inside house door open to the porch, and, usually, she and the lizards keep their activities confined to the porch area.

But earlier this morning when I came in to turn on the computer, this shadow darted in front of me and I knew I had company of the wrong kind. He (or she) darted behind a chair leg and froze, normal for lizards. I peered down at him and saw that he had been wounded on his side (something red there), but it didn't seem to have slowed him down any. Mopsy was busy elsewhere.

Now, I am usually of the attitude of live and let live when unwanted critters get into the house. I try to capture or shoo them back outside where they belong. Normally, I can accomplish this with my "herding technique". Even wasps can be herded. I open the screen door (after making sure Mopsy is locked inside) and wave the flyswatter (just in case) so the airflow pushes the wasp toward my intended destination. But lizards do not herd well. You try to make them go one way and they go the other.

So thinking about this, I remembered seeing a jar being placed over a varmint and cardboard sliding underneath. I secured my tools and began my search for the victim. It wasn't hard. He was still in back of the chair leg, traumatized by the cat. Of course, when I moved the chair, off he went.

Now, if you can picture this, me creeping up on Mr. Lizard throughout the house, slowly lowering the glass jar only to have him dash off again and again. But, in the end, success. I'm sorry to say I traumatized him some more. When I finally got that jar over him, he was frantic, bouncing off every point of the inside from top to bottom. It took nerves of steel for me to slide that cardboard underneath and then to lift it up with him raising such a ruckus! With trembling arms I carried him outside, placed the jar on the grass, and lifted it up. Free at last.

Do you know that crazy lizard froze again and would not move. I watched for about five minutes and finally had to get the broom to shoo him off. He darted away through the grass about two feet and froze again...and I said good riddance and got on with my day.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Air, Grass, and Birds

I just returned home from my early morning walk. Even though the temperature is in the 70's, the humidity makes it seem more like 90. Blue jays were screeching and crows were laughing, water was dripping from the overhanging limbs of trees and the storm drains were gurgling from the late night rain.

I still huff and puff a little while going uphill, but I purse my lips and blow out all the air I can to make room for new and fresh, hopefully oxygenated. The air in Florida smells like hundreds of others have already breathed the good part out of it...not like that sweet-smelling air in Delaware of maturing wheat and corn and soy beans. I guess I will always think of Delaware as home.

Now, as I sit here and sip my morning coffee, I wonder if the grass will have time to dry before our daily thunderstorm. Yesterday I managed to mow the front yard, but showers drove me back into the garage after one swipe around the backyard. I can still smell the cut grass as a slight breeze drifts in.

There is a cute little black-capped chickadee at the bird feeder. Oops, the tiny one has been booted off by a big old fat bluejay.

In the last few days I have seen doves sitting on the porch railing waiting for smaller birds to slosh out seeds onto the porch floor so they can swoop down to nibble. And there have been lots of purple finches. Here comes a cardinal and its new little one. She's feeding it seeds. It's a magical movie, free for watching.