This is not our pool. It looks a lot like it, but it's not. It was, however, one Florida family's Memorial Day experience, and I could probably crop the photo in a way that would give our grandkids a thrill. (Photo from the Sarasota County (FL) Sheriff's Office Facebook page.)
Theoretically, this could happen here, but it's more likely to be a bear that breaks through our screen. The worst we've had so far has been a rat, and we didn't need professional trappers to "relocate" it.
Our yard is a wildlife sanctuary. By American standards it's a pretty small yard, but it abounds in nature, especially considering how developed the area is. We lack only a consistent water supply (and the $20 processing fee) to be a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat. We're working on that; the water source needs to be accessible to wildlife (so the pool doesn't count) without being a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Lizards and frogs abound, because we dispensed with dangerous pest control services a few months after we moved here over 30 years ago. Snakes are not as plentiful as they once were, because too many people in the neighborhood think the only good snake is a dead snake. :( We have all sorts of birds, from mockingbirds and Carolina wrens to woodpeckers of several varieties to flocks of ibises to hawks, owls, and recently a swallow-tailed kite.
There have been reports of bears in the neighborhood, but actually I'd just as soon they give our yard a pass. It's really too small to accommodate a bear comfortably, and bears have been known to rip down pool screens without a second thought.
The middle-sized animals are more fun. Our current little raccoon is too shy (read: too nocturnal) for me to have caught him on film yet, though I enjoy his company in the darker hours. Here is a pair of friends who allowed me to photograph them this morning.
Who would have thought it possible?
It's May the 6th, I have my office windows open, and I'm chilly in my shorts! It's 63 degrees out, the humitity is low, the sky is blue, and both the sun and the breeze are friendly. In fact, it's the same temperature here as in Granby, Connecticut!
I want to wrap up this day and bring it out periodically, say from now through October. Starting with this coming Thursday, when the high is supposed to be 97.
Instead, I'll give myself over to gratitude and take a walk in the beauty of Creation.
Jeremiah just turned four He has three brothers and two sisters, so he is no stranger to heroes and battles He's also being brought up in a strong Christian family and frequently hears theological discussions.
This morning he built a cross out of Tinker Toys, and explained:
(Holding the cross up) This is the Cross where God died. The Heroes killed God.
Then he turned the cross around so it resembled a gun.
Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! (or however you spell machine gun sounds) Then God killed the Heroes!
The people of the nearby Congregation Beth Am invited our choir to join them for their Celebration of Liturgy a couple of Sundays ago. It was quite a fun afternoon. In additon to the Beth Am choir and our own from the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, participants were the Casa de Restauracion Misionera, a charismatic Hispanic church, and Fellowship Church, a non-denominational Christian Zionist congregation.
In other words, in ordinary life the chance that any one of us would step into a worship service of one of the other groups borders on infinitesimal.
I'd love to do it again. In fact, I'd like to see it expand to include more groups, because I've found that the three best ways of learning how much we have in common with people who differ from us are working together, eating together, and singing together—and this event covered two of them.
Interestingly, although at the most basic theological level we had more in common with the Christian groups, it was the Jewish choir I felt most comfortable with. I tend to be generally pro-Israel, but the strong, almost strident Zionist emphasis of Fellowship Church seemed to be more central to their nature than their Christian beliefs—though probably they were just seeking to honor our hosts. The Hispanic music of Restauracion was enthusiastic and heartfelt, and would not have been hard to participate in had the volume been 30-50 decibels lower, but as it was all my concentration had to be on saving my hearing. I had left my purse, with the earplugs I take nearly wherever I go, in the car. :(
But that's all okay. This gathering wasn't about being with people who are most like ourselves!
Perhaps most fun was the end, when we all sang a song together. I'd post it, but it's only available on Facebook, not YouTube. Not that there was anything special in the music, only that we were all singing it together.
Theological and musical differences aside, apparently everyone agrees on good food. We should eat together more often.
Recently we had the opportunity to participate in a diocesan youth choir festival at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Orlando. I've been to children's choir festivals before, but not this one. One major difference was that some adult singers from participating churches were also included, so it was truly a multi-generational affair. My mistake was in thinking, "It's a children's choir festival, how hard can the music be?" Guess what? There's a big difference between a children's choir festival and a youth choir festival: this included not only young elementary school students but also those in high school—you know, the All-State-Chorus, make-superiors-at-Solo-and-Ensemble kind of high school student. There were some amazing voices there, and the music put my sight-reading confidence to the test for sure.
We had one long rehearsal on Saturday, then sang for the regular church service on Sunday. One of our younger choir members exclaimed, when he walked into the cathedral, "This is the biggest church in the world!" It's not, by a long shot, but it's still impressive. Another proclaimed the whole experience to be "epic."
And it was. I love our church and its service, but even in the Episcopal Church a service at the Cathedral is a cut above. I almost broke down during the processional, with the cross and candles and banners and incense and glorious music and so many people, young and old, in the procession. Glory, majesty, and awe are so often missing from church services, but this took my breath away.
Our own church is considered "high" because we sing much of the service, but at the Cathedral even more was sung instead of merely said. So much beautiful music, in a church with beautiful acoustics. Good acoustics encourage the congregation to sing, because you don't feel as if you are singing a solo, but are lifting your voice in song with everyone.
The service "belonged" to everyone, children and adults alike. Perhaps best of all, although the Festival choristers were welcomed and acknowledged, we didn't "perform" but were just a part of the regular worship service (albeit a bit fancier than usual). It was a glorious experience. Like our own church, but taken up a level.
Here's part of what we sang. As usual, the videos are not us, but something found on YouTube to bring the song list to life.
Praise (Dyson) We didn't join the choirs on this one. It's unison, for young, high voices.
(My thanks to whichever Daley photographer took this video. Mine's still on the camera....)
I've held off updating my prayer request for The Gambia, waiting for events to settle down a bit, but it seems that I can truly report good news: Former President (dictator) Yahya Jammeh has been persuaded to step down peacefully and make room for newly-elected President Adama Barrow. He appears to have run off with about $12 million of the country's funds, and the questions of his crimes against humanity are left unresolved, but at least The Gambia has been given a chance at freedom and democracy. That's great news!
President Barrow and the country are still in much need of prayer. On the financial side, the disappearance of most of the government's treasury may be mitigated by the release of European aid funds that had been frozen because of concerns about Mr. Jammeh's leadership. That's a good thing, because I wasn't sure a Kickstarter campaign could raise 12 million dollars for them—though it would have been interesting to try.
Our friend is back from her brief exile, helping the country's best math students get their disrupted educations back on track.
What train transportation could be in America.
Don't I wish! I think trains are the most beautiful and relaxing way to travel. More room and ability to move about than either airplanes or automobiles; tables for working; power outlets; and (if done right) lounge, restaurant, and playspace cars. Human-dimensioned views. Someone else drives. But to compete with planes and cars (especially self-driving cars) a few important potential roadblocks come to mind.
- Good parking at the stations (now often inadequate)
- Cost (currently not competitive in most places)
- Security (if it becomes widespread and popular, would we get TSA-style screening?)
Still, wouldn't you love it?
EPCOT has a new party: The International Festival of the Arts. We checked it out, and found it almost as much fun as their Food and Wine Festival. There was art, mostly with a Disney theme, and music, and other features, but our interest lay mainly in the culinary arts.
I do remember one painter, probably because his name was Noah. "Noah Fine Art" is his business, and I remarked that it's pretty amazing to be known only by your first name. When we came home, I did a Google search simply on "Noah art"—and his website was the first hit.
But as I said, food was our main interest. There was much more we could have eaten, but even sharing the already-small portions doesn't leave room (or budget) for everything.
From Pop Eats!: Sous Vide Venison with Butternut Squash Purée, Pomegranate Reduction, Pickled Turnip, and Juniper Berry Powder, followed by Almond Frangipane Cake layered with Raspberry Jam and Chocolate. The flavors worked together in an amazing way, and the venison was the best I've ever tasted. (Porter liked the venison he ate in New Zealand better, but I did not have any on that occasion.) The cake was even better than it looks. (As usual, you can click on the images for a bigger picture.)
From The Refreshment Cool Post: Chilled Shrimp, Quinoa, Layered Vegetables, Spiced Yogurt, and Red Pepper Coulis. I'm sorry I forgot to take a picture of this, because the presentation was totally not what I expected, and the taste was really good.
From The Painter's Palate: Trio of Savory Croissant Doughnuts—Whipped Herb Cream Cheese with Sea Salt, Chicken Mousse with Fresh Herbs & Everything Bagel Seasoning, and Spicy Tuna with Sriracha Mayonnaise and Sesame Seeds. These were good—the Spicy Tuna winning hands down—but messy to eat. I missed photographing this one, too; fortunately the picture was available in Disney's promotional materials.
From The Artist's Table: Callebaut Belgian Sipping Chocolate Flight: White, Milk, Dark. As you can see, I forgot to take this picture till we were well into this incredibly delicious trio. Even the white chocolate (my least favorite) was wonderful, the dark was the best, and the milk had caramel notes that made it spectacular.
It was a hot day (in the 80's and sunny) so a repeat-repeat visit to Japan for shaved ice was in order after we had put some space (and food) between it and the chocolate. This time we tried the rainbow flavor; it was good but tangerine is still the best, and it's still worth paying the extra buck to get the sweet milk topping.
Finally, and this has nothing to do with food but everything to do with amusing our grandchildren, or more likely their mothers. This was a wall decoration at Italy; I call it La Figmenta.
One year ago we were five days away from embarking on our Gambian Adventure. (Yes, I'm all too aware that I still have most of that trip to write about.) If our trip were this year instead, we would have had to cancel it.
The longtime leader lost a Dec. 1 election to opposition coalition candidate Adama Barrow. Jammeh initially conceded, but later called for a new vote. The United Nations, the United States, the European Union and others have united in criticizing him.
Jammeh's party filed a petition to the country's Supreme Court against the election, and a key court ruling is expected Jan. 10.
What might follow the court ruling is anybody's guess. Civil war could erupt. Most Gambians are happy with the regime change, but not all. The Gambia's neighbors have not ruled out military intervention if necessary, and even diplomatic and/or economic sanctions could devastate the Gambia's shaky economy.
The uncertainty has already disrupted the educations of those who are the country's best hope for progress, and it could get much worse.
In recognition of the solidifying crisis, the United States on Saturday advised American citizens not to travel to Gambia "because of the potential for civil unrest and violence in the near future."
The U.S. State Department also ordered relatives of diplomats and embassy staff to leave Gambia and warned all its citizens to depart now, saying those who choose to stay should "prepare for the possible deterioration of security."
Per these recommendations, the Gambia's Most Awesome Math Professor is away on what she hopes will be a short visit out of the country. But of course her home, her job, her beloved students, and our new Gambian friends are left behind.
Please pray that the transition will be smooth and the disruption short-lived. If all goes well, the new president should take office on January 19, and the Gambia will embark on a new, democratic path of reform. It will be a difficult road—the Gambia is desperately poor and lacking in resources—but a hopeful one.
I'm sure my creative readers will find ways to make this even better, but I love the way it takes up just a small amount of space behind a couch, reclaims a hidden wall outlet, includes a device-charging station, and provides room for a book and a tea cup. :)
This time we tried a few new things, but made a point of revisiting some favorites.
Greenhouse Guru Mini San Marzano Tomatoes. Almost everything at the Festival is overpriced, but this is the only one I'd call an out-and-out ripoff. I was hoping for something fresh and tasty, you know, like a real tomato. This was a small bag of the kind of tomatoes I can get any day (for a much better price) at Publix. On top of that, they had been refrigerated.
Chocolate Studio Ghirardelli Chocolate Raspberry Torte. It was every bit as good as it sounds.
Canada "Le Cellier" Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle-Butter Sauce. One of my favorites. You have to special order if you want it to be cooked rare, but it's worth it. PLUS, I had gone ahead to grab a table, and when Porter found me he was bringing not only the filet but a small cup of hideously expensive but delicious apple ice wine. He was spoiling me....
France Boeuf Bourguignon: Cabernet Sauvignon-braised short Ribs with Mashed Potatoes, AND Soupe à l'oignon au Gruyère et Cognac. Old favorites that are too good not to indulge in both.
Belgium Belgian Waffle with Berry Compote and Whipped Cream. Another well-worthwhile repeat.
Craft Beers Piggy Wings: Fried Pork Wings with Korean BBQ Sauce and Sesame Seeds. This must be what you get when pigs fly. The pork was small, fatty, and bony (like a true wing), but the barbecue sauce was good.
China Sichuan Spicy Chicken. Everything at the Chinese kiosk sounded delicious, but I remembered how good the chicken was. If we return before the Festival is over, maybe we'll try something different.
We also visited the Ghirardelli booth twice this time. It's a little disappointing that the sample chocolate square is always milk chocolate caramel instead of a chance to taste more of their many, different, delicious varieties, but it's hard to complain about chocolate caramel.
For all the times we've visited EPCOT, we'd never done the Soarin' Around the World ride, so we remedied that deficiency. In contrast to most of the new rides at the theme parks around here—and despite the dire "lawyer warnings"—Soarin' does not bounce you around and slam you into the sides of the car. It only lifts you a bit into the air; the awesome effects are all from the movie that nearly surrounds you. Nor did it make us queasy at all, though it was nearly impossible to avoid flinching at some of the apparent close calls as we soared around the world, from the Matterhorn to Sydney Harbour to the mighty Iguazú Falls. You can see the ride, sans special effects (which included scents), here.
But my absolutely favorite was the one before Cronkite's. I can find no video online (this was in the early 80's, after all), but you can see some pictures and most of the text at Walt Dated World. I've extracted the text below so you can compare the language with the prosaic (boring) lecture-style of today.
Narrator: Where have we come from, where are we going? The answers begin in our past. In the dust from which we were formed, answers recorded on the walls of time. So let us journey into that past, to seek those walls, to know ourselves and to probe the destiny of our Spaceship Earth.
Narrator: Now, suns reverse, moons re-phase, let us return to ancient caves where first we learn to share our thoughts-and to survive.
Narrator: Where are we now? It is the waiting dawn where vast things stir and breathe. And with our first words and first steps, we draw together to conquer the mammoth beast. It is the dawn of a new beginning, the dawn of recorded time.
Narrator: On cave walls we inscribe our greatest triumphs, a growing record of our deeds, to share with others so they too may greet tomorrow's sun.
Narrator: Ages pass and more walls rise in the valley of the Nile. Man-made walls of hieroglyphics. Then with new symbols, we unlock our thoughts from chiseled walls and send them forth on papyrus scrolls.
Narrator: On fine Phoenician ships, we take our scrolls to sea. Real scrolls simplified by an alphabet, eagerly shared at distant ports of call.
Narrator: Deep in the shadows of Mount Olympus, our alphabet takes route, flowering with new expression. Hail the proud Greeks: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides. The theater is born.
Narrator: North, south, east, and west, all roads lead from Rome, a mighty network reaching across the land, welding far-flung garrisons into a growing empire.
Narrator: Glorious Rome, until consumed by the flames of excess. Imperial Rome, lost in the ashes of darkness.
Narrator: Far from the dying embers, Islamic wise men preserve ancient wisdom and weave a rich network of new knowledge linking east and west.
Narrator: In western abbeys, monks toil endlessly transcribing ancient wisdom into hand-penned books of revelation.
Narrator: At last! A new dawn emerges. The dawn of the Renaissance-and a wondrous machine performs as a thousand scribes. Now for all: the printed word.
Narrator: Our books fuel the fires of the Renaissance. It is a time to discover anew the worlds of poetry and philosophy, science and music. As our minds soar, our hands find new expression in the flourishing world of art. Behold, the majesty of the Sistine ceiling.
Narrator: The Renaissance: a beacon through the mists of time, guiding us to a new era. A time of invention and exploding communication.
Narrator: With each day come more paths, more ideas, more dreams, and we build new machines: computer machines that think, that store, sift, sort, and count, that help us chart our course through an age of boundless information.
Narrator: With these machines comes a wondrous new network of communications, a vibrant maze of billions of electronic pathways stretching to the very edge of space.
Narrator: Poised on the threshold of infinity, we see our world as it truly is: small, silent, fragile, alive, a drifting island in the midnight sky. It is our spaceship. Our Spaceship Earth.
Narrator: Now our Future World draws near -and we face the challenge of tomorrow. We must return and take command of our Spaceship Earth. To become captains of our own destiny. To reach out and fulfill our dreams.
Woman: GPC report. Odyssey is complete with position home.
Man: Can you switch to manual payload?
Woman: No problem. Manuel payload is activated. Signal from command execution.
Man: Roger. Are you getting video?
Woman: Affirmative. Delta camera is on and tracking.
Narrator: Our journey has been long. From primal caves we have ventured forth traveling the endless corridors of time seeking answers to our tomorrow. With growing knowledge and growing communication, we have changed our lives, changed our world.
Narrator: From the reaches of space to the depths of the sea, we have spun a vast electronic network linking ourselves as fellow passengers together, on Spaceship Earth.
(Ride vehicles pass by several TV screens.)
Narrator: Today our search for understanding is unbounded by space and time. Vast stores of information, knowledge from everywhere, standing ready at our beck and call to reach us in an instant. With our great network, we harness our knowledge, give it shape and form to serve us, to help create and communicate a better awareness of ourselves, and our world.
Narrator: Ours is the age of knowledge, the age of choice and opportunity.
Narrator: Tomorrow's world approaches, so let us listen and learn, let us explore and question and understand. Let us go forth and discover the wisdom to guide great Spaceship Earth through the uncharted seas of the future. Let us dare to fulfill our destiny.
My grandfather grew orchids. Or at least he tried to. Living as he did in Rochester, New York, his orchid garden was a light box in the basement. If he managed to make them bloom, I know it wasn't nearly as often as he would have liked.
When my father inherited the orchids and their setup, he didn't give them quite the attention that his father had, so it was not surprising that he had less success. He, too, lived in a climate unfriendly to orchids.
I lived for several years in the vicinity of the incredible Longwood Gardens, so it's not surprising that I've seen more than my share of orchids in bloom. I can't say that I understand the fascination they have for many people—Like Nero Wolfe. Their blooms are often bizarre, even macabre, in my eyes. But many are beautiful, and I confess to a special fondness for the vanilla orchid.
And for the blc copper queen.
It was blooming when Porter brought this plant home some four years ago. Despite a great deal of neglect, it steadfastly refused to die. There are advantages to living in a semi-tropical climate. But the orchid never bloomed again.
Until early this month, I noticed this:
Buds! And buds they stayed, growing ever so slowly.
Hurricane Matthew came, and we brought the plant into the garage for safekeeping. Both buds were as tightly closed as ever.
The next morning, the first blossom was in full, glorious flower.
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
This one, apparently, liked the ignominy of dangling from a bicycle hung from the ceiling in a corner of our garage. But we brought it in and gave it a place of honor in the house for several days, before returning it to the free air and sunshine of our back porch. By then, the second bloom was also in its glory.
As gardeners, we don't get any credit for these beautiful blooms, but I like to think my grandfather would have been pleased.
This isn't a serious "freedom isn't free" post about the price of establishing and maintaining liberty. It's about my attempt to obtain a free bagel from Panera.
I love Panera. The food is good, the service is quick, they play classical music softly in the background, and my favorite of their stores used to have the best view—field, trees, pond, cows, and birds—until the lovely countryside in which we celebrated the 1992 Sunshine State Pow-Wow succumbed to developers.
I also love that they've been having a free-bagel-a-day promotion.
Not that we take advantage of it every day, but recently I was out shopping and decided to grab a bagel. I swung into the parking lot of the nearest Panera. What was usually an ample lot had not one space available.
That's not quite true: there was one space remaining, in the "Compact Cars Only" section. No problem: our car qualifies as a compact. But it's not compact enough to fit between the two massive mini-vans that bracketed that space.
I then noticed what looked like a space in an otherwise crowded dead-end section of the lot, but when I arrived it was marked "Do NOT Park Here." Its purpose, I suspect, was to give people like me a chance to turn around, which would have been a real challenge without that space. I thought briefly of staying there just long enough to pick up the bagel, but discarded the idea for the sake of my fellow parking lot wanderers.
Instead, I decided to park in the lot next door, and walk to Panera. Only there, the spaces were aggressively marked, "Le Jean's Parking Only." Still no problem: I need new jeans, and though I suspected the store would be too pricey for me, I didn't mind the idea of seeing what they had available—and detouring for my bagel on the way back to my car.
Only it turned out that "Le Jean's" doesn't sell jeans, but rather jewelry.
I just couldn't.
Back in my car again, I returned to the Panera lot, took one more, longing look at the sub-sub-compact space, eyed the other cars circling 'round in the vain hope that one of them was leaving—and noticed that the "1 Minute Parking Only" space had opened up.
I can do this!
Out of the car, pause to hold the door for an over-loaded waiter, into the store, through the (surprisingly very short) line, swipe the Panera card, grab the asiago cheese bagel, out the door, into the car, and on my way home in 60 seconds.
If you don't count the initial 10 minute adventure.
As Porter handed me the large, wrapped, rectangular box, he told me that my birthday present came at the recommendation of a friend from choir. I confess that my heart sank a little. As dear as our choir friends are, there's not one of them that knows me well enough to have any idea what would or would not make a good birthday present.
I was wrong.
It turns out the recommendation was general, not specifically for me, and Porter made the connection with the occasion. But even he had no idea how successful a gift it would be. Neither did I, at first.
It's an RTIC tumbler. It holds 20 ounces, and is so well insulated that if you load it up with ice and a cold drink it will stay cold for hours. (I'm told it's equally good with hot drinks, but mine's a summer birthday, so there has been no occasion to try that out.)
But what, you ask, makes that so special to me?
It's a matter of the right innovation at the right time.
I like to keep a drink handy throughout the day. It's usually a cup of tea, even in the summer. I've often thought water would be better, for several reasons: drinking more water, not drinking quite so much tea, and having something cold instead of hot in the summer. But It's never quite worked out. Ice melts quickly here, and I'm not much in favor of lukewarm drinks. True, hot drinks cool quickly, but that's what microwave ovens are for. Whenever my tea cup goes missing, I'm most likely to find that I've left it in the microwave.
Glasses of water are more prone than mugs to being knocked over and spilled—not a happy thought when working near electronics. Water bottles are safe, but I get annoyed having to open them every time I want a drink. Moreover, no matter what the container, ice water makes it sweat profusely, either making a mess or sticking to the coaster—or both, as the coaster falls off with a loud clatter and a spray of water all around.
I know—First World Problem. Whine, whine, whine. I'm not justifying my complaints, but explaining why the RTIC tumbler was perfect for me.
It keeps my drink cold. It can still be knocked over, but less easily than a glass, and the lid makes a spill less extreme. You don't need to use a straw, but I like to, and the opening is just right for the large-diameter straw I prefer. The insulation makes it comfortable to hold, and the cup doesn't sweat at all.
Sometimes, the best way to encourage a good habit is to have the right tool, and the insulated tumbler turned out to be the perfect too for me. I still enjoy my cups of tea, but now I'm drinking a lot more water instead.
Ice cold water on a hot summer day, there, handy, whenever I want a drink. Nailed the habit of better hydration in one simple, inexpensive gift. Priceless.
Caution: The cute Swiss flag sticker is not original equipment. Porter bought a tumbler for himself as well, and we needed to distinguish them. His has a blue-and-white Luzern flag sticker.