Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sam and Janet Evening; A BIG Golf Cart; Chukkars, Chukars, and Gorgets; More Readings; A Weird Place?

You may remember our attending a great concert in October by Fernando Varela, a superb tenor from our area discovered by the famous David Foster. Fernando happens to have a beautiful wife named Susan who is a fabulous singer in her own right. We attended their concert, titled “Some Enchanted Evening”, at the Savannah Center last night with our lawyer friend Gail and Suzanne’s mom Ruthie and were blown away.

Fernando sings in the same style as Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban; he has a powerful tenor voice and his Italian was outstanding. Susan has the voice of an angel, and she and Fernando sang several love songs, some solo and some duet, that were world class. 

Fernando and Susan had a terrific orchestra on the stage with them, the star of which was a violinist, Jessy Daumen, who played two beautiful solo accompaniments to Susan’s vocal solos. (Her green-tinted violin was most unusual.) Most of the orchestra members appeared to be college-aged, with a few younger and several older, but they were all highly accomplished musicians. It was a very special evening. Our good friend Lynn Walker, a long-time friend of Fernando, even arranged front row seats for us. Thank you, Lynn!  

While w-a-l-k-ing in t-o-w-n with Rudy and Gretchen, we saw this humongous “golf cart”. It really does max out on the limit of what you might think a golf cart should be. I couldn’t find the rest of the 18-wheeler’s rig... it was probably too big to drive through the streets of The Villages. What a beauty! (Gee, I wonder what the owner did for a living...)

Professional polo has resumed here in The Villages. It’s a seasonal sport, and we have a very nice polo grounds with two fields and a first class grandstand. I knew nothing about the game until our neighbors Jan and Bob, who used to own polo ponies and even competed in that demanding game, gave us an introduction to the sport. A polo match consists of six chukkars; a chukkar is a 7 ½ minute period of play. You can see the ball in this photo just inches off the ground almost under the black horse.

The polo chukkar has no relation to the Chukar Partridge (Alectoris chukar), a Eurasian gamebird in the pheasant family. The Chukar Partridge is a rotund (I’ve always liked that word) bird with a black gorget. A gorget is a patch of colored feathers at the throat or upper breast of a bird. They are generally found only on male birds, and are thought to be status symbols or aids in attracting females. We don't have partridges here, but I've always been fond of this bird. More about gorgets in a few...  

The Chukar was introduced into North America as a game bird from populations collected in Afghanistan and Nepal, and feral groups live in the Rocky Mountains, Great Basin, and high deserts of California. The national bird of Pakistan, the Chukar is a symbol of intense, and often unrequited, love, and was considered to be enamored by the moon and said to constantly gaze at it. They are also the namesake of the Idaho Falls Chukars, a minor league baseball team in the Pioneer League and associated with the Kansas City Royals. The ball club was started in 1940, when they were called the Russets. (Don't you think being named after a game bird is better than being named after a potato?)

Now, back to gorgets... this is for the history and military buffs. The other meaning of gorget is that part of medieval armor that was designed to protect the throat against sword and arrow attack. (G marks the spot.) 

The gorget became less useful with the introduction of muskets and rifles firing bullets that could easily penetrate contemporary armor, and it developed into an ornamental or ceremonial badge, as seen in this painting of Colonel George Washington in 1772, and symbolized his commission as an officer in the Virginia Regiment. 

Today, gorget patches are found on the collars of British general officers' uniforms, and the Finnish army and Chilean military police still use metal gorgets with their ceremonial uniforms. The gorget (upper right in this photo) has also been reintroduced as part of protective body armor by the US Army and Marine Corps to protect against blasts from improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Military trivia note: the Marines’ Modified Tactical Vest (MTV) shown here weighs 30 lbs. 

Suzanne keeps working hard to whittle down her list of people signed up for readings, and even gave one today on Easter, but it seems that whenever she completes two readings, three more new people sign up. So if you’re on her list, please try to be patient. She will be doing readings by Skype video after we head out on tour in May, so you may be getting an email or phone call to set that up.

Today we were wandering around Lake Sumter Landing, which has many beautiful buildings made to look like late 19th/early 20th Century homes and businesses. The entire Villages development is also known for changing the flowers out in public areas on a quarterly basis to ensure they look fresh and tidy. We passed a lady with her 30-something daughter who was apparently visiting from Miami. The daughter was taking a picture of these flowers when she exclaimed, "You know, Miami is dirty, but this place is really weird." We have heard The Villages called many things, 99% of the time complimentary, but this was the first time we've ever heard it called "weird". Can flowers be weird???? 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Suzanne’s Latest Presentation; Kayaking with Pelicans; Cartless and Mateless?

On Thursday evening, Suzanne gave her latest presentation, “Making the Connection, Learning to Attune to Higher Consciousness” to the Healthy, Wealthy and Wise Club at Seabreeze Recreation Center here in The Villages. She concentrated on some of the remarkable evidence she has received in readings and on our recent trip to Sedona. About 160 people attended her talk, and it was very well received. She will give this presentation again on Monday, April 15th from 1:00-3:00 at Bacall Rec Center and Sunday April 21, 2:00 - 4:00 PM, at the Ocala Inner Center. See Suzanne’s web site, for more information.  

We are avid kayakers. We splashed our boats in a nearby lake and enjoyed our first day of warm weather in weeks. It was wonderful getting away from the noise and traffic that seems to collect even in The Villages on a holiday weekend. 

While I was watching the fish and keeping a wary eye out for snakes and alligators, My Lovely Bride was fascinated with these lily pads, many of which had little drops of water that seemed to have been placed by an artist. 

We make a good team; I take care of practical stuff, and she works on the spiritual and artistic side. Let's see, I get water moccasins and gators, she gets angels and pretty water lilies... well, whatever works.

We watched a large flock of white pelicans circle overhead and land on a grassy island. We didn’t want to disturb them, and took this shot with a long telephoto lens through the foliage. 

Not every day can have profound revelations about the human condition. Some days are, well, “just so-so”... not boring, but not filled with moments like when you ask your wife to stand on a rock overhanging a 2,000-foot drop to the rocks below, like this photo from Dead Horse Canyon State Park, which one of our readers asked us to repeat. (I'm still paying for that one...)

One relatively mundane thing about The Villages is the ubiquitous golf cart. Everyone has a golf cart. Well, that’s not exactly true. We do not have a golf cart, but we are the only people we know here that are “cartless”. I asked Corvette Chick one day if she would like to give up her red ‘Vette for a golf cart. She guffawed. She said that if we don’t play golf, why do we need a golf cart? (Good question...) I often look at other people’s carts. Anyway, to wrap up this rambling story, I saw one cart the other day with the owner’s name on the front. Vinny is obviously looking for a mate, but the right gal hasn’t made it onto the hood yet. (I’m not sure that sounds quite appropriate...)  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Girls in Orange Vests? Carts Pulling Boats? Moonies; Mama Bird; Winter Coats

Many of you know that recently we presented a two hour "Atlantic Crossing" video here in The Villages, based on our trip from North Carolina to Europe aboard our sailboat Liberty. Unfortunately, our dear friends Sharon and Joyce were unable to attend, as they had to take their parrot Bongo to the Pet Hospital E.R. in Ocala for a stomach ailment. Fortunately, Bongo has recovered, and we were able to invite them over for movie night and pasta. Bongo opted to stay at home; he was afraid he was going to get seasick.  Imagine our surprise when we opened the front door and these two comediennes were wearing bright orange PFDs (personal flotation devices), as if they were about to jump from the deck of the Titanic (or, fill in the name of several other cruise liners that have made headlines over the past few years). They redeemed themselves with a box of yummy cookies, a delicious Greek salad, and a mildly inebriated seagull that had swallowed a very nice bottle of Pinot Noir... and yes, I was able to save most of the wine from his gullet...

Speaking of boats, we passed three golf carts towing boat trailers the other day. WHAT? How can a golf cart tow a boat trailer? Okay, so they were model powerboats, the radio controlled variety, but it was still a pretty cool sight. 

Have you heard of Moonies?... not the wacky type, but people who look at the moon and admire earth's only natural satellite. Yes, I admit to having that affliction. Did you know that in our solar system, the moon is the largest natural satellite relative to its primary (the planet a satellite revolves around). The moon has 27% the diameter and 60% of the density of earth, making it the second most dense satellite after Io, a satellite of Jupiter. This shot was taken the evening before full moon, so the object in the bell tower here isn't perfectly round, but I thought it looked pretty interesting. 

A piece of trivia: the full moon has throughout history been associated with insanity, and the words lunacy and lunatic derive from the Latin name for the Moon, luna.  

This bird, believed to be a female Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) atop our lanai "birdcage" is building a nest with her mate in our shrubs. She looks much fatter than her husband, and we think she is pregnant. We will keep you apprised of the outcome if we are here when the little birds hatch. Mockingbirds are very intelligent birds, but are also notorious mimickers, as its scientific name, "many tongued mimic", implies. 

Not only do they regularly mimic other birds, but they have also been heard to imitate car alarms. Mockingbirds are utterly fearless, and this photo shows a mockingbird attacking a much larger red-shouldered hawk. 

You are probably aware of the cold weather we have been enduring here in The Villages of late. This morning I had to rig Rudy and Gretchen in their winter coats for their early morning constitutional. They look quite stylish, don't you think? Hopefully this is the end of winter down here in Florida, although we will be taking their coats with us on the road... I think Glacier and Banff 
National Parks might be a tad cold, even in July.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Norwegian Icebreaker; Another Half-Marathon; Fixing Our CD Player; Osprey Nests

As you know, I have a particular fondness for Minnesota, AKA "Land of the Frozen North". It has a few lakes, lots of trees, even more snow and ice, and the state even hosts the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi River. Recent Arctic weather has created a crisis of heavy ice floes on the river, and the US Coast Guard had to contract a Norwegian icebreaker to travel up the Mississippi to clear the way for tugs and barges. More on this story later in this post...

Meanwhile, here in sunny Florida, our good friend Susan Prince achieved another milestone this week, her second 13.1 miler, the Sarasota Half Marathon. She is also a member of the Solemates, a walking club here in The Villages. Here she is with her latest race medal... Well Done, Susan! (An historical side note: the full marathon course length is 26 miles and 385 yards, the distance supposedly run from the town of Marathon to Athens by the Athenian messenger Phidippides after the battle of Marathon between the Greeks and Persians in 490 BC.)  

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that our CD player had stopped opening and closing without human intervention using a butter knife. I traced the problem to a stretched-out drive belt. Here is the old belt (right) next to the new one; after 15 years of regular use, it had gotten tired and stretched out enough to slip on the opening mechanism's pulleys.

So now to install the new belt and give it a test with a full load of CDs....

A ten minute, $9.00 fix, including shipping, and now the CD player is good for another 15 years... Yee-Hah! But by 2028, people will be asking, “What’s a CD?”  Sigh... technology does march on, doesn't it? "Hey, Suzanne, what did you do with my 8-track recording of Jefferson Airplane?" 

After my Great White Heron/Egret post, our good friend and fellow birdwatcher Libby asked about some other feathered neighbors, the ospreys who have nests on poles and platforms around and about The Villages. Osprey (Pandion haliaetis) are also known as sea hawks or fish hawks, since their diet is principally made up of fish. Osprey usually fly 40-130 feet above the water, spot their prey and then plummet feet first into the water to make their catch with their talons. Osprey have closable nostrils to keep water out while they are diving. 

One of the larger raptors, osprey have few natural enemies; horned owls and bald eagles are the only real threats to young osprey and nests. Bald eagles, however, often steal fish that osprey have just caught. This behavior actually has a name, kleptoparasitism... but it’s only a misdemeanor. Osprey nests are large, often 6 feet in diameter, and are made of sticks, driftwood, and seaweed; they are often found in forks of trees or atop telephone poles and special-built artificial platforms. At right, a male osprey is showing off his wingspan as part of the mating ritual... "Hey, Harry, let's cut to the next scene, shall we? This is a G-rated blog, not 'Sex in the City'!" 

Lastly, I have to complete the report of the Norwegian icebreaker mentioned in the first paragraph... here is the photo... "Harry, what the heck are you doing??? Who let that photo in here???"  (Our thanks to Contributing Editor Tom Garlipp for breaking the news on this revealing story...)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

“Sam I Am?” Great White (fill in the blank); A Looneyspoons Dinner; An Entry Level Senior; No More Leak!

The other day I was putting breakfast together, and told My Lovely Bride that I was making scrambled eggs with ham. She said, “Darling Husband (or words to that effect), would you please make me Green Eggs and Ham like I had when I was a little girl?” Now how could I refuse such an endearing request? We didn’t have any green food coloring, but I did have some green chili peppers. Here is Your Faithful Correspondent/Short Order Chef preparing this gastronomic delight. Rudy the Sailing Wiener Dog is on patrol for anything that might fall his way...

I was later to be educated in the origin of Green Eggs and Ham, originated by the character “Sam I Am” by Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss). The book was written using only 50 distinct words, and was the product of a bet between the author and his publisher, Bennett Serf. It is the 4th best selling children's hardcover book in history.

Our Bird of the Week is the Great White (Heron or Egret, both are correct), Ardea alba egretta, seen here stalking unsuspecting frogs and geckos in the shrubbery in our fair city. This heron/egret is also the symbol adopted by the Audubon Society, which selected the then-threatened white heron because its beautiful plumage was used in ladies’ hats back in the late 19th/early 20th Century. President Theodore Roosevelt was instrumental in the efforts of the Audubon Society and the US government in stopping the mass slaughter of birds for women’s fashions. 

Back to food, one of my favorite topics. Corvette Chick decided to make a special dinner the other night for her mom Ruthie and me; she has this new healthy cookbook written by two wacky Canadian gals (is that redundant?), Janet and Greta Podleski. Why wacky? Well, their recipes have some weird names like “A Penne for Your Thoughts” and “The Roast of Christmas Past”. She selected “Gringo’s Starr”, baked cavatappi pasta with spicy ground turkey tomato sauce, two cheeses and fresh cilantro; I selected the Pinot Noir. Both were really yummy, and received two thumbs up from Ruthie and YFC. Ruthie brought dessert, a modified/rescued Pennsylvania Dutch whoopie pie. Ruthie was worried about it, but we assured her that she could make that recipe every week for the next five years and we'd be happy as clams. (How happy are clams, really? Let's save that for another day...)

On Saturday we were invited to a birthday party... now I must say, this is not a common party theme here in The Villages. Most people neither want nor seek reminders of the passing of time. But this was a special case. Our good friend Mike Breault was turning 60, or as one of his neighbors explained, Mike was becoming an “Entry Level Senior”. (Wish I could go back to those days...) Here is Mike and his Lovely Bride Cheryl on their lanai overlooking Lake Sumter. Cheryl is holding her elderly, decrepit hubby up so he doesn’t go face down in his birthday cake... Just kidding... Mike is actually a serious bike jock. Last Spring he took me on a 50 miler up through Harbor Hills; I’m still recovering. 

Okay, Good News from The Bus! The roof leak that I worked on has been corrected, hopefully for good! I used an entire tube of clear silicone to (in very technical terms) “caulk the bloody hell” out of the five orange running lights on the leading front edge of the coach roof. 10 minutes of soaking with a garden hose and there were no signs of water penetration inside The Bus. Hoo-ray! 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Sexy Italian Beauty; Prancing Horses; Fixing a Roof Leak; Leaves-a-Million

Ever since the 1960’s, when I followed Phil Hill and John Surtees driving their almost unbeatable Italian racing red (Rosso corsa) Formula 1 race cars, I have been a Ferrari fan. Yesterday I got to see and listen to a refurbished 365 GTB/Daytona model when we were in Clearwater. There is a firm near where The Bus was being repaired that takes beat-up sports cars and makes them almost new again. This beauty was getting prepared for display at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. I didn’t ask the price, but it’s probably more than my Social Security check will cover. (And then you have to hire a full-time Italian mechanic to keep the V-12 engine tuned... in any case, we don’t have a spare room for Guido...)  

An historical footnote: the black prancing horse (cavallino rampante) on the Ferrari crest was chosen by founder Enzo Ferrari in 1929 after meeting the mother of Count Franceso Baracca, the renowned Italian fighter pilot and ace killed in World War I. The count had painted a similar horse on the side of his plane. The yellow field on the crest is the color of Modena, where Enzo was born.  

Okay, is that Spiderman on top of The Bus, and what is he doing? No, it is Your Faithful Correspondent/Mister Fix-It, trying to find and caulk a leak around the yellow running light on the left front roof of our coach. The heavy tropical downpour last night found a weak spot in the waterproofing of our Bus, and I had to take immediate action. And no, I did not have to climb the side of The Bus to get up there. There is a real ladder permanently mounted at the rear of our coach, but the first rung is 4-5 feet off the ground, and I had to tie a 6 foot ladder to it to ensure a safe route up and down. Tomorrow I take a garden hose up and test the repairs... cross your fingers!  

I was w-a-l-k-ing the puppies in t-o-w-n early Thursday morning; these photos were taken of Rudy and Gretchen among hundreds of leaves which were blown down in the previous night’s storms. They were on alert for squirrels, which had been reported to be in the square at Sumter Landing by a beagle reporter from the Canine Daily News. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hawk Prey; Buteo of the Day; The Bus Is Back! Summer and Fall Planning Starts in Earnest

While running next to Tampa Bay at MacDill AFB, I approached a hawk sitting atop a pole just off the trail, obviously looking for a meal. At thirty feet out, I was getting within the hawk's "space", so he launched from his perch, and flew directly toward me, passing only a few feet over my head. For an instant, I felt what mice, rabbits, and other birds must feel when they are about to become the main course of the hawk's dinner. 

My conscious mind told me that he wasn't really a threat, but my subconscious mind's advice, if only for an instant, was to dive for cover before those talons dug into my flesh... you may think that this would be a very unusual incident, but there have been many confirmed attacks on humans by hawks and other raptors over the years, so you might want to wear a hard hat next time you’re out watching hawks...

Bird of the Day: Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), the most common hawk in North America, whose habitat ranges from Alaska and northern Canada south to Panama and the West Indies. This hawk is widespread across the US, and is often nicknamed the “chickenhawk”. This hawk averages about 3-4 lbs, with a wingspan of 4 feet or more. Hawks often hunt in pairs, with one attacking a squirrel on one side of a tree and the other hawk picking off the poor rodent when he runs to the opposite side of the tree. They are also extremely intelligent birds; Red-tailed hawks are often trained by falconers, who work as a team with a dog to flush the prey for the hawk’s kill, usually with good effect. (Note: There are only about 5,000 falconers in the US, making their impact on the 1 million Red-tailed hawk population insignificant... that’s not helping the quail or rabbit population, though...) 

Unlike other raptors, Red-tailed hawks do not seem to be affected by human activity. One hawk family, led by an adult named “Pale Male”, even set up house on a ledge in Manhattan, subsisting on pigeons and brown rats. (And with all those great restaurants around... Yuck!)  

The purpose of our trip to the big city of Tampa was to pick up The Bus, which was having some rust damage repaired and the fridge cooling system replaced. She is back in town now, and we are starting to get ready for our summer road trip. Contrary to our initial plan, we won’t be making the drive to Alaska this summer. There simply isn’t enough time to do everything we want to accomplish in the lower 48 and Canada and also drive to the Far, Far North and back before 1 October. Key “anchor” events are starting to fall into place... just one example... Suzanne will be giving the sermon and a presentation at the Center for Spiritual Living in Seattle on July 14 (average attendance at church is 1000 members). She was also invited to be one of the keynote speakers during a week-long spiritual journey to Crete, Greece, in early October with Dr. Eben Alexander and several other speakers. Several of her friends from The Villages have already signed up for this unique trip, and you are welcome to join them. See her web site, for details. Our other stops along the way to/from Seattle are still being firmed up... “Watch this space”...

Your Faithful Correspondent also has some key events planned for this summer... photography in Antelope Canyon, Arizona; hiking in the Rockies, Grand Canyon, Cascades, Tetons, and Wind River Range; and kayaking in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota, just to name a few. “What, Minnesota, Land of the Frozen North?” Yes, I am hoping that “freeze-up” is delayed this year, and that when we visit in September, I won’t be frozen in (or eaten alive by black flies) while paddling this lovely area... (Yes, Terri, you can tell the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce that your marketing campaign is working...)

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Lanai Breakfast; Muffuletta and Lake Pontchartrain Beer; An ARE Dinner; Spring Flutes! A Vette Music Problem?

We were able to enjoy several meals with Gary and Rhonda Schwartz on our lanai, including this breakfast of Ty’s Famous Strawberry and Cream Cheese Raisin French Toast. (Corvette Chick had eaten earlier due to an early commitment). 

Our good friends Sharon and Joyce recently returned from a visit to family in Covington, across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans. They very kindly brought back tasty reminders of the Big Easy: a six-pack of Covington Brewery’s Lake Pontchartrain Pilsner (which went down nicely with pizza tonight).... 

And also a jar of Boscoli Italian Olive Salad, which is the key ingredient in making Italian muffuletta sandwiches, a Sicilian delight that was invented by Salvatore Lupo, owner of Central Grocery in the French Quarter, back in the 1930’s.  (This shot of Central Grocery shows it as it remains today, a small, family-owned business in “The Quarter” that has kept its’ original flavor... and many wonderful aromas!) Thank you, Sharon and Joyce, for your thoughtfulness!

We were fortunate to attend a dinner Sunday evening with members of The Villages’ Association for Research and Enlightenment (ARE) group, who were hosting Kevin Todeschi, ARE’s Executive Director and CEO, who Suzanne introduced for his day-long workshop on Edgar Cayce on Sunday at the Savannah Center. 

It was a friendly, interesting group, and a great meal at Nancy Lopez Country Club. Special thanks to Frances Rolph from the ARE who has been one of Suzanne's most enthusiastic supporters, and who invited us to this dinner.

Monday evening provided an opportunity to hear some fabulous music, courtesy of The Villages Flute Choir, of which My Lovely Bride is a member; she plays the bass flute, which has nothing to do with the largemouth fish... here she is about to take her seat at the beginning of the performance. 

It was a sellout crowd (actually the concert was free) at Laurel Manor Rec Center, and Christine Smith, the Flute Choir Director, had put together a selection of popular, classical, jazz and traditional music that kept the audience spellbound and impressed by the flautists' musical skills. It was a very entertaining evening.

Suzanne got together with several of her friends and of course her mom Ruthie after the show. Thanks to everyone who came to the concert, and for your support during the year! 

Finally, a note about Corvette Chick's good friend Elizabeth, seen in the photo above at far right. Elizabeth also has a Corvette. When Elizabeth heard that I had just received the drive belt to repair our home CD changer, she asked, "Ty, could you also fix my Corvette's CD player?" I asked what was wrong with it, and she said that when she put in a CD, the in-dash player simply spit the CD back out at her. I replied, "Well, Elizabeth, I know what the problem is without even looking at your Vette's CD player. It's very simple. You're putting in a Sinatra CD and your sports car would prefer Kelly Clarkson or Lady Antebellum..."