Monday, January 27, 2014

Fairfax, VA; Selfie; Stubborn; Villages Traffic Jam; Newfies; Screeching In; Golden Bras

Suzanne is just back from a 3 day trip to Northern Virginia/DC, where she spoke at Unity of Fairfax on Friday and Saturday. All three of her events, the Messages of Hope documentary, Making the Connection and Heart Gifts were well attended and enthusiastically received. In spite of the brutally cold weather, many people had driven from as far as Hershey, PA, Columbia, MD, and West Virginia to hear her speak. Carolee Egan, the event coordinator at Unity of Fairfax, graciously picked Suzanne up at Reagan International on Friday, took her out to dinner, and shuttled her back to the airport on Sunday.

While Suzanne was in DC's 20 degree cold, Your Faithful Correspondent was working hard here in The Villages. I did a two hour, 35 mile bike ride on Saturday to ensure that the roads here had been successfully cleared of snow. My reconnaissance proved that our snow removal teams had been on the job. I couldn't find a flake anywhere. I did have to suffer the frigid 55 degree weather and don a long sleeve shirt and gloves, but it was bearable. I emailed Suzanne this "selfie" to show her how extreme the weather was here in central Florida. She was not much amused. (I am glad that my "selfie" wasn't taken with a cute blonde laughing at my jokes like our Commander-in-Chief's picture which has been plastered over the Internet!)

Regular readers of this column may think that the "Stubborn" entry in the post title probably is an adjective that I am applying to My Lovely Bride, perhaps because of her continued use of the Serial Comma. You would usually be correct; today you would be wrong.

"Stubborn" in this case refers to our two dachshunds, Rudy and Gretchen, who are pictured here standing in what is euphemistically called "an anchor stance", feet planted wide apart and refusing to move. It seems that they don't like wet grass, and after taking them onto the lawn for their morning constitutional, they decided to act like they were anchored in place... they became little dog statues. I had to resort to "who wants a treat?" to get them moving. Have I mentioned that "Dachshund Obedience Training" is a contradiction in terms? Sigh.

While running on a golf cart path the other day, I came upon this unlikely scene. Two golf carts traveling in opposite directions had stopped on the path, with their drivers disembarking and discussing where Points A and B were on their maps while standing in the middle of the path, totally blocking all traffic, including This Intrepid Runner. Meanwhile, a third golf cart arrived and stopped, deciding that running over the other cart's drivers was unsporting. The two guys in question were totally oblivious to the fact that they had caused a traffic jam. I wonder if alcohol may have been involved? (Here in The Villages? Naaaahhhhhh....)

While w-a-l-king the puppies in t-o-w-n Sunday morning, I met a couple who wanted to pet Rudy and Gretchen, and as soon as they started talking, I asked them where in Canada they lived. (C'mon, when you hear more than one "Eh" in a sentence, you know right away the speaker isn't from Georgia, right?) Anyway, the lady said, "Oh, we live on an island, but Americans have never heard of it." 
I asked, "Which island?"
She replied, "Well, Newfoundland."
My answer stunned them. "My wife and I sailed our own boat to Port aux Basques, cruised the entire south coast of Newfoundland as far as Fortune Bay, and have even been "Screeched in". 
The couple was amazed because their island is hard to get to, and few Americans travel north of Nova Scotia. You have to take a ferry to get to Newfoundland if you're driving, but the scenery and the people make the trip unforgettable. The south coast reminds one of Norway, with deep fjords indenting the coastline. 99% of the traffic here is by boat or ferry, since there are virtually no roads. Helicopters provide emergency medevacs, and winters find many of the ports totally frozen over. 

One of our favorite small towns, called "outports" in Newfoundland, was Petites. It was a small fishing village of about 60 people which was in the process of being closed by the Canadian government to save money. (The biggest expense was providing electricity and a school teacher for a declining population, but the residents were virtually evicted, because Ottawa was going to turn their lights off.) Here is our sailboat Liberty moored to the town fishing dock in Petites.

Another one of favorite outports was Francois, which is actually pronounced "Fran-sway". (The Newfies have no love lost for the French.) Francois actually had 114 residents, mostly full-time fishermen. There was also an American couple in their 60s with a sailboat just like ours who had fallen in love with Newfoundland and decided to settle there, but the Canadian government had revoked their visa, and they were struggling with Ottawa to extend their stay. I wonder if Canadian bureaucrats get some training in Washington, DC.

We discovered a quaint tradition in Port aux Basques, Newfoundland: that of "screeching in", or becoming Honorary Newfoundlanders. We were non-Newfies, commonly called "Come-from-aways". Our ceremony was performed aboard Liberty by one of our first Newf acquaintances, who happened to own a liquor store. Screech is the local rum here in Newfoundland, which back in the 17th and 18th Centuries came from Jamaica in exchange for Newf salt cod. One is supposed to take a big sip of rum, and then kiss a cod. Because of the ongoing ban on cod fishing during our visit, this part of the screeching-in was held in abeyance, but we were warned that if we returned when there were cod to be kissed, the ceremony would have to be repeated. That didn't sound all bad...

Fortunately, we were able to fish for cod in the Bras d'Or Lakes of Nova Scotia, and here's the picture of a happy fisherman to prove it. My Lovely Mate's motto was, "I'll catch them, but I won't clean them." I didn't mind, because fresh-caught cod is beyond delicious. The lakes were named for golden brassieres supposed worn by the mermaids here. (Okay, I made that up. And Bob, if you make any smart comments about who caught this fish, you're in big trouble.) For those sailors or would-be travelers wanting to learn more about our trip to Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and across the Atlantic to Europe, please visit our sailing web site at

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Oxford Commas; TotFN; 12-Dog Nights; Zoomanne; StoweGood; Charm, Murder and Clamor

I have received many comments, a few supportive, but mostly not, regarding the previous post about excessive use of commas, often called the Oxford (or serial) comma. In her popularized style guide Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss writes: "There are people who embrace the Oxford comma, and people who don't, and I'll just say this: never get between these people when drink has been taken."

Good News (we think)! We have received communications from Terri of the Frozen North (TotFN). Well, at least, we have heard from someone claiming to be Terri. The photo at left was attached to an email, supposedly from Terri, but our facial recognition software only came up with a 35% probability of match with our file photo. We then tried to use a beta version of background scene identification software to determine whether the tree and house in the photo matched any in the Greater Coon Rapids, Minnesnowta Metropolitan Area, but the software suggested that the photo was taken either in Nome, Alaska or Novosibirsk, Siberia. On the positive side, it may indeed have been Terri, because the author of the email gave me a real ration of (noun deleted) about the proper use of commas. She also declared the weather in her purported location (MN) as "This Weather Can Kill You in Ten Minutes Wind Chill Blast"

Speaking of the cold, I did some more research on the use of canines as insulation in winter weather, as mentioned in the Three Dog Night entry in a previous blog. In Minnesota, it's called a Twelve Dog Night, and that's barely sufficient in June. Come December-February, the dogs (sensibly) all migrate south to Florida, leaving the humans to their own devices. Another Minnesota factoid: the snowmobile was invented in Roseau, Minnesota, to allow local residents to attend Independence Day celebrations.

Since we don't have snow here in central Florida, we drive cars and golf carts, rather than snowmobiles. My Lovely Bride, AKA Corvette Chick, has acquired a new car-related nickname: Zoomanne. She received this name from Sharon and Joyce when departing their house in her "arrest me red" 'Vette, spooling the V-8 up to about 5,000 rpm, breaking a county excessive noise ordinance and causing a raft of ducks to run for cover.

We had the pleasure of a visit from two beautiful migratory songbirds from Tennessee last night: Karen Taylor-Good and Stowe Dailey Shockey. These Nashville singer-songwriters (and authors), known as StoweGood, are on a Florida/Alabama tour, and have graced stages here in The Villages for the past several years. They gave an awesome performance at Unity of The Villages. If you missed their performance, you can order their music and books at But please plan on catching their performance when they return to The Villages.

You may have noticed "Charm, Murder and Clamor" in the heading of this post. You may be asking yourself, what the heck is all that about? Well, when I was looking up the correct name for a group ("raft" as mentioned above) of ducks on the ground (as opposed to swimming or flying), I found a list of proper bird group names. I was aware of many of them, but others astonished me. Here is a sample (the entire list can be found at (Personally, I think the last entry is an insult to the raven (Corvus corax), pictured here, but the group name is appropriate, since they are often considered pests, are omnivorous and opportunistic, and frequently feed on carrion.)

Bird Name         Group Name
bitterns                    siege
chickens                  peep
coots                       cover
crows                      murder
finches                    charm
hawks                     cast
larks                       exultation
nighthawks             kettle
peacocks                muster
rooks                      clamor
turtle doves            pitying
ravens                    congress

Monday, January 20, 2014

Dingos, Pols and Rockers; Giesemann Family Feud; White Wolf Kachina; Dinner with Bongo; Darkroom Stories; A Three-Fer?

I received a query about the term "two dog night" that I used in the last blog. For those readers not acquainted with the 60s/70s American rock group, Three Dog Night, the band's name was suggested by the lead singer's girlfriend, who had read an article about Australian Aborigines. In cold weather, they would sleep in a hole in the ground while hugging a dingo (Canis lupis dingo), or wild dog. A colder night would require a second dog, and on rare nights when the mercury dropped below freezing, it would be a "three dog night". Dingos are different than most dogs... they can climb trees, and often puppies are found in tree dens. The dingo mates for life, and may mourn itself to death after losing its mate. They may be the progenitor of all other dog breeds, but unlike most other canines, they do not have dew claws. This is a really wild dog, and it is rare for a dingo to be successfully domesticated. They are officially classified as "wildlife" in Australia, and cannot be kept as pets or companions in many parts of the country.

Dingos have a varied reputation in their homeland. Among the Aborigines, they are often revered and treated like friends and family. Dingos are reputed by some Aboriginals to have supernatural powers, and are connected to rituals, totems and holy places. There are instances of dingos being buried with their masters to guard them from evil spirits (Viking warriors followed a similar burial practice). Many ranchers, however, see their sheep killed by dingos and are not amused. Australian politicians even refer to their opponents as dingos (cowardly and treacherous), but one might suggest that similar attributes are found among many politicians worldwide... "Oh, sorry, Senator Reid, no insult intended."

Now, back to the band... for those who followed Three Dog Night back in the day, here is a photo of the trio in 1969. One of the top bands of all time, they sold over 50 million records, and are still performing (they look a little older now). In fact, Three Dog Night will appear in Orlando on Feb 23 at the Downtown Food and Wine Fest. Rock on!

Now for the serious part of the blog. My Lovely Bride and I have had a discussion... a disagreement... a falling out, so to speak... she can be so hard-headed sometimes, even in the face of expert support of my position. Let me explain... She is a very successful author, and has ten or so books to her credit to prove it. I acknowledge her skill at the craft of writing, but one of her (dare I say) shortcomings is the inability to agree with her Loving Hubbie (Your Faithful Correspondent) on the use of commas. Yes, commas. Let me elucidate. "Today, we met Sharon, Joyce and Bongo for dinner." In that sentence, I correctly used one comma. My Lovely Bride would have written, "Today, we met Sharon, Joyce, and Bongo for dinner." I have mentioned this difference in grammatical usage (delicately, to be sure) several times over the years to MLB, with no apparent effect. Today, I was ordering a book for my Kindle, Charles Krauthammer's Things That Matter. One of the quotes in the Amazon write-up of an interview with Mr. Krauthammer was: "With commas the rule should always be: the fewer the better. They are a scourge, a pestilence upon the land. They must be given no quarter. When you list three things, it should be written: a, b and c. If you see a comma after the "b"—call 911 immediately." I brought up this matter to My Darling Author yet again, and received a "Harrumph... we can agree to disagree." Sigh...

As many readers are aware, Suzanne has worked with Professor Gary Schwartz, PhD, head of the University of Arizona's Laboratory for Consciousness Studies in Tucson. Gary and His Lovely Bride Rhonda recently sent Suzanne a White Wolf Kachina doll. (They know all about Wolf Pasakarnis, mentioned in a previous blog, and the subject of Suzanne's latest talk, Heart Gifts.) We did some research on it, and found that these dolls are carved from cottonwood root by Hopis to instruct young girls and new brides about katsinas, the immortal beings that bring rain, control other aspects of the natural world and society, and act as messengers between humans and the spirit world. They are also believed to be the spirits of deities, natural elements or animals, or the deceased ancestors of the Hopi. Prior to the kachina giving ceremony, Hopi men painstakingly make the dolls in the image of the spirit represented in that particular ceremony. The figures are presented by the Giver Kachina to the village's daughters, who then study the characteristics of that kachina as part of their ongoing tribal cultural education.

Now, more about one of my favorite characters here in The Villages. We were invited over for dinner with our good friends Joyce and Sharon, who share their home with two cats and Bongo, mentioned briefly in the paragraph above. Bongo is not the name of a drum, a chimpanzee or even a big wrestler. Rather it is the name of a three year old Sun Conure (Aratinga solstitialis) parakeet, seen here with Joyce. (I didn't appreciate Suzanne's comment, "Oh, look, Ty, Joyce is giving you the bird!")

Bongo is probably the coolest bird I have ever met. He has a strong voice (I'm being kind here.), and is assertive, bold and gentlemanly, and it appears that he doesn't take any guff from his two feline housemates, even though they are much larger than he. Fortunately, we arrived early, and were able to have some time with Bongo before he retired to his bedchamber for the evening.

Joyce and Sharon are lots of fun as well. We had a fabulous dinner, served on beautiful plates and platters that Sharon had made herself. We traded teacher and Navy tales, including one story of what Joyce suspected really went on in photography darkrooms when some of her students spent hours there working on school projects...  emerging with rumpled clothes and hair, but precious few prints. This photo was taken on our second night of dinners. I've broken the code on getting re-invited for dinner: you have a great time the first night, but forget to bring your camera, and then call up the next day saying, "Gee, could we just drop by for a few minutes around 5 PM and take some snapshots to recall what a great time we had?" Then when you drop by, you look really tired and hungry, and your gracious hosts feel sorry for you and say, "Want to stay for something to eat?" "Well, okay, if you insist..." (This ploy might not work three nights in a row, but it's definitely worth a try... let's see, "Hey, Joyce, Wal-Mart messed up my photos." "Ty, don't you use a digital camera?" "Oh...well, yeah, I guess you're that what that little blue card is for?")

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Two-Dog Night; "How Many Quarters...?" St. Petersburg; Green Sky; "I Need a New..."; The Bard; Post-Colonial Narcissism

I feel sorry for those of you who have not had the joy of sleeping with puppies. I say "puppies" even though our Rudy and Gretchen are now middle-aged dogs, because they are still puppies at heart, and puppy-sized as well. Even when Darkest Winter has descended upon The Villages, and temperatures hover around 30F for hours at a time, we can always rely on our puppies to keep us warm at night. Well, I can... since they both sleep on my side of the bed, pressed close against me for hours at a time. Every night is a Two-Dog Night in our house. And we sleep pretty soundly... usually... but occasionally our blissful slumber is disturbed. The other night, Rudy had a really bad itch... the bed was shaking with his scratching. It was like being in one of those no-tell motel massage beds back in the 70s. My Lovely Bride asked me sleepily, "How many quarters did you put in?" (We took poor Rudy to the vet the next morning where he was diagnosed with a recurring allergic reaction, and he's now on meds and on the road to recovery.)

On Monday we loaded up The Coach and headed down to St. Pete, where Suzanne was on a women's panel at First Unity of St. Petersburg, along with Rev. Temple Hayes, Michelle Phillips, Janet Connor, Simran Singh, and Thelma Petas. It was an... interesting... evening. Everyone else seemed to enjoy it. As for me, even though I am a Sensitive, New Age Kinda Guy, I felt a bit overwhelmed, being one of only a handful of males in the room with dozens of women baring their souls and discussing how they cope. Next time, I may opt for a meditative session at Starbucks.

I had hoped that on Tuesday morning,I would be able to do some fishing from the beach at Fort De Soto, where our campground was located. This park had been recommended by My Good Friend Bob, who had visited last year and said it was a delightful place. Bob did not tell me that you had to use a shoehorn to get your coach into the campsites, which are mostly designed for single-man tents. It was indeed beautiful, but the place was full of sand. Who knew?

Fort De Soto, named after Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto (dashing guy at right), was built by the US Army to guard the approaches to Tampa Bay, and as you can see, is rimmed by white sand beaches surrounded by turquoise-green shallows, reportedly teeming with fish asking to be caught and eaten. I had brought my fishing rod, knowing that this was my best chance in months to settle the score with the finned creatures that had mocked me during our summer trip out west. Alas, it was not to be; the fish were safe for another day...

Tuesday morning found us getting underway from our campground very early (like at sunrise) to beat a line of severe thunderstorms rapidly approaching from the Gulf of Mexico. How bad was it? Well, as I was sitting in the nice, dry coach driver's seat warming up the engine, Suzanne was outside on the two-way radio guiding the coach out of our extremely tight campsite ringed by overhanging trees. I heard her say, "The sky is turning green. It's getting blustery. Can we get this show on the road, please? I'm about to get drenched out here!" "Yes, Ma'am, we're movin' now!" She made it inside the car just before the trees began dancing in 40 mph gusts and the sky opened up. It was raining so hard the windshield wipers were complaining about being overworked.

Fortunately, we had planned on an early departure, and were able to find an uncrowded Waffle House for our favorite breakfast while the storm spent most of its fury. One of the servers at WH was complaining to one of her co-workers, "I ain't got nuthin'." Suzanne smiled at her and asked, "Do you have love?" The exchange continued... "What?" "Do you have love?" "Well, yes, I do." "Then you have everything you need." The lady's face then lit up with a big smile.

Husbands who have been happily married for a week or more will probably understand this story. The other day, My Lovely Bride was sitting at the dining room table where we have our computers, and was fiddling with her iPhone. Whatever she was doing was not going smoothly, and she was muttering under her breath. I recognized this as "Not a Good Sign". Visions of hundreds of dollar signs began running through my mind. And sure enough, I heard, "Darn phone... so old... can't keep up... music takes forever to load... will only hold 400 songs... camera won't work... FaceTime won't load... not enough memory... Ty, Sweetheart, I need a new phone; can we go to the phone store right now?" I was doomed. I suggested my usual solution of duct tape and a hammer, but she said that wasn't going to cut it. Like I have stated in previous blog posts, a husband's best course of action in cases like this is to (1) say, "Yes, Dear", (2) seek emergency assistance from a 20-something techie; (3) break out his wallet, and (4) throw handfuls of twenty dollar bills at the problem. It worked. My Lovely Bride now has a brand-new iPhone 5s with 16gb of memory (that's more than the entire computing power of the United States in 1961, the year she was born). It also has a fingerprint reader for security; no more Stone Age password required... and it has more apps than anyone over 50 could ever figure out, or need. I could get along with a simple cell phone for emergencies, but who would be caught with something so crude these days?

On the subject of culture, English majors, anyone who has read Shakespeare, parents, concerned citizens, and anyone interested in the decline of American culture may find this article interesting: It describes how UCLA has removed their long-held requirement for English majors to study Shakespeare, Milton and Chaucer, in favor of more "relevant" subjects like gender, post-colonial, and disability studies. Junior faculty members apparently complained that Shakespeare was part of the "Empire". Also, they demanded more options for video-based learning, rather than asking students to read books. "Excuse me? Aren't students in college supposed to read books?" I may be a curmudgeon, but I can't help but think that the American education system is approaching a tipping point when "institutions of higher learning" don't require students to learn the fundamental underpinnings of Western civilization.

For more traditional readers, here are two quotes from the Bard of Avon:
"My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, because both are infinite."

"Time is very slow for those who wait
Very fast for those who are scared
Very long for those who lament
Very short for those who celebrate
But for those who love, time is eternal."

Fortunately, free access to Shakespeare's entire works are readily available on MIT's web site, far from The Left Coast, at It's amazing to see that MIT engineers and scientists can appreciate Shakespeare far more than UCLA English professors...

Word of the day: Narcissism, excessive self-admiration and self-centeredness; a widespread abnormal psychological condition prevalent in American liberal arts academics in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries. There appears to be no cure other than removal of funding.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Soo-Shee! Sugar Rush; Salsa in the Groves; A Three Star Dinner; A Mohawk; "Uh-Oh"

My Lovely Bride has this thing for sushi. I think maybe in a previous life she was Japanese. Her excuse is that having lived in Japan for three years, she became addicted. She is almost uncontrollable when it comes to raw fish on rice. Not just any, everyday fish on rice, but very fresh, sushi-grade fish with a dab of wasabi on really good sushi-grade rice. She will tell you that sushi chefs take longer to learn to get the rice perfect than they do in getting the fish right.

As it happened, we were invited over to have a glass of wine before dinner with our good friends Catherine and Henri, who had also invited Michelle and Jim along. After arriving at our favorite sushi restaurant in North America, VKI Japanese Restaurant and Steak House in Sumter Landing, Suzanne explained that we don't even place an order anymore; the sushi chefs know what we want, and start preparing our sushi as soon as we walk in the door. Henri wasn't a fan of sushi, and opted for more familiar Teriyaki. Catherine, Michelle and Jim were brave newbies. Dinner arrived, and it appears that Catherine is enjoying hers, although it could be that she is about to try a hunk of wasabi the size of a pecan, which could cause this unwary diner to levitate off her seat and stop breathing for a few minutes. (Who would do something that silly?) Everyone seemed to enjoy their dinner, and perhaps we have converted three of our friends to sushi-lovers.

While we are on the subject of food (yes, it's a recurring theme here, particularly after my week in the desert eating freeze-dried lasagna), here is one of our favorite breakfasts that I make, French toast with strawberries and bacon. As shown here, Suzanne prefers hers with maple syrup and just a teeny-weeny dusting of confectioner's sugar. I prefer just a little syrup and a pound or so of sugar. Maybe that's why I'm a bit wired after breakfast, although 4 cups of coffee might intensify the sugar high...  ya think?

On Wednesday, we escaped the cold snap in The Villages and took The Coach south for an hour to Clermont, Florida, where we stayed a night at Lake Louisa State Park. (It's very similar to Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada, but the mountains aren't quite as high.) The park is big, and has several thousand orange trees scattered about. They were full of fruit, and as we mountain biked on very sandy trails through the woods and orange groves, I heard music. At first I doubted my auditory senses, but as we approached a pickup truck and trailer, the music got louder. It was Hispanic salsa, and was blaring at top volume from the truck's speakers. There were five or six workers hand-picking oranges from the trees and carrying laundry baskets full of fruit to the trailer behind the truck. I thought that these oranges would probably be showing up in my fridge within the week, transformed into OJ.

That day's bike ride was TOUGH. It's not that the trails were steep, but they were often 90% sand, and if you've never biked through deep sand, it's a chore. This perky trail rider is smiling now, but in a few moments was muttering "sailor words" as she struggled to keep up her speed when the grass turned to sand.

On Friday evening we were invited along with Bob and Jan to dinner at Gayle and Bill Hancock's new home in Bonnybrook. They extended and enclosed the lanai, added on three picture windows and a stone patio to the back of their house, which now has The Best View in The Villages. They are also sited right at the tee box, and fortunately haven't had any Close Encounters of the Golf Ball Kind.

Bill is a retired Navy 3-star admiral, and Gayle a long-suffering and supportive Navy wife who has as many, if not more, fun stories than her husband. We were in stitches as Gayle told us about being the only gaijin (foreign devil) riding on a train in Japan in the 70s, when she got off for a few moments at a stop, just to get a drink of water. All of a sudden, the train started to pull away unexpectedly. With her purse and passport about to disappear, Poor Gayle had to leap through a window onto the laps of several startled Japanese passengers, while muttering "Gomenesai!" (I'm so sorry!) It was a fun evening, and we even got to enjoy the Hancocks' hot tub. They got used to having one in Virginia and using it even when it snowed. Fortunately, the snows here were very light this week.... Gayle's gourmet dinner was fabulous, and Bill's sea stories (he was captain of a destroyer and cruiser before being selected for Admiral) reminded me of my exciting days at sea.

My Lovely Sister-in-Law Janice sent us a photo of her newly-rescued Dachshund, Tiki. She had just taken Tiki to the groomer, and asked that his Mohawk be retained. He is the Coolest Dog of the Week!

Finally, here's a story that should remind husbands of the importance of remembering dates. I was walking the puppies through our campground, and met a couple from Leesburg. He related that they had only been married since October 15th. His wife's head snapped around, and she said, "No, the 19th. I'll bet you remember your first wife's anniversary!" He replied defensively, "But Honey, we had been married for 40 years; we haven't even been married six months!!!"

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Rudy, No! Weird Hair; Arctic Weather; "Women as Visionaries" Event; 2014 Summer Tour; "The English Girl"

I have an apology to issue today to our good friend and neighbor Chris Lavender. I hesitated to even bring this up, because of personal embarrassment to our little miniature Dachshund, Rudy the Sailing Wiener Dog. But as the informal motto of the CIA (the Central Intelligence Agency, not the Culinary Institute of America), states, "And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free". (John, 8:32)

So, here is the truth (as I know it).... I was walking Rudy and Gretchen early the other morning, shortly after dawn, and had not yet had my first cup of coffee. (This information is provided to explain my apparent lack of situational awareness.) We were passing Chris' driveway, and by the tightness of his lead, I noticed that Rudy had stopped, which is quite normal, since Dachshunds have to stop and sniff EVERYTHING their noses detect. I waited for him to move, and then glanced around behind me to see what he was sniffing... and in horror, saw that his back leg was lifted, and he was peeing on... Chris's newspaper! "RUDY! NO!" He obviously was unaware of the lack of neighborliness of his actions, because he looked back at me with this "Who, me?" look on his face. I knew he didn't do it maliciously, because Chris always greets him with a smile when she and her Shih Tsu Suki come outside. I also knew that Rudy wasn't making a political statement about the newspaper itself, because how could anyone criticize "The Happy Paper"? In any case, I quickly scurried back to our driveway, grabbed our clean, dry newspaper and swapped it for Chris' wet one. Yuck... Of course, after our walk, Rudy and I had a heart-to-heart talk about his irresponsible actions, and he vowed never to repeat them.

That same day, after My Lovely Bride finished her daily meditation, I told her about our newspaper incident. She thought it was funny. But when I laughed, it wasn't about Rudy and the newspaper. It was about her hair. It was a combination of bed head and needing a trim. Normally I wouldn't be so unkind, unwise, or suicidal as to criticize Suzanne's coifs, but this was really funny... I wanted to take a photo, but she warned me that I would be sleeping on the lanai if I did. She quickly primped up for breakfast and made an appointment with Judy, her stylist.

As everyone in the USA knows by now, most of the country is in the grip of very cold weather caused by something called the Polar Vortex, which was created by the Tea Party to poke fun at Global Warming. We in central Florida are also affected. In preparation for the arrival of the cold front, I wrapped up our tropical plants in their stylish winter apparel. I even had to shift from Bermuda shorts to long pants yesterday afternoon. Another sign of the frigid cold is the lack of a long line at our favorite ice cream parlor, Peach Wave. But the most drastic measure taken to save lives here in The Villages was the delayed opening of our golf courses until 11:30 AM. That could cause a revolution among the snowbirds. It was so cold this morning (30F at 0730) that our puppies' initial foray onto the lanai to seek out invading geckos only lasted 24 seconds for Gretchen and 35 seconds for Rudy, who is hardier in the cold.

We had planned to go camping in The Coach for a couple of days, but decided that it would be too cold today to enjoy hiking on forest trails in 30-35 degrees and bitter north winds. So we moved the RV to our street, plugged her in, and turned on the heat. She's now in front of the house where we will pretend to be out in a state park surrounded by a pine forest... actually, we will go camping just for one day, after the weather warms up to a balmy 55F. It's also a good time to prep and load The Coach for a trip in a few days to warmer climes...

On Monday 13 January, we will travel to First Unity of St. Petersburg, where Suzanne is appearing that evening (7:00-9:30 PM) as part of a Women as Visionaries panel; other speakers are Rev. Temple Hayes, Simran Singh, Michelle Phillips, and Janet Conner. "This powerful panel of dedicated truth-seekers, visionaries and soul-revealers will offer their deep insights to a world that is seeking to change, by reaching people at the levels in which their world isn't changing." See for details.

Speaking of Suzanne's speaking events, our 2014 Summer Tour is coming together, with opening events already confirmed in Atlanta, GA (25-26 April); Greenville, SC (30 April); and Charlotte, NC (3 May). A tentative route map is posted at upper right on the blog; we are planning on another 10,000 miles, continuing on to Ann Arbor, Chicago, Madison, Minneapolis, Denver, Coeur d'Alene, Portland (OR), Seattle, Vancouver, Banff/Lake Louise, Calgary, Jackson Hole, Ft. Collins, Colorado Springs, Dallas and many others... although it's hard to think about those Frozen North cities right now. More details to follow!

This has been a busy week, what with being outside every day enjoying the warm, sunny weather we had up until last night. (Sorry to rub it in). I also got to read a new book I received as a Christmas present from My Lovely Bride, Daniel Silva's thriller "The English Girl". I could hardly put it down to sleep at night, and it's his best yet. I recommend it highly, particularly to those who think Russian President Putin is someone you'd like your daughter to marry.

One last comment on the weather. We haven't heard from Terri of the Frozen North since Minnesnowta officially shut down the government, schools, airports and almost all bodily functions due to the extreme cold (-30F, with -60F wind chill). We hope she's safe and warm in front of a crackling fireplace. Terri, give us a shout if you need some firewood or another blanket. Good luck to her and all our friends in the 90% of the country dealing with the cold. I should be able to shift back to shorts and tee shirt on Thursday.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Desert Adventure - Part 3

My daughter Elisabeth and I spent a total of four wonderful and tiring days in Joshua Tree National Park. The weather remained clear and sunny but chilly, with highs in the low 60s and lows in the 30s. We completed several more hikes, with beautiful scenery around every rock, and there were a lot of rocks. There weren't many leaves on the few trees here, no doubt because of the low annual rainfall, only about 5 inches per year.

Of course, there were lots of Joshua Trees and cacti, like this beautiful blue-skinned specimen shaped like a tennis racket observed on one of the trails.

Cactus are amazing plants. They have the ability to jump, as proven by this photo of my boot when I approached too close to a pencil cholla cactus lying in wait for an unsuspecting hiker...

This was not a common cactus, at least according to our observations. We wondered whether there would be enough water inside this species to save stranded hikers in case of an emergency, but fortunately, we didn't have to find out. I had brought along five 2 liter plastic Platypus water bottles, very lightweight, and we were able to refill them at the few water stations provided by the Park Service in the desert.

There were several funny incidents, such as when it was so windy we couldn't light our stove. The scene reminded me of The Keystone Cops or The Three Stooges as we tried again and again to achieve ignition... finally the stove came to life and we got our hot meal. (I was secretly hoping that we couldn't get the stove fired up so that we could drive to Domino's instead...) Liz laughed at me and called me a whiner. I confess; I was whining. And I never did get my pizza. Sigh...

Then there was the night that Elisabeth decided to stay up late by the fire reading while Her Tired Dad turned in early. I was almost asleep when I heard Elisabeth's shriek; a mouse had almost walked across her foot. Obviously he was enjoying the warmth of the fire as well. Poor little fellow; she must have scared him half to death....   

Every day seemed to start and end with a hike, which was terrific. That's what we had come here for. But my toes were starting to rebel, even though my mind could only marvel at the beauty of our surroundings. You have to admit, you can't find views like this in DC or The Villages.

Our last California hike was to Barker Dam, which had been much larger in the 1800s when cattlemen used it for watering herds of steers. Today it is only a foot or so deep, but you can still see the high water marks of a six or seven foot deep reservoir from its glory days.

After four days, we had exhausted ourselves on Joshua Tree's relatively barren trails and needed a break. Liz asked if we could go find some trees, so we set off for a high desert campground east of Phoenix. The four hour drive on Christmas Day would give us a break from long hikes and reposition us closer to our departure airport. We had a big breakfast in Blythe, California (Bob, I looked for a Blythe tee-shirt, but it apparently isn't a big tourist town), and then set up camp in Usery Mountain State Park near Mesa, AZ. We did a late afternoon hike up to Wind Cave at the top of this beautiful mountain behind our campground. You may notice the saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantean) on the hillside. The saguaro flower is the state flower of Arizona. This cactus can grow to 70 feet tall, and often has four or five arms. It often hosts finches, flickers, owls and wrens in holes dug mostly by woodpeckers in its trunks. They are only found in southern Arizona and southern California.

Here is Liz in her headlight, putting together Christmas dinner: meatball and pork BBQ bagels with a side of freeze-dried lasagna. Hey, when you're cold and hungry, "It don't get much better than that!" Unfortunately, Christmas night proved to be the toughest of the trip. For six hours, we endured 30-35 mph winds that threatened to lift our tents off the ground (with us in them). Finally, at dawn we surrendered, struck our tents and packed up. We had a real gourmet breakfast in Mesa and then drove into the Superstition Mountains where the wind was not expected to be so severe.

Our long hike that day was near the town of Apache Junction (yes, that's its real name), and took us on a steep, rocky trail into Peralta Canyon. One of the area's premier hikes, it was a six mile roundtrip with incredible views. You are looking into the backcountry here, with nothing but wilderness for miles and miles.

These rock formations are called hoodoos, similar to those in Bryce Canyon National Park, although their geologic characteristics are not identical. We didn't see any rock climbers here, probably because the rocks appeared less stable than those in Joshua Tree.

Our new campground, at Lost Dutchman State Park, was a treat, with the hottest showers we had had all week. (When you're sleeping on the cold ground and making forced marches over boulders and through a treeless desert, a hot shower at the end of the day helps keep you sane.) Our final hike of the trip was on the Treasure Loop Trail through the Tonto National Forest, with the Flatiron (4,861 ft.) towering above the desert floor. By this time, we were both developing blisters, and we were ready for a taste of civilization.

On the road out, we had our single adventure with wildlife... well, kinda-sorta. This long horn steer was walking down the middle of the dirt road to the highway. I asked him to move off the road and pose for a photo, and he was happy to accommodate me. And yes, I made sure he didn't make any aggressive moves that might allow him to get between me and the car.

We repaired to our hotel near the airport to await our flights the next morning. "But we have a couple of hours before dinner", said Liz, "let's go to the Phoenix Art Museum!" (I thought to myself, "But that requires more walking!") So off we went, My Lovely Daughter spending most of the time in the modern and abstract art section, while I gravitated to the European and Southwest sections. Her favorite artist was Yayoi Kusama, whose "You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies" was a mixed media exhibit in a pitch black room with mirrors on floors, ceiling and walls; hundreds of red and green LED lights strung from the ceiling were reflected into infinity by the mirrors, but it was so dark you couldn't see your own reflection, much less take a photo. It was an unnerving experience after being in the desert under a bright sun and clear skies for the past week, but a unique counter point to our desert adventure.

We stayed in the museum until it closed, and I think we were the last visitors out the door. We stopped in the lobby to admire this beautiful lighted glass and metal piece; because of the upcoming prohibition on incandescent light bulbs, I wanted to take it home for our living room, but Liz insisted I act my age... it's difficult being reprimanded by your daughter.

Ah, I almost forgot to mention the hotel experience. As we were headed to our rooms, I noticed that mine was in the middle of a corridor apparently occupied by a group of 100 or so noisy kids from a high school band, who were then roving the corridors in various states of undress, having just finished a pre-dinner swim. I walked down to the front desk where I met the manager, whom I alerted to the fact that I had just spent six nights in a sleeping bag and had a serious sleep deficit to address. He assured me that the 14 band chaperones would soon have the situation under control, and by the time I returned from dinner, the halls would be as quiet as a church on Monday morning. I was not to worry, he said. I was not confident. Liz was on the quiet side of the hotel on another floor, and had little sympathy for my plight when I complained briefly at dinner. I knew better than to complain to Suzanne, two thousand miles away; (1) she couldn't help; (2) being a former marching band flutist, she would undoubtedly sympathize with the kids rather than me. I was doomed.

We returned from dinner at 7:30 PM, and hit the rack in preparation for an early departure. Giggles from the adjoining room indicated that the four teenaged girls therein were discussing their boyfriends (potential, actual or imaginary). I waited until 9:00 PM, unable to get to sleep, and decided to take drastic action. I dialed room 219, and a young girl's voice answered, "Hello?" I replied in a soft, but deep bass, "Girls, we can do this one of two ways. You can quiet down, or I can call the police." I gently put the handset in its cradle (yes, they still have a few of those) and thus ensued instantaneous silence.  Nary a peep, giggle or sound was heard until the next morning. Ah, blissful sleep!

The next morning's airline check-in was almost flawless, except for two minor "issues". It was the busiest travel day of the year, and my line at the Southwest counter was already occupied by about 450 other travelers; PHX is a major hub for Southwest. After a 35 minute wait to check bags, I got to the gate with 10 minutes to spare before boarding. Liz was flying US Air in another concourse, so I figured she was okay. I was too optimistic. When going through security, she had forgotten about the water in her Camelback, and the TSA agent made her go dump the water and then go back through the line. Fortunately, she made it to the gate a minute or so before the gate closed. We were now both on our way home....

Suzanne and the puppies, Rudy and Gretchen, met me at the airport in Orlando, and we had a nice dinner before heading back to The Villages. At home, I caught up with some email while Suzanne got ready for bed. As I walked into the bedroom, I was shocked to find some dude with his head on my pillow! So that's what happens while I'm out in the desert... I get displaced!