Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Happy Birthday, Rudy! Lights Out in the Twilight Zone? Two Hikes in the Woods; Bugs and 'Shrooms; SQUIRRELS!!!

It is our little Rudy's 10th birthday. Rudy joined our crew aboard Sailing Vessel Liberty in February 2005, when he was just three months old. Here he is, in his DogMom's arms, on that day in Columbia, SC, when we picked him up at Porth Kennels.

He immediately became a Salty Dog, sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. He really enjoyed Italy, especially the Ponte Vecchio across the Arno River in Florence, even though it was a very warm summer day. 

Some people have asked whether Rudy might actually be a short Irish setter, rather than a miniature long-haired Dachshund. His coloration is certainly similar to that other breed, but Rudy is all Dachshund. Here he is on his 7th birthday with a new nylon chew-toy.

As he has aged, his hair has gotten longer. This "Bad Hair Day" photo of Rudy is actually part of one of Suzanne's presentations on energy; perhaps in a previous life his name was Einstein... 

Now you know why Rudy is known as a "Chick Magnet"... females (and not just Dachshunds) swoon when he passes by. He is such a "hunk"!  Happy Birthday, Rudy!

The other day My Lovely Bride asked me to replace several light bulbs in the bathroom. It was an easy fix, with three bulbs out, two on the left side and one on the right. Later that day a neighbor asked me to help her repair a smoke detector and replace several light bulbs. Imagine my surprise when I found that three bulbs in her bathroom had to be replaced, two on the left and one on the right. I mentioned this coincidence to My Good Friend Bob that afternoon, and he said, "Ty, I had to replace three bulbs in our bathroom the other day as well... two on the left and one on the right..." (Does anyone else hear the Twilight Zone theme song playing?)

I have hiked since I was a little guy. Having participated in Scouting from age 8 (Cub Scout) through age 18 (Explorer Scout), I had my share of group hikes, normally 10 or so kids and a couple of adults. Since age 18, all of my hiking has been solo or with one or two others, usually My Lovely Bride, and never in a large group. But this past weekend, I joined 30 or so other hikers on a Florida Trail Association hike in Ocala National Forest. It was an unusual experience in another way; I don't normally hike on the first weekend of deer hunting season, but this hike on the Florida Trail itself had been scheduled for that date, and everyone was decked out in blaze orange or red so as not to be mistaken for Bambi's beau. I was hiking at the back of the pack with the chapter president, who was "sweep"... making sure that no one or any gear got left behind by accident.

We had been hiking through a mixed pine and oak forest for a couple of hours when I heard a hiker ahead of me ask, "Isn't it nice that they laid down hay on the trail?" My first thought was to glance around and look for the remnants of a bale of hay that had been left by some equestrian riders at a campsite or corral... until I realized that the hiker in question (from Manhattan) was referring to the thousands of pine needles on the ground. (This was only her second hike in her entire life.) 

We didn't see any deer or bear, owing to the size of our group and the ongoing hunting (although no shots whatsoever were heard). What did catch our eyes was this pair mating in a palmetto bush. (Note: there were no normal human venues for this activity - such as the tops of electrical transformer cabinets or golf carts - out here in the woods, so we will have to excuse the arthropods involved.) Someone did say a prayer for the smaller of these insects, usually a male, since after mating is consummated, the female often consumes her consort. (I'm glad that ritual didn't make it farther up the evolutionary chain!)

The very next day, Hiker Chick and I drove to the Cross-Florida Greenway to hike a side trail off the Florida trail. Hunting is not allowed here, so we didn't need to wear orange, but since my daypack is that color anyway, we were extra visible. Where the FT is orange-blazed, this trail was blue-blazed to distinguish it as a secondary route. 

The Greenway's forest was much more dense than the previous day's hike in Ocala National Forest, mostly oak with scattered pines, and with far fewer palmettos. At times it seemed surreal, because we were only a mile or two from a major highway, I-75, yet to look around, you might think you were deep in the wilderness.

Because there were no other hikers out that day, there were dozens of spider webs laid across the trail, and since I was on "point", I got the envious duty of clearing the trail for My Lovely Bride. This photo of one spider is sort of deceiving; he (she?) is only about 2 inches across, but looks much larger. Nevertheless, I tried to avoid having them crawling on my arms and head... yuck!

These little mushrooms growing on a tree limb were about the same size as the spider, but much less aggressive-looking... someone asked me once whether I picked mushrooms or other plants to eat while on a hike. No, I would never pluck innocent mushrooms unless I was (1) starving to death and (2) 100% sure that what I was about to eat wasn't poisonous. And, as far as I know, these guys aren't on the shelf at Publix...


Sincere thanks are extended to our good friends Anne and Charles from Toronto, who gave Rudy this Birthday/Christmas present. They knew that Rudy is very fond of squirrels, and were so thoughtful to give him a new play toy. But we will keep this one intact. It is now hanging in a place of honor where "The R-Dog" can't reach it. 

Just as I was finishing this blog, Suzanne gasped and pointed urgently out the window. It was raining, and I thought she was pointing at the precipitation outside. But no, she was pointing at this squirrel, flagrantly climbing down the outside of our very own lanai screen, the first we have ever seen right here on the house. As the oak tree in our yard matures and produces more acorns, I'm sure sightings like this will become more frequent. Fortunately, Rudy and Gretchen did not see him, and he went away a few minutes later. For now, though, I have to start looking into wooden latticework to prevent the puppies from going crazy and trying to rip through the lower screens to get at the furry rodent outside...

Friday, November 21, 2014

New Family Photo; Quiz Winner; Gourmets; 50th Reunion? The Gecko Hunters; Dueling Crustaceans

We were very lucky to meet a neighbor in Mallory, Paula Orlando, who is an amazingly talented professional photographer. Suzanne needed an updated portrait for her new DVD series that's coming out next month, so she and Paula spent a couple of hours shooting and then came back to the house for some photos with DogDad and the pups. This is our new family photo. Paula managed to get Rudy and Gretchen looking right into the camera on the first shot. (I'm here 24/7 and haven't been able to manage that.) Thank you, Paula, for your great work!

Last week's quiz must have been a toughie; I thought it was pretty easy, but I guess that's because I was there. Oh, the cypress knee identification was simple, but no one got the location (Fountain Lake, Leesburg, Florida, just across from City Hall). I think they call it Fountain Lake because of that big water-spraying thingee in the middle of the lake... In any case, we had several correct entries (thank you Gayle, Bob & Jan, Colette and Lynn). As per the contest rules, I selected one of the correct entries from my ball cap, and.... Drum Roll, please... the winner(s) is (are)... Bob and Jan Blythe, who will be treated to a fabulous breakfast at First Watch Cafe with Der Blogmeister and His Lovely Bride!

Speaking of food, we had a recent get-together with a gourmet group, with New Orleans cuisine being on the menu. It was a fun evening and no one went away hungry. The surprise dish of the evening was Gayle's Bananas Foster; it tasted just like the dish served at Brennan's, which coincidentally is where Gayle got the recipe. I may have to take MLB to Brennan's in March when we go to the Crescent City for my 50th high school reunion. 

I know, most of you are thinking, "Gee, there's no way that young-looking, handsome Ty graduated from high school almost 50 years ago!" Alas, it is true. I was a real nerd/dweeb back then. (No snickers out there... I have so changed!) Here is a photo from one of my classmates of our graduation (New Orleans Academy, a military prep school; and no, Bob, NOA was not a reform school!). I am the skinny guy, sixth from the left, front row... 

One of my classmates asked if everyone could provide a current photo by email. I thought about sending this one, which MLB snapped in a moment of weakness (cruelty?) when I was helping her change out some lampshades; and no, wine was not involved...

Our long-haired miniature Dachshunds, Rudy and Gretchen, are hunters. They don't hunt badgers or rabbits, for which their forbears were originally bred, but they will chase geckos - typically, green anoles (Anolis carolinensis); after all, we do live in Florida, and badgers are few and far between in our neck of the woods. Here we have our fearless marauders executing what they term the "High-Low Attack", adapted from a Navy fighter aircraft maneuver; being longer (if not much taller), Rudy goes high into the bush and chases the target gecko low where Gretchen can dive in and nab him. Fortunately (for the gecko population) only one or two a week are nabbed (a euphemism for "nailed")...

While preparing dinner the other night, I was reminded of one of the darker sides of life in bayou country... Louisiana lobster fights. These gigantic, three foot long crustaceans (Procambarus clarkii) are put in a ring like fighting roosters, and with loud shouting, even louder zydeco music blaring, and lots of betting, a gladiator-like fight to the death begins. It's particularly sad in that the winner also goes into the pot to be consumed by the ringside audience. I have thought about contacting PETA about staging a demonstration in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, the center of this activity, to protect the little critters...

Monday, November 17, 2014

Jazz Club; Decommissioned; Our Babies; Ugly Pavers; A Sister Visits; VIPER! Glass Art and Humor; Tiramisu or Quinoa? Beautiful Music

Suzanne and I don't get out much after dark, so when we got an invitation to join friends for a Jazz Club night out, we jumped at the chance. We joined old friends Bill and Gayle Hancock, in foreground, and new friends Judy and Bob on the left and Sue and John on the right, for a delightful evening of jazz at the Laurel Manor rec center. It was BYOB and F, and while we were okay on food, I was crestfallen to find that Bill's bottle of La Storia Zinfandel was far superior to the middle-of-the-road Cabernet I had brought. (I tried siphoning off his "good stuff" and replacing it with my swill, but being a retired Navy Vice Admiral, he is much too sharp for that trick... especially since he probably tried it once or twice himself early in his distinguished career... sigh). 

Speaking of my Navy past, I had a major maintenance project to complete (to be discussed later in this blog), and wore my favorite old tee-shirt, this one dating back to when I was commanding officer of a destroyer. The shirt commemorated our six month deployment to the Mediterranean Sea in 1988-1989 with the Kennedy aircraft carrier battle group.  Like the ship for which it was named, after 25 years the shirt had faithfully completed its last assignment. The seams were starting to come apart, the material was see-through in places, and oil stains made it unwearable in polite company. I had to make the sad decision to retire the shirt from active duty, so after the project was completed, it was decommissioned and sent to the mothball fleet. The parallel with the fate of old sailors like myself is also recognized... 

On the subject of clothing, I had to take this photo of Rudy the Sailing Wiener dog napping on his Dog-Dad's fleece sweater. Rudy is My Best Buddy, and he sleeps next to me at night - and I mean pressed up tight to my back, so I guess he likes my scent, whether in bed or on my sweater. (I wonder if I smell like a dog to him... maybe I'd better not go there...) 

Of course, I have to give equal time to Rudy's little sister, Gretchen. They are actually not related, but to save long explanations, we haven't told them about that fact. Gretchen sleeps by my knees; being a Dachshund, she likes to burrow, and is more sensitive to air conditioning than Rudy, who prefers to keep his head on my pillow. 

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot about the project. Suzanne's sister was coming to visit, so I had to power wash the lanai and the driveway. The pavers out front had begun to host large colonies of grass and ants during this past wet summer, so out to work I went. The before and after photos tell it all... well, almost all. Not seen is the "crick in the neck" I earned for having to look down at my feet for hour after hour, and the mildewed feet and mud-splattered legs from the high pressure water spray. 

Friday was a very special day for our family; Suzanne's Lovely Sister Janice arrived for a weekend visit, and she brought her Delightful and Debonair Boyfriend Steve, who is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Steve runs his own business, has a great sense of humor, and is very cool... what makes him so cool, you ask? Well, how many guys do you know who have raced their own 500 hp Dodge Viper? Or sold his Ferrari to a guy in Japan who lost his V-12 Italian sports car in the tsunami? Steve is so cool that his home garage (5-car, no less) is better fitted out than a lot of car dealerships; he even has two lifts and a small machine shop... and has totally rebuilt and re-engined cars himself. Steve now drives a more sedate set of wheels... a Hummer H2. Still, very cool...

Steve is also a hugger. Here he is making big points with Suzanne and Janice's Lovely Mom Ruthie out on the deck at Gator Joe's in Ocklawaha. We introduced Steve and Janice to gator tail bites and hush puppies, receiving mixed reviews, but they are from up in the Frozen North, after all, so what do they know about Southern delicacies? (Delaware isn't quite as cold as Minnesnowta or Alberta, but it's just a matter of degrees, so to speak...) Steve appeared to enjoy our warm Florida sunshine, and got into trouble with his friends back home when he texted a selfie of himself and Janice out in front of the Waterfront Inn, with palm trees swaying in the background... it was 38 F back in DE.

We took Steve and Janice on a tour of The Villages, including a Glass Fusion Club exhibit at Seabreeze Rec Center, where we looked up our favorite glass artists, Joyce and Sharon (above Happy Hour sign). They are really serious about their craft, even getting their own kiln so they could create glass treasures 24/7. Kilns will "bake" at about 2,000 degrees F... wow, you could bake chocolate chip cookies in a minute or two, right?

Joyce was even thoughtful enough to make Your Faithful Correspondent and Frequently Futile Fisherman a special Christmas tree ornament. I'm not sure, but I think I heard Joyce say, "Ty, here's the biggest fish you'll catch all year...". (Behind that innocent face lurks an evil sense of humor.)

The finale of weekend events came with a family dinner at our house followed by dessert and music. Michele and John Uss were able to join Ruthie, Janice, Steve, Brent and Cheryl as our guests for dinner. We then moved to the Uss residence for delicious tiramisu and Key lime pie. Michele is a fabulous cook, and was kind and thoughtful enough to offer me the choice of tiramisu or four varieties of Quinoa. It was a tough decision, but the quinoa lost out. 

Beautiful music followed dessert. Michele is musical director at Temple Shalom, and a very accomplished musician; John himself is a former bandie, but sat out tonight's event. With Suzanne on flutes (C and bass), Michele on Clavinova and Janice as guest vocalist, these three talented ladies regaled their audience with Broadway hit songs and pop favorites from the 50s and 60s. 

The performance ended with the obligatory group photo to memorialize the fun evening we had enjoyed. (Please note Annie, the 7 month old Shiatsu on Michele's lap. Annie was the surprise hit of the evening - I've never seen a dog with such energy.) We are hoping that Janice and Steve had so much fun that they will come back very soon for a longer visit!

Friday, November 14, 2014

DVD Filming; Geo and Flora Quiz; Another Perspective; Half a Kayak; Pouldeau; Owl vs.Heron; Quiz Winners

Suzanne and Bev Garlipp got together recently for a big project... video taping (filming for us old-timers) of Suzanne's about-to-be-released set of five DVDs, Let Your Spirit SOAR! The four keys to your personal breakthrough. She will put out more information on her web site, www.LoveAtTheCenter.com when the DVDs are ready for distribution, which should occur the first week in December. The DVDs and accompanying workbook are in response to numerous requests from attendees at Suzanne's events, both here in The Villages and on our summer tour.

Okay Quizsters, here's this week's Geography and Flora Quiz... Look at the photo at right and identify the lumpy things in the foreground and where the photo was taken, and if your correct entry is picked from my ball cap at random, you will win breakfast at First Watch with Your Faithful Correspondent and His Lovely Bride.

This photo was taken during a walk on the local dock with our dockshounds, and provides a slightly different perspective of a flower bucket... or is it a bucket of flowers?  Anyway, it was part of a self-assigned exercise from the Shamhbala Center's Contemplative Photography book I'm reading. Your first inclination is to assume that you're looking at a wood wall with a flower box attached, right? Wrong!

While Suzanne was doing a couple of readings, I went kayaking on Lake Miona, only a few miles from the house. It's usually deserted, but on this day a husband and wife were launching their kayaks as I was pulling up. After a couple of Eskimo rolls, he paddled off in his whitewater playboat. These boats are very short, about 7 feet long, in comparison with our 15 foot touring kayaks. They are also highly maneuverable; a skilled paddler can do spins, enders, pirouettes and cartwheels. They are designed for surfing and playing in standing waves and holes on whitewater rivers and creeks, and typically do not travel very far from where they are playing. You will also note that the kayaker in question is wearing an industrial-strength hard hat (protective helmet) to protect his grey matter; these have model names like Chaos, Anarchy and Havoc, which gives you an idea of the type of turbulence and wild water (with rocks and tree trunks on the bottom) that whitewater kayakers typically inhabit. I used to be a w/w type, but in a rare moment of achieving common sense, decided to switch to much more serene and less hazardous sea kayaking, where you only have to worry about tides, currents, surf, fog, power boats, killer whales and sharks.

This was the view from my kayak that same day, when I decided to park the boat in some weeds for a few minutes and contemplate the sky and clouds above and a raft of coots in the distance... they are birds, not a bunch of old guys in canoes and kayaks.

These American Coots (Fulica americana) congregate in rafts of a hundred or so birds. They are often mistaken for ducks, but they are a separate order. One of the interesting habits of mother coots is that they often preferentially feed offspring with the brightest plume feathers, a characteristic known as chick ornaments, not to be mistaken for 30 year-old gals on the arms of 70-year old guys on cruise ships. (You just can't make this stuff up.) Back in Louisiana, where I grew up, coots are called pouldeau (contraction of poule d'eau, literally "water hen"), and are often cooked in gumbo. 

The coot is also the mascot of the Toledo Mud Hens, a professional AAA minor league baseball team affiliated with the Detroit Tigers. (I'm not being critical, but it looks like the team mascot's plumage does not quite match that of its namesake...)

These lily pads had very few blossoms, but one perfect bloom stood out amid the sea of green surrounding it. Floating lily pads often provide hiding places for water moccasins (Agkistrodon piscivorus), also known as cottonmouths, from their snow-white mouth linings. I am always attentive to the possibility of venomous snakes in my vicinity, especially since water moccasins are known for their aggressive behavior. On a canoe trip in South Carolina years ago, a large water moccasin tried to get into my daughter Elizabeth's canoe, and she had to beat it off with her paddle.

Several houses built along the shore had docks, and most had prominent plastic owls to scare off birds. The white stuff dripping from this owl's head appears to be a deposit from less than intimidated birds like this great blue heron (Ardea herodias) which appears totally unconcerned about the potential threat of the plastic owl he is sharing the dock with...

Finally, Suzanne and I had the great good fortune to meet up with our latest quiz winner, the lovely Colette Sasina and Her Handsome Husband John, high school sweethearts from the Detroit area. We had a delightful breakfast at First Watch (what a menu!). Colette and John retired to the area about 14 years ago and live in the Del Webb community. We shared personal histories and other stories, and laughed and laughed throughout our meal. We love meeting interesting, fun people, and Colette and John sure fit those descriptors!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Contemplative Photography? Flower Quiz Winner; "Ty, You Look Like a Dork!" A Local Hike; Veterans Day; A Long Bike Ride

As a former ship driver, I spent most of my adult life on the water. Living aboard and cruising our 46 foot sailboat Liberty from the US to Canada and the Bahamas, and then across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, gave us a perspective on time, teamwork, geography and weather that most people never get. Now we land cruise in our motor coach to mountains and deserts which are generally inaccessible to sailors. But we also have kayaks, which get wet whenever we have the time, water and weather to splash them. Our closest body of water, Lake Sumter, is unfortunately off limits to kayaks. There are several small boats permanently moored on the lake for decorative purposes, and Dragon boats are allowed to use the lake on a regular basis. 

This skiff moored off Lake Sumter Landing caught my eye early one morning while walking the puppies in t-o-w-n. I had been reading a book that My Lovely Bride got for me at the Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. The Practice of Contemplative Photography, by Andy Karr and Michael Wood, is based on spiritual lessons learned from Chogyam Trunpa Rinpoche, and helps photographers learn how to look and better see texture, light and color, especially in ordinary, daily experiences and surroundings. I had never thought that Buddhist teachings and meditation could have anything to do with photography, but Suzanne and this book have helped open my eyes, just a little...

The winner of our floral photo quiz is Colette Sasina, who correctly identified the flowering banana (Musa velutina musaceae) in Wednesday's blog. 

Friday found us driving to a nearby Wildlife Management Area (WMA) for a hike and birdwatching expedition with our friends and neighbors Bob and Jan. After my experience with "The Attack of the Man-eating Chiggers", I recommended that we all wear long pants tucked into our socks, heavily sprayed with industrial-grade bug spray. My Lovely Bride looked at me, ready for Chigger Combat, and started laughing hysterically. "Ty, you are not going out in public with your pants tucked into your socks like that. At least not with me! You look like a dork..." Well, I would rather look like a dork than be eaten alive by bugs a second weekend in a row, but I relented and reluctantly un-tucked my pants from my socks. (Brad, help me out on this one with some Forest Service regulation!)

The WMA staff foresters were doing a prescribed burn in an area through which the trail passed, so we turned around here rather than hiking through smoke and minor flames. Prescribed, or controlled, burns reduce the amount of brush that can feed a forest fire and allow certain species of trees to germinate more effectively.

A bulldozer had dozed a fire break in the dirt to keep any low flames from spreading, and workers with driptorches with a gasoline/diesel mix were spraying the dry grass and underbrush and setting it on fire. These burns are usually done in cooler weather, rather than in the heat of summer - today was in the high 60s/low 70s.

We chatted for a few minutes with one of the WMA staff, seen here in her all terrain vehicle (ATV). I am guessing that Bob might have been considering trading his four-seater golf cart in for one of these cool rides. It even has a winch on the front and a driptorch holder... much more cool than a simple cup holder.

On Tuesday, Veterans Day, we will honor those men and women who have served their country in the US Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard, particularly those who served in combat, lost their lives or were prisoners of war or missing in action (POW/MIA). At a local memorial, a separate display honors three local men who earned the Medal of Honor, our nation's highest combat award. The young men and women who serve today in the Global War on Terror (although that name is no longer politically correct) deserve special appreciation and respect for their service in the fight against Islamist fanatics and terrorists.

Finally, I was hoping that some of the readers of this blog would don their bicycle helmets and show up for Saturday's fundraiser bike ride, Cycling for Success. It was a brutally cold morning, down to 55 degrees F, as you can see by My Lovely Bride's warm but still snazzy biking togs.  Suzanne and I completed the ride, doing 42 and 62 miles, respectively. I think the "before and after" photos tell it all...

I was a bit of a wuss, electing to wear a windbreaker for the first 18 miles. But being a Southern boy, I am not used to winter weather (hey, it only got up to 70 today!). I was also fortunate in hooking up with a couple of fast pace lines, and was able to maintain a 19 mph average for the event. Suzanne was gracious enough not to take a photo of me after the race in my state of near-exhaustion (AKA "Death warmed over").