Thursday, February 25, 2016

Prissicion? Interst & Enviroment? Pancit and Lumpia; Tractors! Florida Trail; Hidden Pond; Pink; Florida Snow Golf?

I love signs. Not only are they (sometimes) informative, but they are often amusing. The first was observed on the back of a landscaping trailer here in The Villages. (I hope the owner is named "Prissi", but I'm not hopeful...)

The second sign was outside a local financial planning company (which shall go nameless, for military cooperation reasons)... the funniest thing about this sign was that when I mentioned the misspellings to the girl at the desk, she asked me, "Wow, were you an English teacher?" "No, I was a naval officer, but I had to write a lot." "Oh, that explains it; I'm the wife of a Navy yeoman, and the sign was written by a former Air Force guy. Wait until he hears he was pimped by the Navy!" Anchors Away, Birdman!!!

Those readers familiar with the US Navy know that during most of the 20th Century, and especially after WW II, thousands of sailors were recruited from the Philippines. Service in the US Navy was a path to good pay, training and citizenship for young men who otherwise would have few opportunities back home. When I served aboard ships from 1968 until 1990, many of our crewmen were born in the "P.I." Many were cooks and stewards, and for thousands of American sailors, their first taste of Asian cuisine was pancit, chicken or pork adobo, and lumpia served aboard ship or ashore in Subic Bay or Manila when their deployed ships pulled in for R&R during Vietnam. Suzanne's first taste of these culinary delights was at CINCLANTFLT headquarters in Norfolk, and more followed at every duty station until she retired. So it was no surprise that when we got married, pancit and lumpia were front and center on the serving line at our reception. 

Fast forward to last week, and she was having some physical therapy done on her elbow, and everyone in the office was from the Philippines. She mentioned our wedding menu, and after looks of amazement from the staff, one of the ladies said, "I'm bringing you pancit on your next visit." Sure enough, a few days later we were enjoying it at lunch, and then a few days later a gift of lumpia followed. The ladies also told her about a Filipino restaurant in Leesburg, so one day we took Suzanne's Lovely Mom Ruthie on an outing for lunch. As soon as Ruthie sat down, a cute little Filipina girl about 4 years old came over and starting talking to her and showing Ruthie her iPhone. They had a fun chat while we ordered.

The food was delicious and authentic, and every other diner surely used Tagalog as their primary language. We were the only Anglos there, and it brought back many fond memories to both of us retired Navy officers. For those in our area, you can find great food at very reasonable prices at the First Asian Grocery on Route 44 in Leesburg.

Two incidents that occurred on our outing bear recounting. On the drive to Leesburg, we were delayed in a traffic jam by a tractor parade crossing the road, complete with county sheriff escort. Imagine our surprise an hour or so later when we found ourselves in a deja vu moment when we got caught by the same parade in a different location. I'm not a tractor expert, but My Good Friend Bob (formerly Farmer Bob) could probably tell you more about this tractor than you ever thought possible. (They were apparently from a local tractor museum where Bob is said to have a lifetime membership.)


Speaking of outdoor activities, winter in Florida is a great time for backpacking on the Florida Trail, which runs from Pensacola to Miami. I got out this week for a two-day trip, which allowed me to lighten my backpack from the 40 lbs I was carrying on the Appalachian Trail to 22 lbs, a huge benefit. For example, I replaced my compressed gas backpacker's stove with a tiny Esbit fuel tab stove (weight savings: about 8 ounces).


My destination was Hidden Pond, a pretty spot to spend the night and a reliable water source. You would think that water isn't a problem while hiking in Florida, but the sandy soil and karst limestone geology makes for unusual water hydrology. Rainfall is soaked up quickly, and while there are lots of ponds scattered about, they are often surrounded by muddy marsh, and reliably-flowing creeks are actually quite few and far between. I arrived at Hidden Pond late in the day, and thought about a quick dip, but (a) there might be a lurking gator looking for dinner, and (b) I hadn't brought a swim suit, and even though I hadn't seen a soul in hours, fer sure if I went skinny-dipping, a troop of Girl Scouts would arrive and I would be caught in flagrante delicto, so to speak... "not a pretty sight"...

I pitched my luxurious, not-politically-correct, one-man tent in a grove of live oaks festooned with Spanish moss. I was careful not to set up under any large overhanging limbs (called "widow-makers" by backpackers) and had a home-freeze-dried dinner of chicken with a cherry sauce. (Note to self: remember to bring the salt next time; MLB uses none when cooking, and I forgot that necessary spice when packing.) A walk around the area gave me a sense of solitude, wilderness and tragedy; this was the site of the brutal murders of two college students by a 19 year old psychopath in 2006. Sentenced to life without parole, he later killed his cellmate. (Sometimes "solitary" isn't such a bad idea.) I had no other neighbors, probably for five miles in any direction, except for the owls, Sandhill cranes and a pack of coyotes who gave me a reveille call for about five minutes just before sunrise. It was only a little unnerving listening to the pack's yips and howls; attacks on humans are exceedingly rare.

I only met one other overnight backpacker on my two day outing on the FT in Ocala National Forest. Alex is from Ukraine, and was out for a week or so. That's about the limit of food one can carry, and that's eating light. Alex saw my Ocala Half Marathon tee-shirt and mentioned that he was also a marathoner, with a personal best time of 3:09; mine was 3:12, back when I was Alex's age... gosh, that was more than 5 years ago, as I recall. Alex and I met while I was watching some Sandhill cranes; he was about 25 yards away listening to "a strange noise"; I helped him with the identification of a big bull gator making mating sounds (a low guttural rumble like a motorcycle starting up in the distance). We chatted, and he mentioned thinking about walking closer to the gator to get a picture for friends back in Ukraine, since the marsh grass was in the way. "Um, Alex, that might not be the best idea you've ever had..."  

I would like to thank our good friend Lynette Setzkorn from Tulsa for a very thoughtful brass key chain/dog tag she sent me with some lyrics from a Pink song. I think that Lynette was surprised that an old guy like me would like Pink's work. Hey, I appreciate talent when I hear it, and she has such a subdued, "girl-next-door" style...

Finally, I received a missive the other night from our great buddy in Colorado, Army Colonel "Crusty" Charles Cunis, who was making fun of Floridians for wearing parkas with hoods, gloves and boots when the temperature drops to 72F. To prove the Good Colonel's disparaging remarks wrong, I sent him the following photo of a Florida golfer ready for an evening on the links when the temp actually reached a frigid 59F, and as you can see, he's not even wearing boots! Crusty can send his spare snow shovel to Terri of the Frozen North, who has far more need for it than us Floridians...

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Jet Lag; Two Lusty Gals; Dogs in Bags; A Concert Out; Winter Park; No Xena Outfit for Suzanne; What Is She Doing?

As I age (somewhat gracefully, one hopes), jet lag is getting tougher to take. For almost two weeks after our return from New Zealand, while My Lovely Bride adapted very quickly and slept like an angel, I was awaking between 0200 and 0300, and often not getting back to sleep at all. I would go for long walks in our neighborhood, when the only other humans out were the community watch and the newspaper guy. It wasn't all bad - middle of the night walks are great for reflection, listening to music (headphones, not a boom box held up to my ear, although the boom box option would have provided an extra upper body workout and given my neighbors an opportunity to enjoy my music... hmmm...), observing the night sky and sunrise, and of course the benefit of exercise itself. But sleep is a glorious invention, and my mental state was suffering more than usual from the disruption of my circadian clock. After all, 0200 is when the body is normally enjoying the deepest sleep of the cycle.

Finally back on a regular sleep schedule, we are back in the routine of Life in The Villages. One of our favorite pastimes is mountain biking, and last week we loaded our trusty Giant bikes on the car's rack and drove to Santos Trailhead. We were a half hour into our ride, having seen nary a single other rider, when we stopped for a water break. We heard wheels behind us, and through the woods came a young couple wearing Team Giant jerseys. Jess and Joel Nankman were obviously professional riders, and as we chatted, we noticed that their bikes were basically the same as ours, although theirs were the top-of-the-line professional models and ours a notch or two below; the guys were riding Giant Anthems and the women Giant Lusts. Of course we joked about the girls being "lusty". (You just can't make this stuff up.) Based in PA, Jess and Joel travel around the East Coast racing for Team Giant (the men's team) and Team Liv (the women's team), living out of a van with their Lab Clifford. Both of these riders have dozens of trophies and podium finishes to their credit, and we truly admire their skill and stamina. 

Speaking of dogs, our Dachshunds Rudy and Gretchen are glad to have us back from New Zealand, although we wondered whether their surrogate parents Marc and Maureen would dog-nap them before we got home. We learned from neighbors that our puppies were even more spoiled by our dog/house-sitters than by us, and there were some hang-dog expressions on the puppies' faces when M&M left to return to North Carolina. If we ever go away on a trip again, we'll know who to call to make our pups happy. We recently took Rudy and Gretchen out on hikes to the Cross-Florida Greenway and to Sumter Landing, carrying them in our backpacks. We would have walked them beside us, but Rudy in particular cannot go five feet without sniffing and marking his territory. 

We got to visit the new Sharon Morse Performing Arts Center here in The Villages for an Amore performance by renowned tenor Fernando Varela and his amazingly talented wife Susan Williams. Here we see Suzanne and Her Lovely Mom Ruthie in our front row center seats (I happened to see the ad in the paper on the day the concert was first announced, and ran down to the ticket office to be first in line for this splendid performance.) We also enjoyed the inspired pianist William Joseph and an amazing violinist, the lovely Molly Rogers.

We were able to get away"off the compound" for a day trip with friends "to Winter Park, FL, near Orlando. Gayle and Bill Hancock (on the left) and Donna and Ron Virgilio (on the right) were great companions for lunch at a Turkish restaurant (awesome naan bread), a visit to the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum (world-famous collection of Tiffany glass, but no photos allowed, darn it!), a brief stop at the Wine Room for teeny libations, and a grocery run to Trader Joe's. Thanks, Ron, for being the Designated Driver!  

While in Winter Park, we saw several unusual trees in the town's Central Park. I think this one was designed to stop our Rudy from marking it... ouch... talk about cruel and unusual punishment!

The weather here in central Florida has been glorious, warm sunny days and cool nights, even better than that in Minnesnowta and the Northeast. Yes, Terri, I know that Coon Rapids (center of the Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul Dogsled District) has been having a heat wave courtesy of El Nino; and our good friends Mike and Beth Pasakarnis (Wolf's parents) have been enjoying some decent weather in Mashpee, Mass, on Cape Cod, after a recent snowstorm. After seeing the extensive glacial valley-cutting in New Zealand during our recent trip, I won't belabor the arguments against global warming, but simply say that warmer winters are not necessarily all bad. These smiling tourists are obviously not chilled to the bone.

Valentine's Day provided an opportunity to take My Lovely Bride out for a fabulous dinner at the Arnold Palmer Country Club here in The Villages. The food was exceptional and my date was beautiful. What more could a guy ask for?

On a sad note, I have to admit to failing on one of my important assignments while Down Under. Before we left, our dear friend Terri of the Frozen North (TOTFN) asked me to find one of her childhood heroines and get an autograph. I looked and looked, but could not find Xena Warrior Princess or her blonde sidekick Gabrielle; and given their leather and steel outfits with sword and spear, they should have been easy to find. Maybe they had taken a vacation to Ely, MN, to go ice fishing... but not in those skimpy clothes! (I offered to buy Suzanne a black warrior princess rig like Xena is wearing, you know, for special occasions, but got a Harumph! and a Smack! for my initiative. Sigh...)

Finally, this photo of My Lovely Bride working at our kitchen table provides a bit of mystery... what IS she doing??? The answer suggests yet another reason in addition to my jet lag why I have not been blogging as often as usual lately.  More info to follow in days and weeks ahead...