Monday, March 19, 2018

Up Close and Personal; Odds and Ends; Hammocks and Philodendron; Snakes; Pole Dancers? Prezzies!

The Up Close and Personal workshop just finished here in The Villages, Florida, and about 180 very excited attendees were treated to an exciting two days with two fabulous mediums, My Lovely Bride Suzanne and Susanne Wilson, the Carefree Medium (she resides in Carefree, Arizona, near Scottsdale and Phoenix). Suzanne and Susanne met in Cave Creek, AZ, a couple of years ago, and found that they had a lot in common, both spiritually and personally. They will be giving their Up Close and Personal Workshop again on May 19 and 20 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. See for more info. 

Bev Garlipp, Suzanne's assistant, did most of the advance planning for the event. Diane Calderon, Susanne's assistant, flew in from AZ, and with Bev did all of the shopping for food and beverages, manned the registration table, etc. The weekend would not have been successful without their hard work. Thanks also to Meri Lynn for ensuring refreshments were always ready for the attendees and to Bob Vance for helping me with book and CD sales. (Regrets for not having gotten their photos...)

We enjoyed a delightful dinner with Bev, Susanne and Diane one evening. Susanne provided fresh shrimp from the Spanish Springs farmers' market - she lived in South Florida for 18 years, and finds the seafood here much more fresh and tasty than back in Arizona.

Suzanne's Lovely Mom Ruthie (aged 90!) joined the workshop for awhile and was a hit with the attendees, so many of whom have met her over the years Suzanne has been speaking at events here in The Villages! 

It hasn't been all work - recently we went for a local hike at the Flat Island Preserve in Leesburg, FL. Surrounded by the Okahumpka Marsh, Flat Island (named because of the lack of 5,000 ft peaks?) provides a pleasant 4 mile loop trail and several side trails through lush hardwood hammocks. The term hammock describes slightly elevated land, often surrounded by marshes, that has humus-rich soil and hardwood trees such as live oaks, sweetgums, and hickories, as well as varieties of palms. 

On a spur off the main trail, a boardwalk wound through the marsh/swamp. This reflection in the water of the trees and sky above was worth several minutes of study... fortunately, there were no mosquitoes or no-see-ums around to bother us.

For those readers living in the desert, look at what you're missing. This is a real Florida cypress swamp. Think of the neat creepy-crawlies living here... alligators, water moccasins, copperheads, snapping turtles, zillions of biting bugs, armadillos, raccoons, opossums, even black bears and Florida panthers. And often you don't see them until you step on them! What great fun!!!!

The weather has been near-perfect for the past month. Here is a shot of Lake Sumter, where a sunken coastal oil tanker resides until it rusts away. That's a dragon boat with a crew of Villages residents training for a race in the background. Who said retirement meant sitting around in a rocking chair?

The beautiful Spring weather has also allowed me to get out into our yard to repair some frost damage to our shrubs, plants and trees. Unfortunately, while digging a hole for some new azaleas, my trusty shovel penetrated one of the irrigation lines. Sadly, I didn't notice it immediately - only after a big hole appeared under one of the azaleas. I first thought. "sinkhole", but remembering a previous event on this subject, I turned on the irrigation and found that I had created an underground spring. Fortunately, we have a new Lowes just 12 minutes away where I could find the right parts.  Suzanne was impressed at my plumbing skills that allowed me to fix my own boo-boo!

The frost damage I mentioned was the result of a February cold snap that brought 24F temps. One of the most damaged plants was this philodendron (Philodendron bipinnatifidum) - what a cool name! With some careful pruning and TLC, it is recovering, and the second photo looks much better than the first.  (Yes, I do talk to plants!)

Our back yard is adjacent to a golf course. Recently we took a sunset stroll along the golf cart path. We always keep Rudy and Gretchen on very short leads -they are always looking for squirrels, but the pesky rodents must have been out at the acorn bar.

Another reason to keep our puppies on short leads is so that they do not find some of the less friendly local residents, like this 3 foot long snake... it may have been a poisonous copperhead, but I didn't want to get that close to ask him his name.

As the last rays of the setting sun were splashing through the massive live oak grove, Suzanne again displayed her enSuzyasm, saying with great glee, "We live here!" I echoed her happiness with a quiet, "Yes, and it's gotta be better than Boston with three feet of snow this week..." 

My Lovely Bride recently called me up while she was shopping, and asked if I minded if she got a rather large angel statue for the garden. Being a sensitive, New Age-kinda guy, I thought about it for a moment and said gently, "Of course, My Sweet, you can get an angel statue... as long as I can get a statue of a pole dancer." There was a silence on the line, and then I heard, "We'll talk about it when I get home..." In any case, Angela now resides near the philodendron I mentioned previously.

Shortly thereafter, this cartoon appeared in our local newspaper... and I reminded MLB that I was still looking for just the right statue for my part of the yard, but when I found her, she would be called Angelique. I think that's a very tasteful name...

Finally, lest some women think that I am a total misogynist Neanderthal, I will have you know that I often get Suzanne surprise gifts (affectionately called "prezzies"). Why, just recently, I ordered her 40 of her favorite Pilot G-2 07 pens. (Hey, the diamond and sapphire bracelet I wanted to get her from Neiman Marcus was sold out.) Even I was amazed how grateful and excited she can get when I am truly thoughtful...

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

February Activities; Chassahowitza River; Raccoons, Manatees and Vultures; Florida Trail Work; Mavis Pittilla; Gator Bites; Scrubbing Floors

Goodness, how time flies. Seems like just last week we returned from our 2017 Messages of Hope Summer Tour. Now it's only three weeks until we get underway for our 2018 voyage. Since I'm working on trip planning and taxes this week, I'll make this post short. Well, I promise to try...

The weather here in Florida has been very warm, so we got our kayaks out and visited a new stream, the Chassahowitza River. It is a beautiful river, but make sure you visit mid-week. Weekends are likely to be insane with hundreds of visitors in power boats, kayaks and canoes.

This blue hole marks the outlet of a fresh water spring that delivers 72F water out of the underlying limestone, which is cut with underground channels and caverns like a block of Swiss cheese...

This photo shows My Lovely Bride (MLB) in her red fiberglass kayak, watching some locals patrol the waterfront...

This raccoon (Procyon lotor) family is out looking for lunch... there were four of them, but hard to catch in the same frame. We were only 15 feet away, and they must have been used to humans, because they didn't appear at all frightened of us.

As we finished up our paddling adventure, Suzanne had a Close Encounter of the Manatee Kind... there were several Florida manatees (Tritrechus manatus latirostrus) grazing on sea grasses near the kayak takeout. 

This manatee decided to scratch his (her?) back on Suzanne's kayak. These docile mammals can live to 60 years of age. 

A manatee mom was nursing her calf right alongside or kayaks... it was a tender moment, to be sure.

Manatees also nibble on marine algae that adheres to boat hulls, which cuts down the hull cleaning that we had to do after our paddle!

These 50 or so turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) were circling in spirals above the river - making me wonder if they knew something about this old paddler that I didn't... fortunately, I wasn't their mid-day repast!

I got out in the woods on a Florida Trail Association (FTA) work hike with a dozen or so other volunteers. The recent hurricanes had knocked down thousands of trees, many of which fell across the Florida National Scenic Trail. It was a great day to be out in nature and helping clear some of the debris from a small segment of the 1,300 mile Florida Trail, which runs from Lake Okeechobee near Miami to Fort Pickens, close to the Florida-Alabama state line.

Back at home, Suzanne gave a talk to The Villages Energy Meditation Group, and had a standing room only crowd at Miona Rec Center. 

We made a fun trip "off campus" to St. Petersburg to visit our great friends Anthony and Annette Baker aboard their recently acquired 1996 Kadey Krogen 42 trawler. A2 (their nickname) were previously sailors, having cruised their 1990 Morgan 42 sloop Magnolia up and down the East Coast and to the Bahamas for several years. 

Then they sold their sailboat and "went to the dark side", and are now on a "stinkpot" - actually a beautiful power boat that they are restoring to perfect Bristol condition. We envy them their new ship and their lifestyle...

While with Anthony and Annette, we made a side trip to Mazzaro's Italian Grocery and Deli in St. Pete - if you haven't been there, it's as close to a real Italian grocery as you can find in Florida. There are also some statues outside that are quintessentially "Dago"... I can say that word without offense because my grandmother's side of the family were d'Antonios, from down near Naples (Italy, not Florida!). I wanted to make an offer on this statue and put it in our front yard in The Villages, but was told in no uncertain terms, "No, Ty, we don't have room for her in the car!" Darn... I thought about suggesting that I leave Suzanne there at Mazzaro's for a couple of hours while I drove her home, but common sense and self-preservation prevailed... Sigh...

Back to Suzanne's events - this is Rudy standing by (under) the book table. I normally man that position, but thought that I could train Rudy to sell books and CDs. He's very personable, but hasn't quite picked up on using an iPad. There is hope though, and the ladies all love him!

At home in The Villages, we often meet people with "interesting" pasts. This car's license plate caught my eye - one wonders whether the owner was a Russian spy or is named Kim or Kacey...

This time of year it's common to find hundreds of American white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) in our ponds. They actually form lines (here we see a pelican phalanx) and herd small fish into the shallows where they are easy prey. In the summer, these beautiful birds can be found as far north as Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada.

Recently, Suzanne's radio show, aired every Thursday afternoon and archived for those who miss it live (see featured a discussion of finding the silver linings after a loved one's passing. When the show ended, we went outside to see this brilliantly illuminated cloud formation, and couldn't miss the significance of the timing.  And speaking of good timing, Suzanne is taking advantage of having a special guest in town, medium Mavis Pittilla, to interview in person in this week's radio show episode ...

Over the past week we have been fortunate to have Suzanne's friend and colleague, Mavis Pittilla, and her partner Jean Else, visiting from Manchester, UK, to teach Mavis's popular mediumship class. As part of their Florida indoctrination, we took them to Gator Joe's, a lakeside restaurant (okay, a "dive") on Lake Weir. 

The sunset view was stunning, but this seemingly serene photo belies the reality of the noise and music inside the restaurant. 

We convinced Mavis and Jean that they had to try some gator bites (small pieces of deep-fried alligator tail) and hush puppies. The latter were better received than the former... but Mavis was impressed by the alligator jaws on a side table.

Our good friends Lois and Elaine joined us that evening, and have also been showing Mavis and Jean around the area. All the gals walked onto the beach for a photo op with this big gator (I assured them he was concrete, and everyone made it to the cars with all limbs intact...)

Finally, I have to thank our dear friend Irene Vouvalides, who was made famous in Suzanne's latest book, Still Right Here, for her daily cleaning of the boat decks by using her feet wrapped in washcloths. (Yes, Irene also does this at home, and has the cleanest floors in Hilton Head, SC!) We were having dinner guests over one night, and My Lovely Bride was getting her nails done and visiting Her Lovely Mom Ruthie, so I decided to scrub the floors. I took a note from Irene's playbook, and scrubbed and dried the floors using my feet! Spectacular results, and far less strain on my back than using the scrub brushes that MLB left for me to use. Whoops... I was just kidding... Smack!!!!