Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Dog Tired

It was a cold night here in normally warm central Florida - in fact in most of the continental USA. Our Canadian friends sent down a lot of their excess freezing weather and the jet stream did the rest. Thanks a lot, people !

Being the weather freak that I am ( by that I mean I religiously monitor the 3, yes 3, temperature display units in this 5th wheel which show indoor and outdoor temps and I've more weather sites in my favs than just about any other subject - except sport of course), I was expecting it to be cold, but not THAT cold.

I'd bought an electric blanket on our way down here from snowy Michigan at the end of October but that was mainly for the overnight stops twixt there and here. I did NOT expect to have to ever use it once we arrived and so it was packed away in the far recesses of some cupboard.

So last night at midnight or thereabouts, I blew up my inflatable doll....sorry, mattress, threw down the sleeping bag, covered the lot with one of those lovely soft throw blankets and climbed in for the night. I moved one of the little temperature display units so it was in my eyeline as I had a feeling I might be looking at it sometime in the wee small hours - and how right I was.

About 2:45am I woke and my immediate thoughts were........oh heck, I'm cold ! My thoughts are VERY polite and well mannered at 2:45am.

I reached an arm out of the 'not so warm anymore' sleeping bag, grabbed my little keychain torch and flashed the beam on the temperature unit. It was 41F outside and not much warmer inside at 52F. I lay there trying to decide if I could be bothered getting up, finding the electric blanket, introducing it to my sleeping bag and settling back to try and sleep all without totally waking myself up.

I let lazyness win and just curled up inside the sleeping bag and eventually drifted off to sleep - dreaming of being inside a tent near the Pole and some idiot opening the flap and muttering something about having to pee and how he might be some time.

At 8am, Pixie decided to leave the relative comfort of the other end of the 5th wheel as she felt we'd all slept long enough and it was time we were all up and about. And she'd start with me. So she bounced up on top of the soft throw, which she loves, moved slowly up and down my body and finally nestled down on my back, pushing me deeper into the blow up mattress. I didn't move. She then moved onto phase 2 and padded up to my half buried head and started sniffing the back of it. She knows not to lick me and this is the best she can do and it's almost as annoying as I just know her wet tongue is centimeters from my skin and the stress and tension of wondering if she'll brave my anger by taking a sly lick is much worse than if she actually did the deed.

I gave in and got up. I packed up my bedding, deflated the mattress and put it all away. It was still way too cold so I fired up the furnace and left it running for almost an hour until the temp rose to a more comfortable 65F. The sky was blue and the sun was doing it's best but it was still only 50F outside. I fixed coffee and had cereal and decided to go for a walk to try and undo some of the Christmas eating excesses.

I left at 10:45am and as this wasn't a time I'd normally be out and about here, I saw all sorts of new sights for me. I was immediately struck by how busy it was on the park roads. Cars, golf carts, bikers and walkers were all over the place and cheery greetings filled the slightly chilly air. Being the brave (and stupid) Brit I am, I was out in a polo shirt and shorts whilst everyone I paased had on full arctic gear with wooly thermals underneath. You could hear the cracking of joints from afar and asthmatic wheezings mixed with bird songs to create a sort of geriatric dawn chorus.

I strode along with purpose and old fashioned British pride. Longjohns, pah ! Sweat pants, pah. Fleece lined jacket and matching trousers, double pah ! The dew on my thin polo shirt glistened in the morning sun and the soft hairs on my bare legs rapidly congealed with the early signs of ice buildup. Ok, I exaggerate but it was uncomfortably cold for the start of the walk although as I heated up, so did the weather and after 20 minutes or so, I was warm, in full trot mode and enjoying myself.

I went down past the bocce ball courts and as I approached the lake, I came across a gaggle of golf carts (what IS the collective term anyway ??) seemingly being pulled by tiny dogs. Was this some sort of practice for a little known Florida version of the Alaskan Iditarod ? No, it was simply what passes for walking your dog here in Buttonwood Bay. The owners would drive along in their golf carts with little Flossy or Mitzy running behind, alongside or in most cases, ahead. From a distance it looked like the dogs were indeed pulling the golf carts - although given the size of most of the pets here in the park, this would be a feat of strength beyond anything found in the Guinness Book of Records. It was a joy to behold.

I went along the edge of the lake, along several of the park roads and ended up back at the bocce courts and finally at the Cafe On The Lake - which I discovered was closed due to the cold weather ! Wimps. The sign on the side of the unit has a few reasons for the cafe being closed and the staff can cover over the ones which do not apply. The main ones are cold and rain but I noted with some amusement that 'crappy' was there as well. I doubt if that would be enough of a reason on it's own and I think it would always be used in conjunction with one of the other reasons. Like today......the sign said......closed due to cold crappy weather. I'd have thought that a nice warming cup of soup and a 1/2 pound bacon cheeseburger would've been just the thing on a day like today but I guess they know their customers well enough by now and when the temps are under 60F, no one here wants to sit out and eat food and risk hyperthermia. Maybe oxygen tanks freeze up at such 'low' temperatures or walkers ice over or something. I donno. In any case the cafe was closed and I walked back to the 5th wheel to relax after my 90 minute walk.

And to think I would've missed it all if Pixie hadn't decided to use me as her personal treadmill !
God bless her little hairy paws. Same time tomorrow, eh ???

Monday, December 25, 2006

A Merry Christmas To One And All

My first blog on a Christmas Day. Actually it's 11pm here in darkest Florida but back home in Blighty it's Christmas Day so there.

Speaking of darkness, I can't believe how quickly the evenings seem to be lengthening down here near the Equator. I know we're nowhere near the Equator but it sounded good in my head.
Yes a few days ago the sun was setting just after 5pm and by 5:30pm you'd need a torch to see the oldies out walking their dogs.........or sometimes the other way around ! But tonight I happened to glance outside at 5:45pm and it was bright ! I mean bright enough to be teeing up on the 17th hole with some confidence that you'd be in the bar before dark. That bright. And it wasn't even a blue sky day today either....pretty nasty with clouds and heavy rain. So at this rate it should be light till 10pm by the end of next week. I wish.

As a slight aside, a friend here gave us a little gizmo to put on Pixie's collar to help when she goes walkies at night. It's a glass sphere slightly smaller than a golf ball and when activated, it flashes red and certainly catches the eye. It wouldn't be out of place in a disco or even outside a window in certain parts of Amsterdam. That's hearsay of course !!

Anyway we dutifully strapped it onto Pixie's collar and right away we saw it wouldn't do....oh no, wouldn't do at all. Being a long haired miniature dachshund, she's slung so low to the ground that the ball was dragging along as she walked. This may have been partly due to her not liking it and so dropping her head even more than nature intended.

She does not like wearing ANYTHING and previous attempts to get her into so called 'cute' doggie attire have failed miserably. She'd stand still, look up pathetically at us and refuse to budge until the offending article was removed. She'd never get on in Hollywood.

This is a photo from 2000 and her first winter. We thought she'd appreciate a little jacket to keep her warm outside - but as you can see, the phrase 'hangdog expression' was seemingly created just for her.
The sensible warm jacket was returned and world order was restored.

So when we had to remove the flashing ball, she felt she'd won again. The ball was removed and she was a happy pooch. We saw it as a draw really as we never take her walking at night anyway but the flashing ball was just so darn cute that we wished it had worked out.

Back to Christmas Eve here in the park and it was Sunday business as usual with 1pm Bocce Ball. My days of hard practicing simply showed that practice means nothing in this game and I ended up by playing 2 and losing 2. It was still good fun and I'm going to miss Bocce when I go home. I may just pop along to Roundhay Park and try and get a game of Crown Green Bowls and really cement my position as a senior citizen.

We agreed we'd have a much scaled down Christmas this year as far as pressie giving goes. I don't think any of us listened though as there are plenty of gaily wrapped boxes around the little table tree and our 3 large knitted stockings are bulding with goodies. I'm not too bothered if Santa can't cope with trailers as we're all set here without him coming and anyway, I'm not all that sure that he even exists. I know. I know. It's a shocking admission but I feel so much better for getting it off my chest.

Well my laptop decided to power off again and it's taken me a while to retype all my ramblings and so it's now Christmas Day here too. Woooohooooo.

I'm glad in a way as now I can really say "Happy Christmas" to each and every one of you who read these posts (I still wish you'd leave comments now and then) and I hope you continue to drop in for a read during 2007.

Gotta go as I can't be awake when Santa comes calling. Yes I know what I said before but it's like being an atheist on his deathbed. I mean, can I take the risk HE might exist ?? Better to believe just in case !!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Young At Heart

I've used the expression "only in America" a lot on this trip and since coming here to our park in central Florida, I've even had to adapt it to "only in Buttonwood Bay"

Age is no barrier to having fun and taking part in fun activities and this was brought home last night with the annual Christmas Golf Cart Parade followed by a cookie fest and entertainment in the rec hall. Just about everyone either took part or turned up for the festivities and a grand evening was had by one and all. Well actually I'd better not claim that as who knows......some may have fallen asleep or not liked parts of the evening and come on, we WERE up after 8pm by the end of it all.

The parade started at 5:30pm at the far end of the park and as it was due to snake along most of the internal streets/roads before ending at the large rec building, we couldn't be sure when it would get to where we'd decided to watch it.

In the end we drove OUR sadly undecorated cart down the hill and just stayed with some friends along the edge of the road which led to the building. We soon had lots more residents eagerly joining us and by 6pm it was almost like we were awaiting the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade in NYC. Almost !

Several 'non parade' carts went by from to time containing people heading for the rec building to be there for the food and entertainment and each one got ironic applause from the gathered watchers and this elicited cheery waves from the occupants. Some seemed to be suggesting they were the No.1 cart that wasn't in the parade but of course I may have interpreted the raised middle finger the wrong way. Well it was dark after all !!!

After wating for over an hour (just how big IS this park ??!!!) the cry went up that the carts were coming and we all perked up. I'd taken a few test shots of the non parade carts to try and get the right camera settings, but in the end I decided to just leave it on 'auto' and keep my fingers crossed. There would definitely be no time for altering settings as carts went by.

As with any decent Christmas parade, Santy Claus and his missus led from the front and as their cart was also in the competition, we immediately knew that there were 22 more carts to come. No getting past us, y'know.

Thankfully there were few visiting kids around as after this parade leading Santa went by, another one and his wife came along. Very confusing for the young and probably just as confusing for a lot of the oldies.
Remember that in here, confusion comes as standard.

The second manifestation of the festive duo was actually more impressive than the first - mainly due to their cart having got an extension. This was obviously the 'well-to-do' Santa who had invested well over the years and together with a good pension and stock market portfolio, was the Santa version of Bill Gates.

We watchers applauded and gasped in a suitable fashion.

One of my favourite carts came soon after as it was made up to look like a

sled. I found this very impressive and it was obvious that a lot of time and effort had gone into it's design.

In the darkness it was actually easy to forget it was, in fact, a golf cart at all. It was the only one that was like this and although some others may have been more impressively decorated, you STILL knew they were just that - decorated golf carts.

I think my vote would've gone to this one for this deception alone.

There had been a buzz around the park for days that someone had removed the top of their cart and added a full sized (and lit) Christmas tree on a platform on the back.

Suddenly it came along and what a sight it was ! Sadly my camera thought it was just too bright for it's liking and took a pathetic shot of it.

Take my word for it (and after all that's all you CAN take - darn my photographic inadequacies), it was awesome.

There was also a cart which reminded us of home - or my my case, my adopted home. Along came a Michigan cart which won a hearty cheer and much whistling from my friends.

I love the irony that a similar cart in a parade in Michigan right now would be stuck in several feet of snow.

Have I mentioned recently how much I'm loving winter in Florida ??!!

I'm loving winter in Florida.

I kept expecting to hear "It's A Small World" or some such Disney type music blaring out as this parade was certainly worthy of being held there.

Once all the carts had passed us by, they parked at the side of the rec building so everyone who wanted to vote for their favourites could have closer inspections. This was definitely needed as much of the detailed work on the carts wasn't obvious at the speed at which they passed us in the parade. I was anxious to examine the 'Bocce' cart which had been decorated by our team mates - who had been fortified by copious amounts of beer and pizza by all accounts.

It brought a tear to my eye. Such craftsmanship, such attention to detail, such expert planning, such a waste of beer !!!

I'll just include one more photo of the carts as any more and I may lose my readers !

This one impressed me as the design and materials used really made it look like it was snow covered.

I'd have given it an award for sure.

It was a prime example of a cart that needed close inspection and again I think the organisers did a great job by having all the carts parked up like this. We were able to walk among them and see what hard work and effort had gone into their creation.

Of course most of the residents had dived inside to get seated at the tables. A lot of park dwellers had gone back to their home states to be with loved ones at Christmas but the rec building was still packed to it's rafters and the air was blue with good natured swearing and cussing as walking frames, oxygen tanks, sticks and other appliances tried to be located next to their owners.

I'm joking......but it was noisy. There are 940 units of one shape or size in this park and I think we may have had squatters or something as it seemed like thousands had turned up for the cookies on offer.

While we all got settled or mingled before getting settled, you could pay $1 for charity and have your pic taken with Mr. & Mrs. Claus and even sit on their knees if you felt so inclined. I assume they were residents too and so would've had relatively aged knees so I felt for them when robust, if not quite portly, residents would go the whole nine yards and plonk themselves down on them.

To my knowledge, no one went crashing in an undignified heap so it was all good fun and hopefully lots of money was raised.

I do wonder at the photographs which will be winging their way via email to the families of these people.

Little Britney and Clint will be looking online and asking their folks.....hey mom/dad, just what medication is nana and gramps on down there ???

Similarly confused and bewildered parents will be replying.....shushhhhh kids. They're happy and medicare is paying for it all !!!

And so the evening wore on and it was cookie time. We all lined up by table and went along the kitchen serving area and picked what we wanted from an incredible assortment of colourful freshly baked goodies.

I mentally asked my cardiologist to look the other way and snapped up about half a dozen of the little artery cloggers and took them back to my seat.

Soon the only sounds in the room were of teeth (real and false) clicking and clacking as half a ton of sweet sweet items were devoured. While not exactly a feeding frenzy, it reminded me of a documentary I'd watched years ago of a pride of lions, or maybe jackels, pulling apart some unfortunate, but thankfully dead, wildebeest. Withered but amazingly stong forearms were a blur and crumbs went flying everywhere and by the time the announcer went to the stage to bring a start to the next phase of the evening, the tables were as bare as the special offers section of WalMart at 5:05am on Black Friday.

We were fed and ready to be entertained.

It turned out that to start with, we had to be the ones to entertain ourselves as communal carol singing was first up.

Led by an enthusiastic little group of singers on stage, we were asked to pick up the carol lyric sheets on each table and basically let it rip. No, not rip the sheets, silly, but sing along with verve and gusto.

Didn't these people notice the oxygen cylinders for goodness sake ?? Many of the assembled audience probably couldn't remember the last time they'd done ANYTHING with much gusto. Ok get your thoughts out of the gutter !!

At this point we did have a potentially nasty moment as some bright spark (maybe not the most apt choice of words) decided to lay down some sort of festive atmosphere by dimming the lights so much that all you could see was the odd twinkling glass eye and a plethera of pearly white dentures. There were low mutterings which soon swelled to loud complaints that no one could now see the carol sheets. If it's one thing I've learned from my time here it's that oldies do NOT put up quietly with things that upset, annoy or generally tick them off.

And quite right too.

So if the sight of hundreds of residents sarcastically raising their carol sheets high above their heads as if to read by moonlight wasn't enough to get the point across, then the din of many more hundreds of geriatric voices wailing their disapproval did the trick - as the lights came back on again and the singing got going.

After that, those who were still able to breathe unaided settled down to listen to the pros. I use the word in a VERY general sence. Some sort of comedy sketch began and we just knew it wasn't going to be up to much as the announcer and chief sketchee warned us there had been no rehearsal and basically she'd no idea what was coming herself.

Lets just say it truely lived down to her expectations and draw a veil over it all. We were all stuffed with cookies and it was close to 8pm so what did we care ?

We did get 3 songs from some 3rd placed 'winner' of a local version of American Idol and although she struggled with some of the notes of Robbie Williams' "Angel", she found her feet with a more upbeat and easier to sing Christmas carol and ended with a song so memorable that I've totally forgotten what it was.

She looked good and was young enough to be my daughter - oh ok my granddaughter - and so was very pleasing on the eye if not the ear.

Finally we had the awards for the winners of the best decorated carts and houses in various categories and suddenly the event was over and the stampede to get home was on. With the benefit of having lived through a similar situation at Thanksgiving, we stayed back a few minutes to let the hoards get out ahead of us as the last thing you need a week before Christmas Day is to have a toe crushed by a speeding oxygen tank or worse still, find yourself in a walking frame sandwich. These people can be vicious when bedtime comes a-callin' and they are not at home.

Once the sounds of squeeling tyres and the smell of burning rubber had gone, we ventured out into the balmy night air and went home ourselves. As we drove along the road and looked at the wonderfully decorated houses with their blaze of Christmas lights merrily twinkling and sending out festive cheer, I decided that these aging residents, who could so easily have sat back and done little or nothing for Christmas, had put to shame many of lesser years who simply shop themselves into debt and call it 'a good Christmas'.

These people gave us all a very prized commodity- their time. As with all things here in Buttonwood Bay, it was given without any wish for payment but just thanks and gratitude and I for one wish to give both in adundance.

Happy Christmas, Buttonwood Bay.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Tis The Season

Well we finally gave in to our own pressure yesterday and bought a Christmas tree.

It's all of 3 feet tall and is sitting proudly on the dining table. Well we ARE in a 5th wheel after all so couldn't go mad with some 7 ft monstrosity that Pixie would probably pull down anyway.

Dennis hasn't seen it yet but as I type this, there is movement in the bedroom - which of course translates to movement all over the trailer ! We hope he'll be delighted with the surprise although the effect won't be as great as it's 9am and although it's a dull start to the day, it's quite bright in here. Deb and I put up the tree late last night after he had gone to bed and we've never erected and decorated a tree in such a short time either.

I'm all in favour of 3 ft trees as you might guess.

The speed of the decorating was improved greatly by the fact that it's a tree with built in fibre optic lights. Awesome. We helped it's looks a lot by getting a strip of 100 extra lights so now when it's switched on, we need to don our sunglasses and slap on factor 25 at least. It's a beast.
I bet the electric meter disc is flying around like a demented buzz saw now.

Sadly the tree has no fairy on top. Hard to get a fairy small enough to perch atop a 3ft tree - so we made do with a nice star shaped bow of the type you see on a well wrapped pressie. It works for me.

I goofed with the tree instructions last night as I was carried along with the over confidence that comes with putting together something with really only 2 parts. You have your tree and you have it's base. Sorted. Well actually, no.

Being a fibre optic tree, the base was quite a technological masterpiece with bits and pieces worthy of the inner workings of the space shuttle. In my haste to see it all up and working, I looked at what I thought was the first page of the instructions as it had 4 little diagrams and I'm really into diagrams when putting things together. Diagrams CAN help to overcome any issues with hilarious but confusing pidgeon English text. You know the sort.

Fasten item 1 with 2 using dropdown of it can be done with flat head driver of screws.

It's always a source of wonder to me that ANY flat pack furniture gets put together at all. I have to assume people just throw the instructions away and muddle through it all with a mix of hope and prayer. I'm sure many a folding chair came in a box labelled dining table and that people are sleeping uneasily on a bed which was really meant to be a bedroom closet.

Anyhoo, back to the tree instructions. I couldn't fault them. They were plain and simple. Me ? Lots of fault as I'm also plain and simple I guess. I somehow missed the first page and, swayed by the diagrams, went straight to page 3. I told Deb, who was hanging on my every word, to get a Philips screwdriver, turn over the base, remove the 4 screws and unscrew the bulb casing. I stopped reading while she did this. Once the screws were on the table and she was trying to stop bits and pieces newly released from the base from joining the screws, I read on.

Remove the old bulb and replace with the new one.

WHAT ? Old bulb ? Replace with what now ? Why would we have to...........oh crap !

I looked at the top of the page and sure enough, there in bold print, were the dreaded words - Instructions for Bulb Replacement. D'oh.

So after Deb had smiled and said, oh never mind, and my arm had stopped throbbing from her blow, the base was reconstructed with the perfectly good existing bulb back in place. The tree (part one) was lowered into the base (part 2) and the deed was done.

I think I muttered that I'd still have liked a diagram !

We added a lot of dangly type ornaments and in the time it takes to say "you are an idiot and I'm a bigger idiot for listening to you", the tree was up and running and worthy to be seen in Trafalgar Square or the Rockefeller Centre or wherever. I'm sure the box packers in some downtown Shanghai industrial complex were clapping (or bowing or doing Tai Chi) in appreciation of our efforts.

And it was all worth it as Dennis stood just now on the top of the 3 little stairs leading from the bedroom and looked in awe at the twinkling masterpiece before him.

"Wow. Wow. That's AWESOME" he finally managed to get out. "Is coffee ready" ?

He's not easily impressed.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

You Know You're In Trouble When...............

There was a report on the local tv news here in central Florida last week that made us all laugh out loud. That in itself was fairly unusual as we don't expect to laugh at much on the news these days.

It was also unusual because the news item was not meant to be funny at all and no one on the show even seemed to notice that a part of the otherwise tragic story would crack us up so much.

The news item in question was about a guy who was out walking near some expanse of water when he heard cries for help coming from somewhere nearby. He couldn't track down the exact location and so he rang 911 (which for those of my readers in the UK, is the US version of our 999) and told the operator that he was hearing someone in trouble but hadn't located them yet.

As all 911 calls are recorded, the tv news show then played the tape with the text appearing on screen and this is how it went..............don't quote me on it but it's how I remember it.

GUY : I'm hearing his screams.....he's somewhere close.
911 : Can he hear you ? What help does he need ?
GUY : Heyyyyy.........what's the matter ? Where are you ?
(distant distressed voice) : I'm over here in the water.........gator has my arm. Helppppppppp !!!
GUY : He says a gator has his arm. He needs help.
911 : Oh crap !
GUY : What do I do ??

And so it went on for a while but by then we were on the floor in hysterics. Yes I know it was a serious and potentially tragic story but come on - when do you ever hear an emergency operator say 'oh crap' ??? You KNOW you're in trouble when that happens.

As a follow up to the news report, which remember never DID comment on the 'oh crap' statement, the gator wasn't harmed in any way. So everyone was happy.

The guy with his arm down it's throat ? Oh hell I donno. Never did find out what happened to him !!!

Oh Crap.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Down Mexico Way

I'm just back from spending a long weekend with friends in Mexico.......oh no Gainesville, Georgia. It's a mistake that's easy to make as there seem to be more Mexicans living there than, well non Mexicans I'd better say.

Last Thursday I rented a car from Enterprise in Sebring and the nice people there gave me an upgrade from an Economy to a Full Size and so I got some sort of Nissan with a 2.5l engine which was a lot of oomph for me. So we left our winter home here in Florida because I took Deb across to Tampa as she was flying back to Michigan to be with her daughter-in-law who was having her graduation on Fri/Sat. That was 105 miles for a start. I then drove on up to Gainesville which is about 55 miles north east of Atlanta and that was another 530 miles.

It was a pretty uneventful drive but I was glad I'd my MP3 player with me as there wasn't much to listen to on the radio. I got gas just as I started on I-75 (not me personally, but the car) and when I did the maths to work out that first miles per gallon figure, it came to a woeful 19. I was shocked. Then I noticed something for the first time. When setting off from the Enterprise location, I'd just moved the automatic gear lever down through the normal 'gears' as in Park, Reverse and Neutral. The next gear is usually Drive and this should be where you stay for 99% of the time unless driving around Colorado !!

Before leaving the gas station I looked more closely at the settings and saw that the position directly under Neutral on this car was.......Third ! Opps. That explained the 19 miles to the gallon. On this car you needed to move the lever ACROSS to engage Drive. I did so and the next time I gassed up and did the maths, it returned 29 miles to the gallon. Much better ! Phew.

Anyhoo as I approached Gainesville I noticed a sign claiming it to be the 'chicken capital of the world'. Now America has a thing about assuming that if it's got the biggest, fastest, tallest (you get the message here) person or event or whatever, then it must be the same in the whole universe. Don't get me started on the World Series I beg you !! But in this case, Gainesville's claim seems to have some validity. I used Google and if it agrees, then who am I to argue. It's interesting to note that Buffalo, NY, claims to be the chicken wing capital of the world and Barberton, OH, claims the same title for fried chicken (something which is also claimed by Pittsburg, KS, so fight it out guys) . I'm not sure how these things are measured - is it by amount produced or amount eaten or even amount pooped !!??!!

Sorry, got a bit gross there.

This Google search diverted me for a while and I found a highly amusing, although slightly bizarre, site giving a list of various world locations and their claims to be world capitals of xxxxxx where xxxxxx ranged from fire hydrants to cow chips. I noted that most of these titles were claimed by US towns and cities so read into that what you will. All I know is that if I pass anywhere downwind of Russell Springs (no mention if it's the one in KY or KS), I'll be keeping my car windows firmly closed as it has the dubious honour of being the cow chip capital of the world. Now why on earth would the good citizens of this town make such a claim ? I'd suggest they go off and buy a load of fire hydrants and take over from Albertville, AL, in that particular catagory. The air will be sweeter for their efforts.

But again I've digressed. In 1989 Gainesville was a typical southern town with it's Po' Folks restaurant and fried chicken on sale everywhere. The locals had that s-l-o-w drawl that made me want to finish their sentences for them so that life could go on. I needed an interpreter on my first few visits as it wasn't just a case of individual words being so different but entire paragraphs ! In all my life I'd never mashed a button. I'd mashed potatoes and that was it. Here was someone telling me to mash a button. I think I had a tv remote control in my hand at the time but the statement still made no sence to me. But after a few visits I became (almost) fluent in Southernese and could mash buttons with the best of them. Seems I was a natural.

But that was a lifetime ago and things are very different now. What you hear around Gainesville is much faster speech. If that was all there was to it, then I'd be pleased with the change. Sadly not only has the speaking speeded up but it's also switched from a southern version of English to a langauge from further south again..........Spanish.

The reason is simple : Mexican immigrants, both legal and illegal, swarm into Gainesville to work at the huge poultry processing plants doing the jobs that no one else wants to do - namely dealing with the process of transforming live birds into boneless chicken flesh. A dozen years ago, Fieldale Farms, the largest of these plants, employed fewer than 100 Hispanics. Today, Hispanics total 3,000 in a 4,700-person workforce. The pay starts at $10 an hour which is a glittering prize for an unemployed Mexican back home.

As a result, Gainesville has changed out of all recognition even since I first visited in 1989. Since 1990, the official population has nearly doubled to 32,000 and the number of Hispanics has quadrupled to compose nearly half the registered population -- and far more when illegal immigrants are considered. City schools are now 55 percent Hispanic. More children arrive each day with their undocumented parents, often directly from Mexico. The Yellow Pages include 41 pages in Spanish. St. Michael Catholic church, which once drew 25 people to a monthly Spanish Mass, now has 6,000 Hispanic families on its parish registry.

I saw the influence of all this first hand at the weekend as my friends daughter, locked in my memory as my little 3 year old princess in 1989, had become a lovely 20 year old with a Mexican husband, a 17 month old baby boy and another on the way. I liked the husband, and the baby was a little cutie and they all made up a sweet and loving family and bring obvious joy and pleasure to my friends who now, by the way, go by the names of Nana and Papa. I felt SO old !

So we had a lot of catching up to do and we talked and ate all weekend. There was even time for a visit from my friends gay cousin (who happens to be a grandfather so I'm still working that one out) who I knew from previous visits but hadn't seen for many years. He said I hadn't changed and if anything, looked better now than I did in 1989.

Bless his heart.

Oh I did make one purchase while there that blows my mind. We were in the local WalMart and I saw a pallet of video boxes that caught my eye. For a few months now Deb has been talking about wanting a dvd/vcr recorder combo and the prices HAVE been as low as $158 I think. Now this combo is a dvd recorder as well as a video tape recorder so you can easily record from video to dvd and vice versa. Well on this pallet were boxes of the very unit for.........drum roll please...............$75. Yes folks, $75 or approx £40 in real money. I couldn't believe it. I asked a very helpful and smiling WalMart employee (ok so I know I'm joking) what the scoop was and he said they got them in after Black Friday and they weren't selling so they kept reducing the price. Once they were gone, they'd not be getting anymore and not many stores had them to start with.

I immediately rang Deb in Michigan and as I suspected, she screamed BUY, BUY, BUY. Of course later on, after indeed buying one of the units, I was hit with the realisation that she might have been busy at the graduation ceremony and was in fact screaming BYE, BYE, BYE at me !


I keep thinking of my Philips dvd recorder at home which I bought several years ago when they were new on the market and I think I paid almost £450 for it ($900) and now look - you can pick them up for little more than a fill up at the gas station.

Another example of changing times.

And so after this brief visit, I headed back to the welcome heat of Tampa where I picked up Deb and we set off for Sebring. In total I drove close to 1400 miles and listened to about 500 music tracks of MY choice. Apart from a traffic jam in Tampa, I loved every mile. Next time I might have to take my passport and a Spanish phrase book though !

Cost of the car rental - $202.
Cost of the gas - $122.
Cost of seeing my friends again - priceless.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Christmas - Not Holidays

I don't know when 'they' decided that it's not the done thing anymore to use the word Christmas in adverts and stores and even in common greetings. Tomorrow is Dec 1st and although decorations have been up for weeks and it seems store displays have been going for months, as far as I'm concerned, from tomorrow we'll be in the Christmas period.

Now whether this is a happy or sad time for individuals, that's a different matter and simply reflects what's going on in your life right now........and I'm not going to get into that here. Since I started coming to America in 1989, I've only spent a few Christmas periods in the UK. I always knew that over here they say Happy holidays from a few days before Thanksgiving and keep it going till the first few days of New Year. I can see some logic in this as after all, that greeting and the mental imagery behind it, combines the holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year.

We Brits don't have Thanksgiving of course as we were glad to get rid of those pesky pilgrims ! Only joking. As with several other countries, we do have Harvest Festivals but these aren't important events and certainly not on a par with Thanksgiving Day in the US with it's Macy's Parade, turkey meals and of course, a few NFL games to send us all to sleep while the eaten turkey processes nicely. Gotta recharge the batteries for the exertions of Black Friday after all !

So, ok then, saying Happy Holidays is fine by me. What I DO have a problem with, however, are those people who don't want the word Christmas used at all and try to ban it from schools, stores and just about everywhere - presumably in case it offends those of a non Christian persuasion. Bah and humbug to them all.

I realise that anything to do with Christ is based more on faith than on any historical facts and I think we're all aware and accept that if HE did exist, then he certainly wasn't born on 25th December and all the palaver that goes with this in the sky, wise men, gifts and so on. But so what ? Many special holidays and celebrations aren't based on any facts and as long as they serve to focus our thoughts and actions on something good, then I'm all for it.

Again I know that commercialism has taken over Christmas but that's another post topic entirely It seems that the pressures get worse every year for parents and friends to spend way beyond their means and sink deeper into credit card debt to buy presents that may or may not be appreciated by the recipients who have such high expectations now. "Hey mom/dad, what were ya thinking ?? A pc with an 80gb HDD for goodnesss sake !!! How am I supposed to store my ipod tunes on THAT ? And I said widescreen, people. That's WIDE screen ya know. Not this little plasma thing. Geez. I was 'good' all year and this is the thanks I get "

Ok so much for saying that was to be the topic for a different post ! Off my soapbox now.

Well it looked like it would be a good evening for some more sunset watching here and so I jumped on my bike and with my camera around my neck, I headed off down the road to the lake. I went along the edge of the water but before I got to the gazebo (see a previous post for why I call it that), I came upon this critter.

It was walking slowly along finding a few morsels of food every now and then. It was pretty timid and I had to hide behind a thick tree to get this photo - at least that's my story, officer !

The sun had actually set and the bird was almost black but the flash went off and cast a nice light on it.

I was anxious to avoid being bitten again, so I didn't hang around to get any more shots. I was quite pleased with this one anyway and thanks to this plus point for digital photography, I could see the result and leave there and then.

On the way 'home' I decided to go on to get some photos of some of the wonderful CHRISTMAS decorations being put up on homes here in the park. It would be tempting to think that few residents would bother with decorations given that we're in Florida, in a retirement community and we're all oldies But this is far from the truth and many homes are beautifully decorated already and it's still November - just.

This is my favourite and the work that has gone into it's creation is just amazing. Sadly I had my telephoto lens with me and so wasn't able to go back far enough to get the whole display in the photo - but you get the idea from this shot. I also need to experiment more to get better night-time shots But I was also getting bitten and so I wasn't able to mess around too long.

By now it was pitch black and I've no lights on my bike. Many of the evening events start at 6:30pm so a lot of cars and golf carts were out and about in the park and I was a little nervous about riding my bike home. It's not that I couldn't see my way but more that I couldn't be seen by those out driving around.

As a last shot, I zoomed in on the false chimney on top of the car port. If you click on the photo above to enlarge it and look closely at the car port roof, you'll see a red chimney and parts of the outline of Santa and his sledge approaching it from the left.

I didn't realise until I zoomed in that there were bubbles coming out of this false chimney. How cool.

The owner was a bit puzzled as he said they were on a timer and shouldn't be 'blowing' right now. Well maybe not, but it was a bonus for me and I'm glad I was able to get a shot of it all.

Again you'll need to enlarge the photo and you'll see the bubbles over and down the right side of the chimney.

It was time to peddle off and like I said before, I did so with some trepidation. I skirted the pool area without mishap and avoided the golf carts coming towards me and was on the final leg when I almost had a disaster. I was going around the final corner when I came upon a lady out walking her dog. I'm not sure who was the most surprised but i think on reflection that it was her. At least I saw her first and so was prepared for the swerve I had to do to avoid her. She, on the other hand, never saw me until I whizzed past her and she actually jumped. I'd like to apologise to her here and now but I've no idea who she was - mostly as it was VERY dark and I was by her in a second. Sorry, ma'am.

I'd like to think she's forgiven me by now as after all, it IS Christmas and isn't this the time for peace and love to all MEN ??!! If not, then I wish her Happy Holidays. There, I've covered all the bases.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thanks...... For The Memories

Yesterday was Thanksgiving here. I typed a large post during the evening but didn't save it to draft as I went along and the laptop powered down when the temp rose in here - and I lost the lot. I was a bit upset and said so......several times in fact !!

My post was all about Thanksgiving, Christmas and all things American so I'll try and recreate my thoughts.

Thanksgiving is BIG here and not just because most workers get the day off work. I say 'most' workers cause every year less and less stores close down and it's easy to see why. Black Friday. But more of that later.

I was trying to imagine what the first Thanksgiving meal would've been like. If indeed it ever took place at all, it's been so covered in non historical nonsence that just about any record of it has to be taken with a pinch of the proverbial. The pilgrims came over from jolly olde England and after a few months of killing the natives and building up the McDonalds franchise, they decided to have a nosh up to celebrate the good times. So they took a break from giving baubles in exchange for pieces of land, like Delaware and Virginia, and carved the first turkey - which up until then had been used as beasts of burden. It's all true, y'know !

Anyhooo, four thousand or so years later, Americans drive from all over the place to get home for a replica of that first Thanksgiving meal and I went to a very different version of it yesterday. Over the last 15 years I've spent more Novembers in America than in the UK so I've had a lot of Thanksgiving meals - but they've been with my American family (friends really but after so many years spent with them, hell, we're all family now).

This year, being that we're down here in sunny Florida for the winter, we went to a community meal partially laid on by the owners of the park, bless their cotton socks. The main fixings, so to speak, were cooked by park volunteers and included the turkey, mashed taters, gravy, stuffing and sweet potatoes. Everyone who went had signed up to take something to add like veggies and dessert and rolls and so on. Given the ages of us all, you can imagine the collective culinary experience on display.

We went down early to set up and find our places. There were 12 to a table and we were on table 15. I know of a table 17 so that would be over 200 sitting down to eat.

I loved seeing the row of golf carts and this photo only shows those at the bottom of our road in the park as it leads directly to the hall where the meal was being prepared. There were loads more surrounding the other sides of the building. Awesome.

We were due to eat at 2pm but things were running a bit late and we actually started at 2:30 or so. Deb/Den had volunteered to take meals to 2 'shut ins' who were couples who couldn't make it to the hall. It turned out that one of them had managed to make it after all so that was a wasted trip but the other couple were so pleased to get their Thanksgiving meal on wheels !

It was a party atmosphere inside and many tables were decorated. Those who were old hands at this fixture had thought to bring everything from candles to wine glasses to pep up their tables and the food/drink.

We were a table of newbees so had no such goodies but that meant more room for the food. Always a good thing.

This shot shows everyone mingling with their table friends before settling down to eat. It was fun and it was so weird as even though people put their names on table lists totally at random, 10 of the 12 at our table were from Michigan. What a small world.

A couple of the residents were celebrating birthdays and their friends had made special cakes for them called kitty litter cakes. Two of these cakes were taken between the tables to be presented to them and I didn't think I'd get to see why they were called kitty litter cakes. Just before we started eating (great timing really), one of the cakes was passed around so we could all see it.

The name was pretty apt really but I never got the opportunity to ask what were the ingredients. I was assured though that it was an 100% edible cake - but the litter scoop was real and so not to be eaten. Glad they told me.

And so we all tucked into our Thanksgiving meal and not one word about the origins of it was ever mentioned. No words about the pilgrims. Nothing at all about giving thanks. Not a sausage about the first turkey all those centuries ago.

But no words were really needed. Over 200 people had come together to share food prepared by all of them. These people gave of themselves and is this materialistic world, what could possibly be a better way to honour and remember those hardy souls who came over to start a new life in a new world. They'd have been proud.

Did I say materialistic ? Ah yes, well that brings me to Black Friday......a day not known to many folks outside of America and for good reason. It's a bit like The World Series as only America takes part in it. Sorry, but it's been a while since I got in a dig about that.

Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving when for a few hours when most of us are tucked up in bed, those retail junkies who just can't bear to miss a sale opportunity, stand dutifully in line outside stores and wait for the 5am opening. From 5am until 11am (these are the usual BF sale hours) most big stores have crazy price reductions to tempt the punters to fight their way inside to try and find the one or two products actually at those prices. It's a zoo and not for the faint-hearted.

These days, the stores all have web sites and those in the know can let their fingers do the shopping and can even do it from the warmth and comfort of their beds.........the best place to be at 5am in my mind. A dvd recorder/vcr recorder combo for $99 ? Yea sure but you try getting your sticky (frozen) fingers on one. You've more chance of finding a call center agent without an Indian accent. I admit I was tempted to try for a $49.99 digital camcorder but what were the chances ? Yep. Slim to Indian.

Actually the utility company down here and other non related events did their best to get me out of my bed in time for the BF sale. First of all the electricity went off at 11:30pm on Thursday and stayed off till about 12:30am. This is when I realised just how much I rely on light to get into bed in this trailer. Remember I'm on a blow up mattress with not much walking room (or stumbling room in this case) around it. I groped for my torch but had to give up and just feel my way into the sleeping bag. Thankfully the fridge/freezer switched automatically to gas and back again when electric power was restored. Then it went off again and I fell asleep before it came back so I've no idea how long it was out for. This process happened a third time and the units powering up woke me at some crazy hour.

At 4:20am some trash collection noises from the park next to ours woke me again and then at 5:15am Deb's cell phone decided to let me know it needed recharging - it was on the table near my bed - and made a nasty noise every 3 or 4 minutes until I got up and plugged it in. Although while standing there in the pre dawn darkness I thought about Black Friday, I'm glad to report that I stood firm against that $49.99 digital camcorder.

Now if only more people would do the same, then the retailers might wise up and start these stupid sales at a reasonable 9am. The people who line up at 5am would still line up at 9am - and many more would join them. Shouldn't that be what the retailers want ? I'm obviously missing something here and the whole thinking behind having all the big stores starting their sales at the same daft hour is beyond me. If I got up at 3am to get to a store to stand in line to get that big sale item at 5:10am, I'd then be heading home to drop back into bed to catch up on my sleep. Now if I had a good nights sleep and got into that same line in time for the start of a 9am sale, I'd probably stay and shop for a lot longer AFTER I'd got my hot sale item......maybe even have lunch in the store restaurant or the food court and make a day of it. Lots more money in the store tills and everyone is happy........and nobody is cranky and tired.

Having said that, I guess I'm a two time loser as not only did I not get any sale items but I also woke up cranky and tired due to all the interruptions to my sleep.

A Black Friday indeed.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Blood, Sweat & Tears !!

This community park may be full of oldies but the state still demands it's pint of blood from them !

Ok that's stretching the truth a bit as I'm only refering to giving blood voluntarily. Last Friday the 'big red bus' pulled up and the residents were offered the customary drink and cookies in exchange for a few pints of their precious blood. To sweeten the offer even more, you'd get a $10 restaurant coupon for every 2nd visit. That's a powerful lure !

I initially thought that not too many stepped up, despite such offers. Lets face it, most of them need what blood they have. I'm sure some would've wanted to make a withdrawal rather than make a deposit at this particular bank. But then I remembered that there had been a sign-up sheet and so people were arriving in ones and twos all day at their alloted times. The bus only had 4 beds and so it never looked busy but it was really taking blood to it's capacity.

Deb had signed up and was hoping to be able to give for the first time. She has low iron and this meant never being accepted before. She was more confident this time as she'd been taking vitimins and so we went down to the bus just before noon. I've never given blood in the UK and so have no idea what paperwork we Brits are presented with, but here the medical Q & A form was enough to put you off. There was even a question about spending time in the UK between 1980 and 1995 I think - I assume this had something to do with Mad Cow Disease and not a slur on my country as such. Oh I'm sorry but you visited Stonehenge and Madame Tussauds in 1990 so your blood has been tainted !!!! Maybe you went to Buckingham Palace and have blue blood now.

After the form was completed, she went to have a quick test with a pin prick of blood being taken to check her iron and maybe other things. It was close, the closest yet, but sadly she was JUST short of the levels required and was advised to try again on Monday. Eat a few iron bars over the weekend or something. I donno.

The good thing was that they stamped her card anyway and so we're hoping that even if she fails again today, she might get another stamp and so get the $10 coupon. She just left for it so I'll add the update before publishing this post.

After all that excitement we went a few feet round the corner of the building to have lunch at the 'cafe-on-the-lake'. This is not the grand edifice that it sounds but it's a wonderful place to gather outdoors and eat a light meal from 11:30 - 13:00 Mon to Fri.

It's basically a permanent trailer although all of the grilling takes place just outside it. The inside is for the volunteer staff to take the orders, pass them to the cooks outside on the right and then take the cooked meat back inside again and create whatever order the customer asked for - plain burger with lettuce, tomato and onion or cheeseburger or hot dog or chilli dog and so on. There are plenty of healthier options on the menu as well but come on, if you can't have a burger when you're this age, what's the point ?

The daily special (burger or hot dog or whatever) comes with a bag of chips and a can of pop and all for $2.50. Excellent value and of course you KNOW the meat has been freshly cooked as you can see it being done. Sure you can get 'better' professional fast food offers from time to time (like the current one of 2 Whoppers for $2) but for one thing you'd probably spend another $2 driving to Burger King and much as I like Whoppers, you'd never be sure when the meat was initially cooked.

In any case, it's another great opportunity to mingle with other residents, as can be seen in the photo, and so we love going there a few times a week.

The next day was the BIG game and if you go back and read my college football post, you'll know that I'm talking about Michigan v Ohio State. It was made even more special this season as both teams were 11-0 and were 1 and 2 in the standings. I'll make this brief as sadly Michigan lost so a heavy gloom settled over the trailer. I was gloomy even before the game started as back in the UK, Leeds had lost 3-0 at home and were back in the Championship relegation zone. Unbelievable for a team in the semi finals of the Champions League only a few years ago.

Sporting tears dominated the weekend as Annika failed miserably in the golf - although she doesn't really need another $1 million anyway - and Tiger lost in a playoff in far off China. England drew in cricket and lost in Rugby. Oh and The Falcons lost in the NFL just to make my weekend complete.

Medical update : Deb's blood was refused again as she'd even less iron today than on Friday. I knew I should've brought over some cans of Iron Bru. Little UK in joke there.

So that's the story of the blood and tears and I can't think of a way to include any sweat. I did go for a good walk yesterday morning and sort of worked up a little sweat but that's about it.

The thing is, it seems not many of my sporting 'heros' gave up any of the 3 either.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Pixiemobile Has Arrived

Well the day we've been waiting for finally 'arrived' and at 9:30am this morning a flatbed truck pulled up by our lot and brought us our rented golf cart.

When we arrived here almost 3 weeks ago, we were 31st on the waiting list for a cart as they are just so popular in parks here for getting around. There are several retirement community parks in this area so when a new batch of carts comes in, they are snapped up and so waiting lists are in force and we just assumed we'd not get one for many weeks - if at all this winter.

But the rental place rang us over the weekend and said we'd be getting one today - and sure enough, it was delivered an hour ago. On the truck were 2 carts and as one was blue, my fav colour, I was hoping that one would be ours. Sadly that was a brand new one for someone else (as you have the option to buy outright or rent one) and it was the other one, a dark green colour, that was to be our rental.

I know I'm making excuses but I apologise for the following photos - the sun was low in the sky and I was on the wrong side of it. I was in bare feet and too woosey to cross the grass to get into a better position. In any case, I did feel a little foolish taking photos of a cart arriving but my philosophy is to try and get photos of just about everything as my memory is so bad.

With that out of the way, this is a shot of the flatbed seconds after it pulled up with the driver still in his cab. I had the camera at the ready as always.

In fact I took the shot from inside the trailer as I wasn't even going to venture out at all. The delivery wasn't supposed to be until late morning so the 9:30 arrival sort of took us by surprise.

The driver lowered the tailgate and was soon reversing our cart down the ramp.

By now I WAS outside but as stated earlier, did not feel the need to get my dainty Brit feet dirty by getting into a better position. If only I'd thought, I could've slipped on my pool flip flops.

Hopefully history and future generations will forgive the low class photos !

By now Deb was out watching events and then when the driver parked our cart next to the picnic table, she was ready to take on board the very complicated driving and battery recharging instructions. Yes I jest.

As we'd all had experience driving golf carts when actually playing golf, the only thing we needed to know about was how to charge the battery and how often. The how often was "once a week" and the how to do it was "plug this into the mains." Sorted.

By now Pixie was all of a twitter so once the delivery driver left us, Deb, Den and her majesty climbed onboard Golf Cart 1 (I'm sure Deb will come up with some flightly feminine name soon enough) and sped off to try her out.

I took the opportunity to get on my shoes and switch lens. I snapped on the telephoto as I knew they be visible from a long way off on their return and so I positioned myself at the end of our lot and waited. In a few minutes I heard the loud meaty roar of the reconditioned jet engine and round the corner they came - man (woman) and dog in fluid harmony. The wind may not have been blowing her ears back in classic style, but the cart was a big hit with Pixie. With tongue and tail a wagging, she obviously felt her walking days were over and she'd be joining the ranks of all the other pampered pooches who sit onboard with their owners as they zoom around from event to event here in the park.

GC1 is about to get it's first true run out in a few minutes when we go down the hill to the cafe-by-the-lake for lunch. I may well go cap-less and let the wind blow my 4 remaining hairs to all parts.

I can't wait.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Bocce Ball

Yesterday we decided to give bocce ball a try as neither Deb or myself had ever played it - in my case I'd never even seen it played.

Well to be fair, I knew it wasn't much different from other games that were either based on it or it was based on, so it didn't come as a complete surprise to find that I could follow quite easily how it was played.

The pair of us biked down our little hill as the bocce ball area is right by the lake side cafe and the picnic tables that I mentioned in my previous post. Like everything here in the park, the event was perfectly organised and residents were soon appearing from all compass points as the 'kick off' time approached. The massed golf carts and bikes were soon swamping the parking bays and we were introducing ourselves to the seasoned players like artistes at a Royal Command Performance. I think we were the only 'newbees' but I've rarely met such a welcoming bunch of people and although I initially went with no intention of playing, I was sucked into participation by the warmth of my fellow park residents.

We were able to have a few practice throws and it was clear to me that it wasn't that far removed from crown green bowling which I admit to having watched on tv a bit over the years.
With everyone assembled, walkers oiled and oxygen canisters fully charged, we were asked to sign in and by drawing numbers out of a tin, we were placed into teams and were ready to play bocce.

The air was tense with anticipation and the mixed sounds of eager chatter and cracking joints. I was a member of team 7 and as only 6 teams could be playing at once, I was able to sit out the start of play and watch the competition in action. Action might be too strong a word given our relative ages but you couldn't fault the enthusiasm on display.

From my position on the sidelines I was able to snap a few pics and here is one of Debby clapping her team member who was on the other side - I won't go into the rules and setup of bocce ball here as it's hardly vital to this blog but for the purposes of this post, a fellow team member was the gentleman in the blue top to her right and the other two members of her 4 person team were at the other end of the lane and were playing at this point in the game.

I soon realised that this is a great sport for all ages and physical abilities. As long as you could propel the ball in a forwards direction, you could play. The skill with which you did this helped to get you a scoring opportunity of course but the main point of it here in the park was to have fun and mix with fellow residents. This was being done from the get go and I've rarely had so many laughs in such a short space of time.

Given the onset of arthritis and other ailments, some of the residents had peculiar throwing actions but had still developed the skills necessary to play the game to a very high standard.

I found it all very graceful and artistic at times and I hope that this old body can be so agile in a few years time. What they may have lacked in out and out mobility, they more than made up for in guile and cunning !!

I'm not suggesting that anything unsportsmanlike took place - perish the thought. It was actually a lovely balance between normal competitiveness and devil make care ball throwing.

I did keep thinking of the shuffleboard scene in Cocoon but then again, a lot of what happens here reminds me of that movie !

Debby and her team were scoring well. I was enjoying watching the play and the players and was in no rush to be called up for my turn at the plate. After my earlier practice session, I had decided to play it more like crown green bowls with a gentle low angle forward release of the ball and less like the drop/throw action used by most of the regulars.

As I said before, you can only do what you can physically do and I'm sure more would have got closer to the ground if they'd been able to do so. But as with golf, a classic technique is not always necessary to
either enjoy the game OR to achieve a good score and I was very impressed with what I was seeing.

I loved the good natured banter and friendliness and I soon decided that bocce ball was THE perfect game for all ages and sexes. At this point I'd no idea who my team mates were as I knew no-one. Being the only Brit and having an unusual name, I tend to be remembered by most people I meet here but sadly my memory lets me down everytime and I remember few names on first hearing.

I really should have gone to the sign-up sheet and tried to memorise the 3 others in my team and I WILL do that next time. Needless to say I've forgotten them already and for that, I apologise.

If the ball releasing came with many and varied techniques, then the follow throughs were just as fluid and graceful.

Many poses were held for the entire time the ball was en route and more than once I was ready to dash on court to make sure the player hadn't simply seized up and was locked in that position. Thankfuly no medical help was ever needed.

And then I was up. My team (7) was called into action and after just one 'end', we were 4-0 down. We scored on the next 'end' and the game became a little less one sided but soon it was all over and we'd lost. We didn't have long to wait and were soon up again to play another team as you got 2 games minimum. We won the next game to progress to play again but we had defeat plucked from the jaws of victory and lost this 3rd game to go out. We were 6-4 up and as it was the first to 7 and we were lying closest to the yellow ball with only one throw from the opposition left, we were feeling pretty confident of winning. That final throw not only smacked into our ball and sent it into a non scoring position at the back of the lane but it also elevated 2 of their own balls into scoring positions and with the final ball also scoring, they got the 3 points necessary to come from behind an win.

I hate bocce ball.....................

...................but I can't wait to play it again !!

What about Deb ? Well she proved she was a natural and her team won game after game and only lost when 4 teams were left...........the semi final if you like. She too can't wait to play again.

Bugs 30 - Me 1

I just had to try it again - getting sunset photos I mean.

Here in Buttonwood Bay we get wonderful sunsets every evening and the last time I walked down to the lake side to take some photos, I was bitten about 30 times for my troubles and few of the photos were worth keeping anyway.

A couple of weeks have passed since that traumatic incident and so with the bites only remaining as scars now, I thought I'd try again and keep moving this time. No long time delayed shots !

On the way to the lake, which is all of 30 secs away by bike, I had to pass by the area where several outdoor events take place daily - like shuffleboard, bocce ball and so on. Oh by the way, we tried bocce ball yesterday and loved it but more of that in my next post. There is also a large grassy area along the edge of the lake with picnic tables and yesterday while playing bocce ball, we were 'treated' to a karaoke session which was different to say the least.

Anyway, as I made my way across to the lake, I noticed several squirrels doing their thing around these picnic tables and the trees that shaded them. They were not in the least bit shy or timid and I soon remembered the note in the weekly park newsletter which warned us not to feed these critters as they were becoming pests.

But they also presented good photo opportunities and I just had to crouch down and give the impression I was offering them food and they'd appear from all sides and approach me.

As this photo shows, they showed no fear and the rapidly setting sun helped to transform a standard shot into something quite different. Not beautiful, but different. You can clearly see the structure of it's tail for one thing.

Suddenly it was like a bizarre version of Hitchcock's 'The Birds' with squirrels replacing the threatening birds. I was quickly surrounded and of course you never know how far a hungry and fearless squirrel will go to get some food and how cheesed off they'd become when they realised that no food was forthcoming. I had to keep moving and looking all around me but in any case, this was what I needed to do to avoid being bitten by the more annoying flying critters.

With one eye on the setting sun and the other watching my ankles, I took a few shots of the squirrels and was glad I'd not taken the telephoto lens as they were getting too close to me for that lens to be of any use. When they realised I was not a walking food dispenser, they'd sit nearby and just watch me. Maybe they thought I'd whip out something tasty if they sat long enough - i wasn't going to do so but theur actions meant good posing shots for me. They were obviously well fed squirrels as the next photo shows...............

By now the sun was almost on the horizon so I had to leave and walk the few feet to the edge of the lake.

There were a couple of other residents out with their cameras and we chatted for a few minutes between shots. As usual I was the only one having to do the 'dance of the biting insects' and it never ceases to amaze me why I'm the sole target for every biting thing within a hundred yards of wherever I am.

Maybe it's time to swap my deoderant for bug spray on these occasions and you may well ask why I don't use insect repellant in the first place. I've tried everything on the market and nothing works. I just end up smelling obnoxious to other humans but strangly inviting to anything that flies.

I'd almost left it too late to get any shots of the sunset as it sets here with a speed that would leave a UK sprinter gasping. I got into position and had to do just about everything that any instruction manual tells you NOT to do when taking photos. Legs open for stability ? Elbows tucked into torso to lessen camera shake ? Hand on lens for rock steady shots ? Sorry but I'd done all that last time and the mozzies had eaten me alive. This time I was like a photographer with ADD or a finalist on that reality dancing show with my camera as my partner. I just hope no one had a camcorder trained on me as my bottom half was doing a crazed tango while my top half was trying to remain steady long enough to take some sort of focused shot of the sunset.

I'd already decided that some sort of post production editing would be needed, if only to straighten the horizon, but I was pleased to get this one shot which needed no such alterations.

About 2 seconds later the sun dropped out of sight and this time I didn't hang around for any post sunset shots - I was on my bike and out of there for the relatively safety of the trailer faster than you could say 'squirrel nuts'.

To adapt the old saying, once bitten, several times shy.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Fishing For Compliments

I've never fished. I never want to fish. Although I can kind of understand the appeal, I don't really get fishing. I can understand fishing when you keep and cook whatever you catch but when you catch something and throw it back, then the whole process is lost on me.

Fishing out at sea for marlin and shark can be exciting I guess but I still think it's all a bit one sided given the equipment used these days. I'm sure fishermen would totally disagree and point to the numerous fishing trips where they come back empty handed. Well maybe if they stopped throwing them back it would help !

Anyhoo, fishing is popular here in Florida for obvious reasons and even this part of the state is not exempt. As I type this, I'm sitting in the 5th wheel with my feet up on my recliner footrest and looking out the side window at my neighbour who is sorting out the fishing gear on his boat. Well it's only 11am and I tend to ease into my days here. I've already had my battle with nature this morning but it wasn't was clearing the ants out of the dishes that were mistakenly left unwashed in the sink overnight.

Leaving unopened food or dirty dishes around for any length of time is a huge no-no here. The word goes out and soon a Disneyesque line of ants appears and makes a beeline (or an antline) for whatever they can cart off back to their hive or hutch or hill or whatever. We were quite sure we knew how to deal with the little critters (which thankfully aren't biters) as the poison of choice usually sorts them out quickly - either they've become immunute to it or else they're taking their own sweet time dying.

We asked around and were told that putting down strips of Bounce, yes the common dryer sheets, would get rid of them. We tried that and all it did was create a zillion ants that suddenly had a lovely smell of spring freshness. Don't you just hate it when nature adapts ! I can imagine them sitting around 'the hill' each night gargling down the so called poison and discussing how great they all smell now. I may send this off as a plotline to DreamWorks for their follow up movie. I'm sure Woody Allen could do something amusing with the vocals.

In the meantime I had to do things manually and facing a sink full of dirty dishes covered in a sea of little moving bodies was not something I'd recommend first thing in the morning. But ever fearless and without any sort of gun, bow and arrow, rod or other weapon of mass destruction, I cleared the lot and sent hundreds of God's creatures to a watery end. Actually being in a trailer which has what's known as a holding tank under the kitchen, the journey to their watery end in this case was not a long one. They'll probably regroup, dry out and be back later today.

Maybe that's the appeal of fishing. Them against us. The eternal struggle to prove we are top of the food chain. Circle of life. Man against nature. Getting away from the wife for a few hours.
All of the above probably.

Yesterday I went back to my pier end gazebo (see previous posts) and watched 2 fishermen doing their thing a few yards away. There seemed to be a lot of casting but no catching. Not a lot of talking either. That seems to be part of the deal too.

At first I wasn't sure if they'd camouflaged their boat to try and fool the fish. Fishermen can be so sneaky. My vivid imagination kicked in again and I could just see the fish collecting on 'my' side of the boat and talking amongst themselves. "Hey, guys, this side isn't camouflaged and's a boat ! There are two of those humans up there trying to tempt us with those nasty worms we hate. Lets clear off and have lunch at Long John Silvers"

Later last night I stayed around just long enough to get this shot of the moon over the pier.

It wasn't my best shot but I wasn't hanging around to try for a better one. Once bitten, twice shy and all that. Actually 30 times bitten but we'll not bring that up again. They don't itch anymore and should be all gone in another week.

Unlike the ants.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Monday Blues

I've not been retired long enough to have forgotten how I felt most Monday mornings when I'd wake up and realise another work week stretched before me. I rarely, if ever, really hated my job but I just didn't like having to work at all.

I think I've always been a dreamer. I know I 'missed' large chunks of school time by gazing out the windows and wishing I was somewhere else. This continued into my working life and many happy, if not productive, hours were spent doing the same thing - but getting paid while I did it !! Sorry ASDA but you still got plenty of productive hours out of me as I was there for 25 years.

I worked in IT all my career but don't ask me why. I'm artistic by nature but right from the time of Sputnik, I was fascinated by manned spaceflight. Ok so Sputnik wasn't manned but it WAS the start of things. I was never fully comfortable in IT as like I said, I'm not technical at all and can't think logically to save my life. I went to a very small boarding school with a VERY limited curriculum and I took subjects like Ancient History, Greek, French and Latin over ones like Physics and Chemistry. I think I decided to study computer science at college solely based on it maybe getting me a job/career later on with NASA. Well it didn't quite work out but I did spend 95% of my working life with a company with 3 of the 4 initials at least !!!

I always wanted to travel and my work, or I should say the salary it provided. was a way to do so in a small way. I was no world traveller but I did visit a few European countries and even Canada before finally making it to America in 1989. Why it took me so long is a mystery even to me. I was all set to go in the summer of 1970 when I left school and had a long period of 'freedom' before starting at college. Sadly that coincided with having no money so America had to wait.

I made up for lost time though and in the space of 8 years from 1989, I managed to visit all 48 continental states leaving the difficult ones of Hawaii and Alaska for my retirement years when I could give them the time they deserved. I took a sabatical for 9 months in 2000 and spent the whole time in America and when I returned to work in January 2001, I soon found I couldn't adjust to being back sitting at a desk - basically I just didn't want to work anymore. Some people return from sabaticals all renewed like Energiser bunnies and eager to start their careers afresh. I'm sure their companies offer the sabattical with that outcome in mind but in my case, not working for 9 months only made me anxious to be retired and not have to work ever again !!

Soon I was eagerly playing with my finances and studying dates and trying to plan for retiring on my 50th birthday (in 2002) when I was made an offer I couldn't refuse; the offer to take a very generous early retirement package at 49 which was only a few months away in the June of 2001. Those few months before I left work were some of the happiest of my life. Knowing I'd soon be leaving, no new work came my way and I was left to pass the days surfing the internet and doing what I did best - looking out the windows and dreaming of being somewhere else. I'd plenty of time to make my travel plans and sure enough, a few days after finally leaving work that last time, I was over here in America starting on the first of many 6 month trips - 6 months being the longest I can be here on a visitors visa. I've never looked back.

Today I experienced Monday blues. No, not the sort I experienced most of my working life but new variations now that I'm retired and spending the winter in Florida. The first was the clear blue cloudless sky that I never get tired of seeing. The other was the blue water in the swimming pool where I try to spend as much time as possible. These are Monday blues I can live with. So much so that I'll like them on Tuesday as well and every other day to be honest.

It's due to rain a bit tomorrow. That's ok too. There are plenty of things to do indoors here and lets face it, I'd rather be here in Florida on a rainy day than be sitting at a desk in Leeds with another 8 hours of work ahead of me.

Maybe the dreamer in me is finally on the other side of the window.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Park Life

I went out for another exploratory bike ride yesterday afternoon as I was 'home alone' and it was another glorious day. I slapped a wire basket onto the front of the bike, put a folded towel on the bottom for lining purposes and thus was able to take my camera and mp3 player without having things wrapped round my neck.

I was listening to 60's songs and looking out for anything to photograph when I decided to take a shot of a typical road/street in the park.

This one was as good as any and shows how the park is just like a lot of US subdivisions (estates in the UK) - rows of homes with neat yards and cars and trucks parked on driveways.

Closer examination shows something quite different here though with many of the driveways also having a golf cart. I've mentioned before how these carts are used to ferry the residents to and from the numerous events going on here as well as to restrooms and the swimming pools.

I find it amusing how most times the roads can be as empty and quiet as you see in this photo but if it's close to an event like bingo, social/coffee time, dancing, cards or whatever, then you walk or bike at your peril as the carts are out in force and it's like parade time on 4th July.

The park, sorry, community, is a mixture of permanent homes lived in all year round, permanent homes lived in part of the year and rented lots where seasonal 'residents' like us come with 5th wheels or motorhomes and set up camp. It's interesting that there are no travel trailers here and this proves my friends point that they are not really suitable units for living in long term. That's why last April, when they were here for a month to 'try out' the park, they came in a TT but left in a 5th wheel !! My TT was traded in and now I see why.

I rode back along the canal bank that I explored a few days ago and some different wildlife was in the little pool/lake this time. This pool is to one side of the canal path and seems to be a great place to photograph birds of all shapes and sizes. It's not a pretty pool by any means and has quite a bit of greenery in the water. That's a euphimism as it's not nice looking algae or reeds or whatever but at least it IS natural and there are no shopping carts or discarded fridges to blot the view.

This wading critter seemed happy enough to be feeding in the goop and it's beak was snapping away like demented chopsticks all the time I was there.

There is a handy wooden bridge spanning the pool to save us having to walk around it and this allowed me to be far enough removed from the wildlife that I wasn't regarded as a threat - and so they'd eat and drink oblivious to my presence.

The larger birds that were there previously were not around yesterday. There were some smaller dark birds in the water but they were too far away to photograph and they just looked like ducks anyway. I'm after more exotic wildlife here !

I got on the bike again and after a few seconds riding along the canal path, I came upon a similar bird posing by the water. I slid forwards off the saddle, got the camera from the basket and snapped off a shot without even needing to get fully off the bike. It never moved. This wildlife photography is a doddle

Of course things might change if and when I ever come across the alligator(s) that are supposed to be here. I'm sure I'll be keeping close to my bike as having a speedy escape vehicle would be prudent. That's assuming I see it/them before it/them see me.

If it's possible for birds to be said to be keeping a beady eye on someone, then these birds were doing just that with me. I came upon several of them and if I moved a few feet, they'd move too - in the opposite direction of course. The trick was to find the one position where they felt I was no threat to them and just stay there. Eventually they'd relax and even move closer.

I reached the pier and gazebo (sorry but I still haven't got a better name for the end-of-the-pier structure) and there were a few fishing boats out on the lake proper. I watched them for a while but once again, the fish didn't seem to be on the same song sheet and weren't biting.

I looked back along the canal path again and saw yet another wading bird coming along it. I had to snap off a shot quickly as it was giving all the signs that it wasn't staying around. Sure enough, after this shot, it flew away so although I'd rather have had a better composed image of it, this is all I got.

It looks like it's about to head butt the wooden stake but in reality, it just decided to bypass it by flying over it and off to places new. I hope I can get better photos of it's type another time......maybe being eaten by an alligator !!

I came back to the 5th wheel and took Pixie out for walkies. She was enthusiastic to start with and walked on ahead of the leash, sniffing everywhere and stopping at the base of every tree. That's when I realised that if we were to get anywhere, I needed to guide her into the middle of the road where she'd have no reason to stop and sniff. The pace picked up. After about 5 minutes she was along side me walking slightly slower and after 10 minutes she was well behind me and looking quite sorry for herself. With her little 3 inch legs slowing down alarmingly and her flapping tongue vacuuming the tarmac, she was almost at the point where she'd slam on the brakes and suggest that further walking would be done by me and not her. I'd cleverly anticipated this outcome and my route around the block meant that 'home' was already in sight. We made it (I'm sure) with seconds to spare and once inside the air conditioned living room, she gulped down her weight in water and flopped on her side on the carpet - giving me a look with one eye that told me in no uncertain terms that future walkies would NOT be appreciated at that time of day.

I guess it really IS true that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Gooooooood Morrrrrning Floridaaaaaa !!!

Today was a first - we joined the community community. Deliberate repetition there.

We rose at 7:30, showered and walked down the park road to the rec room to have coffee (and a strange variation of English muffins) and join the weekly social morning for residents. This event lasts an hour and I so wish I'd taken my camera. I will next time.

As we approached the building, we saw a plethera of golf carts and bikes lined up outside. It was like the scene at the start of the Le Mans (well in ye olden days anyway) and I didn't want to be anywhere out on the roads when the wrinklies broke ranks and rushed off home to get rid of all that coffee. It'd be a zoo for sure and no squirrel or slow moving Brit would be safe.

We entered and saw that everything was in full swing. Obviously the 8am start was to fool the newbees like us as just about everyone was already seated with their drinks and muffins and we were regarded like the craggy gunmen who enter the saloon with every local eye on them.

No seriously, it wasn't like that at all. People were still up at the counter in line to get coffee and food and after we had done so, we sat with some people who, as it turned out, came from Michigan as well. Some leader/organiser was on the floor with mic in hand telling us what events were taking place and when. At the end he asked if anyone was new and our 3 hands went up.......and our 3 hands alone ! Opps. Over he came with the radio mic and we were asked to introduce ourselves and tell where we were from. Deb & Den went first and after their introductions, they got a round of applause. The mic was passed to me and like a professional, I waited for the applause to die down. Then I suddenly felt like Bruce Willis (as Korben Dallas) when Chris Tucker (as Ruby Bhod) sticks his mic in his face for a comment. I didn't know what to say. Then I was inspired ; with my voice booming over the PA system and not a sound to be heard from my rapt audience (ok a few might have nodded off already as they were old and it WAS early) I boldly name is Ian and I'm from England. I handed the mic back and basked in the applause and gasps of amazement.

What I did NOT expect was someone near us saying.......hey another one from England !!! Another one !!! Could it be ??? Well sort of. I'm still the only one here so far who actually still lives in England and is only here on holiday. But there is a couple here and the husband was from Selby and married a US lady. Now Selby is only a few miles from where I live so yet again it's one of those 'small world' times. We met up and had a little chat over coffee and we know where the other lives here - so can stop in for tea and scones whenever we want

We signed up for a few up coming events like a Thanksgiving and a Pot Luck meal. It's all very organised and as I've mentioned before, there are plenty of things going on to keep old idle hands busy - and that doesn't include sunset encounters out on the gazebo !! You gotta watch these oldies. Well not literally.

I've mentioned the 2 heated pools before and until yesterday, only the large one was open for use. With the coming of Nov 1st, a few other places open up as many new snowbirds arrive. We were booked to arrive on Nov 1st but as a previous post will tell you (go read them all - don't be lazy), we altered our plans and arrived a week early.

I took this view of the big pool at dusk a few nights ago and it pretty much looks like this all day - empty of people. I'm not sure of it's dimensions but it takes me quite long enough to swim it's length - no obvious comments please ! It's very clean and the building to the left houses toilets and the rec hall. The pool closes at dusk so any late night skinny dipping would involve leaping over the locked gates and I really can't think that's very likely to happen here. Late night dominos in pj's and nightdresses goes on though and you can hear the 'clink' of the doms echoing round the park after darkness sets in. Then all is quiet by 9pm and I'm sure that at 1am this morning, I was the only one awake. Who am I kidding, make that 10pm

I almost said it's as quiet as the grave but in this community, the G word is a big no-no.

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