Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I Miss Smelly Aisle

We were in a couple of local Sebring supermarkets yesterday, WalMart and Sweetbay, and it made me reminisce about my local Sainsbury's in Leeds.

My friend Daphne often wrote about this store after it's refurbishment late last year and how it had developed a 'smelly aisle', the source of which was never tracked down.

When I returned home to Leeds at the end of January this year, much to my unbridled joy, I too discovered 'smelly aisle' and the bond of friendship between myself and Daphne was cemented forever ! Thank you Sainsbury's.

There are no smelly aisles in WalMart. Or Sweetbay........or any other US supermarket I've ever been in. Now that's not to say there aren't aisles that have a distinctive smell depending on what products are on their shelves. Obviously an aisle containing scented candles or air freshener is going to have a smell, especially as people often try out a spray product when they think no one is looking.

Maybe it's only me !

But Sainsbury's 'smelly aisle' was different. For a start it was the sort of smell you'd never want to come out of a spray can - well unless as part of a personal attack device. Combine it with some mustard or pepper and any potential attacker would be helpless on the ground even before the other active ingredients of the spray entered their systems. Probably deadly at close range. UK police forces please note.

I remember trying to tie the smell down to something I may have encountered before. Sweaty feet ? Rancid meat ? Gym clothing left in a sports bag for a few months ? Parmesan cheese ? The squished skunk we passed on I-75 ? The guy next to me at Elland Road in 1975 ?

None of those quite matched the smell. It actually wasn't that bad but it was......smelly. I don't want my shopping aisles to smell like that. It didn't encourage shopping - in fact as January became February, I found myself avoiding 'smelly aisle' altogether. It can't have held any products I regularly shopped for as I don't remember thinking, oh crap, I'm out of xxx and so it must be in 'smelly aisle'.

I don't know when the smell went away or how it went away but....it went away. All at once I was free to shop anywhere I wanted again. To misquote the Southwest Airlines tv commercial, I was free to move about the supermarket.

So back to yesterday in Sebring. As I wandered the aisles, my finely tuned olfactory senses picked up various low level smells, all of them quite agreeable. Even the motoring accessories aisle had pleasant smells like leather seat polish and the stuff that removes dead bugs from bodywork. I'm not sure why the later should be scented as I'd not care that much and the bugs were long past giving a damn.

I think in general, anything that comes out of a can has to have a nice smell nowadays or we won't buy it. Even bug spray here smells ok. I appreciate that even if the bugs don't. I mean one doesn't want to be walking around in the deep forest smelling like Sainsburys !!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Tempus Fugit - Backwards

It's that time of year when the UK and the US are closer buddies than usual.

This morning the clocks went back an hour in the UK but not till next Sunday in the US and so for the next week, we're 4 hours behind instead of 5.

I'm not bothering to alter my UK clock here on my site and will sort both out, if needed, next Sunday. I'd hope that when the time updates automatically on my laptop, I won't actually need to do anything on the blog site at all - but we'll see.

The upside is that, for the next week at least, I might get to talk longer with my UK pals before they go to bed.

And that has to be a Good Thing (you know who you are).

Street Party

We had a street party here in jolly old Buttonwood Bay yesterday but due to the potential for rain, it was moved inside - so it became, well just a party. And then it didn't rain.

Don't you hate it when that happens ??

Actually, given the time of year, it was also a Halloween Party and even at our advanced years, Halloween is BIG over here.

So this is a classic post where the photos need little explanation and so I'm going to be lazy and not give any ! Well apart from saying it's obvious that ANY costume you had in your closet was allowed an airing last night - and some were unintentionally scary !!


Friday, October 26, 2007

Pixie Update

We took Pixie over to the vet hospital for her first checkup after her surgery 9 days ago.

The news we got was not unexpected as we had seen little improvement ourselves. The surgeon used implements to nip her back legs and skin and got no response at all. Yes she can stand a little better if you hold her up but as soon as you let go, her back legs just give way and down she goes.

He said we now need to give her physical therapy for about 9 minutes twice a day. This involves putting her into warm water, almost uncomfortably warm he said, till it is half way up her body. Then from behind, take her 2 back legs and simply bounce her up and down for 3 minutes. The second 3 minute exercise is to rotate and move her legs as if she was strutting along quite fast. Vigorous was the way he did it. Pixie wasn't showing the slightest discomfort when he did it but then again, if she's paralysed back there, she wouldn't.

She did look back at one point and gave the surgeon a look which was slightly comical - a sort of "ok I feel nothing here but I'm working up quite a sweat" look.

The 3rd 3 minute exercise is to massage her back legs and general back area.......sort of like treating the legs like marinated chicken legs and work those herbs and spices right in there !

She's also to take steroid tablets (so she'll be ready for the next doggie Olympics) and antibiotics.
Add to all that having to continue to take her out to pee and poop and I'm tellin' ya, she's going be hard work for a while !

The bottom line is that the next couple of weeks will be vital. She is to go back in 2 weeks time for another exam but if she doesn't show any improvement at all in the next week to 10 days, we're to ring the hospital and they'll probably have her back early for blood tests. Basically we were warned that if there was no improvement (she should be reacting to being pinched for a start), we might be having to make a VERY hard decision.

Just before we left, they brought out another little dachshund to return to it's owners and it was a super frisky little thing. When placed on the ground, it was like an Energizer Bunny and although not entirely steady on it's rear legs, it was running around and skidding on the tiles and generally put Pixie's lethargic condition into stark perspective. That dog had been operated on 2 weeks ago !!

So that's where we are now. She'll get the steroids, the antibiotics and the therapy and we pray that there will be SOME progress and return of feeling within the next week to 10 days. If so, we can wait the 2 weeks before the next scheduled appointment.

If not, well we just can't think of that eventuality right now.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Gator Done.

The title of this post will go over the heads of any readers from outside the US. Maybe some from inside the US too !! Just take it as extremely clever, applaud my way with words and carry on.................

I'm pretty sure my cardiologist doesn't read my blog but if he should stumble upon it, then I'd ask him to look away now. It's not for the faint hearted........bypassed or not.

(I suspect I could think up more uses of the 'bypass' word at this point but I'll not push my luck)

On Sunday Deb's brother and his wife (Don & Lana) called in for a visit with us on their way down to Key West. That evening we went out for a meal and went to The Watering Hole as it is nearby and serves great food. It also has a live 14ft gator somewhere on the premises and I put up a photo of their sign a few posts ago. I'd never been there myself.

So we get there, only to find they don't open on a Sunday !!

Plan B. Well we didn't have a Plan B. We never expected Plan A to fail.

We set off again hoping somewhere would spring to mind and along the road into Sebring, we decided to go to R.J.Gator's as Dennis really likes the place and it's not a nationwide chain - so maybe Don & Lana had never been to one before. I certainly hadn't.

R.J.Gator's (Florida Sea Grill & Bar) is a relatively small restaurant chain with only 20 locations, 16 of them in Florida. If you want to create a chain of restaurants here, it's really hard to think of a way to make them different as just about every theme has been covered. Gator's has done it by incorporating the word 'gator' into every aspect of their menu and decor to leave you in no doubt that their theme is...........gators.

Debby and her brother ordered alcoholic drinks while the rest of us settled for water. The drinks sure were different and the containers.........well see for yourself.

Deb ordered the frozen rum runner but it gave no indication of size (or price) on the menu.

When it came, we gave a collective gasp as it was in a fish bowl (ok American's have odd shaped fish if THIS was a fish bowl) and was huge even by US standards.

Car keys were rapidly swapped as there was no doubt that, after a few sips to gauge the alcoholic content, Deb or Don wouldn't be driving us back to the park.

In an attempt to try everything on this trip, I had a sip and can't remember the rest of the evening.

No seriously, it was potent and really should have had smoke pouring out of it like some sort of Shakespearian witches brew. Don's came in an even more bizarre container.......a pail !!

Despite what it says on the pail, I think he ordered the Swamp Juice as his had plenty of varieties of rum in it too.

And so we moved onto the first food course which came under the heading of 'gatorizers' naturally.

We went with the flow (probably already influenced by the alcohol) and ordered Florida Alligator Tail. Maybe I tend to take menu items too literally but when they served up a large plate of tiny deep fried battered balls, most smaller than a marble, I was quite disappointed that a more recognisable part of an alligators anatomy wasn't taking up half the table.

But that's another tail. Sorry.

So what did it taste like, I hear you ask ? Don't say chicken, I hear you add.

And so we moved on to the entree. Don had the Bonita Bay Broiled Seafood Combo but asked for it to be fried - and had salmon instead of mahi-mahi. Dennis had the Gulf Coast Bucket and Lana had the Buffalo Chicken Finger Platter. Debby just ate bits of our selections. I played safe and went for the steak although seeing the salmon on Don's plate made me want it next time.

Here you can SEE what Lana and Don had - even if I can't tell you what everything is.

Deep fried battered food takes up a lot of the menu content at this place !!

Lots of batter and loads of dips.

This made for good sharing opportunities which is always a plus when we eat out. Scallops, shrimp, chicken, steak..........everything was passed around and tried by whoever wanted it.

We effectively turned R.J.Gator's into a buffet. I'm all for that sort of deal.

I'd ordered the ribeye steak and I've never seen a cut of meat so thin in my life. A very odd cut.
As I had to take a photo of it, I put my finger into view to give scale. Sadly I didn't get it down close enough to the meat and so it gives the impression it was just burger sized. It wasn't.

The meal, as described on the menu, was supposed to come with a selection of fresh veggies but when I asked what they might be, I passed on them.

Instead they offered me onions but as you can see, even they came fully battered.

The batter machine in the kitchen must be enormous. It has to be big enough to drop in a full sized alligator as for special functions, I'm sure one of those, battered, would be on the menu.

Notice the baked spud on my plate. Oh yes, I can eat healthily when I want to !! Just avoid the onions and steak and we'll be fine.

So we had a fun time and although the meal plus tip came to over $100, there were 5 of us and remember those drinks. For once we didn't need doggie bags as we scoffed the lot. Well battered food is very hard to reheat.

That was our excuse anyway.

Oh and the alligator tail ? Chicken !!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Creepy Jungle In Buttonwood Bay

In my Good Morning America post, I mentioned the nature trail that runs along the north east part of the park - unlike the other trail that runs at the south west and alongside Jackson Creek.
Although very pleasant to ride/walk/golf cart along, the creek trail is hardly a nature trail.

The first one, on the other hand, has more 'nature' than I'd care to come across even in daylight. I said I'd post some photos to show how the gardens of the homes that the trail runs past come right up to what I can only describe as a jungle - and I will post them soon.

Until today it was only in my darkest moments that I gave any thought to just what might lurk 'out there' and even gators came to mind. Every time I've been along that trail, I've hurried up when I've heard the rustling noises coming from the dense foliage. Ok so most of the time a 2 inch lizard thing has jumped out onto the trail and I've rebuked myself for being a wimpy Brit and for soiling another pair of skivvies that would otherwise have lasted me the week !

I never feared walking along the trail. I never feared biking along the trail. After today, I fear both. And in broad daylight too. Even with the very favourable exchange rate, you couldn't pay me enough $$$'s to go along that trail after dark.

And here is the reason why......................

Click on the photo and have a good look at this fella. Actually I've no idea if it is a fella and I wasn't going to go closer to check.

It was about 6"-7" long and that's just from one end of it's body to the other. Add in a bit for the legs and you get the idea of how big a brute this was.

And where was it ? Hanging from it's newly spun web right across the trail. A tall person on a bike would have had a close encounter unlike any dreamed up by Steven Spielberg. It makes me shiver just to think of it.

As you can see, it was hanging on by just 2 of it's legs and you can also see a strand of fresh 'silk' going from it's abdomen up to the existing web. This gave the impression it was ready to drop on any unsuspecting passerby, be it human or animal.

As I'd no idea if it was poisonous or would just give me a playful nip in passing, I didn't get too close. I didn't have my telephoto lens with me and this photo was taken with just the standard 18-55mm lens.

If I ply myself with enough drugs and alcohol, I may return tomorrow with my telephoto lens and monopod (to try and steady my shaking hands) and check if it's still there.

I'll probably dream of the bloody thing tonight and 'see' it dragging a poor old resident off into the jungle.

I'll be checking under the sheets for sure.

Monday, October 22, 2007

An Hawaiian Pool Table

We've had a pretty busy weekend here in BB as on Saturday we had a Luau & Pool Party and then yesterday we had relatives call in for a stop over on their way down to the Florida Keys where they will be spending the winter. They stayed the night and left this morning to continue on down to Key West.

Back to Saturday and it was busy even before the pool party. We went shopping for a reclining chair for me - as I'm old and like my feet up ! As well as that, Debby and Dennis have THEIR recliners so why should I be the only one not sitting in comfort ??


So we went to the local branch of Habitat For Humanity (ok I said I wanted comfort but I never said anything about paying for it !! You should know me by now.) and what a lovely Aladdin's cave of furniture we found there - all neatly laid out and in great condition. Within seconds I found my recliner chair and it was half price so I got it for $35. A steal.

I'm sitting here with my feet up and typing away in comfort. Life is good.

I'm easily pleased.

Later that afternoon it was Luau time and everyone dressed accordingly. I'd brought a few Hawaiian t-shirts with me (globetrotter that I am) so I was set to go. Sadly it was an overcast and wet day and the tables and chairs that had been beautifully decorated and set up around the sides of the swimming pool had to be brought inside the community centre and the overflow arranged under the covered area next to it.

As we entered the centre, we all got leid.

Stop tittering at the back, Jones Minor.

We were each garlanded with a traditional Hawaiian lei to help get us into the party mood.

It soon became apparent that 99.9% of the 226 people who were there had entered into the spirit of the event and were wearing brightly coloured shirts which, added to the hot muggy weather, certainly gave a flavour of being in Hawaii.

Many sported additional themed apparel ranging from equally dazzling shorts to outrageous sunglasses that Elton herself would've been proud to have worn a decade or so ago.

Once garlanded, we came to the tables which were as colourful as the guests. Thankfully every type of dish was labelled for those of us who had no idea what was what.

These 2 photos show some of the salads and desserts which you could pick up before getting to the 'heavy stuff' - the fish and meat.

The full menu was as follows :-

Salad bar: Five Cup salad, Crab Salad, Spinach Salad, Hawaiian Coleslaw and Sesame Cabbage Salad. Meats included: Slow Roasted Sirloin Tip, Hawaiian Ham, Pork Loin, Shrimp, Sweet and Sour Pork and Sweet and Sour Chicken. Vegetables: Rice, Stir Fry, Red Potatoes, Roman Noodles and Sweet Potatoes. Desserts: Key lime pie, Coconut Cream Pie, Hawaiian Wedding Cake, Pineapple Upside Down Cake, Fresh Fruit, Island Spice cake and Fruit Pizza.

I guess I was too busy talking to people as I certainly missed the announcement that everyone was only supposed to take 1 dessert.

All I know is that I liked several of those on offer so I was piling them up when finally one of the helpers spotted my groaning tray and with some panic in her voice, told me I needed to keep one and put the rest back.

I felt like a naughty schoolboy and of course I'd long since passed the location of my choices on the table so had to sheepishly pass my discarded (but certainly not unwanted) plates back down the line to the ribald comments from those behind me.

And they say kids can be cruel !

We returned to our table, started eating and the musical entertainment burst into life. This involved someone called Frank E who played a keyboard and sang to a backing track of, well it's hard to classify the music as it ranged from Beach Boys to The Village People. You can't beat a bit of YMCA to get the arthritic joints a'crackin. And those were just mine.

The rain eased off for a while and dancing was possible.

This lady was the one brave soul who turned up wearing a grass skirt.

I'd briefly thought about it but decided that I had too much to hide.

You can make up your own comments about that and Jones Minor, see the headmaster.

Many people removed their candle decorations from their tables and floated them in the pool. It wasn't a co-ordinated thing and if it had involved every table, it would've added to the ambiance of the occasion as it was now dark, the pool area was ringed with tiny lights and bamboo tiki torches, the free alcohol was starting to kick in and Frank E was crooning in the background.

Yes the luau party by the pool was in full swing and all thoughts of aching limbs and throbbing heads were put on hold till the following morning.

Some of the table decorations floated down to a corner of the pool (maybe it's a tidal pool !) and even though the candles had gone out, the colourful surrounds still made for a pleasing sight.

I went back home for my little tripod as I wanted to get a shot of the pool area to have as a memory of the night and knew a time exposure just wasn't possible without it.

By this time most people had left and so the photo doesn't do justice to the earlier scene when line dancing and all sorts of jitterbugging shenanigans were going on. I'm telling ya, give a load of oldies some free booze and anything loosely resembling music and they'll par-tay like it's 1899.

Sorry Prince.

Thankfully nobody fell into the water as a combination of low body mass and excessive alcohol might have dulled the senses of many.

By 9pm everyone made (slow) tracks to their golf carts and cars, the kevlar wearing SWAT team were stood down, Frank E was unplugged and the normal peace and quiet returned to the park.

A fine time was had by all and now, 2 days later the pool area is closed as it's being drained to allow repair work to start on a crack in the bottom concrete step.

You'd think someone would've developed a substance that would seal an underwater crack without the need to drain the pool.

It's probably why concrete hulled ships were never a huge success. That and their tendency to sink seconds after launch.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Dog Tired

Pixie is home !

We went to the animal hospital early this morning (it's a 75 minute drive each way) and met with Dr. Fulton who showed us what they'd found before her surgery. He put up the x-rays like they do and explained in great detail what was what and how they'd found the problem disc and operated on it to remove the seeping fluid.

I wish I'd had as much explained to me before and after MY surgeries - and I paid for mine too !
I think I deserved a few line drawings at least. Maybe a glove puppet show to tell me how they split open my chest and tinkered with my ticker.

But I digress.

Then he went and got Pixie and brought her to us. What a poor little partly shaved baby she was. All drugged up and looking at our familiar faces with some confusion and a lot of hope..........hope that we'd take her back to familiar surroundings.

First we were taught how to 'encourage' her to pee and if someone did to me what we were being taught to do to her, I'd be peeing a river, screaming like a schoolgirl and offering to do whatever the hell you wanted !! Needless to say, she pee'd immediately and I for one don't blame her. Hell I almost joined her.

And so we left for home and once again, on behalf of Debby and Dennis, I'd like to praise and thank the staff at Christina Animal Hospital - from Max, Todd and Vanessa (the vets) to Debbie on reception. They were wonderful .

Once back here in Buttonwood Bay we put Pixie into the new 'crate' that will be her home for the next few months when she's here alone or at night or just when there isn't a lap for her to sit on. This is a 30"L by 23"H by 21"W soft module which is better explained by going to this site or by looking at the photos below.

This is the module with Her Majesty in residence. With all these 4 photos, I've altered the brightness and contrast in Photoshop above the norm to make it easier to see Pixie.

This has given an overexposure feel to the images but for the purposes of this post, she's the VIP (Very Important Pooch) and she needs to be seen.

In this first photo, the flash going through the mesh has created a second Pixie just above the original. Don't worry, I've not managed to capture her soul leaving her body the way they show it in cartoons. She's still firmly attached to it.

This next photo pulls back to show the module in situ in front of our 3 chairs and right where she can always see us and us her.

The top zipped panel will always be pulled back and open so that we can look in as we pass by and lift her out when we want her on our laps.

The open panel can just be seen hanging down on the right. The panel facing the camera also unzips open, as does the front panel which faces the chair in the photo. Basically a dog or cat or naughty adult can easily be taken out from every side.

It's a travel module of course and folds flat for that purpose.

Looking in through the top, here is a view of Pixie just a few moments after being introduced to her new abode AND to her little companion.

I don't think she was impressed with either and definitely gave the baby the cold shoulder......well the cold butt actually.

Again the extra brightness shows up her shaved back and even the stitches - if you enlarge the photo.

Normally when she lies like this, her back legs are out behind her, so it's obvious everything isn't working well yet. At the hospital this morning she DID put a little bit of weight on them while being held by the vet - so there is progress if only a little.

Finally here is a close up of Pixie so the stitches can be seen more clearly.

It's not the most photogenic shot of her but under the circumstances, it's just great to have her back with us (no pun intended) and hopefully not in pain.

The financial and emotional outlay may have been hard to bear but as with anyone you care about, it's all relative.

The hope now is that her recovery will continue and that she'll be back to something approaching 100% soon. Then our worries really will begin. How do we stop her jumping about and repeating the damage ???

But that's for the future. Right now it's the classic case of taking it one day at a time.

And we've Very glad for that.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Serious ? Me ? Never !!

After the seriousness of yesterdays news, I needed to post a more lighthearted entry tonight and two appropriate items fell into my lap, so to speak.

I get a Google email every time certain words turn up on t'internet and I got one this morning from an online newspaper in Michigan. I'll cut/paste it here.

A Leelanau County funeral director is now a national calendar model. He's a fourth generation funeral director at Martinson's Funeral Home in Suttons Bay. Nick Martinson is Mr. December in the "Men of Mortuaries" calendar.

Now there is a calendar for the ladies for sure. I wonder if Mr. December is posing on a suitably adorned festive casket with elves as pallbearers. Oh lets go the whole hog and have the casket on a carriage pulled by Rudolph, Dasher and the rest. Maybe have a smiling Santa popping out from the open casket lid and waving at us.

I'd pay to see that.

The other 'item' came about today as we left the park and the worries about Pixie for a while and went to Tampa on a coach trip to the Hard Rock Casino. After all these years of visiting America, this was my first time on a coach and it was.......different. There were about 45 of us and the average age was probably 75 or more. The luggage area under the coach was filled with the usual plethera of walkers, oxygen tanks and iron lungs and the air inside was a mixture of cashmere bouquet powder and old spice.

Within 10 minutes of setting off from Sebring, most heads were tilted heavenwards and deep snoring was imminent. To perk everyone up, our unofficial leader decided we either needed to play a game or watch a video. Everyone voted for the video and so we played a game !

Leaders don't become leaders by being democratic after all.

The game ? Well it was pass the parcel. This involved passing a paper wrapped gift over heads and down the coach and when our leader said stop (using the up front mic), the person holding the parcel had to read the post-it note on the front, do whatever it said, rip off one layer of paper and pass the parcel along for the fun to continue unabated. The various layers revealed notes with instructions like -

- tell everyone your name.
- tell everyone what you ate for breakfast.
- smile at the person next to you.
- tell everyone what car would you like to own.

It was riveting stuff I can tell you. It started well but the passengers lost interest about the same time as the leader seemed to lose consciousness. The parcel kept coming around with the same layer of paper on it as the leader was talking or sleeping or had slipped into a coma and we never got the call to stop. Maybe it was a cunning plan to make the game last until we got to Tampa but it failed miserably.

Eventually the leader was revived, stop was shouted several times and finally the last layer of paper was ripped off to reveal the gift..........one of those push lights that you put somewhere that needs light but you can't be bothered to light with a proper electric powered light. Too many lights in that sentence but never mind.

This awesome gift was left behind on the winners coach seat when we went into the casino - probably in the hopes that it wouldn't be there when we returned. But it was.

I'd taken my camera as usual but knew it was almost out of battery power. I took a spare. On the trip to the casino, I took a few pics onboard and as we arrived at our destination, the battery ran out. No worries. I took the spare battery out of my pocket and when I removed the duff one, I suddenly realised my awful error. Wrong battery !!! I'd brought my spare camcorder battery which is just slightly bigger than the still camera battery. Grrrrrrr.

In classic fashion I rubbed the expired one in my hands to get a flicker of life into it (oh don't EVEN go there) and presto, it offered up just enough power to let me take one last photo.

So here is Debby in front of the iconic HRC guitar sign. Sadly it doesn't give a location but the palm trees at least let you know it's not in Birmingham, Dublin or Glasgow.

Could be Leeds of course - except that when I was last in Leeds, the HRC had closed and was being refurbished to reopen as........well not a HRC.

And so, grasping our free money vouchers and players cards, we approached the casino doors and now, finally, we come to the point of this story.

The casino is now owned by Native Americans, Indians to you and me. The Seminole Tribe to be accurate. A couple of their female representatives greeted us with arms full of beaded necklaces which they handed out to us to wear within the gaming floor.

Now maybe it's just me but I found the historical irony of this very amusing. The Indians were now giving US beads ! I loved it.

As if that wasn't enough, their damn slot machines then fleeced us of our money as well.

It may have taken a few hundred years but payback sucks.

So those were my two 'funnies' today. A funerial calendar and an historical irony.

Tomorrow morning we go back to the animal hospital to pick up Pixie. She is improving after her surgery but the road to full recovery is still not a certainty. One thing is for sure. She will get all the love and attention she needs and just having her back 'home' with us will be better than anything we could've won at the casino today.

I do like my beads though !!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pixie - A Dog's Story

We've been a bit preoccupied over the last few days as my friends' little miniature long haired dachshund, Pixie, has been causing us a lot of anxiety.

She'll be 8 years old in December and I've been with her for about half of her life. They got her just as I retired and since then I've been able to spend 6 months a year here in America. I'm not a doggie person but Pixie melted my heart immediately and I now love her dearly.

The breed is very prone to having back problems but she's always been a 'jumper' and would love to leap up and down from chairs to get to us and her favourite place was to be on our laps. It was just impossible to stop her from jumping and we just hoped nothing bad would come of it.

Well it did.

She'd not been herself in the few weeks since we got to Florida and would go off to a quiet corner to lie down - which was new behaviour for her. Then a few days ago she became very lethargic and didn't seem to want to move much at all. We suspected it was a back problem so on Monday afternoon we took her to the local vet who agreed and said in a worst case scenario, she might need surgery. The first action was to take some pills and see how she got on.

The next day she did seem a little better and at 4pm we gave her another pill. An hour later when picking her up, she gave a heartbreaking cry as if someone had stood on her paw and immediately we saw that the vets words had come true. She was unable to move her back legs and would either sit when placed on the ground, or worse still, fall over. It was awful to see this happen and when she'd look up at us with her ever trusting and yet helpless and totally bemused eyes, it was impossible not to well up ourselves.

We rang the vet and he said to bring her in for a steroid injection and he'd see what needed to be done - as speed was of the essence to avoild total paralysis, if it hadn't happened already.

The diagnosis wasn't good. The vet said that Pixie needed to have surgery as soon as possible and the best man for the job (Dr. Max Easom) just happened to be nearby at an animal hospital close to Lakeland and so only 64 miles away. The only problem was it was now 8pm on Tuesday and if we just turned up at the hospital in the morning, there was no guarantee Dr. Easom would be there.

We had no choice and decided to go first thing in the morning, this morning.

Pixie settled down next to me on my bed for the night and I hardly got a wink of sleep as I was so worried about her. We'd been told to try and keep her as inactive as possible to minimise more damage to her spine. It was a long night.

We set off at 7am and got to the hospital at 8:25. It was a lovely bright cheerful and ultra clean place with staff who gently put us at ease. Sadly we were told the bad news that Dr. Easom didn't work on a Wednesday but we let another vet have a look at Pixie. Unknown to us, the staff contacted Dr. Easom as his speciality is dachshunds and he had operated on about 3000 over the last 30 years. Even though he had done emergency surgery on a dog at 5am and gone home to sleep, he realised that speed was vital in helping Pixie and came straight back in.

His examination and diagnosis concurred with everyone else and using a book of photos and a 3D model of the spine, he explained what had happened. Without going too deeply into it, the gel like protective tissue between one of the discs had most likely ruptured and the escaping fluid was pushing against the spinal cord and thus causing the paralysis. That's why time was critical as if the gel could be removed, a full recovery would be possible........even probable.

That JUST left the big question.......was he to go ahead with the surgery ? Why not, you ask ?

Well the cost was pretty steep and as with all major spinal surgery, human and animal, even if the patient survives the actual surgery, things can still go wrong and it could all be for nothing.
Given Dr. Easom's positive comments, his experience with this operation, his track record and finally looking at Dennis' face ( he just wanted his beloved doggie 'all fixed' ), he and Debby decided to give permission for the surgery to go ahead.

So we left the hospital about 9:30am and the plan was that surgery would take place almost immediately. We waited anxiously for the call and when it came, Debby gave us the thumbs up.
Surgery had gone well and Pixie was awake and alert. Of course it's too early to know if it all worked and she can use her back legs again. Time will tell and we'll ring again before they close at 6pm this evening.

So with this first step successfully completed, I'm going to break my own blog rule and post a photo of myself. It's not some egotistical thing, far from it as I hate any photos of myself, but it's the best photo I have of Pixie and I can't end this post without showing why she has worked her way into our hearts. To help with this I need scale and if it's one thing I can provide in a photo, it's scale !!!

And here we are. Pixie is the one on the right, by the way.

I can't pretend this was taken recently as, for one thing, I have hair ! But although I may have lost my way hair wise, Pixie is exactly the same.

Isn't she precious ???

Well we think so and fingers crossed, she'll be back with us late tomorrow or the next day and I can report that she's putting weight on her back legs.

We'll also be happy when she's able to pee and poop again but I also need to add myself to that.

I did say it was an anxious time !!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Truckin' Thru Sebring

Yesterday morning we went into town to do a spot of shopping and I took a few photos along the way.

It's not easy to photograph most small US towns as their layout doesn't lend itself to exploring them on foot. In my experience, many are basically one road towns with every important store along this strip. You drive into the parking lot of a Lowes or Home Depot (2 large home improvement nationwide stores like B&Q or Homebase in the UK) and you're suddenly a long distance from the road. To get to the next store you have to go back out to the road and sometimes go several hundred feet before heading into another parking lot and so on.

There are usually no pavements so walking in safety is not an option.

Yes there are small towns which are compact and quite like our towns back home, but these would normally be in the north of the country and basically restricted to the New England area.
I know this is a sweeping generalisation but read Bill Bryson's wonderful book on small town America and you'll see what I mean.

So with that in mind, I made use of being a passenger in the truck and took these photos mainly to give an impression of the town and as the weeks and months go on, I may be able to take more detailed ones as we stop for meals and visit more stores.

Sebring is located in mid Florida and has a population of almost 11,000. It gets it's lowest average temperature in January and that's still a very pleasant 73F.

This month (Oct) has an average temp of 84F and right now, at 12:45pm, it's 91.7F according to the probe I've got set up under the window awning so that it always gives a shade reading.

You can imagine the temp in the sunshine and that's why few people in the park are out and about right now. I'll be the mad Brit talking my daily walk after I've posted this but I only stay out for 30 minutes and as I've said before, I'm liberally basted with sun lotion.

Via the movies and tv shows, readers from the UK should be used to seeing that traffic lights are strung across intersections here.

The fast food place on the left is a Wendy's - a chain we still don't have in the UK. It slots into 3rd place behind McDonalds and Burger King and does the whole burger thing too. It's main difference is that it's meat patties are square and they add mustard to the ingredients.

Different and very nice actually. They also do excellent salads which I try from time to time - all fast food doesn't have to be Bad.

The road through Sebring is US-27 and as the photos show, is a wide dual carriageway which often widens even more to become 3 lanes in both directions. The town was built next to the 9,212 acre Lake Jackson which makes the drive through very pleasing on the eye.

This 3rd photo shows how close the road is to the lake as it sweeps around heading north.

Off in the distance, between the two poles on the right, you can just make out the distinctive light blue watertower, a feature common to most US towns.

I mention it here as it helps to show how the road curves around the lake as the next photo shows us passing by the tower.

I'm not sure how they came to the figure of 11,000 people as the population has to fluctuate enormously depending on the time of year. From April till October when the weather here is almost unbearably hot and humid, the snowbirds leave and return home - where it's probably just as hot and humid !

Then, at this time of year, they start to return to Sebring and take up residence in their winter homes and thus swell the population.

I'm now a snowbird I guess and although the heat and humidity will still be a big factor for a few more weeks, I'm loving it.

So here is the watertower which, if nothing else, lets you know exactly where you are !

When I first came to visit America in the summer of '89, I came to Florida and after a week of touring around, I visited Daytona Beach on the east coast of the state. There I met a family who I'm pleased to say are still close friends today. The first meal we had together was at a buffet restaurant and it was my introduction to the idea of 'all you can eat' food. I'd always thought it was a 'one off' restaurant until I came to Sebring and was delighted to see one here as well.

Given the popularity of The Simpsons and the eating prowess of the head of THAT family, it's been easy to remember the same of this buffet chain.

I try to avoid buffets now as the idea is quantity over quality and no one needs to eat THAT much anyway.

So I've not been to this one in Sebring but when I see the sign, I smile and think of my friends and that first meal an incredible 18 years ago.

The wife was pregnant with the young man who is about to go to college now and their little girl who was still 5 months short of her 3rd birthday back then, is now a wife herself and mother of 2 children. Where does the time go ???

Moving swiftly on, here is a sign which isn't unusual at all in the US but would never be seen in the UK........well not to my knowledge.

I've seen many drive through signs in my time, from weddings to church services and I seem to remember driving through a store of some kind where you'd drive slowly past all the items and place your order as you went along and they were ready and bagged for you at the end - all ready for payment.

It was probably somewhere in California where, God forbid you'd ever want to step out of your car to do anything. I'm sure internet shopping has done away with such drive through stores as nothing stays for long in this country.

At one point I glanced out the large passenger door mirror and decided to take a photo of the view.

It was a rush decision and the focus zone I'd set on the camera meant that the back wheel arch of the truck was nicely in focus, but the important view behind it, wasn't.

The truck is a dually which means it has two rear wheels on each side to help with stability when towing the 5th Wheel. With nothing to tow, the truck is a diesel thirsty beast which takes some parking even in US lots. We also have to remember just how far out the wheel arches are when pulling up at a fast food window and this means we have quite a job getting the money to the cashier and them passing the food out to us !

Sometimes the fast food becomes flying food but it all adds to the excitement of eating here. Where else would you expect an employee to throw you your bag of food without batting an eyelid ?

As you may see in the rear view photo, there was a biker coming up behind us and so I prepared to snap him when he passed by.

This is the shot I took and it's unusual mostly due to the fact he's wearing a helmet.

Most bikers here go bare headed or wear just a buff of some sort to ward off the effects of the sun. Beards are almost obligatory, the longer the better, and often we see ZZ Top lookalikes zooming along on their choppers in true Easy Rider style.

I never did get into town during the bikers weekend but given the wonderful climate, bikes are very common here at any time.

Many signs promoting restaurants, bars and motels tend to use words in an amusing way to get us to remember them.

Many motels make use of the word 'Inn' by prefixing it with words like 'Sleep', 'Slumber', 'Stop' and 'Died'.

Ok, I just made that last one up.

This bar sign took the idea to another level by creating an amusing and memorable name from the otherwise dull and common word 'lounge'.

When we're down in Key West, we love to visit the ultimate named bar and restaurant. In keeping with the laid back, no worries attitude prevalent in the Keys, this Pine Key establishment is called 'The No Name Pub'

The walls and ceiling are totally covered with signed dollar bills so even if the name (or no name) of the pub isn't memorable enough, the decor will always stick with you.

I think I'll mention this idea to the owners of The Wellington back in Leeds but I'm not sure if they'd like their customers sticking pound notes everywhere. I think it'd be asking for trouble and I can imagine the police report after a robbery - well, nothing was taken from the tills but the walls were stripped bare !

By now we'd done the shopping and were headed south, back to Buttonwood Bay.

Lake Jackson is now on the left and once again, this photo shows how US-27 follows it around.

It was about 10am and so the roads weren't very busy. Whatever mini 'rush hour' Sebring gets was long over and traffic was normal again.

There was just one more sign I wanted to get a photo of and it's not that it's particularly amusing or different (for America). I just like it - mainly as it's so bold and eye catching - which after all, is the whole raison d'etre for a sign.

It's ambiguity is the only thing I have against it. I mean if your dog needs glasses, why would you want another dog - even if it is free ?

I think I need a lie down.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Do The Local Lotion With Me

Apologies to Little Eva and even Kylie Minogue for the above twist on their song lyrics, but all will be revealed, as the actress said etc etc.

Thanks to wi-fi internet, I'm sitting here in the lanai room (Florida Room to you and me) as it just became too hot and uncomfortable in the main living room. We try not to have the a/c going in there during the day as we go out and come in a lot and it's a bit of an expensive waste.

The lanai room, however, is very cool as glass runs the entire length of it, either in the form of windows or doors. These can be opened to let the air in and then the twin ceiling fans circulate it around and it feels lovely and cool. The fans are needed as the outside temp is 93F right now so just letting in that hot air would not exactly help the situation.

I've already had my walk and swim today and even lay for a while by the pool side - but only for 10 mins each side and even then I kept sliding off the sun lounger as I'd basted myself liberally with factor 127 sun block and I was like the well oiled Christmas turkey that you just can't get a grip on when trying to shove it into the oven.

Around the pool, there had been a sudden rush of sunglasses to eyes as the morning sun bounced of my pasty white Brit body and dazzled the nearby basking residents. I hate being the only "whitey" in the place but hopefully it won't be for long.

But being here for 6 months I can work up to a full tan in easy stages. No red scorched body parts here. Been there, done that. Didn't like it much. No, I can take it easy and get a little when walking, a little more on the bike and a final touch up lying by the pool.

Yesterday when we were all out by the shed doing a bit of tidying, I noticed a funky plant at the bottom of what shall be known as our squirrel tree. As well as providing a home and play area for the cute little critters, it gives some welcome shade when we sit outside or use the grill for bbqs.

It seems it's an Aloe plant and this fascinated me as due to my love of suntanning, I use bucketfuls of aloe lotion to both moisturise my delicate skin and help my tan remain longer. I mean when I return to the UK at the end of March, I'd like my tan to draw gasps of admiration for a bit longer than a week or two.

I'm not sure if the species outside is the one mentioned in that link above but it does seem like it. So far I've seen no flowering bits, but it may be the wrong time of year. What do I know ?

I should've waited till the sun was shining on the area but you'll get the general idea from these 2 photos I took just minutes ago.

The lanai room is to the left with the little shed twixt it and the tree. Squirrel tree.

Our bikes are resting in the shade as getting on a hot seat is no way to start a ride. The bbq grill is beyond the white plastic chair.

Ok now that we're all on the same hymn sheet page, so to speak, hopefully you can just make out the aloe plant at the base of the tree, slightly towards the chair. Remember my photos on here can always be enlarged by clicking on them. It's a free service so please make use of it !!

If you STILL can't make it out, here it is up close.

Anyway, I carefully broke off one of the green stalks as, although the spikey sides aren't particularly sharp, I'd not recommend running your fingers up and down them.

A colourless sticky resin oused out and stuck to my fingers like Spiderman's web goop. I tried scaling the wall of the lanai but sadly the goop had no spidey features. Glad I found this out before leaping off the roof.

So there we have it. No photos of birds this time.
Just an aloe plant.

I'm still on the lookout for a gator or a snake so don't give up on me just yet.

In the meantime I'm off to do some 'work' but it's all relative. This 'work' involves a big glass of ice cold water, putting my feet up and settling down to watch Mondays double episode of Coronation Street. Someone give that Platt kid a good slap.

As I keep telling everyone, it's a hard life.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Gooooood Morninggggg America !!!

I'm trying to get into a sort of routine here regarding exercise. I put on a lot of weight over the summer and it needs to go. If I can't do it here, I never will. The weather and this park makes it easy to do plenty of walking and biking and swimming and generally being outside getting fresh air.

Back in the UK I don't exactly live in a concrete jungle and as I've said in previous posts, I can be in the countryside in a few minutes. But apart from the odd rabbit, I don't see much wildlife. That doesn't mean it's not there. Just means I don't see it.

I was sitting in our lanai room yesterday and glanced out to the tree which is right beside it. This little fella was running up and down the trunk and as I had my camera handy, I took a couple of photos through the window. I have to admit we've not cleaned the windows since we got here a week ago so they're not at their best.........but I just wanted a record of the scene and didn't care that it wasn't perfect.

Sometimes you just gotta make do.

The squirrels that congregate around the Cafe On The Lake all winter are nowhere to be seen right now and we've wondered where they are. I like the idea of them heading off somewhere with little suitcases for pastures new until the snowbirds return to the park and their food supply is restored. But I blame that Disney fella for filling my imagination with such images. He's scarred me for life.

More likely, they've just spread out around the park and are hoping for scraps of food lying around on the properties that are occupied.

They won't find anything on THIS property !!

So back to this exercise business. I'd walked along a nice 30 minute route the last 2 mornings but it was always closer to noon than early morning and I'd return dripping with sweat and having a cold shower didn't help much.

So this morning I got up at 7:15 (a time I never knew existed in the UK), had my 2 cups of coffee and then set out for my walk. I decided to 'design' a better route - one that incorporated both the nature trails that run around the edge of the park. The first one hugs Jackson Creek for about 1 km before spitting you out onto the internal park road system and after a short walk along one of these roads, you come to the other trail which takes you through scenery that better suits the name nature.

But first, before getting to the Jackson Creek trail, I came to the lake and as usual, there were a few wading birds along it's edge dipping their long beaks under the water and pecking out whatever critters they could find.

I know my posts could easy become boring with constant photos of birds, especially the same birds, so I promise to limit future photos to ones where the birds are unusual or they are doing something unusual.

A heron or a stork with a vaudeville cane and straw hat would fit that criteria but don't hold your breath.

Maybe a crane with a cane. Has a ring to it.

I've not had much experience taking photos of birds in flight but one took off, started by my approach (or dazzled by the glare from my still white Brit legs) and I took the photo you see here.

It didn't fly far enough to retract it's landing gear - although even when it does, it's ridiculously thin legs just stick out behind it's body like a couple of twigs it's snagged along the shoreline.

Landing is incredibly graceful as these twigs suddenly shoot forwards to initially help with balance and then with a sort of hover worthy of a Harrier Jet, it gently lands with all the nimbleness of a prima ballerina.

Bloody show off.

While still at the edge of the lake and close to the wooden pier, I spotted a large butterfly darting around as only butterflies can do. Yes I know many winged critters dart around but few have wings the size of butterflies. In relation to their bodies, they are huge and how they can change direction so fast is one of natures mysteries - one that the military of any nation would love to crack as it would make their fighter aircraft invincible.

This butterfly knew nothing about head up displays, power to weight ratios and thrust vectors. It just wanted something to eat from the mud.

On the few occasions when it landed, the background was always a distraction. I tried to coax it onto the rail of the pier but it wasn't in a photogenic mood.

I could've picked it up, stuck a pin though it and nailed it to the pier but that idea had so many downsides that I soon dismissed it. I also wasn't carrying a pin so it was really a non starter.

Oh now don't start on me. I'd never be so cruel. I'd stun it with a blunt object first.

I continued on my new route and soon reached the 2nd nature trail which really takes you close.......to nature. Well nature of a sort. On one side, the lawns of the manufactured houses come right down to the path and on the other, it's like a subtropical jungle and I'd never dare leave the trail and enter it's depths. The flora and fauna is totally alien to me and I should have taken photos - I will next time. I half expected an inquisitive velociraptor head to pop out at me as it was that kind of area. The unsettling bird and insect noises grew louder and I sped up.

Once back out on park roads I let both my pace and my heart rate slow down and took the shortest route back to the house. I was surprised to find I'd only been out 31 minutes and I'll get that time down by not stopping so often to take photos !! I do want to take my camera though in case I come upon a gator or more likely, a snake as we don't get many of those in the north Leeds suburbs. I'd heard there was recently a snake in the main swimming pool and when the temps approach 100F in the shade, I don't blame it. It just needs to slither out when I get there as I hate to go round ANYTHING when I'm doing lengths !

All that exercise has given me an appetite. I think we'll go to a breakfast buffet as I'm sure I've lost way too much weight already today to be healthy !!

Most Recent Awards

Most Recent Awards