As has become our tradition (i.e. since we moved to Florida), we spent Christmas Eve with Joy and Bob. Joy and I take turns hosting and this year it was our turn. Initially I had some doubts has to whether or not we should go ahead and take our hosting turn this time around. I mean we are still living on what is essentially a construction site and as a consequence we are seriously crunched for space and for heaven's sakes, we didn't even have a real Christmas Tree to put our presents around before we opened them!
But eventually I came to my senses and realized that those piddly little things don't matter. In fact, it will make it all the more memorable. Ten years from now we can say, hey remember the Construction Christmas year? And it will be something to laugh about.
So we gathered together anyway. I got clever and brought the teensy tiny table top Christmas Tree to the ottman, turned a tray upside down so that it had a level surface and voila, we had a Christmas Tree to gather around. We ate dinner, we opened our stocking gifts to each other which means we laughed A LOT, we ate the yummy pumpkin pie that Joy brought and then, as has become tradition when it's our turn to host, we went to the arboretum to admire the lights.
I know that I've explained this before and perhaps there is something similar where you live but I will quickly explain if you are unaware. There is an exceptionally pretty and good sized park here on the island called Blalock Park. It is officially an arbortetum with many many different kinds of trees and shrubs - most of them with little signs explaining what they are. There are trails and statues of native critters, a good sized gazebo, benches and a butterfly garden. It is a lovely place any time of the year but at Christmas it's extra special.
The offer goes out to any individual, family or group that wants to "adopt" a bit of greenery to decorate for Christmas. It is always beautiful and while a few bits of decor remain the same year to year, most of it changes. This was a banner year. More people signed up to be adoptors than in any year past. The arboretum was nearly ablaze with lights. It. Was. Awesome!
Some of the decorations were interactive, like the angel wings above. But there were a few new ones this year. One, an ode to the circus history on the island and the other, just a bit of whimsy. We took full advantage of both:
Let's see, how shall I group them?
There were quite a number of snowmen. Perhaps because snow people do not exist naturally in Florida? Not sure why but it was a very popular theme:
And probably for the same reason, a lot of snowflakes. I think about all of the contemporary Christmas songs that involve snow: Frosty the snowman, White Christmas, Let it Snow come to mind immediately. Maybe we are in need of some non snow related Christmas songs? At any rate - snowflake decorations:
Santa, his elves and his reindeer were everywhere!
Many other animals, maybe not so traditional but still dang cute anway:
There were a lot of angels and a lot of stars. Makes perfect sense to me!
A few things that were, well, unexpected and a couple that defied explanation but what they heck....why not?
And some that were very creative and other that were just beautiful:
All in all, it was, as it always is, a perfect Christmas Eve.
Hope yours was too.
And that should be the last of the Christmas related posts for this year!
First of all, I hope all of you had an absolutely wonderful Christmas! We certainly did! And now that we are all in Christmas Recovery, (good times can be exhausting!) but before the new year begins, I thought perhaps I would catch up on the last few Christmassy stories.
Today's will be about the cakes. I don't believe I told you about the cakes.
Do you remember way back in the summer when Tim surprised me with a mini-bundt pan? It's the cutest dang thing. Looks like this:
Wow that is way too close up, sorry. But you get the idea. I was very excited about this new toy and set to work straight away trying it out. With each attempt I learned more about how to adapt my existing recipes to this new pan. I learned, I fiddled and adjusted and eventually I developed enough confidence in myself and my new pan that I decided I wanted to make baby bundt cakes for all my local people for Christmas!
Please bear in mind here that I came to this decision during the summer. Which is a very long time before Christmas. What was I thinking? I was thinking how dang cute those baby bundts would be and I could not wait to get started. While I waited, I planned. I decided which cakes to make: chocolate, gingerbread, blueberry, pumpkin, banana nut and buttermilk if you care to know. I found the perfect little pans with clear covers (at the dollar store no less!) to use as my gift box and in the clearance bin at Micheal's I found very pretty Christmassy looking ribbons to wrap around each box.
There was one bug that had not yet been resolved though. The cake release. In regular cake pans, regardless of the shape or size, the surface is fairly smooth, so coating the pans with shortening and then flour and then using waxed paper or parchment to ensure that the cake can be easily removed from the pan fully whole and undamaged is no big deal. With this new pan is was a much bigger issue.
Parchment or waxed paper simply could not be used because of the designs built into the pan. All of those very snazzy grooves and swirls also made it very complicated to even get shortening and flour into every crevice. And it really needs to be thoroughly coated. I cannot stress that enough. If there is even one tiny itty bitty little spot that is not sufficiently protected, the cake will stick in that spot and instead of the cake releasing perfectly, it will come out in pieces. Not ideal.
Then, too, the clean up is a major pain in the arse. No matter how many times I washed and re washed and re-re-washed I would always find some little spot that I missed. ARGH! I was beginning to rethink my entire plan until I remembered that the nice people at the company that created PAM also created one specifically for baking. "Perfect Release" it says right on the can. Okay, I decided, Let's give this a whirl. Huzzah Huzzah~ It worked ! Not only did the cakes come out quickly, easily and perfectly, but - bonus - clean up was ever so much easier! YAYAYAY!
So, come holiday time, after making Thanksgiving pies, the Christmas cookie bakathon, and brownies for a party, it was time to make the bundt cakes. I did all of the baking, all six kinds of cakes on a Thursday. I was so pleased at how they turned out that I was literally dancing around the kitchen. Each one came out of the pan perfectly. Well the blueberry cakes maybe not so perfectly but blueberries are oddly shaped so they can be forgiven. Especially since they taste so great.
The next day, Friday, I decorated. Coming up with six different decorations was something else I had to work out but I did and on the fly too. In fact, I learned how to candy pecans while decorating so that the candied pecans could be part of the one cake decoration! I had So Much Fun!
By the time I was done and had begun delivering cakes, the kitchen was a wreck and the clean up took awhile. But it was great fun, the cakes turned out pretty well, people seemed to like them and, well, probably next year I will do it again.
Hopefully I will have learned a few more tricks by then and they will turn out even better!
I've always been told that home made gifts are the best kinds of gifts. But I cannot sew or paint or craft or build a bird house or any of the other wonderful things that people create. But I can bake. And so I did.
Bet you thought this was going to be another Christmas themed post? Nope, not today. Today I thought I would write up our most recent photo safari which took place before Christmas. Fear not, the Christmas Themed Posts will resume tomorrow :)
But for now, Another Photo Safari Report! I am calling this one the "At least it was a nice hike" Hike because, well it was a lovely hike but oddly, we took very few photos. Not sure what that was all about but it was true. Neither Joy, nor I, took very many pictures.
It was a gorgeous day though. Chilly enough to wear a sweatshirt but warm enough to wear hiking shorts. It had rained hard the day before so the grass and leaves were very wet, but the sun was shining brightly for our hike. The previous days storm had some wild and crazy wind but it had settled down to a gentle breeze for us. Very Very nice. I think it might have been the easiest hiking we've done in a long time.
There was no sweating, no frond "bridges" that needed to be built and we ran from no feral hogs. No sneaky snakes, no hungry gators, no vampiric mosquitos and in fact, there was not much at all other than the trails and a lot of trees.
The trails are gorgeous, make no mistake:
We didn't even find many birds! Where were they hiding? Were they out Christmas shopping? Were they nestled into their nice warm nests reluctant to emerge into the chilly morning? Perhaps they were on vacation? Here are the few birds that I actually saw (and a couple of other things too):
I did take some botanical shots though. I always do of course, but this time it was because there just weren't many other photo options:
We still had a great time. It always feels so good to be out in nature, in the quiet, walking the trails and admiring Mother Nature's handiwork. I suspect that even if we had no cameras we would still manage to get out there and hike the trails. And it was especially nice during the hectic and insanely busy Christmas Season to step away from the crazy for awhile and listen to the quiet.
And that's it! Like I said, not very many pictures. But we walked about 4 something miles, enjoyed ourselves, and ultimately we were, as we always are, happy with the day.
I'll be back to writing up Christmas related things again tomorrow. I think there are a few more stories to tell along that line.
This will be my last post before the Big Day! As we get down to the wire on Holiday Preparations I know that we are all a little squeezed for time, me for writing, you for reading these blog posts of mine so I'm going to give us both a few days off. Take one thing off of both of our plates. Every little bit helps ;)
Today I'm offering up just a few bits and pieces of observations:
It's not looking very traditional Christmassy here today. I mean not even for Florida. It's grey and gloomy and rainy and my phone has been pinging me "Severe Thunderstorm" Warnings for an hour or so. Despite that, I hear the banging and clanging of workers across the street who are building a massive house. I hope they know to stop if the lightening begins! Yikes! But whatever this Severe Storm brings us, at least it's not snow and ice! Eventually the sun will come back out and it will be normal Florida Christmas once again.
I was very amused at my grocery shopping trip on Monday. Which surprised me because what I expected was lots and lots and LOTS of harried, stressed out shoppers, empty spots on the shelves and general craziness. All of which was there of course, but then I saw something that made me laugh out loud and suddenly all the rest of it was not a big deal at all. Some adult sized human was walking around the store, very casually, as if he were an ordinary regular grocery shopper, in full on Spiderman Regalia. Spiderman Shops at Publix! LOLOLOLOL It was awesome and exactly what we all needed.
I have been enjoying So Very Much all of the Christmas Cards that are showing up. And I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised. It wasn't that long ago that THEY (the mysterious omnipotent "they") predicted that paper cards were a thing of the past, dinosaurs. People would now send only electronic cards. We would protect the environment, save the trees and the cost of postage. I have nothing against trees, in fact I quite like them. I have planted many a tree in my day and it is no secret that I like to save money. But as clever as some E-Cards are and as convenient as it may be to just link your electronic address book to an ecard and hit send, saving both your hand from writing and the time necessary to put it all together, it's just not the same. I do not poohpooh any ecard I get! I'm delighted that someone thought of us at Christmas time and thank you very much! BUT a real 3-D card that I can hold in my hand, on hang on a tree or stand on the table or make a craft with later is infinitely better. Just my opinion mind you. But clearly others feel the same way because we have gotten so many lovely cards this year ;)
It was reinforced to me this year that, oddly, the more I bake, the less of it I eat. I know, that sounds wrong, doesn't it? Maybe it's the same reason that in many cases, people who work at ice cream, candy and cookie factories who allowed to eat as much as they desire, eventually lose the desire. Perhaps it's true that you really can have too much of a good thing? No, that just seems wrong. And yet, in the past few weeks, much like all of you, I have made more cookies, pies, brownies, cakes and other goodies, than the rest of the year combined. And I ate very little of it. In fact, I made some things that I didn't taste at all. Not a nibble. Very Strange. It's as if I entered some bizarro world of opposites!
One of the things I love about Christmas time is how personal it is to everyone. There are as many different correct ways to celebrate this holiday as there are people on this planet. And yet we find ways to merge traditions, to create new traditions, to embrace old traditions or mix it up. I love talking to people about how they celebrate, hearing their ideas, their plans their Christmas History. And what's more, I am not hearing any people argue that other people are celebrating Christmas wrong. Other times of year, some folks are quick to point out presumed errors in how we think, dress, talk and act because there is so much variety, so many different ways to do everything and perhaps they are discomfitted by what they perceive as disorder. Everyone must do everything the same way. (which is so silly) But at Christmas Time we seem to embrace the disorder, we love the messy, we delight in the differences between us. If only we could keep that attitude all year long.
And I think that's enough of that.
So, I will end this post (and this week) by wishing you all a Very Merry Christmas or whatever holiday it is that you celebrate at this time of year. I hope it's happy and funny and sweet. I hope you cherish your old traditions and start some new ones. I hope you eat good food and feel cozy with good friends and/or family. Watch some Christmas movies, enjoy some Christmas Activities. Exchange a gift or two. And love every moment because this moment will never come again.
Hugs all 'round
Soooo, how was your weekend? Are you ready for Christmas? It's less than a week away now!
We celebrated our Anniversary AND Minock Day! It was a two-fer. We met up in Tampa and first went out to lunch so we could do two of our favourite things, eat, talk and laugh. Oh that's 3 things. Sorry. Clearly I cannot count today. We always allow Plenty of time for the talking and laughing portion of our get togethers ;)
Because none of us live in Tampa or hang out there on a regular basis, we don't know our way around very well. So Tim did some research and found first a parking garage near where we wanted to be and also a restaurant that sounded like fun. It was called, "The Gen X Tavern". The word Tavern sounds like it's going to be small and old and dark. But it was roomy and very modern and very well lit and peppered with 80's memorabilia. The food and the service were both good and of course the company was great. As anticipated, much talking and laughing ensued ;)
Eventually we headed over to the arena for the show. We had great seats. We were in the front row and so near the stage that we could easily see facial expressions and catch some of the subtle interplay between the performers. For me, being in the front row means that, I don't have anyone blocking my view. Hurrah!!!!!!!!
I have no idea if you've ever seen Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) or if you ever even heard of it, but they put one one heck of a great show. I think we've seen them maybe 5 times now total, in both Colorado and now Florida. We have never ever been disappointed in a show. The audience occasionally but never the show. It is a 2 1/2 hour long spectacular performance that feels like no time at all has passed.
It turns out that this year is the 25th anniversary of TSO and some of the performers have been with the show since the very beginning. The leader of the group, at some point in the performance always makes it a point to introduce every single member of TSO and mention their gratitude to not only the audience but also the people who work so hard behind the curtains that we never see. I admire that.
The show is a fest for the senses. It's amazing music and a wonderful story and a crazy light show all at the same time. At one point snow was gently falling on the audience! There are fireballs and fog machines and giant cranes lifting performers out over the audience and so much more.
I am finding that I really cannot adequately describe them. Suffice it to say that we had a really good time.
Sorry that's all I have for photographs. I was too busy enjoying the show to take many pictures.
After their final bows and a long standing ovation we found our way back to our respective cars and then onward to the long drives home, them to the north, us to the south. Totally worth it!!!
Another Awesome Minock Day!
Yup That's Tim and I. I know you already saw this photo but it's being reprised here today because tomorrow is our anniversary! Twenty-eight years together ;) Woohoo!
We've been through a lot together in those 28 years too. We've lived in three different states and six different addresses. Together we watched 3 boys hit big time milestones like: learning to drive, sweating out final exams, graduating, fall in that same kind of forever love and buy their own homes.
We have done a lot of exciting and wonderful travelling to places like: the island of Cuacao; Cancun, Mexico and Maui, Hawaii. We went on one fabulous cruise and travelled domestically, extensively. Las Vegas, Santa Fe, New Orleans, Washington DC, San Diego and San Francisco. The toured the Florida Keys and Amish Country in Pennsylvania. We climbed mountains in Colorado, rediscovered American History in Boston, and ate ice cream in Vermont at the Ben & Jerry's factory. We hunted for gems in New Hampshire, sea glass on the beaches of Maine and interesting things to do off season at Lake Winnipesaukee.
In the past twenty-eight years we have each had a number of different jobs. I believe I've had 4 different jobs and five different volunteer gigs in those 28 years and times when I had no job at all. I just realized that Tim has also worked at 4 different places since we've been married and he also completed his Marine Corp commitment. None of those job changes happened without a least a bit of anxiety, a dollop of challenge, a pinch of stress but we each stood by the other and picked up the slack whenever it was dropped without complaint.
We supported each other through the loss of each of our parents, a few friends and far too many beloved pets. Each of us in turn felt safe being vulnerable in our grief because the other one stood even stronger to make up for it. There was no impatience during our bereavements only the understanding that it takes however long it takes to get to the other side and the only question asked was, what can I do to help you through.
We've had crushing disappointments and wonderful surprises, unexpected bumps in the road and equally unexpected windfalls. Sometimes one of us might be quiet and introspective for a bit while the other one stands by patiently waiting. Other times one of us might be a little head in the clouds, floating on dreams so the other one holds tight so that we don't drift away.
When things aren't going well, I only need to hear Tim tell me that "it will be ok" for me to know without doubt that things will eventually be sorted out and we will be back on track. We prop each other up, we stand one another without question, we have each other's backs. There is no hesitation and no doubt. Our attitude is always, "If it's important to you, it's important to me".
I can honestly say that we love each other even more now than we did when we married, one week before Christmas, in the living room of my tiny apartment, in front of 13 people and a Christmas Tree. We chose to speak the traditional vows: to love, honour and cherish each other in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, in good times and in bad. We didn't say those words lightly. We meant every word, every syllable and will continue to for every moment that we have together on this earth.
He is my rock, my anchor, my touchstone in this life. I still feel a little zing when he walks through the door. We do small things for each other all day, every day and occasionally we will make a grand gesture. We look past the small annoying things and focus on the more important wonderful qualities of each other. We laugh a lot, we cry a little, we talk, we dream and then we laugh some more.
Separately or together we are far from perfect, but we are perfect for each other. And apparently that's how it works being happily married for twenty-eight years.
Happy Anniversary to us!
Upfront I have to say that I have no idea who those two people are standing in front of Giant Santa, which is why I have blurred their faces. I was waiting for them to walk away to take the picture but they stayed and stayed and stayed and...... I got tired of waiting.
Last weekend we headed to a small rural town to attend a very old fashioned and very cute Christmas Event at a place called Farmer Mike's. This place is very cool. There is a huge farm market that is their regular gig. But on holidays that pull out all the stops and celebrate!
We were greeted by Giant Santa! What a fun way to start :) And there was a lot more fun to be had. There was, of course, a lot of kid-centric stuff. Of course! It's Christmas! Who loves the holiday more than kids? Other than me I mean. I'm just a big kid after all
One of the coolest things they had was a snow machine. So literally cool. For Florida kids it was a wonderland! They might never have experienced real snow. They had both a big giant pit of "snow" for them to play in and a little hill to slide down. They were having a blast!
Sorry about photo quality. I didn't bring my camera so this are cell phone photos. You get the idea.
I could have just stood there and watched the kiddo's experience snow the entire evening. Takes me back...way way way way back.....to being a kid and playing in the snow. I can remember all of it so vividly. Making snow forts and snow angels, having snowball fights, building snow people. I remember the smell of wet mittens drying on the radiator in the house, the almost painful tingling of fingers warming back up, forcing my feet into rubber galoshes and then the struggle to take them back off, the scarf wound and tied 'round my face and the smell of breathing air through the yarn....... Of course there was none of that going on here in Florida!
There was a lighted maze to walk through that had the largest collection of blow up Christmas decorations that I've ever seen!!! The path was outlined with lights and dotted with giant snow men and reindeer and Santa's and Elves and every other Christmas themed blow up you can imagine and then a few others! In roughly the middle of the maze on a huge platform was real Santa waving to everyone as they walked by and greeting us with a hearty, jolly, "Ho Ho HO", as one might expect from Santa.
Inexplicably they also had some sort of day glo paint ball course offered up. In the full dark that you only find in the countryside anymore, it would have been a challenge for sure! People were excited about it though and lining up before it was ready to roll! I bet they had fun. We opted out of that particular experience.
The movie, "Polar Express" was playing on a giant screen set up outside with rows of various sorts of seating lined up for people to sit and enjoy. I was very temped to pull up a hay bale and join them. But instead we moved on to one of the next very fun things which was an enormous fire pit circled by more hay bale seating. Time for S'Mores! Woohoo!
There is nothing quite like having a gooey hot sugary sweet s'more outside while smelling the smoke and listening to Christmas music. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the Christmas music. It played the entire time and you could hear it no matter what distant corner of the farm you were in. It was mostly classic and old favourites and I knew all of the words to all of the songs and sang along. Of course I did. Don't you? Hey, when Elvis breaks into Blue Christmas and Burl Ives starts up with Holly Jolly Christmas or Eartha Kitt begins purring Santa Baby, you have to sing along. I think it's a law.
There were all sorts of bouncy houses and complicated looking slides and photo op set ups that were bringing people to the party and some sort of BBQ food truck with enticing fragrances wafting throughout. Everyone was laughing and smiling and having a great time.
Our last stop was the hay ride. Tractor pulled and strung with lights, a load of strangers perched on yet more hay bales as we rocked this way and that, some of us singing along, (that would be me and the little kid sitting across from me) as we were pulled through the very dark night, pointing out the stars in the sky above us.
It was a great evening, a Christmas Event a little different from some of the other ones we've attended, but a great one nonetheless. It brought back memories of simpler times and Christmases long ago. Ain't nothin' wrong with that.
The photo above (which is a stock photo by the way, not one of mine) is of an ordinary package that appears to be ready to be addressed and then dropped off at either the Post Office, UPS or Fed Ex for shipping.
There is a whole lot of that going on this time of year. It is my understanding that there is so much more on line shipping going on than usual - even without Christmas being in the mix - that these shipping entities are more than a little stressed out. Totally Understandable. Which is why I'm trying to be nice about what happened this year.
As you are all tired of hearing about, my annual Christmas Bakathon takes place like clockwork, every weekend following Thanksgiving. Many dozens of many different kinds of cookies are made. I begin baking on Friday morning and by Sunday night, the cookies are boxed, labeled and ready for shipment to the kiddos. And this year was no different.
The first Monday morning after Thanksgiving, Tim kindly helped me take the boxes to our nearby UPS store - the same one I've been using since we lived here where we have had zero problems ever. As usual, the boxes were measured and weighed, the addresses were confirmed and payment was made. Also as they always do, they gave us a receipt complete with tracking numbers. Once back home, I put the receipts on my desk for future reference, if necessary.
I notified the recipients of their anticipated cookie arrival dates and then went on with my life as I always do. Tralalalala. On the expected arrival dates I heard from everyone that the cookies had landed. Well almost everyone. Eldest son reported no cookie box. Dang! So I did what you are supposed to do. I went online and typed in the tracking number. Up pops the little box and it says, "Label Complete".
Label Complete. Heck yeah the label is complete. I saw her print the label AND stick it on the box while I was standing there. What on earth happened? I went through all sorts of steps and jumped myriad hoops. The online UPS response effectively said that although they were sorry, the package appeared to have been lost and that I should place a claim. Oh and here is the link to place that claim.
How do I put a price tag on a box of home made cookies? Well I suppose there is the shipping cost. And then too, the ingredients weren't free. Nor was the box. And hey, my time must be worth something! But even if I came up with a number, it doesn't replace the dang cookies does it? Ratz. And by the way, the link was broken and didn't work.
I talked it over with Tim and he suggested that I send a second box with the remaining cookies which are in the freezer. There are remaining cookies? Why are there still cookies in this house, you ask? Well, if you are a cookie baker you already know this. But just in case you don't, here goes; Not every recipe yields the same number of cookies. One batch of ginger snaps for instance results in more than 5 dozen cookies. Even if I sent each of the boys households a full dozen that still leaves two dozen cookies remaining. Other recipes might make three and a half dozen leaving six measly cookies behind. I'm certainly not going to throw them away! Instead I carefully bag them and put them in the freezer for future cookie emergencies.
Then too, I customize the boxes. Not every kid wants the same cookies! So I might make one kind of cookie that only one house wishes to have which means they get one dozen and we get alllllll the rest. Needless to say there were a few cookies still around. Not all of everything but enough to make a second box. Not quite as customized but the only other option would be to remake all those cookies again and well, I just didn't have it in me to do a second marathon. Instead, Every Single Remaining cookie went into a second box. If this wasn't a cookie emergency, I don't know what one is. Tim even sacrificed his share of the lemon bars for the cause. He is a very nice man.
We dropped off the second box at the same UPS store once again. Although we were pleasant about it, we did mention the disappearance of the first box. The lady behind the counter murmured what a shame it was without looking us in the eye. It's not her fault I know. And honestly it doesn't matter whose fault it was. Just please, get this second box there. Please.
Second receipt and tracking number clutched in my little hand, I once again informed First Son that another box was on it's way and should arrive on Thursday. I faithfully followed the track online of this second box. And lo and behold, it, not only arrived, but one day early. Yee hah!
What a relief. They all have their cookies! And Tim found a phone number to talk to an actual human person at UPS, explained the situation and some how got the paperwork to submit our claim. If I just get back the cost of shipping the first box, I will be happy. It ain't cheap y'know?
It was an anomaly. It never happened before and I don't expect it to ever happen again. Still, I cannot help but wonder what on earth happened to that missing box. I mean, according to tracking it was never even loaded on a truck! I hope who ever has it enjoyed the cookies at least.
After all that whining last week about not having a Christmas Tree last week (big baby!) it turns out that I do have a tree after all! See the phone above.
The Christmas Bins came down over the weekend so I sorted through and managed to find this cute little dickens which now presides over the kitchen table. And the house feels ever so much merrier. Silly perhaps but true nonetheless!
It is small but it does the job. Small but mighty as my mother used to describe herself. At less than 5 feet tall and very slim, she was unquestionably small. And us shorties are often a bit unexpected in our strength. It's true! I've been described as a "cutie", a little "bunny rabbit" of a girl or even once a "lady bug". And while I am not offended (though some would be) I have to laugh because underestimating me based only on my relative size will almost always work to my advantage. Because some people assume that I am weak and inconsequential, I will definitely surprise them :)
Same thing with this little tree. Normally, with all of the other house decorations (and usually there are a LOT) to catch the eye and of course the giant "real" Christmas tree all decked out standing center stage, it's easy to over look this small tree. On a "normal" year as Christmas tide, it sits on a side table somewhere with maybe a few equally small snowman close by. And while it is most definitely Christmassy, it's just a side dish, not the entree, so it doesn't get quite the attention that it deserves.
This year, as a stand in for the main event, the eye goes immediately right there, directly to this sweet little tree. Somewhere around here in the shelves by the desk is a teensy tiny string of teensy tiny lights that run on battery. I am going to find those and string them around the tree as well. Let's let the spotlight shine on the tiny tree this year. It's about time. Hang on a second.
Ok I found the tiny lights and, miraculously, the 3 AA batteries needed to make the work. I wound them carefully around the little tree and now I'm going to turn it on and see what happens. Let's give it a whirl! Fingers Crossed.
Oh My Goodness! How stinkin' cute is that! You cannot believe how teensy these little lights are but they are perfect for this tree! And it's the oddest thing that even have these lights. You know where they came from? Joy put them in my Christmas stocking last year. She said, at the time, they she was sure I would come up with some use for them. And sunovagun, I did!
Now I cannot wait 'til nighttime so I can turn out all of the lights except on this tiny tree to see what it looks like. Christmas trees are always magical, but never more so than at night.
You want to see how small this little tree is? Here is a ketchup bottle beside it (a random choice out of the fridge) just to illustrate:
HAHAHAHA! I just realized that I keep saying that this tree is so small and so cute which is what I've heard my entire life about me (my sister, my mother and well, probably every female in my family) and now I'm doing it too. Maybe regularly heighted and tall people really have been correct all along. Small things really are adorable! But mighty. Always remember that part. Small but mighty!
Merry Christmas Tree!
After a two week break which felt like two months, Joy and I were back out there on Wednesday this week. It felt so good to be hiking again, cameras in hand that I think I will call this Photo Safari the Glad to Be Back Hike. Because I really was.
We went to Oscar Scherer State Park this time. Honestly we chose it for one specific reason which is the eagles. A month ago, when we last visited that park, we noticed eagles high in the sky, scoping out their old territory. By now, we assumed that they would have either left for a new spot, or began nesting. We were correct with the first guess. There was indeed an adult bird in the nest. It was hard to see at first since their nests are very large and very deep, only the tippy top of the head was visible but that was enough. Baby birds are on the horizon. Yay!
We saw other birds too of course. My hands down favourite is the Scrub Jay. They are so confident, so arrogant, so comfortable with themselves and their environment that our presence does not bother them in the slightest. Consequently, their photos are almost always the best of the lot:
Scrub Jays seem to love having their pictures taken. They pose and preen and patiently wait for us to snappity snap away. They don't shy and jump and hop from branch to branch. And they don't hide either. They were right there, clear as day, easy to see and even easier to take photographs of. I do love these critters.
The other birds are beautiful, make no mistake. Just so much harder to get pictures of. They move very quickly, they are, probably wisely, extremely cautious around humans and seem to love hiding deep in the foliage. I managed to get a couple of pictures anyway:
There were still a few pretty flowers to be seen, despite the cooler mornings, which by the way, warmed up nicely. We started out wearing sweatshirts and ended up wearing them tied around our waists. I'm not complaining, when I say cooler, I mean low 60's or upper 50's. Anywhere else people would probably be wearing sleeveless shirts and saying what a gorgeous day it is. For us, those temps are a little snappy.
What was I saying? Oh yeah, flowers. Found some pretty ones even though it is now December. Isn't that a lovely thing to be able to say, flowers growing outside in December? There's a few berries in this collection too. They also make me smile. If you look closely you might noticed a few tiny spiders and ants too:
There were loads of butterflies and dragonflies but I only captured one of each. They were somehow in a crazy rush to get somewhere and my skills just aren't up to their speed! Oh well. I did get a wasp too. That must count for something:
You know how I always save the rando files for last right? That's because I was raised to always save the best for last :) Here you go:
The plan is to hike again next week. Not sure where yet, but we will figure it out. And at some point toward the end of next week, there ought to be another Photo Safari Report for you. Hope you enjoy!
And have a wonderful weekend!
Persistence can be an admirable quality. We've all heard the stories about determined people who, even in the face of brutal adversity, refuse to give up and ultimately succeed. The stories of soldiers, explorers, firefighters and other hero's who defy the odds inspire us. Bearing all that in mind, I should be impressed by the creator of the web whose picture I present to you here.
Perhaps you recall the story about the wasp situation that we sometimes have here? I'll nutshell it for you. On the back of the house, these crazy wasps keep trying to build a nest in the exact same spot. I knock it down and spray, they build it back. Over and over and over. I would say that it's a familiar little song and dance except that I actually enjoy singing and dancing but I do not enjoy knocking down a wasp nest.
There is the obvious reason of course, I do not want to be stung. Wasp stings are especially nasty. But also, it kind of breaks my heart to destroy someone's little home. They worked so hard on it! I honestly do not think that they are aware that they are inconveniencing us (nor do they care). It's a safety thing. If we cannot safely use our back door without risking wasp stings, then the nest has to go. And so it did, over and over, rinse and repeat. Until we started the house project. I haven't seen a single wasp in the backyard since. Kind of an extreme solution but I'm ok with it.
This is the same sort of situation only with a spider. And frankly, I like spiders better than wasps.
This spidey has chosen the courtyard walls in front of the house to build her web. It's quite elaborate and impressive in size stretching from one of the entry posts to the wall with all sorts of strings and loops and designs back and forth, up and down, around and around. covered with morning dew it's actually kind of pretty:
The architecture is elaborate and impressive both but it makes the entrance of our house look more like a haunted house than a cozy welcoming home. Which is why, earlier this week I was outside with a broom, gently tearing down all of her hard work, I apologized throughout the destruction. I even made suggestions of other places that might work just as well (or even better) for her web and be more acceptable to our lifestyle, which is largely spider free.
This is not the first time I tried to relocate this particular spider. Her first, equally impressive, web was by the front door. Overnight, she created this incredible web which stretched between the actually door and the light fixture beside the door. Any time someone came in or out they had to do battle with web strands and, for some folks, the fear of a spider dropping down on them unexpectedly was more than they could bear. So the broom and I got to work and I strongly suggested that she build her home elsewhere. Obviously I was not specific enough because while yes, the web was moved, it was still not in a good place.
She must has seen the wisdom in moving to a new spot because I only had to tear down the web by the front door one time. Her new favourite spot by the courtyard entrance has now been swept away twice. It may help to deter unwanted guests and honestly it was very in keeping with the season during Halloween, but I really do not want that web to be everyone's first impression of our home.
My relo suggestions to her (as I ruthlessly destroyed her web) were valid, a nearby tree or shrub was one reasonable idea. I wouldn't even mind quite as much if her web was at that far back or distant corner of the courtyard. Just not center stage. While I am only a little squeamish about killing a wasp - they are after all nasty tempered creatures - spiders capture and devour insects that I would rather not have around anyway so her existence is not the objection. It's all about placement.
I do not know what sort of spider she is and in truth I've never seen her, only her handiwork. It's like magic. We go to bed at night web-free and wake up in the morning to this amazing creation. I wish there was some sort of human/spider communication system. I feel terrible every time I destroy her web and I cannot help but be impressed by her choice to turn around and rebuild it every single time. Clearly we are equally determined. She wants to be there just as much as I do not want her to. It's a standoff. I guess we will see which one of us blinks first.
Poor little spider, just living her little spider life and along comes a giant with a broom to destory it. To her I must be like Godzilla! Uhoh, does anyone remember how Godzilla was defeated?
Behold! Our one and only Christmas Decoration. I hope it's impressing the socks off of you because I am serious. That's it. The whole enchilada. Admittedly a very small enchilada but at least I made the effort. I'm sure you've heard this one before, "It's the least that I could do and never let it be said that I didn't do, the least that I could do".
We already know that I cannot put up a tree this year. Where on earth would I put it? With the project still crawling slowly forward, the house remains in a state of ish kabibble. The living room stuff is in the guest room, the family room stuff is in the living room and things are stuffed into every conceivable (and inconceivable) space possible. The idea of attempting to add to the current level of chaos in the house with Christmas Frippery is just too much to contemplate.
So as a nod to holiday decoration I found our wreath from last year (and the year before that and the year before that etc) perked it up a little bit and with Tim's help (I cannot reach the top of the door to hang the doggone thing) posted it on the front door. Taadaa.
I considered putting up the outside lights. Well I considered it for about 30 seconds. And this part is entirely my fault. In an attempt to reduce the number of bins in the utility room, instead of packing away Christmas last year in a very organized, easily labeled and therefore easily identifiable bins as I would normally do, I tried to conserve space.
That means that if I had a Snowman shaped space in a box of tree lights, then the snowman went in a box that normally would have only held (and been labeled) tree lights. If the tree ornament box had a spot just the right size for Santa's Sleigh, I tucked it right in there, instead of a separate bin marked table decorations. And all of that is to explain that I would have to take down all of the Christmas bins and rummage through them all to find that one "table decoration" or the outside lights.
Normally it would be no big deal. I mean all of them would have to be dragged out anyway because I would be using all of it! A little group of snowman here, the bright pink reindeer over there and of course my big beautiful Father Christmas in his sleigh under the tree. And the tree! Well you know that as far as I'm concerned there is no such thing as too many ornaments on the tree! It would be bright and sparkly and absolutely loaded with stuff.
But this year, nope.
The wreath was another story entirely. It's too big for the bins so every year after Christmas when I'm packing things away, I carefully tuck it into an extra large plastic bag and lay it on top of other things which are already on the top shelves of the utility room. It's relatively safe there. And very easy to retrieve. I know exactly where the wreath is at all times.
I cannot say for certain that at some point I won't break down and haul all of the bins down and sort through them to find the outside lights or a table decoration, but today my answer is no. Absolutely no.
Which does not mean that I have no Christmas Spirit! I have plenty of that! Christmas lives in my heart not in my decorations. So here is my final thought on the matter. We may not have a tree or other Christmassy knick-knacks around the house this year But next year, watch out. I will be making up for it! And that is definitely something for me to look forward to :)
Tim and I don't attend a lot of parties or large gatherings these days. But we made an exception this past Saturday to spend some time with good friends who are, very soon, leaving for the next 4 months. They hosted a party on the evening of our local Boat Parade and since they live in a condo that is right on the water, we had a perfect close up view.
It was awesome. All of it. The party was pot luck, which in my opinion is the very best sort of party. Everybody brings something. There is always a wonderful variety of foods and loads of gastronomic surprises. I cannot even recount to you the many different and wonderful dishes that showed up. I brought dessert of course. The hosts provided their own yummy dishes, plates and flatware, napkins and drinks, a lovely venue and did a lot of introductions.
It was a wonderful collection of guests too. Tim and I met people new to us and reacquainted ourselves with people we already know but just haven't seen in awhile while also getting to spend precious time with people we like and see fairly regularly.
Conversation and people flowed easily from one group to another and we moved around the rooms on and off of the multiple balconies and the time flew by. Suddenly it was 6 o'clock, full dark and time to head out to watch the parade. We trooped downstairs and made our way to comfortable viewing points. Some folks were really smart and brought chairs. (we were not those folks)
We started out here. It was a great spot with comfy built in seating:
But Tim wanted to be closer so we kept on going until we were at the very edge of the water. We were so close that we could talk to the people on the boats as they went by! It was pretty awesome.
The lighting was creative, each boat was rigged out differently and the line of various watercraft was seemingly endless. Many of them also had music (occasionally live music!) which was fun as we sang along. (some of us danced a little bit too). We waved at Santa's and Frosty's and Snoopy's galore. Some boats had a loads of different coloured lights and effects and other's were simplicity itself. But all of them were fun and festive and perfect.
Afterwards we all headed back upstairs to their condo and we agreed that it was the Best Boat Parade we'd ever seen. As Tim and I walked back home we discussed all of the parties we've ever thrown or attended and voted on which ones were our favourites. This one was definitely high on the list!
I don't know how you spent your weekend, but if you weren't at this boat parade party, you missed a really good time.
Looks like we are another step forward on the project. Well most of a step. I would estimate that 3/4 of the floor in the project room are down and looking good! The tile choice may not be everybody's favourite, but we like it. Obviously we like it, We chose it. Though I will say that this very strange Covid centric year has made selecting decor challenging.
Knowing the supply chain issues that are a pain in everybody's project right now, we walked into the tile store with one question for the nice lady who works there, "What tiles do you have on hand right now?" She directed us to a small handful of possibilities and we made our choice from amongst those. We didn't even look at any of the others because we didn't want fall in love with something that we couldn't get for 6 more months. Nope. This project has gone on long enough already.
And as you can see, we still do not have dry wall up. Nor ceiling insulation. Nor a back door which, now that I think about it, you cannot see from this photo anyway. The story on the door goes like this. We were told that the door actually did arrive, but it was damaged so it had to be re-ordered. Uhoh. Or as Astro the dog from the Jetson's cartoon would say, "ruh roh".
We also made the decision to have the existing slider between the living room and the new project room taken out, which means the door and the track. So that still needs to come out. And eventually lighting and fans will need to go in and the exterior stucco and paint. And interior paint too, of course.
So it ain't done yet. I'm hoping that it will be done by Christmas. Fingers crossed. That would be an awesome Christmas Gift. And unfortunately, not one that Santa can fit onto his sleigh. But there are a few weeks yet to go and lots to do in that time both for me with getting ready for the holiday and for the builder guys with finishing the project.
But hope springs eternal and hopefully, it all wraps up soon. Fingers Crossed!
Happy December 1st! It's so pretty here today, 62 and sunshiney with windows open all over the house, it's hard to believe that in other places it's freezing and snowy. Brrrrrrr. I remember those days very well and no thank you! It would have been impossible to imagine back when we lived in any of the many snowy and cold places, being this close to Christmas and not
bundled to my nose in layers! Makes me shiver just thinking about it.
Which may be why this past Sunday, Tim and I did a beach day. Four Beaches in one day! It was awesome!
We started off with our own beach of course. It's quick and easy to get there, just a few blocks away and of course you've seen a zillion or so pictures of it here on my blog. It wasn't very crowded, which is always nice. Unfortunately, we saw no dolphins or manatees but there were loads of birds and boats. The water was very smooth and well, it was just beautiful. But then, it always is.
Eventually we had our fill (for the moment) and moved on up the coast a few miles to Casey Key. Casey Key is a narrow strip of land that has ocean on one side and the bay on the other. It's lined with amazing and beautiful (and primarily very large) homes. Some lucky folks have what they call "Gulf to Bay" homes, that is views of the Gulf of Mexico out of the front windows and views of the bay out the back windows. Nice. It's a pretty drive right along the water. Sometimes there are houses on both sides affording the travelers only peek-a-boo views, other times the houses are just along one side of the road with a full water view beside us as we drove. BUT, unless you are a resident, there is no beach access. So those photos were taken from the car.
Next stop was Siesta Key. Siesta Key has been voted best beach many years in a row by whatever the group is that votes on such things. It's a very nice beach and the streets are lined with cute little shops and restaurants and the visitors to fill them. There are a lot of rental homes and condos and some big beautiful non-rental homes too. The place is pretty much chokablok with one kind of structure or another. Parking comes at a premium and while we drove past a few beach parking lots, we did not stop (which means paying to park) at any of them. Sooo sorry but no picture of mine from Siesta Key. Let me see if I can find any on line. It really is a great place to vacation, but I wouldn't want to live there. Ok here you go, these are NOT my photos. Just making sure credit goes where it belongs:
Last stop and the place we spent the longest was Lido Beach up in Sarasota. It's up in the St Armand's Circle area and you actually can find free parking up there (well usually). It's a nice deep beach with sugar sand, a concession stand, clean bathrooms (always a plus with me) and so much space to spread out. There were a lot of people there but we still didn't feel crowded, which is so nice. And while it's walking distance to shops and restaurants I couldn't see any of them from the beach. I like that.
It was beautiful of course. There is something so relaxing and peaceful and rejuvenating about any time spent by the sea.
Perhaps because we live by the ocean, we take our own beach for granted and other town's beaches feel more exotic? More like a vacation? They are definitely each completely different.
And I know that sounds very weird doesn't it. I mean the components are the same: Sand, water, birds, boats, shops, restaurants, houses, it's all the same stuff. But every beach town feels distinctively it's own and every beach is unique. And every single one of them is wonderful!
Because we are now heading into what in other parts of the world is the cold, snowy, icey weather, where people avoid being outside, this is our tourist season. People come here from places far away to enjoy the sunny days, the warm sand and the beautiful blue sea. It makes perfect sense.
Happy December, beach appreciation month!
Yup, this is me. Some people said, "Sam, you should write a Blog". "Well, there's a thought", I thought to myself. And so here it is.