Monday, April 27, 2009

To Close For Comfort

We could really use some rain about now. It feels as if we are living in a giant tinder box. The rainy season is still a month or so away and it cannot get here soon enough.

The other evening, after dinner, we began to see firetrucks racing past our house... never a good sign. The emergency vehicles stopped two blocks down and one block over from our house.

The fire began after a lawn mower over heated. It was windy and the flames got quickly out of control. Earth moving equipment was brought in to build a berm to stop the fire's progression. The fire fighters did not want the fire to spread to a nearby wooded area that butts up to the local airport. A water carrying helicopter was also brought in to help fight the blaze.

There was a house near the fire's path that had the vinyl siding melted. The neighbor across the street was wetting her house down with the hose.

The next day my husband and I drove down to see the extent of the fire damage. It was reported that about eighteen acres had been burnt.

Again...too close for comfort!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Generational Artist

My daughter and some of her artwork

My daughter's Advanced Placement Art class held an art show recently. The students were able to select which of their pieces they wanted to display. I was impressed with the artwork the students had created.

A closer look at her artwork

I am inclined to believe that my daughter's artistic talent is hereditary and she has gotten the "artist gene" from both sides of her family. Let me expound on this belief...

My daughter's paternal great-grandfather had artistic talent. His talent is still visibly displayed on my sister-in-law's home office walls. His pencil drawing of George Washington is amazing. My daughter's paternal grandmother (daughter of the above mentioned artist) is also very talented artistically. She can paint as well as draw. Recently she has created beautiful lamps using seashells her mother collected for many years. My daughter's paternal grandfather has talent too. He has created many pieces of art from plant materials. I have a fish he fashioned out of a palm seed pod hanging in my kitchen. We call his work..."Lawn Art", as his materials are found in and around lawns.

"Lawn Art" Fish

On the maternal side of my daughter's family there are also artists to be found. Her grandma has many paintings to her credit. A few of the paintings can be found on china cups as well as circular saws. My daughter has a maternal aunt who is a fine artist. I, her mother, have some artistic talent as well (apparently not as much as her aunt, because she got the Grand Champion ribbon for fine art at the State Fair and I received the Reserve Grand Champion ribbon. Our pieces of art were competing against one another that year, roughly 32 years ago). I still create pieces of art and have gotten more into photography, especially since the advent of digital cameras and the building of our pinhole camera (see earlier posting).

Another close up

Monday, April 20, 2009

The River Road

In the summer of 2005 we took a family vacation along the River Road. The River Road is found on both sides of the Mississippi River just outside of New Orleans. On the banks of the Mississippi some of the most beautiful antebellum houses and grounds can be seen and visited. The above picture is of Oak Alley Plantation (1839). The alley leading to the house from the banks of the river is lined with several 300 year old, live oaks. A breathtaking view! Just think of the planning and vision this feat took. I had my first mint julep on Oak Alley's veranda. Delicious!

This is Destrehan Plantation (1787). It is the oldest plantation we visited. Scenes from Interview With the Vampire were filmed here. On one portion of the tour we were shown how the house's insulation, bousillage was made. Bousillage is a mixture of clay and Spanish moss or grass that is used as a plaster to fill in the spaces between structural framing. It is very effective as insulation and was first used by the Cajuns.

A slave cabin

I think my favorite antebellum house on the trip had to be Houmas House (1840). We had a delicious lunch on the grounds and I had my second (and I think more delicious than Oak Alley's) mint julep. The gardens of Houmas House were gorgeous! The rooms of the house were opulently appointed. It is no wonder that the movie Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, starring Betty Davis was filmed there. We visited the room she stayed in while filming.

On the grounds of Houmas House there was a structure set aside from the main house called a Garconniere. This was used as a "bachelor pad" of sorts for male heirs who were not yet old enough to marry but wanted to be "on their own". I very much liked the idea of a garconniere (can you still get one built?) and found this one very interesting as well as beautiful.

I have watched the movie Gone With the Wind and I think that is where my fascination with antebellum houses started. I think they are beautiful and impressive with their many large columns and spacious verandas. Their architecture has influenced the design of my own home.

San Francisco (1856)

Nottoway (1857)

Evergreen (1790)

Tradewinds (2007)

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Is there some law written stating that every high school in the United States must put the book To Kill a Mockingbird on its required reading list and every student has to read it before they can graduate? I waded through, tolerated and even "cliff-noted" some of the required reading books, but I loved To Kill a Mockingbird. I have a copy in my personal library and have read it again many times since high school. It is a well-written, easy-reading book.

I think Harper Lee's characters, Scout, Jem, Dill, Atticus and Boo Radley were what made it an easy book to bring to the silver screen. I believe it is the best movie made that is based on a book. I love the movie. I have a DVD copy in my video library and watch it every now and again. The fact that a young and handsome Gregory Peck stars in it certainly makes it an enjoyable watch too.

My daughter read the book two years ago in her Sophomore year and we have watched the movie together a couple of times. After watching the movie she made the following observation...that a photo of me when I was about seven years old closely resembled the actress who played Doppelganger? You be the judge.


Mary Badham as Scout

Friday, April 17, 2009

Our Poor Beauty!

My husband and I saw our first Royal Poinciana tree on a trip to Key West about 24 years ago. We were immediately taken in by the beauty of the tree. We promised one another that when the time came to build our own home, we would plant a Royal Poinciana.

We made good on that promise. We planted our tree shortly after our home was built. We lovingly cared for our little tree by watering it daily. Each day we would examine the tree, hoping to see a sprout of green leaves. The nurseryman told us to be patient and keep watering. One day we started seeing green leaves which were followed shortly by little buds. Those buds opened up to gorgeous, red flowers. A splash of color and beauty in our own backyard!

We were looking forward to a second season with our little beauty. Mother Nature had other plans. Earlier this year, in February, we had a freeze for a couple of days. The temperatures dipped down to near 24 degrees. This was a freak occurrence for this area of Florida. We have been told that a freeze like this happened about 25 years ago.

We built a tee pee of sorts to cover the tree and placed a high watt light bulb inside, hoping to keep the tree warm enough during the cold. Our Royal Poinciana did not tolerate the arctic snap, but we were not aware of this, until it was time for the tree to leaf and bud again and it didn't. Our poor beauty is now a skeleton of her former self.

We are sickened by the loss (we also lost a Black Olive or "Shady Lady" tree). We were about to cut down the tree, when much to our surprise, we spotted some new growth at the base. Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum's character in the movie Jurassic Park) once said,...

"Life finds a way."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

1773 Part Deux - April 15, 2009 - Tax Day

This evening my husband and I went into town to experience the local "Tea Party". The crowd (the local newspaper reported about 1,000 in attendance) was gathered around the bandstand which was draped in patriotic colors.They listened while fellow citizens voiced their opposition to Washington D.C.'s shenanigans over the loud speaker. There was much hand-clapping in agreement.

At every turn there were people dressed in red, white and blue and one lady was dressed as the Statue of Liberty. Many carried flags or clever signs. I had to take this boy's picture.

During the "Tea Party" a soft, harmonious murmur slowly swelled into a bold chorus of a well known patriotic tune. When the song ended, handfulls of tea bags were thrown into the air.

The party was scheduled to last from 5:00-6:30 PM and started to wind down on time. Some of the locals began to walk across the bridge still holding their flags and signs. You could hear the cars and trucks honking, reacting to this impromptu parade. Only the driver knows if it was in solidarity or disdain.

Speaking of cars and husband and I have noticed that there are not as many (or hardly any) Obama bumper stickers to be seen on vehicles these days. On our trip this past Easter weekend we challenged ourselves to see how many we could find as we traveled on one of Florida's busiest highways; we only saw one and that was counting both the trip away from home and back. Maybe America wants a change 86 days into Obama's presidency! Could there be a 1773 Part Trois?...if so, I will be in attendance.

Monday, April 13, 2009

"The Family That Kayaks Together..."

It was a great way to end Spring Break 2009. My husband, our two children and I, packed up the truck and headed to Grandma and Grandpa's for Easter weekend. We arrived just in time for lunch. Grandpa made delicious ham & cheese quesadillas. After lunch we packed up the trucks with three personal kayaks, three borrowed kayaks and one small canoe, also borrowed.

Our first day of kayaking was at Bishop's Harbor. The weather was perfect with bright sun and about 80 degrees. It was easy to launch the kayaks and canoe because the water was shallow and the bottom of the harbor was sandy. That sandy bottom sure made it easy on our bare feet (we had forgotten to pack our water shoes) as we cast off. We kayaked for roughly three hours, enjoying the quiet and the sights of nature. When it came time to head home there was a bit of a breeze that made it more of a challenge getting back to our launch site.

We kayaked at Robinson Preserve on day two. Again perfect weather and launch site. While kayaking in the peaceful preserve we spotted a set of nesting bald eagles. They were such a stunning sight. Their brilliant white heads were very visible from our seated positions on the water. I also saw many fish swim beneath my kayak. One of those fish was a pretty black and white stripped Sergeant-Major.

We kayaked for about four hours around the mangroves and under wooden bridges as we made our way to the open water of Tampa Bay. We did not venture far into the bay because of the strong currents there. While in the bay we were able to get a nice view of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. On our way to the bay a couple of preserve employees were working on a fallen mangrove that was partially blocking the waterway. My husband and his father gave them a hand in the sawing and tying off of the debris.

Robinson Preserve has an observation tower. I climbed the tower and when I got up to the top, was rewarded with a spectacular view. You can just see the Sunshine Skyway bridge in the distance. The two days of kayaking, visiting with Grandma, Grandpa and A.B., were excellent ways to wrap up Spring Break 2009.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Every year we color a dozen eggs for Easter. A week or two before Easter I visit the local Wal-Mart and peruse the seasonal isle for the latest and greatest in egg coloring kits. One year our eggs sparkled like gems and another year they were tie-dyed. We've used colored and clear wax crayons in tandem with the dyes. Last year we wrapped the eggs with rubber bands before dipping them in the dye. You can see the effect we achieved on the orange egg and the red egg in the picture above.

This year I want to return to the egg dying of my fancy tricks or tools, just simple, primary colors. I remember my Mom using food coloring that came in little plastic bottles. She would put some water in a cup, add a few drops of food coloring and then a little vinegar to set the color and make it more vibrant. The table would be covered in newspaper and the eight of us gathered around it to color the eggs. Which color to use? How long to keep it in the dye? Do I mix my colors? All were options that had to be weighed heavily. Every year one of my brothers would dip one of his eggs in every color which would result in a hue that should not be found in nature.

My brother and his two kids visited us last year and we colored eggs with them. By the looks of his egg, I don't think he was the brother (I have 2 more) who used to dip his egg in every color.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Megalodon Mania

Megalodon means "big tooth" in Greek. The Megalodon Carcharodon Shark was a giant shark that lived about 18 million years ago and became extinct roughly 1.5 million years ago. The Megalodon could grow over 50 feet long. Today's Great White Shark, a relative of the Megalodon, can grow to around 20 feet.

Fifty million years ago Florida's sea levels rose and fell many times. The fossilized remains of both land and sea animals can be found together along Florida rivers. I plan on visiting one of those fossil-filled rivers in hopes of bringing up a well preserved Megalodon Shark's tooth or maybe even a mastodon tooth.

When we were building our house we had to have a well dug. During the drilling process a small, fossilized shark's tooth was brought up from the ancient riverbed. I was instantly bitten by the Florida fossil-hunting bug (we have some fossils from Oklahoma and Texas). I count myself fortunate to live where fossils are just waiting to be unearthed.

The picture above shows Megalodon teeth that others have found and have given to us. I want to be the one who finds the teeth. I want the thrill of the hunt and the adrenaline rush of uncovering a fossil that has been buried for millions of years. I want to hold that fossil in my hands and imagine the life of the creature that left it behind.