coming out of my shell

coming out of my shell

Friday, May 13, 2016

Walking around in circles

I seem to have a bit of a writer's block.  I sat down to write and spent a good five minutes staring into space.  Oh well.  We are going to be very busy this weekend and I'm trying to relax and organize my thoughts.  FYI, I probably won't have time to check my blog or others until the middle of next week.

T and I have been doing a lot of biking, walking, swimming the past couple weeks.  We've discovered a beautiful walking path surrounding a landscaped pond.  We bike to it and then we walk for at least a mile around and around.  I find that comforting, walking in circles.  I always have.  I'm a daydreamer.  I like to walk fast and think hard.  It is nice not to have to come back down to earth and pay attention to things like stop signs or intersections. 

Walking has been a constant in my life.  I used to walk over my lunch hours when I worked.  I rarely ever stayed in my office or workplace over lunch.  I walked outside in good weather and inside on a large inside track during the bad.  It helped me let go of work-related stress.  Sometimes walking and thinking helped me plan my next move or make sense of the insensible.  It nearly always cleared my head.  

And, of course, you never know what you might see on a walk.  

Here's a photo taken at Leu Gardens in Orlando, Florida.  It is a wonderful, large, urban garden and they often have large scale sculpture exhibitions that change periodically.  I was thrilled to see this on a recent walk:

Spider sculpture on walking path at Leu Gardens

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Cute Tomato

Well, if you can believe it I ate our second homegrown tomato of the season this morning. I chopped it up and sprinkled it on a split five grain baguette piece, topped it with sharp cheddar and stuck it in the oven until the bread was toasted and the cheese melted. Yum. It was almost as good as a bagel.

We have a couple of teeny raised beds and we are able to start planting some things in March here in Florida. Since we bought tomato plants instead of starting them from seed, we have a nice head start on the fresh produce.

Our 4 year-old grandson, N, took the actual "first" tomato from the garden earlier this month. He wanted to take it home to Daddy. Unfortunately, his father was unable to eat it because by the time he received it the tomato was mush. It seems N used the tomato as a ball. We live and learn.

Little N is my partner in this year's vegetable gardening adventure. He helped me plant seeds for carrots, beets, snow peas, cilantro, green beans, zucchini, and basil. There was much excitement when the seeds started to grow. He likes to water the beds when he comes over to visit. Then he waters the fence, the shed, the house, and me. He loves the power of the sprayer, but he is still learning to control it. When he holds it in his grubby little hands he becomes a de facto sprinkler system. I love that kid. It is a joy watching him learn new things and make new connections in his little mind. It would be wonderful to have a mind so open and uncluttered again.  

and here is the third tomato of the season, coming right up

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Willful Behavior

This morning T and I went to review and sign our wills. Having an appointment outside of the house requires major adjustments to our retirement lifestyle.  Thankfully we live in the Land of Mouse in Central Florida where tourist-casual clothing rules. 

I wore non-denim capris and replaced my usual ratty t-shirt with a black top that enables me to pass as normal.  It is my go-to shirt for trying to pass as normal.  I also wore leather sandals instead of flip-flops.  I put on earrings and a necklace.  I would have worn lipstick but I forgot about the tube that lives in the bottom of my purse. 

Men have it so much easier.  All T had to do was replace his white t-shirt.  In T-land a short sleeved shirt that buttons up the front and has a collar means "dressed-up." 

I would have put my wedding band on, but Florida weather usually makes my fingers swell.  As a result, most days I cannot get my ring on.  Or if I could manage to cram it over my knuckle, I would not be able to get it back off.  Not being able to get my ring off triggers my claustrophobia, so I usually go ring-less.  This morning was no exception.  If the lawyer needs to see a ring on my finger to figure out us two old farts are married, then I guess it will have to be his problem, not mine.

My hair came out of the low, comfortable pony tail I am now used to wearing.  I twisted and pulled it up on the back of my head with a clip.  Now I'll probably go bald from all the pulling and twisting.  It had to be done, though.  Nothing weirds people out like an old woman with long, gray hair.  Ageist crap.  Actually, I might get it all cut off super short this summer.  I don't think I can go through another Florida July or August with long hair.  I would have to find someone trustworthy to cut my hair, though.  You know how that goes.  I'm not sure I am up for the hunt.  Plus, I hate surrendering to bourgeois expectations.  It is a matter of principle. 

Going against the grain

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Chocolate Cake

I have been craving the perfect chocolate cake for a couple of months.  I try not to have dessert because I absolutely don't need it, and I also want to eat less sugar.  However, a craving is a craving is a craving.  It seems like the longer I deny myself a pleasure the more I want it.  Something has to be done or I might possibly lose my mind.

The other day I caved and made a cake.  It is good, but it isn't the chocolate cake I wanted.  It just isn't.  It isn't dark or fudgy or dense enough.  It occurred to me that what I really craved was a Wegmans Ultimate Chocolate Cake. 

Wegmans is this amazing grocery chain in the Northeast.  If you've never been to one, you simply cannot imagine. It is so good that when family from the Midwest would come to visit us in Upstate NY we would take them to the State Parks, the gorges, the Finger Lakes, the wineries, the Cornell plantations, AND Wegmans. 

They sell this cake in two different sizes: full size and mini. T and I would buy the mini and it was perfect for two servings for each of us. The problem was it was SO good that my second serving would end up being my breakfast the next morning. The cake I made the other day is not that good. Maybe that's a gauge of excellence for chocolate cake. Do you want to eat it for breakfast?

This morning I searched the internet for the recipe. Turns out it is a secret recipe and not to be found. Probably just as well.

Wegman's Mini Ultimate Chocolate Cake

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Cool Jazz and Buddhist Chants

Last night T and I went to hear Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock play jazz. In the context of jazz music I am merely trying to be a supportive wife. Imagine my surprise when I found I liked it.

Truthfully, I have always enjoyed listening to contemporary jazz more when it is live versus when it is blasting from our CD player. There is something about our small house being bombarded by disembodied dissonant chords that sets my teeth on edge.

All the music was improvised last night. I was amazed they could sustain a creative dynamic nonstop for almost 90 minutes. In front of an audience of strangers, no less. It made me think they had discipline, confidence, and faith.

Herbie Hancock worked his magic on a grand piano and a synthesizer. It was crazy, the musical noise he made. I lack a musical nomenclature, but I could almost follow what he did because there is something seemingly linear about piano. There is at least the appearance of a beginning and and end with whatever they play. Please don't assume I know what I'm talking about. I am just writing this trying to figure out what I think.

The musician who knocked my socks off was Wayne Shorter. Jazz sax players do NOT seem linear to me. They are explosively expressive and endlessly, belligerently creative. It was nuts how he played around the piano music, how he filled up space with bursts and bleeps. Like I said, I do not have the language to describe it. I certainly don't "understand" what they were playing. I only know these two guys are in touch with some deep creative groove and I enjoyed watching and hearing them settle in to it.

T reminded me that we saw Wayne Shorter perform a million years ago, when he was in the band Weather Report. I have no memory of that performance. It was the early 1970's and believe me, at that time I was way more interested in David Bowie than jazz. I am still more interested in David Bowie than jazz.

Wayne Shorter is a jazz saxophonist, one of the best. He has been referred to as jazz's greatest living composer. He is also a Buddhist, as is Herbie Hancock. They both practice Nichiren Buddhism through an organization called Soka Gakkai International. I knew nothing about this religious discipline before starting this post, so I am absolutely not writing this to promote SGI. I just reference it so I can try to understand what motivates these two guys. Pretty much all I know is what I found on one of the SGI website pages:

"The core Buddhist practice of SGI members is chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and reciting portions of the Lotus Sutra (referred to as gongyo), and sharing the teachings of Buddhism with others in order to help them overcome their problems."


When I heard these guys playing I knew they were plugged in to something heady. It must be nice to have a spirituality that encourages you to lose yourself in abstraction and beauty. I kind of envy them that.
Mucky stuff in the lake

Monday, April 18, 2016

I live in hope

I planted caladium under the American sycamore tree out front. We shall see if it grows.  After so many gardening failures I no longer have strong expectations for things I plant.  However, I continue to live in hope.  Why?  Because it is always a visceral thrill when something I planted begins to grow.  In that moment, I feel joy.

As I age I find I have lowered my expectations considerably in nearly every aspect of my life.  I am no longer as excitable or exuberant as I once was.  That's a relief, considering what a big nut I can be.  I am not complaining, I actually think this "adjustment" is a reasonable and welcome change in my life.  I am more able to accept life for what it is instead of what I want it to be.  Who knew I had it in me to be reasonable?

It was fun being young and having unlimited expectations.  I enjoyed the excitement of thinking wonderful things were in store for me at every turn.  So often that turned out to be true. Youth was a great gig.  I think I made the most of it.  I have no regrets. But you have to kiss that joy as it flies

For those of us who are lucky enough to survive into our 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's and beyond, one occasionally has to look in the mirror and face facts. There is more of life behind us than there is ahead of us. That is not a tragedy, by the way.  I am not trying to freak you out. Youth and beauty are great, but they fade; they simply do not last. Joy is also momentary and temporary, but it continues.

Maypop, aka purple passionflower, aka Passiflora incarnata - a wild flower in Central Florida

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

At last!

I did some serious gardening this morning.  Now my lower back is killing me.  I need to bounce back fairly quick, as there is still a lot of digging and planting I need to do.

Last August I wrote, rather pathetically, about the Louisiana irises I planted in a wet area. I have been desperate for color in our small back yard for almost two years. I know most Central Florida people plant hibiscus and crepe myrtle to satisfy their color needs. We have both, but apparently I am a bit of a glutton because they are not enough. I want flowers, dammit

The rainy season
(aka summer) is really hard on flowers down here, so I have been trying to plant things in the wet areas of our small yard that will survive both the mercilessly hot summer deluge and the drought that torments all growing things for the remaining 8 or 9 months of the year. I am happy to report that the first of the irises started blooming this week. They are fabulous! I will try to name them for those of you who lust after flowers like I do.  I believe this one is called Spicy Cajun Louisiana Iris:

I have also inexplicably fallen in love with canna lilies. There were some red ones in front of the house when we moved in and I just didn't like them. I'm no spring chicken and moving to such a drastically different climate was hard for me.  And when I say hard, I mean mentally hard. I was a huge sulking brat about the whole gardening thing. I thought I needed something familiar. Now I realize I just need something colorful, some flowers for crying out loud. Is that too much to ask? 

missed the many varieties of flowers that can only be grown up north and resented the cannas for not being day lilies.
Does that make me a bad person? Probably not.

Well, all I needed was more time to adjust and a few victories, because now I am in love with these crazy cannas.  I planted a few varieties last summer and they are starting to take off and bloom this year. They are slightly deranged flowers, always a bit out of control. I have discovered that is part of their charm. Each variety seems to have a slightly different personality, yet they are all stark raving mad. In a good way.

The next two are Cleopatra dwarf canna lilies in various stages of bloom.  They are not really all that dwarf: 



The next one is my favorite.  It is a Louise Cotton dwarf canna, and the color just knocks me out.

And here is a repost of that red canna out front that I didn't used to like.  I don't know what kind it is.  Now I love it.  What a difference a year can make.

And here is a precious flower from the past, Etta James singing "At Last."


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Girls on Fire

My 18-year old niece and her BFF are visiting us from Northern Indiana over their spring break this week.

It is now 11:46 a.m. and they are still sleeping.  I wonder when it might be a reasonable time to wake them up?

I waited a few more minutes and just knocked on their door and said "Wake up young people, it's noon!"  I hope that works.  I want to go on a nature hike with them at a state park this afternoon.   I think it will be good for their immortal souls.

They went to Magic Kingdom yesterday from about 11:30 am to 9:30 pm. We dropped them off and picked them up. They would liked to have been there longer but 1. they can't get up early, and 2.  T and I can't stay up late.  What you hear is the clash of two generations competing to define what a "day" is.  Hint, mine only involves daylight hours. 

I am relieved they are old enough to be dropped off and we did not have to go to that park with them because MK is my least favorite Disney park.  They don't serve alcohol there.  Think about it: long lines, endless waiting, screaming children and no beer.  All day and into the night, to paraphrase the Kinks.

They loved it.  They sent me a picture via text yesterday of the two of them posing with a very cute Peter Pan cast member.  Apparently my niece tried to talk him into taking her to prom.  He pretended not to know what prom was, because he's Peter Pan and all that.  Oh to be young and bubbly again.

We got home about 10:30 pm, and they decided they wanted to go night swimming in our pool.  We turned a fan on in our room, went to bed, and left them to it.  We never heard them.  I am not sure when they finally went to sleep.

We have been binge watching the 4 Hunger Games movies.  We all wish we were like Katniss Everdeen. We are all on Team Peeta.

I just made them banana and strawberry smoothies.  There is cold pepperoni pizza left over from last night.  They seem happy.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Man Salad

Much in the news these days about the epidemic of obesity. 

Last week T and I went to the barbecue restaurant downtown.  It is hard to eat healthy in my neck of the woods unless you are cooking at home, going to an expensive restaurant, or you are willing to drive to Orlando.  It takes 30-40 minutes to get to Orlando.  The traffic is terrible, and we're retired so money is tight.

Usually we cook at home.  We are both decent cooks, and we like our fruit and veg.  Sometimes we babysit late for our 4-year old grandson, N, and just want to grab a quick bite on our way home. Unless we're feeling flush with money burning a hole in our pockets, our inexpensive choices between there and here are pizza, subs, burgers, Mexican, Thai, or barbecue.

Barbecue is good, cheap, and right downtown. Everyday people own and run this place. When you live in the Land of Mouse, where chain restaurants reign supreme, Mom & Pop owned bakeries, cafes, and restaurants are a big plus.  All their meats are heavenly, lean and lightly seasoned so you can apply as much or as little of their 3 different homemade sauces as you like. The problem is their side dishes, which are seemingly designed to kill you on the spot.

I carefully ordered beef brisket, green beans and coleslaw.  I tried very hard not to eat the grilled Texas Toast that came with it.  "Tried" is the key word.  FYI, the green beans were cooked perfectly well (i.e., not overcooked) but came smothered in butter.  You know I tried to order healthy-ish, but whattayagonnado?  Next time I'll know better, although I have no idea what other side I could possibly substitute for the green beans that would be a better choice. Baked beans, maybe?  Fried okra?  Aaack.

I must confess I have become a connoisseur of coleslaw since moving to Central Florida. Every place does it differently, and every place seems to have it.  I would not have ordered it in my former life up north, mostly because it would not have been on the menu.  Here it is often the only "vegetable" on the menu, besides french fries...  And if you're going to eat pulled, barbecued meat, you need some coleslaw!

Much to my horror, T ordered the "Man Salad" listed on the menu.  What is a man salad, you might ask?  A massive platter of french fries covered with beans, cheese, and pulled pork.  Don't forget the barbecue sauce, baby.  Sorry - he wouldn't let me take a picture of the "salad."  I wanted to.  He said it wasn't very good.  I bet.  I'm sure he felt a little sick afterwards.

Here's a picture of the Bar-B-Que joint.  I don't know anyone in the picture, but there are always lots of people standing in line at the take out window.  If you are a barbecue aficionado the meat here is really, really good.  Inside, the ordering counter and the seating area in the back are funky as hell.  Check out the fake gas pump/fuel dispenser out front. These restaurateurs are dead serious about their ambiance.  I don't know about you, but I wonder why both the bald guys are wearing orange shirts and navy blue shorts?

Friday, April 1, 2016

Years and Years

The first year I could NOT wipe the smile off my face. Retirement was bliss. I never really thought about the job I left, except with immense relief for having escaped it. Year one was about selling our house, downsizing our possessions, packing, moving, buying a new house, and learning, learning, learning about new roles, climate, and environment. That first year I was busy organizing and controlling change.

The second year I had to figure out how to fill each unstructured, sun-filled, relentlessly available day on my own initiative. We bought bikes. After 37 years of working like a son-of-a-gun for others on an institutional schedule, that "personal initiative" thing was much harder than you might think! The second year I was preoccupied with figuring out how to live my new life.

I am half way through my third year of retirement and once again I am finding it quite different than the first two years. This year seems to be more personal, more about redefining myself. So far, so good. 

I wonder if this is just going to go on and on, dividing retirement into distinct years of adjustment. You know, "Year 5 was about finally learning how to use the remote control," "Year 10 was about learning to keep my mouth shut when certain family members talked politics" or "Year 25 was about learning how to get the aide's attention so she'd push my wheelchair down to the dining hall?"   

T at the overlook, Oakland Wildlife Preserve, Lake Apopka, Central Florida