Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Our Past Three Weeks

The time has flown, and it has been a most unusual December for us!  As I may have mentioned, we made a trip north to help our daughter and her husband move to Florida.  On our way there we made a stop in Atlanta, Georgia to visit my sister Linda.  After a day sitting in the car, John and I were up for a hike.  As it has been many years since I have seen Stone Mountain, we decided to see it once again, as well as climb it.
Not a good picture, seems the figures have faded on the rock surface since I last had viewed them.  First man is Jefferson Davis, the second is Robert E. Lee and the last is of Stonewall Jackson.  Gutzon Borglum was commissioned to do the carving but abandoned the project in 1925 (and later went on to do Mount Rushmore).  Carving on Stone Mountain was completed by Roy Faulkner in 1975.  After viewing the carving we drove over to the other side of the mountain to hike the Walk Up Trail.  The path is 1.3 miles, ascending 78 feet in elevation to a height of 1,686 feet.  It was an unusually warm day for Atlanta in December, but the lower slopes of the mountain are forested and shady.  The top of the mountain is a landscape of bare rock, and at that height the atmosphere was a bit cool.   We made it to the top!
 From this height we could see downtown Atlanta, as well as the park spread out below us.  In the background is Stone Mountain Lake.
Three days later we arrived in Carbondale to assist our daughter and her husband pack for their move to Florida.  And on December 19th our son-in-law Spencer graduated from law school.  The past three years has not been easy for him and Melissa, but those years did bring the joy of the birth of their son Nathan.  I must say that graduation day was a very happy one for all of us!
We are now back at our home in St.Petersburg.  We made it home in time for the arrival of our son Dan and wife Amanda from D.C., who spent Christmas with us.  And we now have another cat residing with us, Zelda.  She belongs to Spencer and Melissa who at present cannot have her with them.  When things settle down there will probably be more postings, as we have a lot to see and do in the Tampa-St.Petersburg area.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Christmas Events in Pinellas County

For clarification here, Pinellas encompasses the peninsula we are residing in.  In extends from Clearwater to St.Petersburg, and down to the De Soto National Memorial.   This will probably be my last posting until after the holidays, so it seems appropriate at this point to end with a Christmas theme.  On Sunday we drove back to downtown St.Petersburg and Christ United Methodist Church.  The church, as well as St.Petersburg College, had their 25th annual Winter Choral Festival that afternoon.   Two highlights of that concert were musicals selections played on the AEolian-Skinner pipe organ, and the Hallelujah Chorus sung by not only choir members but other people from the audience who were familiar with it.  The rafters were certainly raised when that was sung, Handel would have been proud!
In the picture above the audience was standing for the Hallelujah Chorus.  We heard it again that evening when we attended the full rendition of Handel's Messiah in Clearwater.   The Florida Orchestra, Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, and University of South Florida Chamber Singers performed it.  There were four guest singers for the solo parts, and it was one very fantastic concert!  It is hard to believe that Handel wrote the complete musical score in 24 days.  He commented to a servant that "I did think I did see Heaven before me and the great God Himself".  It has been about 25 years since we have heard it live, and I think that from now on it will be a more frequent occurrence for us.
The above picture may seem a bit strange.  It was taken at the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo, Fl.  Currently the gardens are open in the evening for the Holiday Lights display.  For us it was interesting to not only look at the lights but to search out the plants around which the lights are strung.  In the picture above is an angel trumpet tree, its blooms hang over flamingos as well as one duck.  Other Christmas lights of the garden are in the background of the picture.

While we strolled around the topiary/ wedding section of the garden we were entertained by a small band playing Christmas carols.  Pictured below is one of the topiaries located in this area, in case you might be wondering who is standing there with his arrow ready to fly, it is cupid!

What we were able to see of the garden at night makes us desire to see it during the day.  It is a 150- acre garden with native plants as well as exotic specimens suited to the local climate.   I will sign this off now with a Merry Christmas to all of our loyal readers!  May it be a blessed and safe holiday for all.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Our first days in St.Petersburg, Florida

Our first days here have been a bit different, and we are still settling in.  The weather is a bit strange, it can be breezy and cool with a wind off the ocean (bear in mind that we are on a peninsula).   However, one never knows when the sun may pop out and then the shorts need to come on.
We also are doing the more normal things that home owners do.  For some strange reason John got into the spirit of the season and draped Christmas lights over our home and on the tree next to us.  That is a first ever for us since we started traveling!  And for the first time we have a patch of sod to take care of.  We complained at the park office about a dirt patch around our home (should we have a good rain we would be in a big mud puddle).  They were so kind to place sod around our home, and then said it was up to us to keep it watered to get the grass growing.  We have a hose for the former, but unfortunately do not have a mower should that sod decide to grow!  I guess maybe a sharp scissors would work.
Today, Saturday, we had great plans to do a walking tour of downtown St.Petersburg, visit the farmer's market, and the  Chihuly Collection.  We encountered a massive traffic jam once we drove into the downtown area.  For some strange reason a boat show, Christmas parade. Snow Fest, and Holiday Magic events, including the farmer's market were all planned on the same day.

 There is nothing so wonderful as a big white bird just dropping down and taking ones mind off of traffic frustrations, which was what happened to us.  He acted like he had not one care in the world!
John and I decided to get out of the area fast and just find the Chihuly Collection.  We asked a policeman how to skirt the downtown area, and he gave us the name of several streets which, by making right turns, would take us to the museum.  Unfortunately those turns nearly got us killed, he put us on streets which were one-way and not the way we were expecting to go!  We figured that the policeman was a newbie and may never have driven on downtown streets.
We finally arrived at the museum, only to find parking was at a premium.  One policeman advised another motorist to park and walk- which we did, and which was about 10 blocks.  We finally make it to the museum.  We have seen a lot of Chihuly glass exhibits during our travels, and most of his work here was not new to us.  However,  there was a special exhibit by other artists which we enjoyed.
 The glass art pictured above is titled Sunshine and Rain- artist is Jason Christian.
Our admission ticket to the Chihuly allowed us to watch artists at work in the Hot Shop later in the afternoon.  We had a couple of hours to check out the Snow Fest across the street along Tampa Bay.  What a surprise, as we were standing in a food line we had an opportunity to watch part of the Christmas Parade. 

We had to move our car and drive to another area of town to get to the Hot Shop.  It was quite fascinating to watch a working artist create a magnificent glass dish.  It also helped that the artist (Pauli Maiville), explained every step of the process.  We talked to him after the show and he said that he had been working with glass for 31 years.  Most of his learning about glass blowing had come by observing other artists and working closely with them.
That was our first day in St.Petersburg,  it had not turned out as we expected,  but we got a good walk in and saw quite a bit of the downtown area.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Butterfly Rainforest

We are now parked about 40 miles north of Gainesville.  The park we are staying at is quite the lovely place with lots of open green space complete with tropical birds and farmyard animals.  The birds sometimes set up quite a din with their squawking and the donkeys get to braying at night, but I will take that noise any day to the roar of motorcycles and trucks!
Yesterday we drove into Gainesville to the Museum of Natural History, which is on the University of Florida campus.  Part of the museum is the Butterfly Rainforest and the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity.  Here there is everything you may want to know about butterflies and moth biology.

 As we entered the section of the museum devoted to the study of butterflies we immediately saw the Wall of Wings, a section of which is pictured above.  Mounted for display are butterflies from 5 major geographic regions of the world.  The wall is nearly 3 stories high and has 13,000 butterfly and moth specimens and photographs.  Butterflies and moths are the second largest animal group in the world, there are more than 165,000 described and 100,000 yet more to be described.  Along the Wall of Wings are laboratories where we were able to watch scientists at work.  The lab pictured below is the conservation lab, where scientists are searching for reasons why certain butterflies become endangered.

There is also a rearing lab, where butterflies in the chrysalis stage arrive from around the world and held until they emerge as butterflies.   Instead of cutting down forests to grow crops, butterfly farms make money by breeding butterflies in their natural environment.  It saves natural habitats as well as boasting small farming economies. There is also a lab in this area for DNA testing of moths and butterflies.

 One thing I learned about butterflies in the exhibit is that the designs on their wings, as well as their coloring  serve a variety of purposes, from attracting mates to warning off predators.  In the picture above about 6 butterflies are feeding on a banana.  Notice the one butterfly with large spots on his wings.  That eye spot intimidates predators as small birds.  To them the eye spot looks like the eye of a larger bird who may harm them.
The butterfly rainforest has an average of 60 to 80 butterfly species.  They are the ones that come in chrysalis stage from butterfly farms.  One method the center uses to prevent them from reproducing and getting out into the wild is by not providing the right plant on which to lay their eggs.  Among the wildflowers in the rainforest there is, however, many host plants for Florida's native butterflies.  It is quite the beautiful place with  the many colorful butterflies flitting around the plants.
I am posting this from St.Petersburg, where we are now parked for the winter.  The postings from here may not be as frequent, at least for awhile.  Next week we will make a trip to Illinois to attend the graduation of Spencer from law school, as well as to help him, Melissa and Nathan move down to Florida.