Saturday, December 31, 2016

Recent Hikes in Florida's Preserves

Unlike the rest of our nation, we have been enjoying unusually warm weather here in Florida, until the last couple of days.  Last week we hiked Booker Creek Preserve, a wonderful wilderness area of pine flats and wetlands.  We certainly saw a lot of cypress and tupelo trees.
The preserve, being a large wilderness area of 8,700 acres, has a lot of wildlife.  However, when John and I were there, we saw only a solitary anhinga. 
Two days ago we visited Weedon Island Preserve, a much smaller area of 3,700 acres.  John has been there before without me and came back excited about all the wildlife he saw there- from gopher tortoises and a racoon to shore birds and a kingfisher.  We saw nothing when we were there.  Well, we did see a gopher tortoise hanging out in his hole.  Maybe he and his cohorts somehow realized that cooler weather was coming in and were already settling in for the night, which was going to be quite cool.  John and I did find the nature center at the preserve quite interesting.  There was an exhibit about the Native Americans who had inhabited the island about 7,000 years ago- their artifacts have been found in the area, including a pine canoe estimated by archeologists to be about 1,000 years old.
The length of the canoe is 39 feet, it is Florida's longest prehistoric dugout  used in a saltwater environment.  It was found in 2001 and the logistics involved in exposing this boat to the outside of its watery home were so involved, and needed to be resolved, that it took until 2007 before it could be removed.  It was discovered near the shoreline of Old Tampa Bay on Weedon Island.
Speaking of boats, we saw many kayaks below our trail ( we walked boardwalks for many of the paths).  In the 1960s canals were dug in the island for mosquito control.  This allowed small fish to come in from the bay to eat the larva.  An idea which really did not work and drastically changed the ecology of the island.  As a result large numbers of mangroves now inhabit the island.  They do well growing in saltwater We saw many dense strands of red, white and black mangroves.  Along with their prop roots they present a tangled mass of limbs and leaves along our path.  Quite a difference from our hike of last week where we saw many cypress trees and their knees protruding from the swamp!  One knee covered with moss seemed appropriate for the season.  It looked like a Christmas tree!  Hopefully we plan to return to both of these wonderful preserves.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Central Park in Largo Florida

My daughter Melissa and I have explored many parks in the central western area of Florida for her son Nathan.  We have been pleasantly surprised that there are so many of them with innovative play equipment suitable for the young as well as the older child.  That does seem a bit strange for a state whose majority population are senior citizens!  What is equally interesting is that the play equipment varies from park to park.  We chose to go to Largo park last Saturday because it offers a holiday train for little Nathan.  We had also learned awhile back, when attending Prince of Peace Lutheran church, that the park was going to feature a Bethlehem village for the Christmas activities that evening.
The playground in Central Park has double swings, one for a young child and another for an adult or older child.  Another playground we visited this past week had a large merry-go-round with small circular movable disks to ride inside of the main one.  Maybe the recent playground equipment is not so unusual, but rather it is just that John and I have not been visiting parks for the past thirty years!
Another interesting feature of this park  are the whimsical statues of children found in various locations of the park.  I especially like the above one of three children crossing a creek.
As I may not be writing another posting until next year, I will take a minute here to wish all of you our readers a very Merry Christmas!  We left the park for supper and just John and I returned in time for the tree lighting.  The whole park was now lit up with Christmas lights.  Adding to those lights were those of a ferris wheel and a carousel.  The playground still had many children playing in it.  Prior to the tree lighting a small stage near the tree had a variety of dance groups performing for the gathering crowds.  I especially enjoyed the choreography for the song  "The Little Drummer Boy".
The Christmas story was played out in the Bethlehem village by live actors, including a real baby.  We certainly had a enjoyable evening strolling through the park.  Besides enjoying the lights, arts and crafts booths, we also stopped to look at a great horn owl perched on the arms of staff member from a bird sanctuary located in Largo.  There was also a bonfire built by a Boy Scout troop where many people were gathered roasting marshmallows.  It was not that cold of an evening, either!
We enjoyed a little bit of everything that evening, including chalk art.  I bet there are plenty of Santa Clauses here in Florida running to the beach after a day in their costume!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Pinewood Estate and Gardens

In 1932 Bethlehem Steel Vice President Charles Buck built a winter retreat next to Bok Garden.  He liked what Bok had done with the gardens and hired the same landscape architect- Frederick Olmsted Jr..  The Bok Gardens acquired the home in 1970.  The home is a rather long sprawling Mediterranean- style building.  I found it difficult to take a picture which would adequately do it justice because of its length as well as the many live oaks and tall pines which surround it.  While waiting in line to enter the house we had time to admire the side garden.
In the rear of this garden is a most unusual Christmas tree made of bromelaid plants.
The docent who greeted us at the door informed us we were to imagine that it was the first Christmas after the victorious D-Day in 1944.  Mr.Buck took great joy in decorating his home and hosting his family and friends for extravagant celebrations at his winter home.
Pictured above is the entrance hall.  Notice the wooden beams overhead, and a stone floor with decorative tile on the steps.  Holiday greens and candles, as well as a Christmas tree certainly add a warm festive feeling to this area.  This is a twenty room mansion, but the only other room I wish to mention here is another location in the house which exudes a similar feeling of warmth and comfort.
Many rooms on the first floor are formal, but the Loggia room pictured above is where the Buck family and their guests could relax, drink hot toddies, and talk about their day of either horseback riding or hunting.  At least that is what we were told to imagine!
Pictured above is the rear of the house, which is quite beautiful with a sweeping wide lawn leading down to Mountain Lake.  Also here is an Oriental moon gate fountain and an English style country garden.  Three large porches offer wonderful vistas, including a view of the Bok Tower.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Singing Tower

It is our wish that you, our readers, had a blessed Thanksgiving.  Our was spent with our daughter Melissa and husband Spencer.  How our meal came together is a very convoluted saga, starting with a teething and fussy baby who just wanted to be held, and a two-year old who burned his hand on the smoker and also wanted to be held.  We drafted the men folk into action, doing baby holding as well as peeling potatoes.  Our Thanksgiving meal did eventually makes its way to the table, and was quite delicious.  Looking back on that day I can only say it was a good day, and I am still thankful for the grandchildren!  However, the next day I did feel in need of rest, so we went on a road trip to Bok Tower Gardens, a trip of about 80 miles one way.  The gardens and tower were the dream of  Edward Bok who employed an architect, landscape architect, and bell founder to make his dream become a reality.   The gardens were dedicated by President Coolidge in 1929.
Our first stop after our arrival was the visitor's center.  Pictured above is a floral display between the dining area and the museum.  Poinsettias as well as air plants dominate the exhibit.  This is the first day of their holiday extravaganza.  In the museum we learned about Bok's life and how he came to build a 205-foot neo-Gothic carillon.  E.Bok was editor of the "Ladies Home Journal" for 30 years.  At the age of 6 he immigrated with his parents from the Netherlands.  He remembered that his home country had the greatest concentration of carillons in the world, which inspired him to also build one.
In the museum we learned about many of the interesting features of the tower.  It is made of pink Georgian marble and coquina.  It houses a 60-bell carillon.  The gold entrance door has carved on it scenes from the first 6 days of creation.  The day we were there two concerts were played, and on the half hour one song was played- some of which were Christmas carols.  The gardens comprise of 50 acres of shaded woodland garden and a bird sanctuary.  Quite a beautiful place to wander while listening to a concerto by Mozart!  Roses are still blooming and the camellias are beginning.

Monday, October 31, 2016

SPIFFS Folk Fair

Happy Reformation to all good Protestants out there!  My sister Gloria informed me that the Pope is meeting with Swedish Lutherans today, maybe there is hope that we will come together yet after 500 years since that day when Martin Luther sparked a revolution against the Catholic church and posted his 95 Theses.  One can only hope.  John and I celebrated Reformation Day by attending a concert given by the Clearwater Bach Choir, members of Peace Lutheran Choir, and the Florida Symphony.  They gave a wonderful musical rendition of Bach's Cantata No. 80 ("Ein Feste Burg").
Speaking of coming together and settling differences, the St.Petersburg International Folk Festival Society celebrated 42 years of diversity last Saturday.  There were many booths where one could buy wares from around the world.  The one above has products from Africa.
Our grandson Nathan was feeling a bit under the weather and not happy shopping.  He was, however, diverted from his aches and pains enough to sit and clap to the music of different groups from around the world.  The dancers pictured above are from Eritrea, a small African country on the Red Sea which has 9 different cultures and languages- and we think that we have problems with diversity?
Around noon there was a break from the music and dancing for a parade of nations.  Many nations from around the world were represented, above are people from Mongolia. 
Our grandson Nathan most liked the red dragon carried by a group representing China.
After the parade there was a naturalization ceremony for 44 people from 20 countries.  Feeling their joy and celebration of this occasion gave me pause to wonder why anyone would not be pleased to welcome them into our country.  We have been blessed within our borders and should be willing to continue accepting diversity in our country- that is what makes our United States awesome!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Clearwater Beach Chalk Art Festival

Fall is here for those of us residing in Florida.  No, not many trees are dropping leaves or changing color, but the daytime temperatures are now more tolerable and nights are definitely cooler!  We have visited one Fall Festival complete with a pumpkin patch, but it is still not the same.  Last Saturday was another beautiful day, John and I knew we had to get out and do something.  I could have stayed inside cooking for the luncheon which I was to serve after Clarissa's baptism the next day- but it was time for John and I to get to one of the many festivals going on in the area.
We drove over to Clearwater Beach and immediately, upon arriving, we encountered traffic jams.  Parking spaces were also limited.  We wondered what was going on- until we noticed a volleyball tournament on the beach, derby car racing in the downtown area, and someone informed us that a stone crab festival was happening further up the coast.  John thought maybe it was spring break time  (see how messed up we are about the seasons down here?).  My better guess was that the snow birds are returning.
John is always good at conversing with people, so I got the scoop about the chalk festival.  Artists who wish to compete submitted the size of their drawings, and whether they wanted a white or black background.  The background was then painted on the sidewalk with tempura paint.
The picture above was my favorite.  The expression on the child's face is priceless.  That artist is a professional, who travels and chalk paints sidewalks around the world.  Another artist is a graphic designer by trade. Not all were professionals and one young lady had a collection pot out as she is saving for a college education.   The youngest was fourteen years-old.  She was working on her picture, shown below.  The artists had until Sunday afternoon to complete their pictures, at which time the winner would be decided.  I turned in my vote before I left.
The three dimensional pictures were quite interesting.  John posed for the one below.  There was a spot marked for where he was to stand, but he did not quite bend down far enough to reach the straw.
Some of the artists were not participating in the contest as they were drawing advertisements for restaurants or resorts, as you may notice in the picture above.  There were about 37 people participating in the contest,  and their paintings ranged from the weird and grotesque to the charming and cute.  There were also pictures drawn of Johnny Depp, Bill Murray, and Muhammad Ali.
Pictured above is our granddaughter.  No, she is not one of the aforementioned men.  Clarissa's baptism day was another wonderful day.  She slept through the ceremony, but was all smiles afterward.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Historic Columbia South Carolina

As I had written previously, our time in Columbia was challenged by Hurricane Matthew and the fact that it was for some businesses  a holiday weekend (Columbus Day).  Those facts did not deter us.  When we could not get anything done pertaining to my brother's estate we checked out the more popular tourist stops.  Columbia is the capital of the state, so we drove over to the state house.  John and I had seen it on our other visit to the city but my sister Gloria had not seen it.   Because of the hurricane it was closed on Saturday.  Despite the wind and a bit of rain we still walked around the capitol grounds.
In a previous posting I wrote about the statue of George Washington which stands on the capitol steps, but I did display a picture of it.  The statue was purchased in 1858 and placed inside the state house.  During the Civil War it was brick batted by soldiers from Sherman's army. It was not repaired, in 1887 it was moved outside on the grounds, in 1907 it was placed on the capitol steps.
Also on the capitol grounds we found the statue of a man who, it was noted on the monument,  was a United States Representative, Senator, Governor, and Supreme Court Justice.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt also gave him a title as "Assistant to the President" during the time he was in office.  No other man has ever served in all those capacities.  Interesting that until that day I had never heard of him!  The signage on the monument indicated that he was "most distinguished of his time".  The man was James Byrnes who lived from 1879 to 1972.  We learned more about him when we visited the Mckissick Museum which is on the University of South Carolina campus- the only museum opened on the Monday we were in town.  We also wanted to tour some historic homes while we were in town, however none were opened.  We did a drive around town anyway, searching them out.
The Woodrow Wilson home is noted to be an "important link to the United States' most pivotal era- the United States Reconstruction" after the Civil War.  Dr. and Mrs. Joseph R. Wilson, parents of Woodrow Wilson, lived here only a few years during the President's teen years.  It is South Carolina's only presidential site.

The last historic home I want to show here was once the temporary war home of General and Mrs. Chestnut.   They entertained Jefferson Davis and his staff here in 1864.   Jefferson Davis, President of the CSA, addressed the citizens of Columbia from the front steps.  This pretty much concludes what I have to write about our weekend in Columbia-  we thought that we would have to extend our time in Columbia through Tuesday because we were told that  the Probate Court building was not opened on Monday due to the holiday.  We had nothing better to do than to check out to see if that fact was correct.  Surprise!  Apparently that information did not apply to county buildings.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Columbia's Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens

My family thought it rather strange when they received a text from me which said that John and I were at a zoo.  It does seem like a strange place to be when our business in Columbia was to take care of my brother's estate.  However, it was Sunday and official offices were closed.  It was finally a sunny day and not a time to tour museums (all were closed anyway because of Matthew).  The zoo parking lot was almost full.  A staff worker at the zoo said that this was a record attendance for them for this time of the year.  Many evacuees from other parts of the state were still in town, not planning on returning to their homes until Monday.
We came to the zoo because of the botanical gardens located within the park.  Walking by the Koala Knockabout though, we just had to stop and look at a pair of koalas.  It seemed that they were a baby with its mama.  She can not be seen in the picture above because she is gripping the tree on the other side.  I was just happy to get the picture of her baby- so cute!
To get to the gardens it was necessary to take a tram.  Ordinarily it would have been possible for us to hike along the Saluda Rver trail to the gardens, but it was closed because the storm knocked tree limbs and other brush over the path.  If we could have taken it we would have seen the ruins of a old mill, as well as the granite abutments of a covered bridge which the Confederates burned to stop General Sherman's army during the Civil War.
Within the gardens is a formal garden with a main canal which divides the garden in half with fountains.  In this walled garden is a labyrinth of "secret" garden rooms.  Pictured below is the knot and textured garden.  It is the most formal area within the walled garden and highlights a combination of textured plants.
  My favorite part of the formal gardens is called a Purple Wall, something quite different which I have not seen in other botanical gardens.  The plants here feature one color primarily.
 Lastly I have to mention another unusual area of the gardens which is called, appropriately enough, the Animal Garden.  Here plants are displayed which have animal names- names like lamb's ear, shrimp plant, elephant ears, pelican flower, fleabane and beebalm.  Guess you get the idea.  Pictured below is the bamboo zebra plant.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Hurricane Matthew

In all of our years of being on the road hurricanes never crossed our path.  Seems like this is our year to experience them! We had just  encountered Hurricane Hermine in September and in the past week we had some interesting experiences with events pertaining to Hurricane Matthew.
 My brother Glenn passed September 16th.  This was a brother estranged from the family for about 40 years.  When my sister Gloria suggested that we meet her in Columbia, South Carolina to pick up his effects from the coroner, as well to meet Glenn's roommate, at first I thought the idea a bit ridiculous.  After considering it further, I concluded that I would like to get a glimpse into Glenn's life which he had kept hidden from us.  I think that John was ready for a road trip, he readily agreed to go.  And it so happened that the week which we had planned for our trip was the time when Hurricane Matthew was going to strike the coastal areas of the southeast!  We left last Thursday, thinking we would miss the storm as it was to arrive on the eastern coast of north Florida Friday afternoon.
Our trip of 500 miles, which should have taken about 9- 10 hours, instead took about 14 hours because of the hurricane.  Getting out of Florida was even a issue.  In the town of Brooksville it was slow going as a road was blocked  due to the fact that a corvette had run under a bus.  Fortunately no one was injured.  In southern Georgia we encountered more traffic jams-people were leaving the coastal areas (as Savannah).  Most fortunately many cars were going southwest, and we were going  the opposite direction.  We had planned to take interstate 95 but, fearing it would be congested, we took back country roads through Georgia.   That was very slow going as they were only two lane roads.  Stopping for gas took time also as there were long lines at the pumps.  In the larger towns we saw signs posted that all motels were full.  Thankfully we had motel reservations in Columbia- if only we could get there!  Later in the day we noticed police cars gathered along the evacuation routes and convoys of utility trucks.   Highway lanes into Columbia had been changed- going only in one direction into the city and away from the coast.  Such changes made it quite difficult to get to our motel, we wandered for awhile before discovering that the road to our motel was open - highway signs indicated wrongly that the ramp was closed! 
We made it finally to our motel, quite late.  On Friday Columbia had some wind and rain.  The Congaree River (pictured above) was close to flooding its banks.  Strong winds brought down large trees in the area, but that was the worse which the city experienced.  Our motel was filled with people who had fled the coastal towns of Charleston as well as Hilton Head, South Carolina.
 We had been told by the coroner of Lexington County that schools, and businesses would be closed on Friday because of the impending storm.  We took a chance anyway and were very fortunate to find her in her office.  She told us what she knew when she arrived at Glenn's house to pick up his body
(he had died a natural death from cancer).  She had met a neighbor as well as Glenn's roommate.
Later that day we drove to Glenn's house, pictured above.  His roommate is standing outside the building.  Over the years we corresponded with Glenn by mail and he shared all he had learned about our lives with Dave.  We were quite surprised how much he knew about us!  Despite Hurricane Matthew we had a wonderful time in West Columbia learning about our brother Glenn.  With Dave we visited restaurants which he and Glenn frequented.  We met waitresses who were willing to talk with us about our brother, as well as other people who knew him.   Fortunately Dave had a shoe box of Polaroids taken by Glenn over the years which he passed on to us, they also have provided us with snippets of Glenn's life over the years when he refused to see us.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Murals of St.Petersburg

John and I have been following articles in the Tampa Bay Times regarding the 2016 SHINE Mural Festival in St.Petersburg.  Seems that it was on Labor Day weekend when many of the artists were out and painting store walls as well as one street intersection in St.Petersburg.  It is a distance to go from where we are parked and there were some storms passing through that weekend so it was not possible to see the artists at work.  On Monday of this week we had some errands to run in St.Petersburg, so it seemed a good time to search out the murals. 
The mural pictured above was not done this year, but I thought it interesting as it depicts a piece of local history.  In 2013 the St.Petersburg Pier, a local landmark and popular tourist attraction was closed with plans to build a bigger and better one.  That has not happened, and I think the artist is expressing some very strong feelings about the passing of that landmark.
This years mural festival brought 21 new murals to the city.  Painted on the School of Art building are fish actively moving in and around each other.  The picture fills a wall of the building and continues around the side.  It was done by Pantonio a Portuguese artist known for his rather large dimension murals.  The only requirements for the mural artists is that they be 18 years of age and reside in the St.Petersburg area.  Some of the murals are created by several people, as the mural pictured below which was done by clients and one art teacher from Creative Clay art school and galleries.  Unfortunately it faces a parking lot and an unobstructed picture was not possible.
It certainly is a very colorful mural!  And I can say the same for the car and mural pictured below.
"The Car That Says Art" is parked in front of a creation by Ricardo Richey.  Some of the murals, as this one which we found by wandering down an alley, was a bit hard to find but always worth the extra walking.  While looking for them we walked passed art galleries and cafes, as well as a variety of boutiques and tattoo parlors.  There are also some abandoned buildings as well as buildings in the middle of reconstruction.  Murals found on many of the buildings certainly add a colorful flair to this older section of St.Petersburg!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Fine Art Center in Dunedin

First off I must say that our life style has radically changed, at least for now.  John certainly would rather be on the road, but I enjoy my time with the grandchildren.
The weather continues to be quite hot, we had thought September would bring some relief but guess we will have to wait until October.  So we are still looking for indoor activities and Saturday we visited the art center here in Dunedin.  As I have written before, we often are surprised at what art museums in small towns have to offer.  And we were quite pleased at what we discovered in this art museum.  One exhibit was on Harmonic Divergence.  This exhibit of art was inspired by music.
There is a vegetable orchestra in Vienna.  The members have been building  instruments from legumes, cabbages and courgettes for twelve years.

  There are recordings of the band's music- which, according to museum information is described as "transparent, crackling, shrill, massive dark and hypnotic, funky and groovy". I would have to agree!  Also on display are instruments made of ceramic, as well as guitars made of scrap lumber with such treasures as door springs, saw blades and pot lids inside. They are painted with red barn paint.
The  exhibit, which I enjoyed at this museum the most, is titled" Dignity: Tribes in Transition".  Photographs on display here were taken by Dana Gluckstein.  For thirty years she photographed Indigenous Peoples around the world fighting for their land, their traditions, their languages, against large companies, their governments and missionary zeal.  In 1970 representatives from tribes in North America took their concerns to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.  Their declaration of rights was approved by all nations except a few- America and Canada did not sign it.  Fortunately President Obama signed it in 2010.  There is an article in this exhibit written by Desmond Tutu in which he notes that "umbuntu" is needed world-wide.  In the Nguni Bantu language it translates roughly to "human kindness".  It is the essence of what it is to be human, that we are inter-dependent with other human beings and the rest of creation.  A bit of human kindness is certain needed in our political discourses during this election year!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Trip in to St.Petersburg

We are now further north and west of St.Petersburg than we were this past winter.  So it is roughly a 20 mile trip into the city one-way.   On a rainy day a couple of weeks ago John and I decided to make the trip into the city to see Southside With You, a story about a day of courtship between President Obama and his wife Michelle which took place about 20 years ago.  It was a wonderful movie, by the way.  Theaters which show the independent films are few and far between, thankfully we found one in St.Petersburg.  After the movie we stopped to visit Florida's largest new and used bookstore.
Both John and I are voracious readers and I cannot believe that we did not visit this place last winter.
The place is very large, and we wandered from room to room looking at books for about two hours.
I was taken aback when I happened to look up and saw a cat peering intently at me.
I walked on further into that room and found two more cats, one curled up in a chair sleeping.  We ended up buying about 6 books- but this store's used books are a bit pricey, I can find cheaper used books at thrift stores as well as libraries.  But certainly not the large variety!

After the book store we drove on Central Avenue close to the downtown looking for the mural pictured above.  The pictures on this commercial building are on every outside wall and they tell a fable about an evil giant who stole gold from the local villagers.  Every evening while at the supper table he fed the gold to his dog.  The villagers wanted their gold back and consequently killed the dog.  Every evening, while the giant dined,  the villagers held the dog's head up to the giant's leg so he could feel the dog and feed it gold.  Eventually the village got all their money back.

In the picture above the dog's head is being held up by the villagers.  Quite a fascinating mural!  Yesterday, Labor Day, more painters were planning on covering more walls on the buildings of St.Petersburg.  Not sure whether they were successful, as we had a heavy downpour here in the late afternoon.  August seems to be the rainy month here, of course Hurricane Hermine did not help that situation as she brought heavy rain for several days.