What Brings You to your Knees?

There are moments when there’s nothing to do but be silent, watch, and pray. As Notre Dame was burning and firefighters were valiantly fighting the flames, the world watched in sadness.

 

Prayers and tears from Parisians and visitors alike from the banks of the Seine as flames pour from Notre Dame (Photo Credit: Yoan Valat/EPA)

 

I visited Paris in 2013 and we toured Notre Dame. She was more magnificent than I could have imagined. Yes, she – Notre Dame is referred to as Our Lady of Paris. She reminded me of an anchor for the city. She sat in silent beauty beckoning us to come. Her outer beauty was astonishing – her inner beauty even more so. The history of the church was everywhere inside of her. She begged us to worship God.

I’ve been in cathedrals all over Europe. Some felt more like a museum. Some felt empty. Some brought me to my knees.

During this Holy Week, I will be reflecting on what brings me to my knees. On what makes me stop and worship God or stop to pray. On what makes me thankful for all He has done. On the church and how it is not simply a building. And I’ll remember the people in Paris who call Notre Dame their church. I’ll remember that to them she is more than an amazing cathedral – she is their home church.

The word today is that Notre Dame will be rebuilt. Many artifacts and relics have been saved. Nobody was hurt. There is much to be thankful for. Jesus has been in the process of building his church since he went to the cross. I’ll reflect on that, too. Won’t you join me?

 

Notre Dame – photo taken in 2013

 

This is Post #16 in the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post every day in April.

Another Public Service Announcement for Fans of Florida

It’s a little bit safer to traipse around in the swamps in South Florida today. A 17-foot python was hunted and killed down in Big Cypress National Preserve in the Everglades a few days ago. I try to keep abreast of things that can squeeze the life out of you, like The I-4 Ultimate Project, phone solicitors, and big snakes. I know how you depend on me for just such information!

The problem with this invasive species is huge, like the snakes themselves. Interestingly, the increase in this snake’s population in South Florida is linked to Hurricane Andrew, which struck in 1992. Along its path were several exotic pet stores. When they were leveled, the pets found a suitable home in the swampy jungles of South Florida and have continued to devastate our native species while increasing their presence in the way that birds and bees and snakes do.

Florida is aggressively fighting this problem. There are even Python Elimination Programs, but in case you’re wondering SFWMD (South Florida Water Management Department) is not currently accepting applications for new participants.

They are getting very scientific in their battle against the Burmese Pythons. Tracking devices are implanted in male pythons (another job I wouldn’t want) to lead the trackers to breeding females. This 17-foot mama had 73 developing eggs inside of her.

 

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Photo credit: Big Cypress National Preserve/FaceBook

Despite the possibility of being strangled by a python, attacked by an alligator, injured by venomous toads, swarmed by mosquitoes, or literally driven crazy on I-4, I still find Florida a pleasant place to live. As they say though, I live in Florida under one condition. Air condition. If you come to visit, please leave your exotic reptiles at home and enjoy your stay.

 

This is Post #10 in the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post every day in April.

Killer Toads Invade Florida

I have a love/hate relationship with things that hop. I like rabbits and bunnies, but the Easter Bunny at the mall is a little freaky. I think kangaroos are fascinating, though I never have encountered one in the wild; and I think I would be mildly terrified if I did. I like a good sock hop, even though my dancing skills are rusty. What I don’t like are frogs and toads. They give me the creeps. I never know where they are going to hop, and it always seems like they like to torture me and come my way. Yes, I think it’s personal.

So you can understand why I was attentive to a recent news story about killer toads. April showers may bring May flowers, but this year they are bringing killer toads to parts of Florida. We always welcome a lot of visitors during Spring Break, but these guys are definitely not helping our economy and their plan is to linger way past April.

It’s quite serious actually. They start out tiny, but they can grow to be a half pound. That’s a lot of toad. They were introduced to Florida to control insects in the sugarcane fields years ago, hence the name cane toad. Well, that didn’t work out too well as they are very poisonous. They can shut down the nervous system of a pet. The venom shoots from the back of their neck, so people need to be aware. The major outbreak is in the Palm Beach area where swarms of them are invading neighborhoods, but these toads are found all over Florida.

This is not the first amphibian that I have addressed on my blog. This post from six years ago covers many of our invasive species. So please, don’t pet the toads, frogs, or alligators (yes, I know this is a reptile but they do hang out in the same areas). You learn a lot of respect for nature down here.

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A large army of small cane toads, but they won’t stay small for long. Photo Credit: Fox 35 News

 

This is Post #5 of the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post every day in April.

Garfield Invades the Coast of France

I’m always on the lookout for things washed up on the beach. I’ve lived in Florida for decades and the most interesting things that I’ve found are sharks’ teeth and seashells. I’ve found baby diapers and sunglasses, too, but I’ve never found a vintage 1980s Garfield telephone.

I’m fairly certain if Jim Davis’ Garfield could be coaxed to comment on the thirty-year-old problem of plastic Garfield phones washing up on the coast of France, he would blame it on Odie. You probably would have to bribe him with lasagna to get an answer out of him, too.

(image found on multiple sources)

Perhaps if there is a French equivalent to American-born Garfield, he would be better bribed with a croissant or possibly a quiche rather than bow to the Italian palate we Americans relish. Or maybe he’d prefer one of those yummy crepes you can purchase along the streets of Paris.

Regardless, I’m pretty sure Garfield wouldn’t care a crumb about this kind of litter, which has been showing up for three decades in France. He’d likely roll over and continue his nap with complete indifference to the people pouring over the sandy, rocky French coast cleaning up the Garfield mess.

If I were strolling along Daytona Beach, I should think I’d be rather shocked to dig at a little piece of orange plastic protruding from the sand and come face to face with Garfield. But to my knowledge no shipping crate full of the phones was ever lost on our shores like crashed onto the rocky coast of France. Yes, the mystery is solved. It only took thirty years.

I was amused at the serious comment made by Fabien Boileau, the Director of Ironise Marine Nature Park – “We will go there to recover the remains of the phones.”

Perhaps this is a matter of being lost in translation, but it sounds like a funeral will ensue after all remains are accounted for. I think it’s more likely that eBay will blow up with the famous feline-face phone. Again, if Garfield were to comment, I think it would be with nothing more than a yawn. As for me, I’m heading to the kitchen for a piece of lasagna.

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You’ll be hearing from me a lot in April as I’m participating in the Ultimate Blog Challenge – a challenge to post every day for the 30 days of April. I’ll tell you more about that tomorrow. Thanks for stopping by.

The Polar Vortex – What To Do While You’re Stuck Inside

I’m in Florida, so the cold weather we are experiencing pales in comparison to what our friends up north are going through. I am thinking of you all though, so today I’m offering six things to do while you’re stuck inside during the Polar Vortex:

  1. Look up the meaning of vortex.
  2. Play a drinking game. Whenever someone says “polar vortex” they have to take a shot of hot chocolate.
  3. Read. Something by Robert Frost would be appropriate.
  4. Watch movies, maybe something with a tropical theme or even The Polar Express might feel warmer than your current circumstances.
  5. Text Ashton Kutcher.

I caught this on the news this morning.

 

Ashton, you’re killing me. You want us to be real with each other. You want connections. But your last line tells it all: You want to share your latest and greatest with us. Sounds a little one-way, if you ask me.

Anyway, Ashton, thanks for the chuckle. After I started writing this, I contemplated texting you, but I was afraid you’d text me back. So, I checked with Google and it looks like you have taken your number down or changed it or something equally non-communicative as far as your community goes. Silly boy.

FINALLY:

Number 6 – Get excited about my post for tomorrow’s blog. I’m doing a give-away.

On a serious note, I have family who are in Michigan, so I am praying that this dangerous cold weather passes through quickly and that people will be safe. Until tomorrow.

 

 

You Otter Read This

Once again, I am providing a view of the other side of Central Florida. It’s not all the happiest place on earth down here. I’m not talking about Costco, one of my happy places on earth. I’ve never felt the danger of being attacked by an angry otter at Costco. I can’t say as much about Lake Lily in nearby Maitland.

Central Florida wildlife

It has been nearly a year since an ornery otter has made the headlines here. It was in March of last year that an aggressive otter jumped into a kayak in Manatee County and leaped onto its unsuspecting paddlers resulting in an overturned kayak and one terrifying and terrific story for the pair trying to take a leisurely trip down the river. He went on to attack other boaters and injure four people.

Daily I-4 Warnings

Daily I-4 Warnings are necessary during the I-4 Ultimate Project

I don’t know how that story was resolved regarding the capture of the wanted otter, but now I fear that he may have made his way to our fair community, though that would be unlikely because the most direct route from Manatee County, which is south of the Tampa/St. Pete area, to the Orlando area is via I-4. I-4 is deadlier than an angry otter and you would be smart to avoid it while in our area. An otter, angry or otherwise, can weigh between 10 and 33 pounds. You’d fare better with it then you would with an 18-wheeler trying to figure out where the lanes have shifted on I-4. The truck could weigh up to 40 tons. I think if given the choice, I’ll take my chances with the otter.

Seriously, though, whether on the interstate or near our beautiful lakes, I’m cautious. Lovely Lake Lily in the nearby town of Maitland is a favorite place for locals to take a stroll. I myself have walked there. I might have considered doing it again, that is until otters began stalking innocent walkers. At this point, they are only concerned about one otter. They are working on a Single-Otter Theory. I think this is their way of avoiding conspiracies of groups of otters banding together with a common cause of destroying our state or making a statement about our inconsistencies in counting votes down here in Florida.

All this begs a question. These are river otters and Lake Lily is, well, a lake. I think that the otters are confused, like the vote counters in Broward County last year. Perhaps they thought their votes were not counted in the last election.

Another question: Are the sightings and incidents involving the dangerous otter at Lake Lily really the work of a renegade weasel (otters are in the weasel family) or maybe even the Russians?

For now, we will have to hope that it was a Lone Otter. The latest word is the Otter Wanted-Posters have been successful. The squirrelly otter is off the streets, lakes, rivers, and swamps. I guess I’ll have to come up with a better reason to avoid taking a walk.

 

Danger in Central Florida!

Wild animals and poor spellers are everywhere. Be on alert!

Now that I have your attention, let me highlight some of the stuff we Floridians have to put up with that is going way beyond reptiles and sharks. I’ve mentioned before (for those of you who don’t live here) that we essentially live in a subtropical swamp. Therefore, it’s often humid and hot. Really hot, accompanied by alligators, snakes, and mosquitoes. But that only lasts for six months, after which we return to just plain hot with occasional warm spells and alligators, snakes, and mosquitoes. (more…)

The Royals

Royals! They are all the talk lately – from the royal wedding to royal babies. But there’s a lot more royalty out there than what you find across the pond. I have royals that I love to interact with and read about in my everyday life. Common royals – kind of an oxymoron. (more…)

DST – It’s Not a Disease

Every spring it’s the same thing. DST arrives and it messes with me. It sounds like a disease. Yes, I am experiencing Daylight Savings Time even as you read this.

To be fair, switching back to standard time also messes with me. I am easily messed with, just ask my children. Every time after the time change, it takes me a few days to get in the swing of things like a weird, non-travel jet lag. (more…)

Nobody Likes You Irma (Part 2 of 2)

Irma was an unwelcome guest, but there was no stopping her from blowing through. I thought I would share what it was like for me and my family as she came knocking on our door. Looking back, we got off easy compared to a lot of folks, but my story is the only one I can tell. I tell it mixed with prayers for those who have truly suffered through this storm and the many other “natural disasters” that are going on in the world today.

By 11:00 Sunday morning we were hunkered, which is a word we used liberally during the entire ordeal.

Hurricane Warning

By 2:20 PM our phones were going off like crazy with alerts. Watches turned to warnings. (Watches are issued when conditions are favorable for the storm. Warnings come when the storm or flood is imminent.)

The first rain bands arrived before 3 PM.

The wind significantly picked up by 7 PM. By 8:30, those winds became downright scary as they gusted over and around our house.

By 10 PM the rain was coming down in torrents. We experienced minor flooding over our front sidewalk. And the eye of the storm was hours away. FYI, we did not board up our house.

Our front sidewalk in the light of day. It took 3 days to dry out.

We decided to go to bed and get some rest. The worst was supposed to come around 2 AM. My parents seemed to go right to sleep on the other side of the house. Bob and I lay in our bed listening to the weird noises that the wind was making. I thought our roof was going to come off. I told Bob that I couldn’t sleep with all that noise. He said that he could.

And he did! I went to the center of the house and tried to rest in a recliner, but by then it was raining even harder and I could hear the dripping in the chimney while the weird noises continued. The wind whipped through our screened pool enclosure making eerie howling sounds. This was the first time in a long time that I can remember being legitimately scared. So, I ate some chocolate chip cookies.

The entire household was sleeping through this (minus me, of course). That amazed me, but I was thankful somebody was getting some rest! It was now clear that the storm was going to go right over Orlando. With the wind picking up even more, a little before 2 AM, I prepared the hall with cushions and chairs for my parents. Our phones, computers and car keys were placed in Ziploc bags. I was ready to take the hunkering to a new level.

I was awake and praying or chatting with other hunkerers on Facebook through most of the night – manning the conn from our recliner in the center of the house while eating the occasional chocolate chip cookie or three. I’d peek outside toward the east and look at the weird lightning and watch the trees bend in the glow of it. The water in the pool, though Bob had drained several inches from it twice, was over the edge. Irma was loud and violent, and the rest of my family slept through it.

With everything in place, I returned to my recliner. I must have dozed off, because I woke up around 6 AM and realized that it was over, and we still had electricity.

We live in the back of our neighborhood, which has 450 homes in it. A tributary of the Little Wekiva River flows through the center. Typically, it is a creek of about 8 feet width. Monday morning it was a raging little river.

The front of our neighborhood looked like a war zone of fallen trees and debris. They were without power. Our end of the neighborhood never lost it. But there were a lot of downed trees and fences and a new lake in our neighbor’s backyard. A wonderful neighbor had a front-end loader and went up and down every street clearing a path. Everyone was outside working and checking on each other.

Our next-door neighbor’s backyard

Bob looking at all the debris – our neighbor’s newly formed backyard lake in the background

Our damage was so minimal it doesn’t even count. I told my mother that we had an extra blessing from God because they moved in with us.

Bob and I put on our sneakers and leather gloves and got to work. Trees are no respecters of property lines. We have the neighborhood border wall behind our house. There is a vacant, treed lot behind us, so we got lots of debris from that. When I set foot in the yard, I was surprised to be up to my ankles in water. But there was no damage and nobody was hurt. We were amazed and grateful to God for that.

One of our sons and family showed up in the early afternoon. They were safe but without power. By nightfall, theirs was restored. Our other son and his wife were not so lucky. Theirs was out for nine days.

My parents’ home sustained no damage, but that area was without electricity for five days. It may be September, but it’s still close to 90 degrees every day down here.

 

     There are piles of debris along the roads that are taller than I am. And there is a subtle, funky smell in the air that is like a mixture of old diaper and chicken farm. Thankfully, the garbage truck removed the regular garbage today, so that may improve. Mass spraying has begun to combat mosquitoes. The sound of frogs in the morning is deafening as they take up residence in the newly formed ponds. We are keeping our eyes open for snakes. Alligators have been reported in some yards and pools. Flood waters are cresting along the St. Johns River. There are still some who have no power and others who can no longer stay in their homes. But we give thanks for being on the other side of this. It has been a blessing watching neighbor helping neighbor and churches joining together to serve. A lot of the differences that tend to divide us have taken their proper place, and we see each other simply as people going through something together.

I thought about being afraid in the middle of that night. I thought about how rare that is for me, and I was thankful. Now I think about people living in fear of storms real and imagined and how that affects their lives, and I pray that they will call out to God because He is there.