Ants on Crack and Other Random Curiosities

Because my world is smaller than it used to be due to that which shall not be named, I am noticing little things. Like ants. Ants are crazy busy, and there are actual crazy ants, which are from the Caribbean and can be found in Florida. As you may be aware, Florida is famous for bugs.

Typically we see fire ants or carpenter ants or even Pharoah ants, which are known to have a superiority complex. Fire ants love to bite people while the more industrious carpenter ant just wants to make improvements to your house; i.e. make it his house.

Whatever type of ant, if it’s making mounds, it is my job to get Bob to destroy them.

Over the summer I discovered ants boring a hole in our driveway. I can’t imagine what possesses them to do that, but it was interesting until I remembered I don’t want my driveway to look like Swiss cheese.

This is how deep they had gotten before we stepped in. These ants are aptly named Pavement Ants.

About 1.5 inches deep

Last week at a quick glance I noticed they were at it again. I pondered the ability of ant jaws to chisel through concrete with their tiny teeth. Bob handled it but assured me that they weren’t indiscriminately chewing through our driveway. These ants were on crack.

That made perfect sense to me until Bob explained they were on a crack in the concrete.

Something else to ponder down here is the I-4 Ultimate Project which began in 2015 and has no sign of being completed during the remaining 15 months of 2020. I’m not good with maps, but it appears to me that any delays are probably due to the Scarlet King Snake (or is that a Coral Snake) resting in the middle of the project.

Red Touch Yellow – Kills a Fellow
Red Touch Black – Venom Lack
Yellow Touches Red – Soon You’ll Be Dead
Red Touches Black – Friend of Jack

I early voted and it was a breeze, much simpler than remembering the coral snake rhyme. The old Party City in our area is now serving two parties and third parties as well. It was an easy in-and-out experience except the woman who checked me in was sort of blind. She was excited to work the polls for her first time – so excited that she forgot her contact lenses and had to use a magnifying glass to check my picture and signature. That was a first for me, too.

And, finally, a consumer alert. Available at Walmart, of course, for a limited time: It’s time to buy your KFC fried chicken-scented firelogs. I hope they don’t cause a grease fire.

Searching for the Worst Beach in Florida

Bob and I celebrated our 45th anniversary last weekend. This was not without its challenges due to the pandemic and a tropical storm/hurricane threatening Florida’s east coast. Isaias (ees-ah-EE-ahs) turned out to be a dud storm for Florida, thank God, but it caused damage up the I-95 corridor. It’s gone now – only clean-up remains. Other than the obvious reason to breathe a sigh of relief, we are grateful that we will not have to listen to people trying to say Isaias properly. One local radio announcer dubbed it “the storm with the name we can’t pronounce.”

And speaking of storm names – who are the ad wizards that came up with these? Later in the year we will have a storm named Nana. Seriously? Nana is threatening the coast. Nana is knocking out power. We hope Nana doesn’t come on shore. But I digress.

A day trip seemed a good plan. Being inside with all the masked people and pandemic reminders dampening our mood was not what we wanted for our anniversary. We love a good day trip and love to explore places we have not seen, so we headed for North Central Florida’s West Coast.

We threw our swimsuits, beach chairs, and a cooler in the car and were off for adventure. Who knew what we would find? Who knew what perfect little beaches we would discover? Who knew if we would find a place where we could use the bathroom?

First stop was Crystal River. It is famous around the state for its scenic nuclear power plant. Seeing the majestic steam billowing up to the sky, well, that’s nature at its finest. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy we have it. In Florida having power is what it’s all about. We get cranky when our AC is out.

We rambled down the road and found a crowded little beach right on the Gulf. I guess you have to get up pretty early in the morning to get a parking space, so we opted for a picnic by the river, which turned out to be the highlight of our trip.

Next stop was Lil’ Shark Park at Cedar Key. We had heard great things about Cedar Key, but in retrospect all those things were from people who had boats. We had a Styrofoam pool noodle.

You know those cute little couples who even though they have been married for 45 years still hold hands? We were one of them. Of course, we were motivated by the need to steady each other as we walked into the water. I was surprised by the slippery slime under my feet. To add to the ambiance, the smell of dead fish wafted around us like mosquitoes on a summer night. We stayed ten minutes.

It was 4 o’clock and we were riding around in our wet swimsuits still in search of a place to swim. Surely Pine Island would provide that. By 5:30 we were in the Gulf again. This was a step up from Cedar Key. We could walk in the water without fear of falling, but it felt like we were walking on fishing nets. I walked about a quarter mile before getting to waist deep water. It didn’t stink and although it felt yucky on my feet, it wasn’t completely gross. We got wet. We saw a small pod of dolphins. We left.

When we changed from our swimsuits in a beach house that was about 85 degrees inside and smelled like wet dog, I got homesick for our backyard (which is where we spent the next day). We were on the road again by 6:15. Little did we know that our real adventure was finding Florida’s worst beach.

Our day in summary:

Wildlife seen: 6 dolphins, 2 otters, 1 deer

Nuclear Power plants spotted: 1

Things I’ve never seen in Central or Eastern Florida: quarries, sawmills

Places to which I would return: 0

Worst beach to swim in Florida: Lil’ Shark Park at Cedar Key

Time spent with Bob: 13 hours of talking and laughing and enjoying being together. We can’t wait to go to Clearwater!

 

 

 

People – or – Who is That Masked Person?

Everyday faces of people who are on the front lines of the pandemic grace our news feeds. A huge thank you to all of those folks.

Today I want to feature faces of people who you will likely not see on the news. People who I meet as I’m walking down the aisle at Publix or in the parking lot at Walgreens. People who are part of my family or my church.

There is more to each of these people than meets the eye. And I’m not just talking about their nose and mouth. They all have a story. They all have people they love. They all are pretty tired of life’s adjustments over the last couple of months.

These people include a bride-to-be at her virtual bridal shower, the young man taking my order at Chic-fil-a, the young woman whose mom in Nevada made a mask for her and sent it to help keep her safe, newly weds, oldly weds, and the fun lady whom I met at the bakery in Publix. There’s my granddaughter, and a dad and his daughter. There are close friends of mine. I even threw in the Mayor of Orlando, mainly because I like the way Orange County Sheriff John Mina is looking at him. I think he’s wondering why the mayor didn’t bring masks for everyone.

To show you these beautiful faces, I asked several people, some of whom I do not know, to allow me to take and post their picture. Every one of them said yes. Isn’t that fun? With a six-foot social distancing mandate, it’s harder than ever to chat with people, but I’m finding that a lot of folks are eager for a kind word or even to have their picture taken. Especially since my goal was to encourage people to look behind the mask (figuratively, of course). Make eye contact. Smile and say hello. I know – I’m in the South, but I’m pretty sure it will work wherever you find yourself.

Meanwhile, we continue to pray for God’s healing, mercy, and comfort. And we remember to smile with our eyes until we can stop wearing these crazy masks.

 

People.

People who are people.

They’re the peopliest people in the world.

(That’s my version of People, the song made famous by Barbra Streisand. I guess I can’t copyright that.)

 

April 30 – The End is Near?

I am hopeful that some semblance of normal life is just around the corner. I am also aware that some of the corners we round are blind corners – it can take a while to get around them and you don’t know what you’ll face once you do. I’m not sure what end is near. Maybe just the end of April. Hopefully the end of so many ordinary things being closed and the end of being sequestered in our homes but mostly the end of this horrible virus.

For those of you who have suffered loss during this season of COVID-19, my heart goes out to you. Your normal is forever changed. I’m so sorry. I continue to pray for comfort, healing, and God’s mercy.

In keeping with the title of my blog, I also continue to look for the light side of whatever life looks like. Sometimes that side is funny and sometimes it is brilliant with the light of God shining through a situation. Sometimes it’s hard to find that light, but God is always there, even in the darkness. May you feel his presence in a greater way than ever.

I’ve taken some pictures as I’ve traversed my part of the world this past month. (I decided to use a big word for those little trips out of the house.) I want to reprioritize my life a little and remember and appreciate what we have, had, and will have. I want to remember how hard people worked to keep us safe even if they made mistakes while doing so. I realize that it’s easy to forget, so here’s my perspective of how things have looked in Altamonte Springs, Florida, during the April 2020 pandemic. (more…)

These Words are Driving me Crazy

It isn’t getting easier being isolated. I don’t think I have anything new to learn regarding social distancing and hand washing.

On the other hand, I am sleeping well and have food in the house enough for several weeks. I have had long conversations with family and friends over the phone and Facetime. I never miss our church service. My quiet time in the morning can start and end anytime I’d like. I have much to be thankful for.

But I miss being around people. I miss going to my birding drive (Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive). I even miss seeing our news anchors sitting side-by-side. The novelty of seeing them in their living room or pool lanai has worn off. I miss the after-church fellowship every Sunday. I miss my family more than ever. (more…)

Quieting Anxiety and a Trip to Costco

Yes, Costco is open for business. Yesterday after Bob’s first day working from home, we braved ourselves and headed there. Bob had a prescription to pick up and I had our usual list. It was completely sane there. You read that right, sane. Not only was it sane, but gasoline was $1.65/gallon, with no line.

This is one of the things that baffles the brain of every Floridian I know. From June 1 through November 30 we are used to emergency preparedness which involves stocking up on things when a hurricane is in the forecast. In order to avoid the rush, in early June I go ahead and stock up on paper products, water, and batteries and make sure our propane tanks are filled. But buying gas before a hurricane is always tricky because you can’t stock up, and when one is coming there is always a line.

So, my brain draws from past behavior and thinks a hurricane is coming, and it won’t shut up about it. Yesterday I realized that my stress is mainly because there is no hurricane. Let me explain, when we know a storm is approaching, we ready ourselves. When the storm passes, we recover. I’m waiting for the storm and that produces stress.

This realization has helped me. People aren’t comfortable with open-ended problems. Well, we’re in training for that now.

One of my favorite scriptures is Philippians 4:6 – “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

I am thankful that God revealed to me that the source of my stress here is not simply a virus and the economic impact, but it is the unknown timeline of it all. I hope that helps you, too.

Meanwhile, I continue to chat it up with people at Costco and that is always interesting. I bought everything on my list yesterday except for onions. I was unwilling to spend $8 for an enormous bag of onions when I only needed one. I figured onions aren’t really in the need category anyway, so that was fine. But once in the parking lot, I couldn’t help but notice just a few cars away, a man and his wife were unloading their cart, and they had onions. My mouth was salivating.

“Hey there,” I said half-jokingly, “I’d love to buy one of those onions from you.”

He laughed and after hesitating a moment said, “Do you need one?”

“Well, kind of. I just couldn’t bring myself to buy so many when I knew they’d go bad.”

At that point he ripped open his bag of onions and offered one to me. I paid him a dollar for it, which he said was silly. So, I told him to put it in his church offering. After we debated over which of our churches should get the dollar, I offered to trade a roll of toilet paper for it.

This made my day. Laughter over an onion. Do you see the irony? Usually I’m crying over onions, but this one brought joy to four people in a Costco parking lot in Altamonte Springs. I love people!

I will not spin. I will not be spinning. I will not have spun.

This is my convoluted, conjugated New Year’s Resolution (not revolution).

The earth is spinning on its axis at approximately 950 mph here in Florida. I can handle that. All other spinning is bad for me. Except maybe spinning a yarn, which should not be confused with spinning facts. In this politically-driven climate, I won’t go there. That could make my head spin.

My main goal so far this year is not to get dizzy. And when I say get dizzy, I mean experience vertigo – not to be confused with the Alfred Hitchcock classic film starring Jimmy Stewart, which I have experienced via television and it did not make me dizzy at all.

I don’t want to make your head spin, so I’ll get to my point. I truly do live a wonderful life (final Jimmy Stewart reference). A big part of that wonderfulness is family. So, when our daughter asked Bob and me if we wanted to go in with them on a family Christmas present for the six of them to experience Universal Studios, we did. Of course, we decided to tag along.

They are huge Harry Potter fans. I think I saw a movie or two back in 2004. I also read the first book, as I had to know what all the hubbub was about. They were good, but not really my genre. But my grandkids are a genre all their own – if that’s possible. So, we watched a couple of movies as a way to study up on Harry and his friends before exploring the parks with them. We didn’t want to look like complete muggles.

You may be asking why I would choose to go there seeing as I tend toward vertigo. Good question. We discussed it and decided to go with the full knowledge that I would not be able to get on a lot of the rides. A lot turned out to be about 95 percent. Our grandchildren were quite dismayed that I could not ride along with them, but I was happy standing in line with them and enjoying the pre-ride entertainment and holding all their stuff. Well, mostly I was. We stood in line for two hours for Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure, which evidently had been towed to the nearest mechanic. You can’t wave a magic wand and fix such things. You would think you could, but no. This is clearly evidence that the park is run by muggles.

Realization #6,413 – Things like this don’t disappoint me like they used to. I used to ride all the coasters. I liked it. It’s okay that I can no longer do that without puking my guts out while my head spins for the next three weeks.

There is entertainment out there that you spin-lovers may not notice. Like, reading the signs at the beginning of each ride. This became my hobby. My conclusion: It’s a wonder anyone can go on those things.

What could have occurred on this ride to prompt such a specific sign?

Even Seuss Landing had danger within.

No riding for me. I just would not spin.

 

Things in Seuss Landing were just as lethal for us non-spinners.

 

 

Cat in the Hat. Imagine that!

One Fish Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

Fish could be spewed all over town

Just from a spin – that’d make me frown.

 

 

Was it worth it, you ask? 15,000 steps in one day?

Why, yes, it was. And quite magical, I’d say.

 

(Disclaimer: No rides or people were spewed on during the research for this post. No episodes of vertigo occurred. Bob and I enjoyed what will likely be our last visit to Universal Studios – unless the grandchildren ask us to go again.)

A Pen, a Sword, and a Great Blue Heron walked into a bar. Which was mightier?

I’ve been thinking about killing someone off, and it’s harder than I thought it would be. I am participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which is a campaign to write a novel (at least 50,000 words) in the month of November. I have reached the juncture in my story where someone must die. I knew death was inevitable, but I’ve been writing around it for the last three days. I can’t bring myself to do it.

I am pretty sure that it’s a good thing that this is hard for me. It should be hard. After all, my novel is based on real events and real people whom I closely know, so this is personal. Even though death is a part of life, I wasn’t prepared to do the deed with my own hand on the keyboard.

In 1839, novelist and playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton penned the words, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” That may be true unless you’re on the wrong end of the sword. Get my point?

Anyway, when I finish this post. I will open my Word document and try again. I hope I can finish the job this time. The rest of my characters are waiting to react to the event. Right now, they don’t know what’s going on.

Hopefully sometime next year I will have this book published. Hopefully you will read it and forgive me for this weak spoiler. If you’re anything like me, you will have forgotten about this by then, so I think we’re safe.

As of this morning, I have written 31,438 words.  If I add this to the 14,008 words that I wrote earlier this year, I am well on my way to completion of my first draft. In January, I will have massive editing to do, so there is that; but I am on pace to finish by the end of November. Thanksgiving may cause a problem, still I’ll press on and hope for the best without making my husband and myself crazy.

Last weekend, Bob and I took our local grandsons to the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive. We were excited to introduce them to this favorite place of ours and get me out from behind the computer for a while. A wildlife drive will offer idyllic scenes of beautiful birds flying about or perched high above and wading birds floating around the water surrounded by flowers.

 

Great Egret in the Burr Marigolds

It will also offer a decaying corpse of an alligator. The boys were fascinated. The gator was swollen and floating upside down in a pond. It was gross and we were thankful we were upwind of him. I did not capture a picture of him even though the boys requested one. You can’t give them everything they want. I don’t want to spoil them too much.

Bob, our grandsons, and an Anhinga (aka Water Turkey or Snake Bird)

In keeping with the death theme, which has been on my mind as I try to do in my character, we came across this lovely scene.

Great Blue Heron with a snack-sized American Alligator

I don’t think I gathered any ideas which I can use in my death-scene writing dilemma, but you never know. Would you be surprised to find out that one of my characters had been killed by a bird or an alligator? Maybe I’ll try to work that into the plot. Maybe not.

Martha Stewart and Me

I enjoy both Southern Living and Martha Stewart Living magazines – that is when I actually sit down to read them. I was so proud of myself for taking the time to read my October magazines, looking for a recipe or household idea I could make my own. I was almost finished Southern Living when the mailman delivered my November magazines. This makes me a little crazy. How can time fly by so quickly that it’s time to read about November? Shoot, there were still 12 days left in October!

I set the new issues aside and committed to finishing up October before November 1 (my idea of goal setting). I even tried a new recipe from Southern Living. Here’s a picture of it. It’s beefy squash and pasta (or something like that). It had collard greens in it – that should have been a clue. Anyway, I cooked it and it looked just like the picture in the magazine.

I know there must be some collard green fans out there, but why is a mystery to me. Controversial cooking tip: avoid cooking them with ground beef.

The butternut squash was the star of the show. The greens were the horrible ending, which lingered through the night. Bitter endings are the worst. I threw the recipe away so I wouldn’t make that mistake again. It was a glorified hamburger helper.

But this post is more about Martha Stewart’s fine publication. I don’t relate to it as easily as I do Southern Living. SL has a down-home feel. Martha Stewart Living has an uppity, uptown feel, even though her uptown is her home in the Hamptons or her home in Maine or her other home in Maine. Still, I know there is much to be learned from Martha, and honestly, I do admire her.

But I can only go so far with her.

I live by my calendar. I keep one on the wall and one on my phone, which literally keeps me going in the right direction. Page 2 of Martha’s magazine gives us her calendar. Its subtitle is “Gentle reminders, helpful tips, and important dates.”

There are few similarities. Of course, I live in Orlando and she lives in one of the above three locations, so yeah. I get it. Plus, she’s Martha Stewart.

Thing(s) we have in common: Get flu shot.

Things we don’t have in common:

  • Pick apples and make cider
  • Move tropical plants indoors (She should have a Florida home, too. That would eliminate this chore.)
  • Have horses reshoed.
  • Prepare chicken coops for winter.
  • Today Show appearance.
  • Swap out summer linens for winter bedding (again, a Florida home is needed)
  • Speak at Horticultural Society of NY’s fall luncheon
  • QVC appearance – This is a close one. I made an appearance at CVS this month.
  • Take drone photos of fall foliage. This is my favorite.

This is a sampling of her month. Next month she has an entire day dedicated to checking and refilling the bird feeders. They must be some kind of humongous feeders. I have to refill mine every other day.

In contrast, my month had:

  • Art show meeting
  • 3 appointments for my mom
  • Furniture repairman
  • Grandsons’ football games
  • 3 church small group meetings
  • Writers group meeting
  • A weekend trip to Maine not to see Martha Stewart, though we took photos of the fall foliage (not with a drone)
  • 3 luncheons (I wasn’t receiving awards or the speaker)
  • 3 special birthdays – Happy Birthday to my son, Joe; my son-in-law Derek; and my grandson, Oliver, is turning one!

I think I like my calendar better. In fact, I know I do. But, thank you, Martha, for pointing out the need to be organized and balance work, friends, and commitments. Now that I have my November magazines and I realize that the holidays are upon us, I’ll need all the encouragement I can get. I’ll use her calendar for comic relief and to remind me to deep clean the oven on November 19 and polish the silver on November 20. (Thought I’d end this post with that little joke!)

Beach Jerky

Clearwater Beach on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico is becoming my go-to beach. Our first day there we gazed out the window of our seventh-floor condo and were amazed at all the birds. I felt like I was watching an Alfred Hitchcock movie. They were having feeding frenzies up and down the beach. I had to get down there!

We were a little hesitant to swim. So many birds feeding can only mean one thing. Fish. There were thousands of them. We stood knee-deep in the water and gazed down as they swam past (and sometimes into) us. Of course, large schools of little fish mean bigger fish had to be around, but we only saw a few, and they weren’t the kind that eat you. We were cautious because we are familiar with the food chain. We didn’t want to meet the guys at the top of it.

The feeding frenzy lasted a few mornings. By Day #2, I decided to throw caution to the tropical breezes and fulfill my quest to be in the 86-degree water. Plus, I figured I may never get a bird-watching opportunity like this again. I could be right out there with the gulls, the least terns, and the pelicans.

Majestic brown pelicans flew in formation just a foot or two over my head. I became quite chummy with them – not to be confused with the kind of chum that one uses while fishing. One older guy (you can tell by the white on his head and front of his neck) seemed to enjoy floating near me as much as I enjoyed being close to him. I could have reached out and touched him, but I didn’t. He’s a big boy. Did you know they have a wingspan of 6 ½ feet? Plus, at 50 inches high and having the webbed feet that I lack, he’s nothing to mess around with. We studied each other for half an hour. We chatted, well I chatted. He just listened.

The pelicans have much more self-control than the gulls and terns. Those two breeds seem to live to eat while the opposite could be said of the pelican. The pelicans were also non-imposing with a kind of live-and-let-live mentality. The gulls would land on top of the pelicans during feeding frenzy and try to take food from their mouth. They were real jerks.

The least terns were cute. In my mind they made eating a game and didn’t take life too seriously, unlike those jerk gulls. They would dive right next to us to snatch up some bait fish. It was quite a show.

While watching all of this, I kept an eye out for dorsal fins. I thought the water was too warm for sharks, but you never know. My big hope was to see a dolphin up close. We saw them from our condo, but I wanted more.

And I got it. I was floating around and a beautiful Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin swam right past me, not 10 feet away. I almost wet my pants! I was in the water so you’ll never know! By the end of the day, that dolphin or one of her buddies swam past me three times. None quite as close as that first time though.

On occasion, I had to leave the water to hydrate and reapply sunscreen. Once, I fell asleep in my chair, clearly exhausted from keeping up with all that nature. After a few minutes, I jerked awake, looked out in the water, and saw the dolphin and her calf swim past again. Bob’s convinced I have a dolphin-sense. Maybe he’s right! I saw them daily – from the room, from the beach, while in the water, and in the causeway as we drove over the bridge. I saw them when nobody else did, which called my dolphin-sighting integrity into question, but I would never feign finding a dolphin. I wouldn’t have been surprised if one was waiting for me in our pool when we got home. Okay, I would have been a little surprised.

We also came upon beds of sand dollars when we swam out to the sandbar. I kept wondering what was so rough below my feet. I used my toes like tongs and came up with one after another. They were everywhere. Most of them were the size of a quarter, and we put them back. Picking them up was like eating M&Ms – it’s hard to stop once you start. When my toes cramped and our hands turned yellow from what looks like sand dollar pee and we began to feel like those jerk gulls bothering other sea life, we took that as our cue. By the way, did you know it’s illegal to collect live specimens from the beach? We should have known that, but we did not. We didn’t get into trouble, but we could possibly have contributed to the delinquency of a minor in our sand dollar excitement. I’m not saying we did, but kids like to look at sand dollars. It was an educational trip. I’ll leave it at that.