Making a List

Christmas Tree _003sunrise on a cold snowless morning in Rocky PointChecking it twice.  Christmas is almost here and it is time for the final lists: groceries, gifts sent, gifts still in the waiting, cards? yes or no.  All the little details that go with this season.  After two weeks off while I traveled to Florida, I now have two weeks working full time in order to prepare for our two weeks coming up in Desert Hot Springs.  Something about this plan isn’t working that well.  It seems as though all my time is spent working or traveling.

Where oh where do I find the time for the baking, the wrapping, the decorating? the Open House? All those special little pieces of the Christmas holiday that make me want to spend it at home in Rocky Point. The snow??  A mixed blessing, of course, with icy roads and shoveling always a part of it, but this year the snow has evaporated and no new snow is on the agenda before Christmas day.  Nights are clear and cold and days are brilliantly sunny.  It is gorgeous, but surely doesn’t look anything like Rocky Point at Christmas.

eclipse_039We even had the amazing gift of a perfectly clear dark morning to view the total eclipse of the moon.  I packed up the camera and the tripod and Mo drove while we searched for some open sky cold morning for watching the eclipseamong the trees.  The temperature gauge in the truck read a clean 7 degrees F and my fingers had a hard time finding buttons on the camera in the dark.  Still, we watched in awe at the heavenly sky treat, punctuated now and then with a shooting star to make it all the more dramatic.

So far, I seem to have at least managed the decorating part of Christmas at home. Mo and I have a lifetime of accumulated Christmas “things”, and as usual her collection is much smaller than mine.  We agreed that anything that we couldn’t find a place for this year would get passed on, either to my kids if they want it or to Goodwill if they don’t.  Needless to say, there are little treasures that have been tucked into places where we might not think to put any decorations, just because we want to keep the particular item.  We are sticking to the rule: If there isn’t a place for it, it goes!

Houses _021Houses _007Case in point: all the Disney decorations that Mo had tucked away for at least 25 years.  I put them on the little white tree with white lights and we set it in the laundry room next to the cat food.  Works just fine with the white appliances and I think that Jeremy likes the lights while he is eating. Lucky for me, we also have porches where things can go.  We have managed to eliminate several boxes of “stuff” and when we get back from the desert in January, the packing up of Christmas should be easier than it has in the past.  Yeah, I still have my village, but am giving away a bunch more stuff when Christmas is over. I still have a tree inside the house, with my pears and partridges and special ornaments, and Mo still has all her keepsake ornaments from around the world on the green trees on the front porch, protected from weather and lit up at night.  It all works. 

outside morning_036I will have at least part of my family here for Christmas.  Oldest daughter and my grandson are coming south from Portland for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day this year.  Youngest daughter who lives in Klamath will be here with her family. Sister and niece might drive out if the snow continues to wait till January, she has 2 wheel drive and is scared to death of snowy roads. Middle daughter is hauling jet engines around the country with her husband in their big rig and will be here in spirit. Holidays off are not part of their trucking life right now. Son and his wife are tucked away in Missouri and a trip west in the winter won’t be on the agenda any time soon. Grandson and his wife and my great grandkids will be in Texas.  Other grandson will be going to his father’s family up in Washington State.  I have no idea when or if I will ever again have my entire family in one place at one time.  I’m just grateful for the internet, email, and telephones to make keeping in touch with everyone so much easier.

RP luncheon_099I returned home from Florida just in time to attend the traditional Rocky Point Ladies Luncheon, where many of the men of our community volunteer to cook a special dinner for all the ladies, and some of the ladies volunteer to dress the tables in Christmas finery.  It was a lovely day spent connecting with the folks who live out here that we don’t often see.  The joke was that we show up now and then between travels to take a nap before we head off to some other destination.  The favorite comment we get is, “Where are you two going next?”

sweater_025In the midst of all this fun, I am finally knitting a sweater for my trucker daughter.  I have had the yarn for almost two years now, and this time the promised sweater may get finished by her birthday at the summer solstice.  Ah yes, I am NOT a fast knitter, especially with all these other projects in waiting.  My quilt is sitting in a bin in the closet waiting for another chance to set up the sewing machine.  Cookies and tarts are waiting to be made, and I found an online recipe for my favorite goodie from Starbucks, “Cranberry Bliss Bars” that will find their way into my Christmas pile of sweets and savories to share with the family.

I love Christmas. I plan to keep knitting, keep cooking, play some carols on my piano, and enjoy every single minute that I have with family and friends and sparkly lights in my living room.


Women and Dirt

to Eustis_162A dozen years ago, a great soil survey project leader and I had a joke.  If a woman collected rocks at 3, refused to come inside out of the rain, and loved mud pies, she had the makings of a soil scientist.  When I first traveled into the world of soil survey in the 70’s, women soil scientists were rare. Times have changed, and more than half of the young soil scientists in the field are now women.

AlisonI had the pleasure of working with one of these dirt loving young women when I managed my last project in the foothills of California.  Of course, we insiders know that “dirt” and “soil” are two very different things, but sometimes insiders lovingly refer to our particular specialty as dirty.  AKA, the bumper sticker that says “Do It In The Dirt” and other such silliness.

scoopy 2008Alison came to me by way of Chicago, detailing to California to map soils when we were bringing people in from all over the country to help complete soil survey in areas as yet unmapped.  Most of the eastern and central parts of the country have existing soil maps, but out west there are many areas with no certified soil information available.  Alison came with enthusiasm and energy and brought a great work ethic to Sonora.  Her nickname was “Scoopy”, since not one of us could dig a hole as fast as Alison, guys included!  Of course, the fact that she has run 10 marathons (including the Boston Marathon twice) probably helps. 

walking the sinkhole with AlisonWhy am I talking about Alison on the travel blog? Because visiting in Florida gives me a chance to spend a day hanging with a fellow soil scientist who has also become a good friend.  Alison left Chicago and took a well deserved promotion to Florida and loves it. With a project office in Tavares, a beautiful new home in Eustis, near the charming town of Mt Dora, and a life filled with year round running routes, Alison is happy.  Her husband Matt has settled in as well, teaching marimba and music from their home, although he does mourn the loss of easy access to university culture.

more roads with no carsWith 8 days available for Bel I didn’t feel badly about taking a day on my own to drive south for a visit.  Once again the open space of the roads around Ocala amazed me.  Traveling east on 40 and then turning south on 19 led me through the Ocala National Forest and miles of traffic free highway.  I passed Juniper Springs and Alexander Springs, remembering stories from Karen and Al’s blog about their camping sites in this part of Florida and day dreaming once again of the time when I will be here with Mo and the MoHo and the kayaks.

along the highway to Mt DoraIt was wonderful seeing Alison, laughing about some of our shared soil survey stories, catching up on good inside gossip about fellow crew members and work in general  as we walked around her favorite little sinkhole close to her home. The area has been fenced and protected and has a great trail around the ravine through some lovely habitats. Why we were walking enjoying the warm breezes, Alison came up with a line that I loved.  “People say we don’t have mountains in Florida, but we do…they are just up in the sky.”  She said that watching the huge cumulus clouds build in the afternoons always gives her the chance to look up and appreciate the scenery.

to Eustis_151Matt joined us for a drive to Mt Dora for lunch at the little French restaurant with a lovely patio and live music.  Mt Dora is a storybook town, with surprising hills surrounding several lovely lakes lined with beautiful homes.  Just down the road from the main part of town is the lakefront and boardwalk giving us another wonderful walk through the woods with views of the water. I still am trying to take photos of “velvet air” to no avail.  I think a real photo challenge is getting a picture that evokes that feeling.  Still haven’t managed it, but I keep trying.

to Eustis_129Mt Dora was quite busy on this Sunday afternoon, with many people shopping the cute shops and stores.  The Christmas music was piped outside with strains of “White Christmas” serenading the 80 degree balmy weather.  Floridians really get into the Christmas thing, and the decorations are everywhere.  Must to Eustis_184be all those retired New Englander’s missing their homeland, but not enough to actually go back and weather the awful winters. I found a perfect Christmas flag that has eluded me, a sturdy applique two sided flag with good colors.  Even an internet search didn’t yield anything I wanted.  I will hang it in the snow at Rocky Point and remember this warm, delightful afternoon in Mt Dora.

Around the neighborhood-15Bel is doing well, medications are current, her health has improved a bit with the help of “Heart of Florida” in Ocala, and I had a chance to meet her neighbors and exchange contact information. Bel’s laptop is running well and she is getting used to using the mouse and Windows 7.  She now knows how to get online, either in her back yard with a local internet from an agreeable neighbor, or a couple of miles away at Wendy’s.

to Eustis_170By the way, Wendy’s is a really great connection spot, none of that interface stuff that happens at McDonalds, and a really fast connection. I have learned to search out a Wendy’s when I need to get online and don’t want any hassles.  Wish I had a connection that fast at home!

I talk to Mo every day, and home has been uneventful.  The night temps are in the teens with daytime highs in the low 40’s at best.  I have enjoyed the break, the warmth, the sunshine, but I am ready to get back home to my real life.  Time to haul wood, hug the dog and the cat, hang the flag, have cable TV and an internet connection again, and work in my home office in my pajamas. 

Florida Velvet

Dwntown Ocala_115Florida Velvet Air, at least that is how it feels to me.  This morning I somehow slept in until 8:30 and when I woke the breezes were billowing puffy whites around a blue bird sky and the air felt like velvet on my skin.  The prediction for today is in the 70’s. Bel and I ambled (yes I amble a lot with Bel) downtown to visit the Ocala Farmers Market in the historic town square.  Just last night, we visited the same square to walk around the downtown streets for the First Friday Art Walk of Ocala.

Dwntown Ocala_103So much seems to have changed around here in the last ten years or so that I have been visiting, but so much also remains the same. Fort King Street is still beautiful, lined with stately old Southern homes embraced by gnarled oak arms that cover entire city lots.

It's Aggie, short for Agate, downtown on the square in OcalaThe square this morning was vibrant with color and happy people enjoying the sunlight and fresh food. I love seeing the painted horses from the Horse Fever event a few years ago.  I think one of them actually auctioned for 80,000 bucks that went to the art council here.

Dwntown Ocala_113Yesterday afternoon we slipped to the west side of town searching for a rib truck. Fabulous sweet sticky ribs, dripping with juice, served with yellow rice and green beans full of bacon fat. We sat on the picnic table in the parking lot and slurped up the amazing stuff watching lots of local folks dropping in to pick up supper in huge to-go bags.

I didn’t have the camera with me, sadly, because as we left the parking lot and tried to keep off the main route, I managed to slide into a part of Ocala people don’t talk about much.

Dwntown Ocala_102In spite of all the years that have intervened, in spite of the fact that Ocala used to have a black mayor, this part of town could have come directly from the pre-sixties.  My time warp again. Women on porches looking worn and sad, young men looking angry and sullen,  tiny black ladies the color of ink walking slowly with carts and old sweaters. I know we have segregated neighborhoods out west, I have traveled in them in most cities, but there is something very different in the south, something residual, and it was disturbing. Poverty is disturbing wherever you find it, I guess.

Dwntown Ocala_074After the market, this morning we dropped into a couple of downtown shops, Ocala Traditions, with gorgeous displays of fine china, sterling, and crystal set up on beautiful tables,  and the Paddock, a large, wonderful store dedicated entirely to horses, hounds, racing, and fox hunting.  Ocala is still the horse capital of the world (they insist it rivals Kentucky) and this shop catered directly to the genteel owners of the beautiful horse farms that surround the area.  Those at least that haven’t been converted to gated communities with million dollar homes.  After all, John Travolta hangs out here and lives just north in Anthony in a community that lets him land his jumbolair jet.  I guess the difference between all this genteel southern stuff and that neighborhood we were in yesterday is still in the back of my mind.

As the afternoon slides by, the sun is still warm, I have downloaded all the photos and will eventually get down to Wendy’s to catch up on email and blogs and such. The time warp is definitely back again…I have no idea what time it actually is right now…maybe I’ll go for a walk.


Time stops in Florida

Ocala 002Ocala 006It probably doesn’t help that I just finished reading Stephen King’s novel “11-22-63” about traveling around in time. When I am here in Florida, I somehow feel as though I have stepped into a time-warp of sorts. Bel isn’t working, and her days seem to run together in a flow of cat food plates, letting kitties in and out of the door, a break for a cigarette, more cat play, and short store runs. 

The first day I was here we delivered prescriptions to Wal-Mart. The second day I stood in line to pick them up, almost an hour for that process.  Today we ambled mid-day down to Staples so I could buy a computer mouse for the laptop I sent her last month.

On the way to MicanopyTonight I think we are going to go downtown to see the First Friday Art Walk at the Downtown Square in Ocala.  Those of you who know me, or even those who have read my stories for a bit of time, know that I usually am kind of attached to “getting stuff done”. 

My job when here with Bel is to slow myself down and listen. To sit and knit, and wait until the time is right to do whatever I can manage to do to try to be a good friend to Bel.  Yeah, it wears me out.  I am not the least bit in control of anything at all. Bel’s conversation wanders,  and I learn to wander along with her and learn not to tell her what she needs to do or when or how.  Any idea how very hard that is for a type A person like me??!!

oranges, orange juice and coconut patties.  Florida orange kitsch at the Orange HouseA good part of this morning was taken up with bathing. Bel doesn’t use her hot water heater, instead she heated up pans of water and provided me with several gallon jugs of perfectly warmed bath water to use in the shower.  After 5 jugs I had a truly fabulous shower, clean hair including conditioner, and it felt just great.  Reminded me of camping.

Yesterday after picking up the prescriptions I just couldn’t quite make myself go back to the house and instead I said, “How bout a trip to Micanopy”.  Bel complied, as long as I stop for smoke breaks and make sure she has plenty of Mountain Dew, she is fine with a couple of hours or so in the car.

On the way to MicanopyThe sun was brilliant and warm coming through the car windows, and within minutes of Wal-Mart we were driving north on 336 toward Anthony and then on to MacIntosh and Micanopy, the “other” Florida. On the way, we passed through Citra, stopping for huge sweet oranges fresh from the trees.

driving the back roads from Micanopy to cars in either directionWhen I was traveling the Alaska Highway, my favorite parts were the stretches without any other cars on the road and somehow in this part of Florida I get those same moments, minus the mountain grandeur of course, but still.  Open road…no cars…either direction.  The live oaks stretch across the road, dripping with gray Spanish moss, with vines meandering through the branches, catching all the light and reflecting it back like stained glass.

yeah for chicken and dumplings in MicanopyMicanopy is very nearly silent, quiet in the way it seems that only a southern town can be. Big old houses, old brick buildings now selling antiques, a bed and breakfast here and there, an ice cream shop.  We park in the shade and walk the streets before being told by a storekeeper about the Thursday chicken and dumpling special across the street at the café.  The bowl is styrofoam, but the chairs are “real” naugahyde and the chicken and dumplings are true south. 

Christmas in FloridaOn the way back home, we stop at Lowe’s for something or other and are sidetracked by the garden shop, filled with blooming plants and flowers on this winter day in Florida.  Bel, with her wacky sense of humor, finds a pink plastic flamingo and takes it for a ride in her cart until she finds a proper resting place for the poor guy. Time has stopped again. My real life seems far away and unreachable, in spite of the daily phone calls home. I feel a bit loose, a bit disoriented. My friendship with Bel is from another life, one I barely remember, yet still meaningful and important to honor. So here I am, in Florida, in the time warp.