Friday, December 30, 2016

Au Revoir Snow

 Looking out at our front garden it seems a good time to leave for Florida.

Appropriately we're having one of the biggest Christmas/New Year snowfalls in my memory anyway. I am the foreigner with the GB sticker crawling along the road through the blizzard desperately praying not to skid and even more desperately praying for some impatient driver to overtake me so I can follow his tracks. Eventually someone does.
  My first ski of the season was on tuesday with visiting family. It was pretty icy but I did feel a little pang of sorrow at leaving it all behind.
  Also left behind will be my friends at the feeder.

 There were hordes of them there today, including a nuthatch and  a bright red cardinal who of course flew away as soon as I found the camera. It's as if they know it'll be slim pickings for a while. I feel another pang at the thought of exchanging them for mocking birds splashing in the Florida bird bath and disconcertingly imitating the telephone.
  So now, speaking of birds,  it's headless chicken packing time. The friendly neighbour who used to come out and plough our drive has stopped answering his phone, so I hope we can get out tomorrow.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Merry (Happy) Western New York Christmas

From the Nutcracker and Mrs Claus

The life-size crib scene outside the local Franciscan convent

Complete with snowy camel*

And St Francis and the wolf

And a very Happy New Year. I suspect it's going to be an interesting one.

*Taken a couple of years ago but it looks much the same today.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Well Hello Again!

Dateline: Cattaraugus County, Western New York

The blog has been on a quick visit back to Blighty, where the weather was unaccountably springlike. After I landed in Newark, my friends at United Airlines kept me in suspense by announcing that my flight to Buffalo would depart two hours and fifteen minutes late, due to late arrival of incoming aircraft (sic). I studied the normally trusty "Where is this flight coming from?" link on my United app, which informed me that it was coming from Buffalo, another two hours later.  Something not quite right there.
Since I already had to wait four hours, I sighed and repaired to a workstation with my laptop. A gal came and perched next to me wielding her phone with loud noise blaring out. I asked her if she might affix her headphones, as I was trying to work. "Oh", she said in puzzlement, "I didn't realise you were working."
"No actually, I'm sunbathing", I said. Incidentally, I could have tried to get on an earlier flight that was just boarding as I arrived but they assured me that there was no way, absolutely no way, that my bags would get on it too.
Then came a nice pre-Christmas surprise as an incomprehensible announcement came over the tannoy and I observed the less hard-of-hearing of my fellow passengers jumping up and walking very fast to a different gate. There was the Buffalo flight, suddenly on time again. And off we went westward, with a nice sunset as a bonus.

 When we landed at Buffalo, I asked the stewardess/flight attendant what had brought about this pleasant turn of events. It being a small plane, the pilot stuck his head out of the cockpit and said, "Oh we just got another plane." Would that it were always so simple. Buffalo flights usually get the rough end of the stick. "Thank you!" I exclaimed in pathetic astonishment.
There followed two more surprises, one being my bags, waiting patiently outside the United office. They had been fast tracked onto the earlier flight, only I hadn't. The second surprise was our front garden.

Yes, we will have a white Christmas.

I recollected my snow-shovelling skills only to find the trusty shovel had a loose handle. I'll just get another one.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Oh Christmas Tree

 The blog is on a short trip, which explains why it has been silent for a while. But here's a flashback to a few days ago when we went to get our Christmas tree. No we didn't actually dig it up from the forest. The Farm Market turned Christmas Tree emporium was busy. In fact it was a veritable Piccadilly Circus. There's a knack to strapping those trees on, especially when you have to drive up and down a steep hill on the way home.

Have to get it right.

Meanwhile we were looking for "the one", as you do.  This gap was where it used to be.

Now it's on top of the car.

Or rather it was. It's currently sitting in a bucket outside the front door awaiting its few days of splendour.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A New Customer for the Bird Feeder

This handsome grouse surprised us. I thought it was a chicken at first, pecking around on the ground, then flapping up onto the crabapple tree and sitting there for several minutes. Plenty of time to get the camera and change the batteries, which always fail at crucial moments. Normally they hang out in the hills, not in people's gardens. I have had some recipe suggestions but he/she is far too distinguished to be eaten. Lucky there weren't any hunters around because they would have had an extremely easy shot.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Now You Snow It Now You Don't

The tallest hill near us is called Chapel Hill. There is a little white wooden church on the way up that's the oldest Catholic place of worship in the area,  sadly now closed for all but occasional Masses. Alternatively, some people say it's pronounced Chay-pel Hill, presumably after someone who lived there. Whatever, it has its own climate at the top. Here, we're going up from the valley.

 And here we're at the top.

 And here we're going down the other side - our side. No more snow and just a plain old muddy western New York December.

You can see the strip of snow up in the hills.

We thought we were in for an early winter - the ski resort opened - and closed again. We're back to waiting to see what will happen.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Reassuring Words

Here am, I jumping on the look-at-those-traumatised-students-with-their-therapy-dogs bandwagon but my mole at a fairly local high school sent me this. I won't embarrass the educational establishment by naming it. Now, as a bemused foreign observer, I ask myself, in the interests if impartiality, what about "Happy?" "Elated?" "Over the moon?"
   Incidentally, another correspondent sent me a story from Texas. There, Professor Terry McInturff at Texas Tech University, reportedly "a tough customer in the classroom", in the habit of telling his students "I don't care how you feel, I care how you think",  announced that, while he couldn't offer his students  “arts and crafts” or a “therapy dog,” his Energy Commerce Department "has arranged for free hugs from our therapy boa constrictor. Please go to room 139 to schedule a session should you feel the need."
   It's a good thing they're not at Ohio State University where they would really have something to worry about.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Oh No Snow

  We thought the pilot was joking when we approached Niagara Falls. Temperature in the 40s, he said. Down in Cattaraugus County it was much colder than that and we drove through a blizzard. And to think a couple of days ago I was on the beach.
  The flight was fine, though, No Flying Turkeys award so far for Allegiant Airlines, America's equivalent of Ryanair, or one of them. They have a direct flight from Niagara Falls to Punta Gorda, Florida and back, which means no changing planes in Atlanta, no missed connections and so on. They also train their pilots to land very smoothly - never have I had such smooth landings as with Allegiant Airlines. There is only one drawback. This is not a good airline to take if you are allergic to dogs. On this flight there was a small dog in practically every second seat. People travelling back and forth from Florida with their Pekinese and Shi Tzuhs and Lhasa Apsos and Boston terriers and numerous poodles, all in little carriers.  Sometimes a frantic yapping ensues and a harrassed stewardess rushes up,  "Sorry Ma'am, we don't allow two dogs to sit together; you'll have to move to another seat", or "Sorry Ma'am, he is not allowed to sit on the seat. He has to go under the seat". One of the dogs had a bright orange tie-dyed tail. His owner explained that it was part of his Halloween costume and they hadn't been able to wash it off.
Oh and Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Florida Can't Wait for Christmas

I note that in downtown Venice, the Christmas lights are up. And it's not even Thanksgiving yet. Of course I was used to London, where Christmas starts a lot earlier. I didn't see beach snowmen there though.

But here's a familiar figure all among the poinsettias, which you can plant in your garden in Florida

Unlike western New York, where they have to languish in pots in the house. Sadly we will be back in Cattaraugus County soon and will miss the fabled parade of light-bedecked boats. Instead, we look forward to a snow-bedecked drive.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Sunrise Over Golden Beach

Everyone rushes to take photos of Florida Gulf Coast sunsets - I must have hundreds. So has everyone else. That's the poisoned chalice of digital cameras. But it's an extraordinary phenomenon of our bit of the coast, that, walking along the beach in the very early morning,

 You can go chasing after the sunrise

It's not too early for the crabs to scuttle back into their sandy holes

But the dunes still look a little eery

And the wooden walkway back to the road is deserted.

 Strange-looking trees gaze out over the misty Gulf

 And at the tiny airport, you can see the runway lights

But behind the hangars the sky's beginning to glow pink

 As the sun comes up for another beautiful day

 Who needs sunset, with its paparazzi and crowds celebrating Happy Hour, when you've got this all to yourself.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Life Goes On

Dateline: Venice, Florida, Apocalypse + 3

First of all, a proper poppy, as they don't have them here..

Just to remind us of the really important things in life...

Then I suppose it's time for some observations (after, that is,  I've had my T shirt printed: "Don't Blame Me I'm a Foreigner").
  Well, first observation - the sun came up on wednesday morning. And thursday morning. And this morning. The sky hasn't been raining toads and Publix hasn't run out of tinned food. All right, the Canadian immigration website crashed on wednesday morning - a fact pointed out by some solemn-looking people I overheard at the healthy smoothie bar at the YMCA, "Well I guess we'll have to stay put and make the best of it."  But meanwhile, another group, sitting in the hot tub, were proclaiming, "Isn't it a beautiful day!" They were not talking about the weather.
  Local Florida Trumpsters, Trumpkins, whatever you want to call them have been remarkably restrained - perhaps some of their number, despite voting for The Donald with varying degrees of enthusiasm and/or nose-holding, may be having a bit of a morning-after the night-before, "Oh no what have I done" sort of feeling. I can certainly see how it all happened - if you live in western new York, you can't not have seen. My neighbours there are a universe away from the politically-correct, soy latte sipping, gluten-free elites of New York City and got fed up with being observed down their snooty noses.
  I can't help being sorry for the Hillary fans though. They have the dazed air of  the French aristocracy on the cusp of the French Revolution - or of Second Officer Lightoller in "A Night to Remember", the morning after the Titanic sank from under him, "We were so sure.."  I don't believe in dancing on people's graves (and I'm a neutral foreigner, after all) but there has been something chuckle-inducing about all the angst. The poor students at Yale, was it, let off their exams because they were so traumatised, the sobbing celebrities (no dear, sorry but you won't be singing at the inauguration) and the rash of  sentimentally angry  "Letters to My Daughter" that have suddenly appeared in the more left-leaning press. "I know I promised you a woman president for Christmas, Sweetie - but, Santa didn't read the note properly and sent you a nasty bogeyman instead.." (I paraphrase). Most bizarre of all was one by a chap called Aaron Sorkin,  a playwright, apparently, so he must know something about melodrama.  It started off in one of those "Only in America" ways:  "Well the world changed late last night in a way I couldn't protect us from. That's a terrible feeling for a father.." (I do not paraphrase). He went on to refer to the President-elect as an "incompetent pig" and used a rather nasty expletive too, coming close to copying some of his nemesis' own bad manners. Not a good idea if you're claiming the moral high ground.  Or indeed writing to your daughter.
 Losing an election is a bummer, I know. Like watching Man United go down 4-0 to Chelsea. But cheer up, there's always next season.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Road Trip: Scotland, Italy ...I Mean Florida

What a surprise - I thought we were heading south.

But there is indeed an Inverness, Florida (instead of the Loch Ness Monster they have alligators and possibly Burmese pythons). We have visited here before. Remember the Deco Cafe?

It's still there, as is the nice old courthouse   and here was the first palm tree of our trip.

Putting us in celebratory mood, which was enhanced when we reached Venice and found they were having a parade.

With all kinds of wacky floats.

Strange little men in strange little cars

And - don't look now!

Yikes - a scary clown! Help! You may have read elsewhere that Americans are frightened of clowns - though lately they may have had good reason, it seems an odd thing to be afraid of in general. We once stopped at a roadside restaurant with a toy clown collection which the owner had had to move from the dining room as people were afraid of it. That was my first brush with Clownphobia (yes, such a thing exists).
Then along came the far more benign US Coastguard

With canine friend

And talking about scary (for some people). This was a popular sign on our route, which, admittedly, did not tend to go through natural Hillary-supporting territory.

Ah yes, that explains it

Someone's got a little mixed up..

And talking about scary (for other people)

n case you're still puzzling, he was a Donald lookalike, complete with wig. At least I think it was a lookalike.

The crowd in fact were far from silent, emitting not a few cheers. But where were the Clinton-ites? I do have to be impartial here, as a foreigner. We must have missed them.
At least we can agree that guide dogs are a Good Thing. Except Americans, who sometimes like to make things more complicated than they need be, call them "Seeing-Eye" dogs.

Venice is a pet-friendly city. It has, if you remember, a  Dog Beach.   

There's also a great circus tradition. For some time it was the famous Ringling Brothers' Circus winter home. The tradition lives on.

Being Venice, the Italian-American club's float had a gondola.

And a gondolier.

The local paper is called the "Gondolier Sun", in case you were interested.
The Middle School band were brilliant.

And here were the Middle School's junior Marines.

Very impressive - and rather touching to see kids interested in patriotism rather than Pokemon.

This is the choir singing the Marines' Hymn, "From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli.."

I don't know if he was meant to be in the parade but he was. Dustmen are heroes too.

A Trump supporter had got left behind.

Did I say this was a pet-friendly city? He was advertising the Mutt Hutt - something to do with dog grooming.

And here's a customer

Did I mention ... grooming?

Phew - here she is at last. I didn't want you to think I was biased.

The sign was a little unfortunate but I was told it applied to some local law that the Democrats are against. But I can't help thinking it might be misconstrued.

Meanwhile, only in America..

Those pets just can't get enough..

Here's everyone enjoying breakfast

Oh and I almost forgot the High School Band.

I don't know if their outfits represented gondoliers or what but they were really, really good. I have to say that no one does a parade quite like the Americans.