Saturday, December 21, 2019

Christmas Comes Alive!

  Yesterday I found myself helping out at a Living Nativity. I'd never been to one before but Jennifer, who runs the local riding stables, the wonderful  Windsong Farm  needed volunteers to help load up three horses,  two chickens, a Basset cross called Daphne and a lamb, along with assorted saddles, bridles, decorations, halters and hay to get to the Nativity site.  The donkeys, including last year's baby, Whimsy, had gone on ahead. Another farm had provided some goats.  In the absence of camels in this neck of the woods, the gallant steeds,  Digger, Merlin and Halo, were to carry the three Wise Men.
  Undaunted by a slight hiccup, in the shape of a flat tyre on the trailer - well the Wise Men were meant to be late to the party weren't they? - we reached Bethlehem, aka the field behind the Wawa garage, where shepherds were sitting around a smoking, sparking fire pit and Mary and Joseph  proudly displayed the Baby Jesus.

Who was blissfully soaking up the atmosphere.

 The spectacle was organised by the First Baptist Church, which also provided the costumes.

The horses were old hands at this game, having done it a few times before...

 ...lights and all....

plus, (take my word for it) a poinsettia boutonniere atop one's tail. Been there, done that.(Just don't tell them they're supposed to be camels)

Faith the lamb, in a natty red jumper, wasn't old enough to have been around last year but acted like a true professional.

 And Daphne

Just had a tummy-tickling ball.

 More! More!

All change for the Wise Men, who let someone smaller have a turn.

 Meanwhile, it being a bit of a cool and windy night, ladies served up some slightly un-Biblical, if welcome, hot chocolate, topped with the requisite deliciously melting mini marshmallows. If you weren't there, what a pity. You missed a little slice of the real spirit of Christmas.
And a Merry/Happy Christmas to all friends here and back across the pond!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

On Go the Lights!

Dateline: Golden Beach, Florida

We'd seen the trees in the arboretum lit up for Christmas before but this was our first lighting up ceremony. Parking was like gold dust - there was a party at the Community Centre across the road, which didn't help but as soon as we got there we felt the special atmosphere. A children's choir was singing at the gazebo..

Some people had brought picnics and tables and chairs and sat eating dinner.  Spectators of all shapes and sizes

milled around, waiting for the 5-4-3-2-1!  Here's our very own Golden Beach tree...

....a live oak embellished with hanging sharks' teeth, the blue water, the sand and the sunset - oh and the new lifebuoy we just paid for.
And one of my favourites - hubby's Coastguard Auxiliary tree, with Santa in his sailing boat.

The trees were all individually decorated by local organisations or in memory of someone. The big baubles always look good.

So do the lights on the flame vine pergola

A view across the park.

There were quite a few proper Nativity scenes this year.

Candy canes much in evidence

A youth orchestra took over from the choir and played Christmas music

Stalls offered food and drink and there was plenty of merriment.

Here's a very Florida touch - a decorated golf cart, a popular form of transport here.

More baubles

A nice traditional Christmas tree.

And another Florida touch - a decorated palm tree.

You can of course buy special lights for them.
  It was a delightful family occasion, everyone joining in, kids running around happily and having their pictures taken with Santa, grownups walking the paths and their dogs, admiring all the trees. They said there was so much interest this year that they'd run out of trees and bushes to decorate.  Community spirit in Venice is alive and well!The evening ended with a procession of six hundred cyclists festooned with lights. Sorry not to have a pic of those - hubby and I made our getaway in time.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Road Trip 6: Finally Mount Dora

Our next stop was Mount Dora, a Florida town we'd had our sights on for a while. But when we've tried to visit in previous years there's always been something to scupper our plans. Most recently an art fair - which they seem to do a lot of - clogging the streets. It's not called "Festival City" for nothing. You could kiss goodbye to parking anywhere. This time we had more luck. In fact Mount Dora more than proved its worth. For starters there was the sort of lunch place I look for in my dreams.

Shaded courtyard, tinkling fountain, decent food - snapper, lobster bisque, the works. We had walked around looking for some little hidden place off the main drag and saw umbrella tops peering over a fence. It was called The Goblin Market. It sounded as if it belonged in one of the tweer parts of Cornwall but it was a very pleasant surprise..
  The town was full of quaint shops.

And after lunch we took in the Modernist  Museum, with an exhibition about Memphis group design - lots of thought-provoking invigorating stuff - bright colours and stark shapes, the sort of furniture  you wouldn't fill your house with (unless you were David Bowie, who'd owned a lot of the objects)  but have just one piece as a feature. Although even that might be too much for hubby. All somehow unexpected in a small town in Florida.

And then..

The "Modernist Museum Shoppe". Something distinctly "only in America" about that one.

If you can find a day without an art fair I'd thoroughly recommend Mount Dora. Here's the view over the Lake.

Called Lake Dora. There's even a lighthouse.

  And then, the next day, we trundled into Golden Beach ...

...sister-in-law dropping me off and heading south to Naples. We love those road trips but at the end you always want to say "If I never see another hotel or restaurant again it'll be too soon." Good to be home.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Road Trip 5: Carriages Await

Passing boats on the road is one way you know you're in Florida. Another is a sign saying "14 Foot Gator, Clean Restrooms". We left the alligator for another time but saw something else on the map (yes, it still pays to look at the occasional map) which interested us, near a place called Lady Lake.  "Florida Carriage Museum" it said. Worth the detour, I suggested.  That's what we go on back roads for. 

  We found ourselves in a sprawling paradise of white fences, lakes and fountains worthy of the best stud farms in Kentucky and incongruously an RV park. This, we read on a sign, was the Grand Oaks Resort. We couldn't find the museum, so asked a friendly employee,  "Sorry, the museum's closed".  Well wouldn't you know. That's always happening to us. The winery we wanted to stop at had been closed too. That's what happens when you go on back roads and don't plan ahead. Oh well. "Do feel free to wander around", the employee added generously, so we took him at his word. We discovered a palatial stable yard (which Americans call a "barn") 

with a "horse-washing station".  

Note the trolley loaded with, presumably, shower gel, conditioner, mousse, and hair spray. "Will that be a blow dry sir?"
 The Carriage Museum might have been closed but lo and behold, there was a vintage carriage. Though I suppose all carriages are vintage. And there were harnesses decorating a wall, presumably still very much in use.

And more carriages, one manufactured as far away as Poland.

These were for sale. One cost 5,500 dollars.

Perhaps we could have towed it behind us. The whole place was gracious and elegant.

Apparently you could stay here - perhaps in the RV Park, or one of the chalets dotted around and learn how to carriage drive to your heart's content. There could be worse ways to spend a holiday.

The familiar live oaks with Spanish moss attached shaded some more piebald horses. (They call them "paints" here).

Up the slope was a big estate. Amid all the graciousness, the sign seemed a little incongruous.

And there were similar signs further along the fence. . You just can't, it seems, get away from politics.

To be continued.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Happy You-Know-What!

I haven't quite finished the road trip saga but in the meantime, good wishes to all my American friends for this nice, uncomplicated food-and- family fest that is Thanksgiving. (With apologies to the chaps in the photo at the top of the Blog, who are probably not celebrating. So I'd better not say it too loudly.)
  Somehow I associate the T holiday with cold weather, which is more appropriate for a gargantuan meal. But for us in Golden Beach it will be pushing 80 degrees (don't panic, Americans still do Fahrenheit. Good for them.)
  Lately we've had some lovely sunrises - this from our front door -

- though Thursday is expected to be a foggy morning, which is a bit more in keeping with the season.
And then of course it's Black Friday. I've noticed that Britain has adopted Black Friday with a vengeance, which seems a bit odd without the Thanksgiving bit beforehand.
  They might as well start the tradition, though what would be the equivalent? The first shipload of marauding Angles and Saxons getting befriended and feasted by the Ancient Britons? I don't think that's quite how the story went.
  Meanwhile on the beach..

"Call me a party pooper, but I'm with the gobbler lads on this one. I'll be at work as usual".
  For the rest of you, have a happy and relaxing day!

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Road Trip 4: Hot Cheese Danish and Hunting Prints

Over the road trip years, sister-in-law and I have stayed in just about every sort of hotel you can imagine. The shabby old ones, the samey chains, or sometimes, when we're lucky, a memorable one-off place like the Inn on the Square in Greenwood, South Carolina. 
  The Inn appeared to have an  eclectic mix of guests...

  ...cleverly introducing them to some potential customers.

  The undertakers seemed to be keeping themselves to themselves - sharing some grave news perhaps - but a pharmacists' convention was in full swing in the restaurant, so we were sent to eat dinner in the bar, which proved to be charmingly decorated with English-style hunting prints and had a friendly barman who mixed a mean cocktail and chatted to sister-in-law about the exorbitant price of football tickets. I could find common ground there. The hotel looked venerable but was only 60 years old. 
  Breakfast at the Inn was All Included with old-fashioned sit-down service.  Sister-in-law raved about the grits.  I stuck with a South Carolina approximation of a Full English.
  It was raining as we drove into Georgia. Past some near-derelict villages and pretty, peeling houses and a Confederate flag with "Redneck" proudly emblazoned on it, we found a town called Hazlehurst (a moniker that would have been at home in the Home Counties) and another of our interesting cafes.  This one, well-hidden behind two doors in an otherwise empty new building, looked startlingly modern and was called Mocha on Main. Even though it wasn't on Main. Perhaps the name just sounded good. We were the only customers. A young girl with a sweet Southern accent amply punctuated with "Yes Ma'am"s served us lattes and a hot cheese Danish and asked us very politely where we were from. She meant me of course. I could never go undercover here.
  Then we were off again, barreling southwards towards Florida

Along with the great boat migration. It was that time of year.

To be continued

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Road Trip 3: Trains, Shrimps and Grits

Here was another scenic overlook 

To make the most of.

We stayed the night in Blacksburg, home of Virginia Tech, sadly the site of a particularly bad campus mass shooting a few years ago. But today all was sunny, the campus looked cheerful, a new generation of students going about their business - including a bunch of military cadets marching along.
  Then it was on to North Carolina, where, in Yadkinville, we found another good coffee shop, a tiny hole-in-the-wall place called Jarro, apparently the name of a Mexican coffee mug. The coffee was good but even better were the small "cheesecake tarts". They were absolutely delicious and, surprisingly for America, there wasn't even a hint of cinnamon. That made me very happy I can tell you. Along with air-conditioning, cinnamon is one of those things Americans do far too much of.
 We passed landscapes smothered in predatory kudzu vines - you could just see the shapes of swallowed trees and bushes under the green mass - like something from the Day of the Triffids. We passed the Weeping Mary Baptist Church. That intrigued me. Could it find common ground with the Catholic Our Lady of Sorrows?
  Our lunch pitstop was a town called Hickory.

The old railway station had been converted into a restaurant where I indulged in my favourite North Carolina dish, shrimp and grits. The grits were different - crunchy on the outside and laid out in the shape of an anchor. They were pretty good. I used to think of grits as something like the stuff Oliver Twist asked for more of - and in cheapo diners that's exactly what they taste like but served in an interesting way they can be very tasty.

Along with the restaurant there was a liquor store and a deli, where, wonder of wonders, they sold Tomme, a cheese I've only ever seen before in central France, where it's used to make one of hubby's favourite dishes, aligot (ie mashed potatoes and gloopy cheese.) This Tomme had actually come from Georgia but I bought some all the same. (Flash forward: the aligot, when I got round to making it, really  hit the spot). In Hickory they also brew their own beer. It's always unfortunate to come across places like that at lunchtime when you still have to drive.

And wonder of wonders Mark 2, Hickory still had trains!

Well freight trains but they were better than nothing. Not quite such a trainspotting paradise as Folkston, Georgia which we visited a few years ago but good enough.
  And there were other attractions.

Unfortunately we couldn't have time for everything.

To be continued.