Thursday, December 31, 2020

Happy New Year from the Garden

 New Year's Eve has sort of crept up on us - with no socialising to speak of,  I almost hadn't realised we were there - just time to stick a bottle of bubbly in the fridge so I can sip it in solidarity with friends far away. No one around here has had time to do much else in the past few days than sit grimly 24/7  at their computer screens waiting for possibly mythical vaccination appointments to free up. Florida, in its wisdom, sprang the news on us that, unlike most other states, it had some vaccines available for us of a certain age group. One friend was inordinately lucky to grab an early appointment before too many people heard about it. They are using a system normally set up for booking tickets to pop concerts and like pop concerts, the vaccination events (sic) have so far sold out in thirty seconds.  We will probably still be sitting pathetically glued to our screens this time next year.  But let's forget about that for a bit and celebrate a little horticultural lookback over the past few weeks. (I confess the garden's been a bit neglected of late - well it has been chilly, though not up to western New York standards.) 

Florida is different. There are weird and wonderful things in the garden I'm only just beginning to get to know. Witness this collection of bizarre fruits. Top left a balsam pear - normally attached to a ratty-looking but tenacious vine that inches its way everywhere it's not meant to be. Followed by a ripe balsam pear with lurid red seeds, like something out of a sci fi film. And to the right, two calamondins, far too sour to eat raw but they smell delicious and if you stew them with some sugar for a while make powerfully-flavoured preserves. 

Out of the blue, a monarch caterpillar perched on Florida's version of milkweed. He disappeared after a couple of days. I like to think I saw him fluttering past.

The new blue sky vine threw out one gorgeous flower - in December.

(It actually has a few more now and is going great guns.) And one of the team of giant lilies my friend kindly donated a couple of years ago suddenly brought forth.

Sadly the flower had a brief life. Too heavy for its stem, I found it lying forlornly on the ground. Some kind of support is in order should its companions follow suit. It did survive for a bit in a vase.

Though after a while the strong, strange, slightly-off scent drove us to ban it from the house.

Less spectacular but perhaps even more of a delight was this little thing.

That had somehow grown out of concrete but still looked pretty chipper. That's the spirit! Let's hang on to it for a Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Let's Have a Fun Florida Christmas

 Let's count our blessings. The lady at the checkout at Publix supermarket said "Merry Christmas" not "Happy Holidays".  And unlike Easter, we'll actually be able to get to church, although we had to make reservations way ahead of time, have to get to the Cathedral half an hour before and stand in line, masked up,  to be checked off, sit where we're told to sit and so on. But it's so much better than doing it virtually.  

  Sadly no big family Christmas, though there'll be enough zoom sessions with various sets of relations to make it seem almost like a string of parties.

   We actually got our tree in time this year so didn't have to make do with a straggly one.

Here it is, being strapped on top of the Volvo. What Volvos were made for of course, though they wouldn't expect 80 degrees and palm trees.

Having said that, the local paper is threatening "polar chill weather" (60 degrees or so, going down to, horror of horrors, 38 overnight) for Christmas Day, so we probably won't be having a picnic on the beach but we might manage a walk. That's after roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (turkeys are so last month) and wonder of wonders the German deli not only stocks  British bangers  but also goose fat - roast potatoes! Hurray! But sadly no chipolatas.
 And of course, here, Christmas has its own Florida touches. Though where Santa on an elephant comes into it I'm not sure.

Someone must have sold the street a job lot. A couple of houses down...

There was another one! 

Around the corner, he'd arrived by helicopter.

But a bigger fad this year seems to be Santa flamingos.

They are everywhere, including the city arboretum.

And by gosh, they're saying Merry Christmas! That's Happy Christmas of course, to my British friends. Have a good one!

Monday, December 21, 2020

Essential Workers?

 So the vaccines are going to come rolling in soon - let's pray it all goes smoothly. I fear an unseemly row over who deserves to get one first. I can't help thinking of people wrangling over the too few lifeboats on the Titanic and wonder if this might be replicated in the long lines that will undoubtedly form at CVS and Rite Aid pharmacies. (Especially if they prioritise over 65s. That's most of Florida's population. Well almost.) These sort of things can bring out the worst in people. I note that a certain 30-something Congresswoman had herself filmed getting her vaccine on social media. Well good for her - no one wants anyone to get seriously ill. But hang on a minute, did I get that right? Who should the first, precious vaccine shots be going to? Elderly, vulnerable people in nursing homes?  Nurses and doctors and carers?  Homeless shelters?  Essential workers? All those people without whom daily life couldn't go on and who willingly put themselves at risk - bus drivers,  teachers, workers in food factories and supermarkets,  police, politicians.... politicians?  I suspect there are those who take the view that there are few less essential workers in this world than politicians. But it seems they are first in the queue. Perhaps they think they are setting a good example. Oh dear, with some people that might have the opposite effect. I hope there won't be a backlash.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Too Much Excitement

 It was Wednesday afternoon. I was watching the football, Liverpool v Spurs. Harry Kane about to step up for a free kick when this happened:

The television screen went blue, screeched and buzzed. A robotic voice warned of imminent danger of death from an "extremely dangerous" tornado and barked in apocalyptic tones, "Take Cover!" I was about to make for the coats cupboard which is about the only part of our house that doesn't have windows, when I realised the warning was for a county about an hour to the north of us. The tornado did indeed do some serious damage, upending telegraph poles, smashing buildings and flipping a pickup truck. Thankfully no one was hurt. The warning was in time. But it made me think. This sort of thing doesn't happen much in Blighty, nor indeed in rural western New York. Florida may be tamed and manicured but sometimes you get the feeling you're teetering on the edge.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Don't Follow the Crowd

 You know what they say about tourist hotspots like Venice (the other one) and the Lake District? That they may look impossibly crowded but you only need to show a little independent spirit and deviate a few streets from where the hordes gather and you'll have the place to yourself.

  Such, we found, was Caspersen Beach, happily just down the road. While everyone was converging seawards from the seething car park, lugging  chairs and parasols and picnic coolers, we walked against the traffic, towards land. And a lovely tranquil nature reserve.

It looked, I'm guessing, pretty much how it would have looked in the days of the pioneers. Which of course was a tough time. Snakes, alligators, panthers, mosquitoes, heat and humidity. But if you could stand all that and had a sense of humour, it must have been one long adventure. Now we have to get our thrills in small, carefully managed parcels. Though there are, of course, still alligators on the golf course. Nothing in Florida is ever completely safe.   

And just to add to the historic atmosphere, we discovered some intriguing fossils.

And wonder of wonders - could that possibly be a  rare scrub jay sitting on the tree? I'm no expert but we were standing right by the sign that said "Scrub Jay Habitat".  So I'll carry on believing. A pity they're not called something more appealing and they don't look as gaudy as blue jays, which are the noisy neighbours of birdworld, vulgar, brassy and two-a-penny. But scrub jays are as authentically Floridian as you can get. Thankfully, here at least, at the moment, they're safe from golf clubs and gated communities.

Goodness knows what else you might find lurking out of sight in the jungle.

We meandered along quiet paths, hardly meeting another person. Just hearing the rustling of the palms and the strange cries of birds. Until we got to the intracoastal waterway and got a hefty reality check.

And a glimpse of another possibly endangered species.

Probably feeling a little disappointed now but still flying the flag. At least they were having fun. Gazing on the beauties of nature does tend to puts things in perspective.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Get Me One of Those!

 I sense yard sign creep - or front garden sign creep to us English speakers. The things are getting more and more numerous. For one thing, a lot of election signs are still up - notably and defiantly the Trump ones. One nearby house has changed its display to a forest of large, handwritten placards accusing a certain politician of stealing the election, with a photo of said politician with a large caption proclaiming, "Cheat!" It is not a good advertisement for democracy, though, since the signs haven't been vandalised yet, not a bad one for free speech. 

  Having said that, I don't mind the election signs that much, especially as - OK, in normal times - they disappear once the excitement is over. Likewise the estate agents' signs and the ads for builders and pest control. They have to earn a living. No, what I have decidedly mixed feelings about are the rash of sanctimonious virtue signalling-type slogans that seem to have multiplied everywhere. They say things like "Hate Has No Home Here", or "Integrity", or "Honesty" or "Tolerance" and such like. Not that I disagree with the sentiments in themselves but methinks they protest too much. And, since the slogans have proliferated over the past four years, I suspect they're not politically neutral. (Any more, dare I say,  than the word "Peace",  when used by the old Soviet Union and its stooges,  was politically neutral). A popular sign lists several maxims, one above the other, in different colours and fonts, on the lines of "everyone welcome here." I would dearly like to call their bluff. Turn up on the doorstep with a suitcase and say, "Gosh, thanks! Your house is much bigger than ours and a bit nearer the beach, so I think I'll move in."  I could be really naughty and dress up in a red baseball cap and see what their reaction is then. But as I frequently stress, the blog does not take sides in American politics.

 Still, I was very heartened when a friend sent me this:

Clearly I am not alone. Ooh, please, can I have one?