Saturday, December 24, 2022

A Happy/Merry Christmas!


As we shiver here in Florida, complaining when it's 40 degrees (that's F not C) out. It's much much worse up north. In short, glad we're not there. 

And up north you wouldn't get Santa on a jet ski. This is not at our house, I hasten to add.

Well it had to happen sooner or later.

Have a good one!

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Revolutionary Talk

 It's been a while, I know - a combination of utter despondency at Harry Kane's penalty miss and the usual hassle running up to Christmas.

I had an interesting time today at the monthly meeting of a group called the Sons of the American Revolution, of which hubby is a proud member. They all have to be descended from someone who fought for the American side in the War of Independence and are keen on promoting better knowledge of history and the US Constitution. They are impressively patriotic in a good way and refreshingly free of party politics. I was quite touched by how they welcomed me - even though I'm British. I assured them that, in 1776, none of my ancestors were anywhere near Britain and had no role in persecuting the gallant American colonists. Maybe one of the central European ones even went to fight for the American cause, in which case I could join the Daughters, who have their own organisation  - but I expect I'll never know. 

The SAR often have interesting talks about little snippets of Revolutionary War history. Today it was about a chap called Pedro Francisco, known as the Giant of the Revolution, who wielded a six foot sword and was wounded six times and allegedly lifted an 1100 pound cannon, single handed. Hubby though that might be embroidering the truth just a little.

And last month visiting speakers dressed up as Abigail Adams (wife of the second President), her son John Quincy Adams and Thomas Jefferson

and read from some of their letters to each other. Letters full of learned quotes and beautiful - and courteous -  language, as far removed from Tweets and other examples of what passes for modern communication as you could imagine.  That's the forward march of civilisation for you. Interesting that, after Independence, both the Adamses and Jefferson spent time in Paris and London. It must have been one heck of a difficult journey but people just got on with it. And here we are in 2022, complaining about delayed flights.

And while I was chatting with people around the table I was struck by how the conversation invariably turned,  as it often does here in America, to people's ancestry and - yes - where they really came from. And guess what, no one was offended. A different culture here, I suppose. Most people originate from somewhere else and can't wait to be asked about it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

So Everyone's Happy - For Now

 I'm talking about hubby and me and our transatlantic relationship which survived a challenge on Friday when England drew with the US in the World Cup. The most heated clash since Bunker Hill, according to the Wall Street Journal. Steady on. Today the US were playing Iran and England playing Wales at the same time, so we had a couple of screens going and fortunately were able to yell for the same sides. (Sorry, Wales and Iran). 

I am pleasantly surprised at how things have progressed here. When I first came to the US I seriously wondered if I could live in a country where our local paper referred to the World Cup as the Men's World Soccer Championship and gave it about three lines at the bottom of page six. But now they're covering it on two mainstream TV channels - and yes, they showed the England match too. And they cut to shots of American fans celebrating wildly in a bar - it could almost have been London. I noticed some of the fans wielding banners proclaiming "It's Called Soccer". And there's a whole TV commercial, starring David Beckham, devoted to the subject. Of course Americans call football soccer, to differentiate it from the weird game where beefy hunks in helmets and huge shoulder pads do little else but charge manically at each other for a few seconds, then stand around waiting for the TV commercials and hardly ever actually kick a ball.

I'm also pleasantly surprised by the American commentators, who are far more diligent about telling you what's actually happening on the pitch than their blase British counterparts. It's called the zeal of the convert. But they did go a bit overboard when Chelsea's Christian Pulisic, aka Captain America, who's had a bit more experience of the Beautiful Game, as played across the pond, than most of his confreres, got a nasty blow to his tummy while scoring the one American goal. He sacrificed himself, they gasped dramatically, nobly taking a fearsome injury for the good of the team and the glory of his country.  Welcome to real football, chaps.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Road Trip at Random

 The beauty of the annual meandering road trip sister-in-law and I take down to Florida is that you never know what you're going to come across. Like getting passed by a string of Corvettes, all different colours.

Or accidentally stumbling upon  Shade Tree Rare Books  Chatham, Virginia. It was just a small town, with a small, friendly shop selling used and antiquarian books. They had an extraordinarily eclectic selection (what was Nigel Nicolson's autobiography doing in Chatham Virginia?) and some lovely tomes about  local history  but nothing prepared us for what lay beyond the door at the back. "You must see our reading room".

And what a reading room! I could spend several happy hours just browsing. The proprietor, Henry Hurt, is himself an author as well as a passionate booklover. Do check it out if you're ever around that way.

Rather less intellectual are some of the restaurants we've come across. This barbecue place offered a dish that was not for the faint-hearted (in every sense.)

No I did not chomp on the 7 Meat Feast for 135 dollars, just took a pic of the menu. I contented myself with some very lean and tasty brisket.  And there was a lot of it. Thank goodness for the American custom of doggie bags. We had enough for sandwiches for the rest of the trip.

Now here's a place that's gone down in legend. Remember Jimmy Carter? The venerable former President is still living in the tiny town of Plains, Georgia.

And long may he do so because the town has obviously thrived on his name. There's a row of Jimmy Carter themed gifts shops, a restaurant, a Rosalynn Carter garden, a museum. And of course peanut motifs everywhere.

When he campaigned for President in 1976, Carter was described in Britain as a peanut farmer, though he was other things besides, including a former Senator and Governor of Georgia. When we were in Plains he'd recently celebrated his 98th birthday and the locals were allowed to stream past his family home to pay their respects. 

Then it was on to Florida and Seaside an early architect-designed model town with its pretty-pretty white fences and charming buildings and a small, snooty eatery that wouldn't serve us coffee despite calling itself a cafe. Well I suppose words mean different things here.

Seaside is where The Truman Show was filmed. The one about the chap supposedly living in an idyllic small town, with a perfect wife,  who realises he's spent his whole life on a film set, being ogled at. He finally escaped - as did we.

Apalachicola, however is still a genuine fishing village.

Albeit a touristy one.

The only trouble with it was that we couldn't find anything to eat. We'd forgotten that we had to re-cross the time line and it was an hour later than we thought - and too late for lunch.

By the time we got to our overnight digs in Perry we were pretty hungry. We did not patronise this place but just had to take a photo. 

OIA. Only in America.

And just to point out that Florida isn't all ten lane highways.

Our friendly robot, Carmela, took it on herself to send us down a dirt road. It was fun - for a while. Such are the pleasures of staying off the highways.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Not a Trick Photo

 More on the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. This giant tree, with a root ball like a monstrous paw, toppled around the corner from us.

I couldn't see what happened to the back of the house but it certainly must have come close. It looks like something out of a horror film but I can assure you it's genuine. Lots of people seem to be saving bits of their cherished trees, perhaps to make into coffee tables.

Meanwhile the beach has some interesting new contouring.

Though otherwise looked peaceful early in the morning.

I have to say they've been remarkably efficient in carrying away the piles of debris by the roadsides. There's still some there though and, horror of horrors, we've just heard that there's another potential hurricane approaching later this week. Well goodbye to what's left of our garden fence.

But here's a little bit of cheer. Our poor orchid tree that succumbed to Ian appears to be sprouting. 

We're going to let it go and see what happens. If it grows again it'll be much better than a coffee table. It will be a miracle.

Meanwhile, speaking of hurricanes, it's election day tomorrow. Except at our local library it's been election day every day for the past few weeks. 

If you don't know what the bumper sticker stands for, I'm not going to enlighten you. You can look it up. I didn't see the other side's equivalent or I would have included it, in the interests of fairness.

It's been quite a circus, with tents put up next to each other for Republicans and Democrats and some just urging people to vote early (and, I hope, not often). There were substantial queues snaking into the library conference room. A nice lady thanked me for voting but I pointed out that I was a foreigner and a disinterested observer. "Well thank you for using the library then!" she gushed.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Road Trip Scenes: Leesburg and Marshall's Manor

 Sister-in-law and I meandered rather more than usual on this year's road trip south. All those wonderful Olde English towns and villages in Pennsylvania and Virginia - we'd like to have spent much more time in all of them. But we were especially entranced by Leesburg, Virginia. Who would have thought we were in the US?

All right, there are pseudo English pubs all over America but this one - and its village street - looked more authentic than most.

Leesburg had also been the home of General George Marshall - he of the post-Second World War Marshall Plan to rescue the shattered European economies - who lived there in a house with the, at least partially, English name of Dodona Manor.

We were shown round by Elizabeth, a delightfully enthusiastic high school student, who had acquired an impressive knowledge of all things Marshall (and a sideline in all things Churchill) - very refreshing to meet someone that age with such an appreciation of history. She should go far.

This was the famous terrace where Marshall sat with his guests, including President Harry Truman.

I'm a sucker for exploring museums of the recent past and here almost everything was authentic. You can imagine the General and his wife Katherine relaxing here in the post-war years. Marshall led the American delegation to the Queen's coronation and was the only non-royal to sit at her table. If you look very closely you can see that her photo, next to the vase on the table, carries a black ribbon. She had died just a few weeks before our visit. 

Here's the early radio/TV. Marshall enjoyed baseball commentaries, apparently.

Here was Katherine's hatbox collection, or some of it.

And her tea service.

And her hubby's shoes.

The Chinese parasol (behind the hatpins) was a gift from Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, a frequent visitor.

I couldn't get enough of the 1940s decor.

Not to mention the kitchen.

With some appropriate accessories.

Someone must have had fun designing the displays.

Even in those days Americans had giant fridges. (While the British were still keeping their milk cold on the windowsills...)

Marshall, who also served as Secretary of State and Defence and won the Nobel Peace Prize,  came across as a decent, modest, principled man who genuinely wanted to do some good in the world  - current politics on both sides of the pond could do with a few more like him.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Golden Beach Dodges a Bullet

 Dateline: Golden Beach, Florida

We breathed a huge sigh of relief when we heard that Hurricane Ian had left our house unscathed. It had been due to hit us head on, then in the last few hours veered slightly southwards - good for us but very bad for poor Fort Myers Beach, which was, by all accounts, obliterated. Part of our garden fence blew down and we lost our orchid tree but that's relatively minor compared to what happened to others. 

Having just arrived we've been picking up bits of tree and propping up what's left of the fence and tying it up with hubby's boat lines, which should withstand a gale. 

Even here, the streets tell a doleful story.

Remember the beautiful Royal Poinciana tree with its orangey-red blossoms?

Here's all that's left of it now.

At least this road sign is still standing, after a fashion.

Palm fronds and branches are piled up in front of the houses.

And the streets are still lined with piles of debris. The trees that survived are looking a lot thinner, shorn of leaves and limbs.

A utility pole hanging by a thread.

And the air rings with the sound of chainsaws.

Up the road in Historic Downtown the hundred-year-old theatre was practically destroyed, roofs taken off buildings and mobile homes splintered. But thank God we didn't get a storm surge with flooding up the inlets and gullies. Further inland, the riding stables survived but was flooded and for a time there was no way to feed the horses. They are appealing for funds to help - horses obviously aren't a priority for the official disaster relief. One farmer lost 250 cows, which died of shock.  On our road trip south, sister-in-law and I drove through the little rural town of Arcadia. There was still a lot of flooding, the road we wanted to take was closed and we saw at least three RVs - giant caravans - turned upside down, one standing on its end against a tree. Practically every house had a damaged roof, covered in bright blue tarp. Most poignant of all, a pile of personal possessions thrown out by the roadside - furniture, toys, clothes, all drenched and ruined.

Earlier we'd driven along the northern Florida coast which suffered a serious hurricane a few years ago. The town of Mexico Beach had been flattened, as Fort Myers Beach is now. But rows of spanking new houses in pretty pastel colours were going up - on stilts to avoid a storm surge. The triumph of hope over experience. 

More on the road trip coming shortly. Watch this space....

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Autumn Colours and Autumn Mist

 Our frequent ritual - walking to our neighbour's pond and the reflection of the leaves in the water.  

A single heron flapped off into the distance, the first one I've seen here.

Maples mixed with fir trees loom over the dried out goldenrod.

And walking back to the road again along a timeless path. In the summer frogs croaked in the damp spots alongside but now it's getting chilly, they're silent and hunkering down.

Our neighbour has to do a lot of mowing. They love their grassy expanses here.

A peep through the trees at the lake at the top of the lane.

And on the other side, the forest.

I see Rudolf's got a new outfit.

A classic scene in these parts - the mist rising over the hills.

Not so much fun in the early mornings when it's blanketing the roads. The local drivers around here still haven't learned to drive with their lights on.

Now it's back to packing for the trip south...

PS the deer were back again - "Oi!" I shouted, banging on the metal biscuit tin we keep for just this purpose, "What do you think this is, Richmond Park?" They just sneered, flicking their white feathery tails and cantered off nonchalantly. They know you can't hunt near a house. Heaven help the rhododendrons this winter.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Scenes from an Autumn Garden

 Dateline: Cattaraugus County, western New York state

Hello again after a long time, due to extremely erratic internet (Vodafone mobile wifi (sic) is not to be recommended) in London and France. But we're back briefly in Cattaraugus County now and to a very different garden, full of the easy-going Autumn disarray, which I love.   

Our one bright red maple didn't have that many leaves left, but enough to get the picture, as it were.

The sun is shining but it's chilly, which isn't a bad thing; it won't be such a wrench to go south, even if we'll be spending quite a while clearing up debris from Hurricane Ian. Thank God a friend sent photos and the little Golden Beach house is still standing - the garden fence is another matter. But we'll tackle that when we get there.  Meanwhile we've got a couple more days to enjoy the beautiful autumn here.

Who needs New England?

The stall up the lane is done for the year, the Farmers' Market down to its last few shivering diehards but the new buddleia appears to be thriving.

And some geraniums still bloom among the fallen leaves.

The chipmunk acorn relay has clearly been and gone, the miniature stripy teams shinning up and down, up and down the big oak tree,  some breaking off twigs, others gathering the spoils below.  The lawn grass is littered with debris and discarded acorn hats. This was a bumper year for acorns so Chippy and co will be happy.  

Less welcome guests clearly made themselves at home while we were away.

I snapped the photo quickly through the mosquito netting before chasing the blighters off. Don't worry, they'll be back. It's a losing battle. But at least we can try to save the rhododendrons again with some judiciously-placed netting. That's a task for tomorrow, after hubby's put the boat away.