"" Writer's Wanderings: March 2017

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Ringling - Ca' D' Zan And The Gardens

Along with visiting some friends on the way home from Florida we wanted to stop in Sarasota and see The Ringling where the Circus Museum is. The Ringling is the name for the acreage that contains the home of Mable and John Ringling, the Ringling Art Museum and the Circus Museum. We arrived at the gate about 9:15 in the morning and were one of the first in when the grounds opened at 9:30.

The gardens are available for viewing early but the museums don't open unti 10. We wandered pathways that were peacefully shaded by huge banyan trees. Banyan trees develop roots that actually grow from their branches down to the ground. They are called prop roots because as the tree spreads out, the roots keep the branches from breaking off. The roots become so numerous and large on the older trees that sometimes it's hard to figure out which is the original trunk.

On to way to the mansion called Ca' D' Zan or House of John, we happened upon Mable's rose garden and I stopped to take a few pictures of the blooms glowing in the morning sun. Mable loved roses and the garden is well kept in her honor.

A secret garden bordered a walkway nearer the mansion and behind the garden that bedded a variety of blooming plants, were the graves of the Ringlings. I would have lingered a bit to read the headstones but a two foot long black snake slithered across the walkway and ruined my appreciation of the secret garden. I gingerly walked back to the main walkway.

The Ca' D' Zan sits on the water's edge and its resemblance to Venice and all things Italian is no accident. The Ringlings, and mostly Mable, loved Italy. They visited often and searched for the things they wanted to include with their mansion. While it was called the house of John, it was really Mable's and if I remember correctly, was deeded to her.

Our time there would not be long enough to tour the mansion but we walked around the outside and admired the stained glass windows, the huge terrace overlooking the bay and across from the city of Sarasota, and the magnificent entry doors and facade. Mable spent years decorating and putting the finishing touches on the thirty-two room and fifteen bathrooms. I'm sure it was quite spectacular inside. Unfortunately Mable would only get to live there a few years before she died.

The story of John and Mable Ringling is fascinating and deserves more exploration. I did not realize he was an art collector and a real estate developer in addition to having a diversified collection of investments as well as the famous circus begun by him and his brothers. The death of his wife and the stock market crash of '29 all but wiped him out. He continued however the construction of the art museum the couple had wanted to leave as a legacy and even though he was counseled to sell the collection when he fell into debt, he managed to finish the museum and in 1936 upon his death, the museum along with the other property was willed to the state of Florida.

If we ever get back to Sarasota, we need to put the art museum and the mansion on the schedule to visit. This trip, though would be dedicated to visiting the Circus Museum.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Migrating Back Home

The trunk of the car was packed without an inch of free space and the back seat of the car was loaded with what didn't fit in the trunk. It didn't seem like we had collected anything extra and actually had eliminated some things when we had Christmas with our Florida kids. Somehow it just didn't all go back in as easily as the first time. But the trunk lid closed and the doors all shut and so we started out heading north. Our trip home will take us on a different route than usual to allow us to visit some friends along the way and see a couple of spots we want to explore. 

Our first stop was Marco Island. We took the Tamiami Trail route (Route 41) west to Marco. Along side the road for much of the way is a canal and I started counting the alligators I could see. I know there were a lot more than the six I spotted in the water but they are hard to see as you are moving along. The Miccosouke Indians have a large reservation in that area. There is a village you can visit that I'd like to come back to some time and see. 

In about two and a half hours we were entering Marco Island. The landscaping was beautiful. When we met our friends for lunch, they told us that the town had received an award for all their trees. It was not quite as populated as I expected but then we didn't really spend a lot of time looking around. We enjoyed lunch and catching up with each other since our time together on our 2015 World Cruise. 

From Marco Island we headed up I-75 to Sarasota for the night. We arrived around 4:30 and checked in. After looking around on TripAdvisor and Google Maps, we settled on going out to St. Armands Key to find a place to eat. In some ways it reminded us of Fernandina Beach but a lot busier. We found a nice place called Tommy Bahama's and enjoyed a great light dinner. 

A stroll was in order since we'd spent most of the day in the car and we headed west to the beach. We lingered long enough to catch the sunset over the Gulf. The event was shared with several hundred other people who gathered on the beach to watch. A Florida sunset is an event every night. 



Monday, March 27, 2017

A Last Look At Mama Osprey

Two weeks ago we made a pass by the osprey nest we watch each year near Key Largo. Mama was sitting on the nest but we saw no little ones. We'd heard there were some in the nest but it was raining and I think she may have been sheltering them from the rain.

As we made our way past the nest on our trip north heading home, we stopped for a last look at the nest and were rewarded with at least one young one. It looked to be a osprey teenager, still in the nest but looking over the side wondering when it was going to fly. Mama was nearby, still vigilant, still protective. Not too unlike a human mom with a teenager.

Hopefully the osprey couple will be back next year too and building a new family. We'd love to watch them grow again.







Friday, March 24, 2017

A Rose By Any Other Name

As we rounded the corner of our condo unit, we noticed it immediately. Beautiful red blooms on a plant we'd never seen bloom before. They were gorgeous and I wondered how they had developed and bloomed so quickly. I'd not seen any kind of buds on the plant but not being a native Floridian, I had no idea how the plant cycled. We admired it a moment and took a picture.

The next day we passed by the plant again and I was disappointed to see that the blooms were already fading. Well, I thought, it must not bloom for long and with the warm days and no rain perhaps the blooms just couldn't survive long.

The next time we passed the plant, it was blooming again. I marveled at its resilience and fortitude. Maybe someone watered it, I thought.

Then on my way back to the condo, I saw the answer to the resilient plant. The couple whose door is right next to the plant were putting blooms on the leaves of the plant. They were caught in the act! They were taking blooms from the bottle brush tree near our parking lot and putting them on what they said was a yucca plant.

"Shhh!" they said together, a finger to their lips. "Our friend has never seen a yucca plant with these kind of blooms before."

"Neither have I," I said. "And I took a picture! I thought it was a beautiful blooming plant."

We all laughed and I went on my way shaking my head. Duped! Wonder how long their friend will believe it?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Florida Keys - A Little History

It was a Sunday afternoon. We finished our last Sunday brunch at our favorite place, Snapper's, and instead of heading back to the condo, we decided to drive down to Islamorada to the museum we had been told was there featuring a history of the Keys. Halfway there we wondered if it had been such a good idea. Traffic heading south on US1 was backed up as often happens on weekends and then we remembered there was also a seafood festival going on down the way as well we took a deep breath and kept on. It took twice as long to get to the Islander where the museum is located but we finally made it.

There was also an art show going on at the Florida Keys History and Discovery Center and much to our delight because of it, the entry fee to the museum was waived. We smiled, thanked the receptionist and began our self tour.

There are not a lot of artifacts but there is a sampling of items from the very earliest inhabitants right up to the modern day. Tales of tribes, then Spanish fleets (many of which were shipwrecked in a hurricane), then the settling of the area and the real expansion as the railroad came to be.

That was what interested us the most, the building of the railway. The man largely responsible was Henry Flagler who we discovered had a connection to Ohio and Cleveland with his association with Rockefeller and Standard Oil Company. The railroad was finished in 1912 and was followed by an overseas highway that was finished in 1928 that allowed travel to Key West without having to ferry your car.

What I did not expect were the tales of destruction and stories of survival of the Cat 5 hurricane that came through the Keys in 1935. Between the winds and the storm surge much of the area was totally devastated. It compared in force with 1992 's Hurricane Andrew which was also a Cat 5 but because of the area around Miami and Homestead that was affected cost much more in damages.

All in all it was worth the traffic jam and sparked a lot more interest in the history of the area. I have some reading to do.

Friday, March 17, 2017

It's Another Birthday

It’s a simple math problem. How many decades are in a century? First you have to know that there are a hundred years in a century and a decade is made up of ten years. So there are ten decades in a century. Today I turn 7/10 of a century old. To put it another way, I’ve lived for seven decades. Or I’m beginning the eighth decade. Any way you look at it it’s a long time.

I don’t mind too much. Every day that I’m vertical and can put one foot in front of the other I’m thankful. It’s been an interesting experience, this aging thing that is. It was a shock a while ago to look into the mirror and wonder if I might be turning into a Dalmatian. Since I’ve always been an outdoors type person it was only logical that I would eventually get age spots. I hoped that they would look like freckles but that was not to be. Yup, more like a Dalmatian.

I always heard that gravity was the enemy but now I know it firsthand.

A new acquaintance, Arthur Ritis as one of the characters in my novel says, is letting me know he’s around. Some days a little more than others.

I still have all my teeth! If I were a horse that would be worth something. I even have all my wisdom teeth much to my dentist’s dismay. He finally tired of me saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.”
We have a rule around our house. We don’t discuss our meds, the number we have to take or what our newest ailment is with others. That’s old people talk and even though we have both reached that seven decade mark, we don’t need to bore others with our aches and pains. Theirs are probably worse than ours anyway.

As I lathered up my legs the other morning to shave I wondered if I would still be doing this in my eighth decade (should I be so lucky to make it that far). Shouldn’t there be a cut off year where shaving isn’t necessary? Haven’t I reached that yet? 

Of course one of the things that bothers me the most is being called elderly. It hasn’t happened to me personally yet but every time I see a newscast that talks about someone in their sixties and labels them elderly I want to shout, “No! Not elderly!” Old or older maybe, but elderly just adds insult to injury. Does seven decades qualify? I hope not.

So, I’m getting older. I’ll go kicking and screaming into the next decade and be thankful that I can kick and scream although I can’t kick as high as I once did and screaming never got me anywhere. And I’ll be thankful that I have someone to share this next decade with for as long as we can. At seven decades though we don’t take out long warranties for anything we buy.

Did I mention I got a bit wiser along the way? A little more wisdom is the greatest gift of counting more birthdays. You tend to understand a bit better what’s important and what really isn’t. Age—not so important. Enjoying the age, yes.

Now if I could just remember where I put my keys, my sunglasses, and oh yes, what was your name?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Oh Those Cruise Excursions!

You're taking a cruise, hitting all those wonderful ports that attracted you to the cruise you booked but have you thought about what you are going to do when you get there? Of course the cruise line will encourage you to book their shore excursions ahead of time and that's not a bad idea. Just be sure to do your homework before you choose your excursions.

Go over the excursion list, read the descriptions, then get to your browser and search engine and plug in the destination to see what there is to see in each port. You may find that you can do the excursion on your own for half the price. (Just remember that you will be responsible for getting back to the ship on time. If you are not with one of the ship's excursions, they will not wait for you. Instead they will leave you passport with the shore authority and wave goodbye to you as they pull out. You will be responsible to get to the next port on your own.)

Once you have either booked a cruise excursion through the ship or on your own, you might want to remember a few things as you begin your excursion. First up is to dress appropriately. I've seen it more than once. Someone who thought their strap on sandals were good for hiking and climbing on trails. Read the description of that excursion and forgo fashion for comfort and safety. And while your are reading be sure to note whether or not you are responsible for your own lunch or snack and plan a little pocket money to take care of it.

Don't take valuables with you. Flashy jewelry, expensive watches, unnecessary electronics only attract those elements of the community that spot and target tourists. You become a magnet for pickpockets and thieves. Leave the valuables in the safe in your stateroom.

It is unlikely that you will need your passport. Take a photo ID with you like a drivers license. If you are concerned that a problem would arise where you might need the passport, take a copy of it with you. It's always good to have one anyway in case your passport is lost or stolen. Many cruise ships keep your passport on file to make immigration go more smoothly in many ports so having a copy of your passport is just an all around good idea.

Another alert for thievery is pulling out a large wad of cash or opening your wallet to expose the fact you have a large amount of money. Don't take more money ashore than you think you will spend. And if it's going to be more than $50 you might want to use your credit card instead. If it's in a country with foreign currency, the best exchange rate will be used by your bank when it's processed.

The key is to travel as light as possible. Use a small backpack or shoulder bag that you can carry unencumbered but can hold a bottle of water, an umbrella or rain poncho, your camera, and small essentials you may need like sun block and a small bag of snacks. Being prepared isn't just a good scouting motto.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Will Smartphones Replace DSLRs?


The horizon is a third down from the top. 
Maybe. Maybe not. The technology does make one's head spin though.

There are times when I get tired of lugging my Canon with me and take a little break and rely on my iPhone for pictures. I can get some incredible shots. A lot has to do though with learning to frame your subject, choosing how much of something to include in the frame and watching the lighting.

There is a rule of thirds that can get confusing for some but simply think about what is in the picture. The main object should probably be off to one side or the other instead of smack in the middle. A horizon should not cut your picture exactly in half. Make it more interesting by offsetting things. Leave all the exacting proportions to the engineers of the world and be a little more artistic.

Choosing how much to include in the frame of your picture is another quick decision to be made sometimes if you are in the midst of a crowd or a lot of objects are before you. What draws your eye to the scene that makes you want to take the picture to begin with? You might want to zoom in a bit on that. If there's no time to be too choosy, remember there is always the edit app on your phone to help you zoom in and crop.

Cropping your photo can
give better composition.
The best outdoor lighting comes from the sun being low in the sky. For some reason colors tend to pop more. Maybe it has to do with the bending of the light rays. I'm sure there's a scientific reason but the best lighting in my pictures happens early in the morning or late in the afternoon. I still haven't mastered a good shot with the flash on the smartphone. One of us is obviously not that smart.

Rarely does a photo come out perfectly so get familiar with the functions on the edit app. Add a little color or brighten a picture. We recently took a picture that had our faces in a dive mask looking through an aquarium. To look at the original you could not make out the faces. When we brightened the picture we suddenly saw our smiles come through.

Adding a little more color and
adjusting the brightness helps
us see the cicada better.
I mentioned cropping your shot already but it needs repeating. You can zoom in with the cropping tool and even move the picture around to get that horizon in a nicer place or your subject matter off to one side or the other to enhance the picture.

I'm not an expert but I am having fun. You may not be able to do quite as much as you could with a DSLR but you can still make some great memories.






Monday, March 13, 2017

Recipe For A Good Vacation --Add Water

No, I don't mean just go to the beach or on a cruise. The water I'm talking about is drinking water. I am always carrying a water bottle when we travel, even if we are only going a short distance. I'm a water baby. I drink a lot of water whether it's hot or cold, whether I'm exercising or not. My husband on the other hand does not. It's a constant battle.

Me: Drink some water.
Bob: I'm not thirsty.
Me: If you're thirsty, you're already not drinking enough. I'm not picking you up off the sidewalk.
Bob: *sigh* Okay.

Looking for a little ammunition for the next water battle, I did some research. There are some medical reasons why you could dehydrate quickly but unless you are experiencing any of those it would be ridiculous to dehydrate just because you didn't drink enough water.

And why should we worry about dehydration? It can result in confusion, weakness, dizziness, fainting, vomiting--I could go on. What a way to ruin a travel adventure, right? 

Get truly concerned however if you or your companion is running a fever, fainting, confused, has a headache or seizures, difficultly breathing. That's when it's time to seek medical treatment. Best to avoid all of that and just be sure to drink enough water. How much?

You've heard of the 8X8 rule: eight eight ounce glasses of water per day. Actually you need a little more than that but it's still a good rule and any fluids can be counted toward that. Just remember that all fluids are not created equal. Caffeinated drinks like coffee will help to drain fluids from your body and alcohol is not your friend on a hot day. It will also drain fluids and impair judgement if you are near dehydration. 

There are other ways to get fluids besides drinking water. You can eat watermelon or spinach which contains a lot of fluids. Suck on some popsicles or frozen sports drinks you could make yourself. Still, the best source for your fluid intake is good old water. No calories. And thanks to the novel idea of bottled water, you can usually find good safe drinking water anywhere these days. 

Don't ruin your trip. Hydrate. Drink up. Stay healthy.

Friday, March 10, 2017

A Florida Keys Delicacy--Stone Crab Claws

Stone Crabs. You see the signs all over the keys. When you see the price, you have to wonder if they are worth it. Oh yeah. They are.

The Stone Crab is found in more places than Florida but it is certainly very popular here. Crab season is from mid October to May. There are regulations for both commercial and recreational trapping of crabs. Commercial fishermen can put out as many as 100 traps while a recreational fisherman is limited to five traps. Once the crab is caught, one or both claws can be harvested. The crab will have more chance of survival if only one is harvested.

The amazing thing is that the claws are regenerated. It takes anywhere from a few months to a couple of years depending upon the age of the crab. Of course the removing of the claw needs to be done correctly as well.

Female crabs with eggs are not allowed to be harvested. If they have an orange sac on the underside, they must be returned to the water without harvesting the claws.

So how does the crab survive without its claws? It becomes a scavenger keeping to places where they can conceal themselves since they are defenseless until new claws form. Apparently though, the main predator, the octopus, can easily prey upon them whether they have claws or not.

How are they prepared for eating? Unless you are catching your own, the places selling Stone Crab claws will have cooked them (I'm assuming steaming) and put them on ice. They will crack them for you or sell you a mallet. The claws are thicker than most other crab and lobster claws we've encountered.

A mustard sauce is a popular condiment for the claws.

 Mix together a cup of mayonnaise, 2 teaspoons horseradish, 1 teaspoon mustard (brown spicy works best), 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice and salt to taste.

A pound of claws sells for anywhere from $20 to $35 or more depending upon size and the market you visit. Small claws come 6 or 7 to a pound. We found some delicious good sized ones at The Fisheries in Marathon. Upstairs in the bar, you can order individual claws for $2.50 each. A great place to taste them and decide if you like them.

It was a forty-five minute drive one way for a light lunch of claws but it was worth it. Beautiful day. Wonderful claws. Great outing.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Women in Diving History

Once particular display in the History of Diving Museum we visited the other day caught my eye. It was information about a diver, a woman diver named Amelia Behrens-Furniss. She was quite a diver among other things including wing walking and doing stunts for movies like the Perils of Pauline. In one of the movies she said she almost drowned when the actor who was supposed to be the hero couldn't swim and kept pulling her under.

But I related to the story that was posted there about her in a way other than diving. During the 1920s her father ran a dive operation that serviced the oil industry. She is known for making a 162 foot dive into a 24 inch pipe to retrieve tools that would have clogged the pipeline. She dove five times and got stuck once but finally retrieved the tools.

Now my dad didn't run a dive operation but one day while working on the dock he was installing he dropped a wrench into the water. My dad called me down to the water and asked me to retrieve the tool for him. The water wasn't that deep--probably chest deep on my teenaged body. I had just done my hair and wondered why he couldn't just get in the water and get it himself. Later, after I was an adult, my mother finally shared that my dad who was a boater and fisherman was afraid of the water and couldn't swim.

Obediently I went down to the lake, waded in and used my talented toes to grasp the wrench and pull it up high enough to grab it in my hand and hand it to my dad. He almost fell in laughing. Not a hair on my head got wet.

If you'd like to see more women in diving history, visit the Women Divers Hall of Fame. (Oh, my name won't be there.)

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The History of Diving Museum

On a rather windy and chilly day, we decided to make our way south to the History of Diving Museum. It was a Sunday and it seemed that everyone else who couldn't go boating or swimming or even diving for that matter was headed south as well--probably out of boredom. What should have been about a ten minute ride took us about forty minutes with stop and go traffic. All well and good. We didn't have anything else planned.

Thankfully pulling into the parking lot and out of the traffic, we made our way inside and began what was to be a rather unique look back at diving. Obviously man has always been fascinated with what lies beneath the sea and that was quite apparent as the first exhibit after we passed through the door that resembled something from a submarine was from 1551. It was a glass bell that hung over the diver's head allowing him to breath whatever air was trapped under it.

We meandered through all sorts of displays of diving helmets, some that were quite crude and made me wonder at the tenacity of the inventor and his desire to see under the sea.

Diving suits and air pumps of all kinds showed a progression of inventiveness. Some of the earliest air pumps were nothing more than elaborate bellows.

The first dive light was a candle in a lantern. It proved that even a flame needed oxygen to burn.

Some of the dive suits that were for extremely deep dives looked like something out of a science fiction movie. One even resemble the robot from Lost In Space--Danger Will Robinson!

There was a lot of information to be had that explained the differences between commercial diving and recreational scuba and the differences in equipment.

There was one small sign that caught my eye though. It was in reference to the rebreathers that some divers use but it set my novelist's mind in motion. It read: You can safely breath 100% oxygen only to depth of 30 feet. Beyond that oxygen can become lethal. Hmmm. I see a plot in the making.

Just a suggestion but I would think twice about taking a very young child, say 2 or 3 years old through the museum. Some of the dive suits look like monsters.




Monday, March 06, 2017

Getting That Cruise Stateroom Upgrade

It's a long way to our next cruise. Unless we get impulsive, it won't happen until November with our planned river cruise followed by our biannual holiday cruise in the Caribbean. Long ago we gave up on getting to the ship and hoping to be surprised by a stateroom upgrade. Somehow my charming son manages those things but we haven't. We have on occasion paid a discounted price however to get an upgrade.

There are some tips to getting an upgrade and it's all in an article on Cruise Critic. Higher cabins are sold first since they can make more money on them. If you've booked a lower priced cabin you may get offered an opportunity to move up--for a discounted price of course. Beware though, sometimes the higher priced cabin may not be in a prime location. If you don't mind bouncing around at the rear or front of the ship or even on a higher deck, then go for it. (See my post Choosing Your Stateroom).

A good way to find out about a sale of unfilled cabins is through the email newsletters and notices that each line sends out. Sign up for the ones you love to cruise with and if you are flexible in your schedule, you could snag a great deal although you may have to travel sooner rather than later. The reason is that most sales will not happen until the final payment is due for those who have already booked--usually at about three months out from the sail date.

There are lots of other tips and interesting information on how a cruise company fills a ship. They do want that ship filled. They still have staff and crew to pay and of course there's a lot of money to be made through those on-the-ship purchases.

Happy stateroom hunting!

Friday, March 03, 2017

Love The Zoo! Any Zoo!

We love visiting a zoo--most any zoo. One of our favorites though is the Miami Zoo. Part of that is because we can do so with our four grandchildren who live in the area. We get them for most of the day and rent a safari cycle to see if we can cover the whole park. This year we needed a six passenger because the kids have grown so much. While it cost more, it was still good because two of them can actually reach the pedals now. Help was much appreciated with the pedaling.


There is a new exhibit called The Everglades that the kids were eager to show us. Their special part is being able to crawl through tubes that go through the middle of a couple of the exhibits. We heard the exciting story of an alligator crawling over the tube as one of them went through. Unfortunately this day there would be no exciting encounters.


A couple of the exhibits were closed for more work on them but it's a nice representation of the Everglades although the real Everglades is a lot more exciting. Needless to say the real thing is a little more buggy as well at some times of the year so the zoo would be a good alternative.


One of the highlights is feeding the birds. Lots of giggles and squeals as birds land on hands, arms and heads.


If you ever need something to do in Miami, try the zoo. You'll get lots of exercise and entertainment especially if you take the kids.






Thursday, March 02, 2017

Osprey Spring Cleaning and Fishing

Anytime we have to travel north from Key Largo we stop at the place where we know we can see an osprey nest. Last year we watched some little ones that were hatched grow and get ready to leave the nest by the time we were leaving our southern nest for home. This year our first few bypasses made us think momma osprey was sitting on some eggs but we haven't seen any snowy heads popping up in the middle of the nest. What we did see this time past was some spring cleaning being done.

I thought at first she had a fish in her mouth and might be feeding some little ones but when I blew up the picture, I could see no little ones and there was a twig in her mouth. She was either remodeling the nest or doing some spring cleaning. Don't know that we'll see little ones this year. We'll keep looking though.

Another osprey that hangs our closer to our condo has a favorite fishing spot right in the little harbor the dock area creates. I was on the dock fishing one day and heard a big splash when I turned around, I saw the osprey taking off from out of the water. He shook himself as he was flying as a dog might do when it gets wet and continued on. I didn't get out my phone to take a picture because I figured he was gone. A few minutes later, I heard another splash and sure enough, he had dove in again. He didn't have any more luck than I did that morning though.

I did see him fly by on another occasion with a fish in his talons. And several mornings now I have seen him on his perch near the water waiting for his moment to swoop down. There is a tall palm tree near the water's edge and he surveys the fishing possibilities from there. I'll stick to fishing from the dock though.




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