Normal

I’m sitting in my car under the shade of a tree, eating lunch. It’s become my new normal. The cafés I frequent don’t offer seating nowadays. Instead, one orders at a window, waits in an approved area, picks up one’s food, and departs.

If I lived a little closer to Tallahassee, or weren’t so impatient, I’d take my lunch home. Yes, I could make lunch for myself, but I crave interaction with others, even if it only comes through a window during the ordering process.

The young woman at Sweet Pea Cafe asked me how I was doing today. Her question touched me. I even remembered to ask her how she’d been. Some of the niceties of human contact have almost fallen by the wayside, but we salvaged them, at least for today.

Once I’m finished with lunch I’ll make a quick stop at a store to buy pepper. We don’t really need pepper, but will in a week or so. I could put off the trip until I needed to buy more from the store, but maybe the person who rings up my purchase will comment. I’ll respond, and it’ll almost be normal.

Peace, people.

Tell Me Something Good

This pandemic is rotten, and it’s not going away anytime soon. I’m prone to dwelling on the heartaches. “There’s a Tear in My Beer” could’ve been my theme song, except it’d be a pity to water down a good beer.

Yesterday I was feeling low. Not depressed, just low. And then I made myself think of ordinary day-to-day good things about life right now, things that might NOT have come about had it not been for Covid-19.

One of the best is a group on Facebook called “Tallahassee Foodies.” It was started by a woman who wanted to call attention to good, locally owned eateries. It’s an overwhelmingly positive place for members to ask about specific types of foods available and to share information.

Here are a couple of sample posts from the site:

“This page makes my heart swell when I see it supporting people who need it (fried Oreos, peterbrooke) especially during these hard times of closure, lower capacity, etc.
SO… If you own or know of a good business that is struggling to survive right now, please list them below so we can help them.
So many restaurant, franchise, and bar owners put it all on the line to start their businesses, I want to do my tiny part to help…
Thanks!”

“Y’all. This is probably 5000 Weight Watchers points, but I’ll eat soup the rest of the day so I can eat this. Bacon jam, avocado, and egg melt (added tomato)! Look at those layers of deliciousness! First time I’ve had bacon jam. It had a little kick and now I have to figure out how it’s made.”

From Freshroots Kitchen in Tallahassee

I absolutely love this site and all the good vibes the members are putting out. Any negativity gets shut down quickly. It’s a happy place for me.

What’s happening in your world that’s positive? Something that might only exist because of COVID? Maybe you’ve taken on a role that you’d never considered playing before. Tell me something good.

Peace, people!

This Close

Today (Thursday) I was sitting outside Sweet Pea Cafe waiting for my to-go lunch to be delivered. As is my custom, I perched on the end of a picnic bench and read while I waited.

A sound startled me and I quickly looked up and to my right, where less than 50 yards away traffic was flowing up and down Tharpe Street. Somehow my brain got the impression that I was in jeopardy of falling off the bench, and I yelped.

The only other customer, sitting well over six feet away from me, looked up at my exclamation, ready to come to my defense. I smiled beneath my mask, shrugged and said, “I thought I was falling off the bench.”

He looked at me and where I was sitting, held up his thumb and forefinger and said, “You were this close.”

Not close at all.

We both laughed. He cautioned me to be extra careful before taking his meal. I told him there were no guarantees. Again he made that sign with his fingers.

This close….

And laughed.

I wonder if there’s a way to make money for all the entertainment I provide? Probably not.

Peace, people.

Marching to Target

We have a relatively new Target store in Tallahassee. While it was being built I was so excited. The two existing Targets are clear across Tallahassee, one way out on Thomasville Road, the other on Apalachee Parkway, both at least a twenty minute drive from Doright Manor. This new Target would be on MY side of town, nearer the universities, and along with it would come several new eating establishments. Yay!

When this Target opened its doors for business, though, I was disappointed. It was much smaller than a regular Target and everything in it seemed to cater to college kids on a budget. It did have a Starbucks, though, so that was a plus.

As I’ve become accustomed to this particular Target, I’ve become fond of it. It’s easy to get to, and I’m not as tempted to buy things that are “wants” instead of “needs.” They stock lots of healthy foods and have a decent wine section. And, did I mention the Starbucks?

One thing they don’t have these days? Hand sanitizer. As far as I can, tell no one in Tallahassee has any in stock, though, so I can’t complain. I’m sitting in the Target Starbucks typing this on my phone as I sip on my grande decaf coffee Frappuccino with almond milk. Yes, I’ve become one of those people.

I worked on my book before lunch and will return home to type some more this afternoon, but the weather is lovely and I thought a march, okay, a drive to Target would provide a nice break.

Peace, and march on, people!

Desperate Times

“Desperate times breed desperate measures”–William Shakespeare

On most days I have lunch alone, either here at Doright Manor or at one of a handful of Tallahassee cafes. Now, before you feel sorry for me you need to know that I enjoy my solitary lunches. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy having lunch with Studly Doright or with a friend, but when I dine alone I pull my Kindle out of my purse and read. And there are few things I’d rather do than read.

One day last week I had a whole list of errands to run, most of them in Tallahassee. I planned the most efficient route and left home around 10 a.m. with the goal of having lunch at the best little vegan eatery in the world, Sweet Pea Cafe.

With my errands halfway done, I drove to Sweet Pea and ordered that day’s special, Tempeh Temptation. I found a table and reached into my purse for my Kindle. Hmmm. No Kindle. I searched every zippered compartment with no luck.

“That’s okay,” I said to myself. “Just read from the Kindle app on your phone.”

“You’re so brilliant!” I answered.

“I know.” I said.

Unfortunately my brilliant self had managed to leave my phone at home as well.

As I waited for the meal to arrive I wondered how I was supposed to eat without a book in hand. How does one do such a thing?

“You can do this,” I gently reminded myself. “Just be more mindful of your meal. Pay attention to every bite. People watch. Listen to the music playing. Enjoy the experience.”

“Shut up! I NEED my book. Or just something, anything, to read.”

Gee, one of us needs anger management therapy.

In the midst of my angst I noticed a woman who’d been reading from a book as she dined at the table nearest mine. She’d finished her meal and as I watched from the corner of my eye saw that she was preparing to leave.

I hesitated for a second before asking, “Excuse me, this is going to sound weird and slightly desperate, by I don’t suppose you have an extra book that I might buy from you.”

Now, the beauty of this is she totally understood my question. The sad part is that she’d just returned from a trip to see her sister and had given the sister a box full of books that she usually carried in her car.

We laughed about our respective reading addictions. She apologized for not having a book to offer. I laughed and told her no big deal while underneath my smile I was thinking, “Couldn’t you at least have saved one book for us, I mean, me?”

She left the cafe as my meal arrived and I began to eat in a desultory fashion. The food was excellent as always, but damn it, how could I enjoy myself when there were intrepid space explorers trapped on an exoplanet in my book, and how the heck was I going to save them if I couldn’t read the remainder of chapter 55 while I chewed?

That’s when an angel came to my rescue. The woman who’d taken a box of books to her sister came triumphantly back into the cafe waving a book.

“Look what I found,” she smiled.

“It must’ve fallen out of the box. It’s yours if you want it….”

I wanted to hug her, but I restrained myself, offering effusive thanks as I tried to pay her.

“Absolutely not!” she said. “I don’t know how anyone can eat alone without a good book for company.”

A true hero, that woman.

I opened the book and began a new adventure. John Grisham paired quite nicely with Tempeh Temptation.

Peace, people.

Christmas, Christmas Everywhere

I needed some holiday inspiration yesterday, but where to go? Since a doctor’s appointment took me near Esposito’s, a local Tallahassee garden shop, I thought it might be a source of Christmas decorating ideas. Let me tell you, when I’m right, I’m so right.

We’ve lived in the Tallahassee area for six years now, and I’ve been in Esposito’s at least a dozen times. But never in December. I had no idea what I’ve been missing.

I’d best let you know that I’m not being compensated by Esposito’s for this or any other blog posts. I just wanted to share a cool place with my local readers. So, without further ado, and very few words, I give you Esposito’s Christmas shop.

Now, the cutest thing I encountered wasn’t a decorated tree or a gilded ornament.

It was an adorable cat who’d snuggled into a stack of tree skirts. She allowed me to pet her before giving me a look that indicated I should move on and leave her to her nap.

The Christmas village was pretty spectacular, too, but it didn’t purr.

I found a couple of things to purchase, but because they’re potential gifts for family members I won’t share the photos here. There was a piece that I think was made for me, though. Maybe someone will put it in my stocking.

It’s the third sign from the top. Tailor made for me.

Peace, people!

Ant Heaven

(Note: I made the mistake of taking an epic nap after my trip to Ant Heaven and before writing this post; therefore, a great deal of what was learned on the field trip just floated away into nothingness. I used to be so much better at retaining information.)

Normally I’d spend my Saturday morning running around Tallahassee, going to the Farmer’s Market or to estate sales. Today, though, I went on a field trip to a place affectionally dubbed “Ant Heaven” by Dr. Walter Tschinkel, our Olli instructor extraordinaire.

I’m not totally sure where Ant Heaven is, even though I drove my car in a caravan of other Olli participants to the spot. If it were a secret location I’d never be the one to spill the beans.

Soon after our group of a dozen or so arrived at Ant Heaven, Dr. Tschinkel put us to work laying bait trails.

The orange stakes indicate the location of an ant nest, while the pink substance is a mixture of mashed up cookie with a non-toxic pink dye added. Our job was to place the small piles of bait at various distances from the nest and then to observe foraging ants carrying bits of bait back to their respective nests.

Prior to our visit, Dr. Tschinkel had gone to the trouble of raking away much of the detritus (pine needles and leaves) from around several nests so we’d have a better opportunity to watch the ants in action.

Mine is the annoying voice saying, “It might be a carpenter,” which is totally wrong. What it might be is a Harvester ant. I should’ve kept my mouth shut. If I had a penny for all the times that was the case, Bill and Melinda Gates would be borrowing money from me.

As we watched ants foraging for bait Dr. Tschinkel set up the kiln to melt aluminum for casting a nest.

It takes time to heat the aluminum to beyond the melting point, so I wandered around trying not to step on any ants.

This video above is from a Harvester Ant nest. The black bits surrounding the nest, as well as those scattered on top of the nest, are pieces of charcoal. Apparently no one knows why Harvester Ants collect charcoal and mark their nests with it.

One of the critical tools of the professional myrmecologist is a shop vacuum. Seriously. The shop vac is used to clean debris from a nest and even to suction up a large number of ants to take back to the lab for studying.

In the video above, Dr. Tschinkel is using a suction tube to pick up ants as he searches for a fungus garden in the nest of a Northern Fungus Gardening Ant. These ants collect caterpillar droppings and “feed” them to a fungus that the ants tend as nourishment for the super organism that is the colony.

I believe you can see some of the ants suctioned in the picture below; although, these might not be the fungal gardening ants.

Once the aluminum had reached approximately 1,000° C, Dr. Tschinkel began the process of casting.

Now, a lot of work went into this prior to the pouring of aluminum. He had to clean around the nest, (shop vac) and scoop a large amount of sand away from the area. It’s a labor intensive task. Oh, lest any of you worry about loss of ant life, the castings are made from abandoned nests.

This first pour yielded a small casting.

They’re incredible little sculptures.

A second pour produced a larger piece; although, I didn’t get a picture of it for some reason. Both sculptures were sent home with lucky attendees who happened to guess a number Dr. Tschinkel had in mind.

I did get a couple of pieces leftover from previous pours. Generally such pieces are melted for future castings.

One teeny tiny ant (whose name I have forgotten) coats the chambers of its nest with a black seed-like fungus. No one knows why. It’s one of Dr. Tschinkel’s newest research topics, and one of our group members found a nest of the little guys. Dr. Tschinkel excavated one of the chambers and will study it further.

After the excavation we headed back to Tallahassee. I was tired and hungry but not grumpy. After a nice meal at a sushi place I returned to Doright Manor and took a three hour nap!

Ant Heaven was an adventure. I had a great time learning a little bit more about ants, and I’m leaving out incredible stuff here. We’ll blame the nap.

Peace, people!

Tuesday Tech Miscellany

Yesterday (Monday) I wrestled with my internet connection all day long. Studly was traveling, and I didn’t want to exacerbate the technical issues by doing something stupid in his absence. Instead, I was mostly tech free all day, and it was kind of nice.

My understanding of WiFi and connectivity and the million other little things that go into making my devices communicate smoothly is limited. I know that some of the little lights on my home router need to be flashing while others need to remain constant, but beyond that I’m lost. Thank goodness Studly Doright arrived home in time last evening to tell me how to fix the problem. (Basically I had to unplug the router, count to five, and plug it back in.) My hero!

Speaking of being lost, one of the things I like best about my Apple Watch is the gps feature. When I ask Siri for directions to a location, my watch will sync up and provide brief instructions as well as a pleasant buzz on my wrist as I approach a turn.

For some reason, though, on Saturday the watch lost its ability to guide me. I was heading to an estate sale using iPhone guidance and kept driving mile after mile waiting for the friendly buzz to indicate I needed to turn. Finally, I pulled into a parking lot and realized the watch wasn’t doing it’s part, and I was stuck with just the phone instructions. Plus, I was way north of Tallahassee. Not lost, but not where I needed to be either.

When I returned home I googled possible remedies to the situation, but none of them bore fruit. I figured I’d need to seek out some technical assistance at a local tech shop. Then this morning I noticed the little airplane icon on my watch. Hmmm. Had I accidentally switched it to airplane mode?

Why, yes. Yes, I had, and as soon as I figured out how to take it out of airplane mode the gps was back in business. I literally just asked Siri for directions to Trader Joe’s and my watch responded with a turn suggestion. It’s a bit confusing since I’m still inside my home, but still, I’m back in business.

Now, at the risk of making myself seem even more foolish, my car has a gps built in. Yes, I could, and often do, use it for directions. But it doesn’t buzz on my arm. I like the buzz.

No, not that Buzz; although, the wallpaper on my Apple Watch can be set to Toy Story.

To infinity and beyond! Or to Trader Joe’s. Whichever is closest.

Peace, people.

There’s a Message Here

Sunday morning Studly left to play golf around six. I kissed him goodbye, read a bit of my book and then dozed off. When my alarm awakened me at eight I was in the middle of a crazy, yet important dream.

In the dream I was at the Women’s Imaging Center in Tallahassee awaiting my turn to have my annual mammogram. I already had my gown on, and when my name was called I followed a nurse back to the procedure room. Only this year, the room was huge and filled with pink plastic picnic tables.

I asked what had happened to the standard room and was told, “This is the more humane method for conducting a mammogram. Take a seat at the first table and we’ll be with you momentarily.”

While I waited people came and went. A tour group of children with their teachers made a pass through the area. Several folks in medical scrubs walked by me, and I asked every one if they were there to perform my mammogram. They all looked at me like I was crazy.

Finally a man approached me and said I’d accidentally been sent to the wrong area. He pointed me to a shed at the far end of the picnic tables. Dutifully I trudged between the tables, trying in vain to hold my skimpy robe together.

When I arrived I discovered the shed was a store filled with feed for farm animals, with several such animals coming and going. There was a Holstein cow, and a chicken or two, and a Shetland pony inside the store. But in the back was a small room with the appropriate equipment and a nice technician to put my “girls” through their paces. Then the alarm woke me.

So, what’s the message here? Several years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer that was detected early thanks to a mammogram. This simple procedure very well could’ve saved my life. So do it. Even if picnic tables and cows are involved.

Peace, people!

Sunday, Lazy Sunday

Studly Doright played in a two-day golf tournament this past weekend, so I was pretty much on my own both Saturday and Sunday. I didn’t do much other than running errands and doing laundry.

On Sunday I took myself to lunch at my favorite little vegan spot, the Sweet Pea Cafe, where I enjoyed French toast with slices of bananas and strawberries, home fries, and grits. Normally I don’t care for grits, but these were primo.

Someone in the cafe was enjoying a mimosa, so after I finished my meal I decided to stay and sip on one while reading a book. Mmmm. So good. I took my time with the drink then drove home to Doright Manor where I promptly planted my butt on the sofa and proceeded to nap for the rest of the afternoon. I’m blaming the mimosa. I’m also thanking it.

Peace, people.