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.

She Said She Shed

I was investigating an estate sale in mid-town Tallahassee, on Friday morning, and while I didn’t purchase anything, I fell in love with this backyard potting shed. As soon as Studly Doright returned home I showed him this photo and told him I thought I needed a she shed of my own.

“But you don’t garden!” he said.

“Well, I might if I had a nifty she shed,” I replied. “Or maybe I’d use it as my writing nook. Who knows, maybe the next great American novel could be written in such a shed.”

“Oh, you’re planning on letting someone else use it then,” he said.

I’d have hit him with my gardening shears if I’d had any.

But, can we agree it’s a lovely she shed?

Peace, people!

Well, That’s Odd

Some days this semi-retirement gig is a drag. Most days I have more than enough to keep me busy, but some days, like yesterday, I find myself suffering from the worst kind of ennui. At ten a.m. I was still in my pajamas, wondering what to do with my day.

Since I know in my heart I have a really good thing going, I shoved that boredom to the side, then showered and dressed while deciding to head to a place that’s always good for a bit of fun, a place called The Other Side of Vintage in Railroad Square.

As I walked around the huge thrift shop I kept saying to myself variations of the phrase, “Well, that’s odd….” After the fifth or sixth time I realized I had a blog post in the making and began snapping pictures.

Repeat after me: “Well, that’s odd….”

As is this kimono wearing piggy faced unicorn.

And how about this Rastafarian banana sharing space with a Dia de los Muertos plaque? Olé, mon, have a nice day!

And the Elvis Bears weren’t as odd as they were cute. Obviously from Elvis’s chubby period.

These pelvic themed leggings certainly qualify as odd. I came so close to buying them.

Not odd at all, but gorgeous. I think she might be modeled on actress Gene Tierney, even though the actress was a brunette. Does anyone know?

This is definitely on the odd side. It’s some kind of short jumpsuit with a long kimono type garment attached. Can you see me wearing it to the local Publix? Très chic, baby!

The tableau below needs very little commentary, but I’ll provide some anyway. We have Erkel, keeping company with a pair of nuns, next to a display of Pinocchio and sunglasses, with a Pikachu hat-wearing mannequin dressed in an OutKast T-shirt as background. Absolutely normal, right?

Then there’s the Last Supper fan with a couple of flasks. Water into wine, anyone?

Last, but not least, I was drawn to the delicious weirdness of Jesus holding court over Camel, the Game, on the same platform as a salt lamp.

I made one purchase; although, it’s not pictured in any of the photos above.

Years ago I donated all of my Harry Potter books to a school library. Now, after finding the first book in the series, I’ve decided I’m going to track down every book, in order of publication, and add them to my book collection. That’s not too odd, is it?

Peace, people!

A Feast for the Eyes

On Saturday after I’d finished shopping at estate sales I found myself way out on the east side of Tallahassee and decided to stop for lunch at a farm to table restaurant called Backwoods Crossing.

The food at the Crossing is wonderful; although, dairy free choices are limited. Still I was able to find something on the menu to suit my needs and had an enjoyable meal, after which I wandered through the gardens.

The little guy above offered to give me a tour, but his prices were a bit steep.

Bananas!

I’d love to come out here on a fall day and dine outside.

Heed this warning or you’ll be toast, among other things.

This is such a lovely place. Almost heaven.

Peace, people.

Interesting People

A couple of nights ago Studly Doright and I enjoyed dinner in a slightly upscale (for Tallahassee) restaurant. We’d ordered our meal, and Studly excused himself to go to the men’s room. In his absence I looked around the room and listened to the buzz of conversation going on around us.

I didn’t intend to eavesdrop, I promise; nevertheless, my ears couldn’t help but pick up the tale being told at the table just on the other side of an artfully arranged barrier between our table and one a few feet away.

At that unseen, but nearby table, one man was holding court, detailing an encounter he’d had with someone of note. I never quite heard who he’d met, but the oohs and ahhs from his fellow diners indicated he/she was pretty impressive.

The longer I eavesdropped, I mean, listened, though, the more I realized that regardless of who this man had met he’d have made them seem amazing. Maybe it was his daughter’s pre-K teacher. Perhaps he was talking about the cashier at his local grocery store. It appeared to my ears that it was the storyteller who was the fascinating person.

I don’t mean that in a negative way. He wasn’t a boor. He just had a way of holding everyone’s attention and making a story about something mundane come alive. My husband has that ability. When he gets into storytelling mode, people listen.

I only wish I could pull that off. When I launch into a tale chances are 99% of those at the table tune out by the fourth sentence. And that poor sucker who represents the 1% is either too kind or maybe too inebriated to lose interest.

When Studly returned to the table I shifted my attention to him.

“So,” I asked. “How was your day?”

As he began to regale me with his tales of a fascinatingly ordinary day, I pictured someone at another table listening to him with a smile. Knowing an interesting person is infinitely better than being one.

Peace, people.

Finnegan Gets Around

Sitting outside on this beautiful May morning in Tallahassee, Florida, as I waited for my scheduled appointment with my esthetician, I realized I was at a table reserved for patrons of a local pub.

The pub, Finnegan’s Wake, won’t open for a few hours yet, so no one seemed to mind my presence. If they were serving, I’d order a Guinness and be certain to take a nap during my upcoming facial.

I’ve never been inside this bar, but it looks pleasant enough. As I sat here with my phone I wondered if Finnegan’s Wake might be a common name for such an establishment in the United States. Thanks to google, I now have a fairly good idea. While I didn’t get a chart showing the number of bars named after the James Joyce novel, I did get a good many search results:

There’s one in Springfield, Missouri

Another in Pickerington, Ohio, tucked between a Drug Mart and a pizzeria.

The one on the Upper East of NYC didn’t offer a photo of the establishment, but it earned 4 stars and is affordable.

Philly had one, but it closed.

Here’s one in Winston Salem, NC:

Rockville, MD

And many, many more.

I’ve never read Joyce’s book, but if it inspired so many drinking establishments it must be worth exploring. Right?

peace, people!