You are my Sunshine

It’s been cloudy and rainy and miserable for a few days. We aren’t used to it. Although the rain was necessary (gardens, lawns and farms were a bit desperate) it gets old after a few days. Enough already. Let’s get back to summer!!

We spend as much time outside as possible doing activities such as biking, golf, pickleball, kayaking, walking etc. That when it rains our routines are out of whack. Now that outdoor dining in restaurants is open we tried to dine “out” with friends. It was like eating on Maid of the Mist. The rain and wind made the experience like a national geographic adventure. Then the power went out. Our waitress patiently plied us with chiabatta bread and chimichuri and wine. Adapting is the new normal. Yesterday we met our friend in a similar way; breakfast huddled under a dripping umbrella while the indoor tables sat empty with chairs stacked on top upside down. That’s our world. Upside down.

There’s one thing that’s as constant as the North Star. Molly. Our almost ten year old bouvier is unfazed by life’s curve balls. She has her thing and she’s sticking to it. During this lousy streak of weather we are slow to get up (slower than usual as I’m not amor big person and why hop out of bed in a hurry to look at gray skies and rain?? Ugh) and Molly is all about a good sleep in.

Going to bed at night is her thing too. She lets us know she’s ready and then off we go. We have a large king size bed. Molly hops in first and claims the middle. At 120 lbs you are at her mercy to get your piece. At first she’s accommodating. But once the lights are out and I roll over she’s quickly in her final sleeping position which is spooning me to the edge of the bed. We stay glued for the night. In the morning she senses movement as we wake from sleep. This is her signal to migrate back to the middle and look for cuddles. Rudy moves first so he’s the morning cuddle dude. Molly isn’t particular she just wants love.

She lays patiently in bed until we rise. Rudy’s always first. And I take longer to get in motion … toilet, contacts, bra, hearing aids …. it’s a process. Rudy’s process is pants. That’s it. He therefore is the Molly pee guy. She barks (annoyingly) in excitement knowing her day is underway.

After a pee and sometimes quick walk (she will tug on the leash letting you know there’s a need) she is ready for breakfast. She waits while her and Rudy’s food is prepared. Then she eats her breakfast next to Rudy. There’s always a little extra off his plate for her. Then she’s ready for her couch. It’s the centre of our house making it the centre of her universe. She can see all or nothing from her perch.

It’s the same everyday unless there’s something special going on. Then she’s on high alert ready to take on any mission. No complaints. No hesitation. Ready or not.

There’s huge comfort for me in her steadfastness. I remind my mom on a daily basis not to sweat the small stuff. Molly is my daily reminder. Just her easy going demeanour is relaxing. It makes her approachable by strangers. She’s the conversation piece. Yesterday in our walk there was an older man walking alone. He wanted to say hi to Molly. So we stop and indulge answering questions about her breed and other things. I enjoy this interaction as it’s benign and friendly. (I sense Rudy’s impatience with this interlude and explain to him after that I hope if I’m nice and friendly to an older man that someone else is doing the same with my dad … )

Molly loves the car. She’s a great traveller. In fact, as long as we are with her she will do anything! Flying in the helicopter was proof! The best wingman.

I wouldn’t change a thing. ♥️

A Mile in her Shoes

While we were in Florida this winter a special person passed away. We weren’t able to attend any ceremonies or comfort the widow and her children in person. All we could do was sit n shock. 60 is too young to die.

Chef Mick was a big part of our life and business starting in 1998. He came to us for an instructors position and never left. Until the day he died. He was a special person with a unique skill for working with students of all ages. They loved and respected him. It’s how he met his wife. They were meant to be and created a loving home for their kids and dogs. He was a family man through and through.

We share many fond memories. There are so many stories and situations that put a giant smile on my face. But today we smiled through our tears as we met his widow in person for the first time since his death in late April. We curse covid for bringing on such cruel restrictions and wreaking far more havoc on people with rules than the actual virus. What a shame.

As we sat and talked about the ordeal around his death all I could think about was being in her shoes. Waking up alone in bed. Smelling his clothing and seeing his face in every room. It’s hard not to wallow in the shear isolation. My own fear of being alone is overwhelmed in these scenes of love lost. How do you carry on without the love of your life and soul mate by your side? I told her I was in awe of her strength and resolve. Screw resolve. Give me my husband back.

They have two kids still in highschool. Life does go on. Others live through it and come out the other side. Why did this happen?? My range of emotion and thoughts is trying to find words of comfort. There aren’t any. It’s a shitty sad mess.

Her family wanted to be by her side. But they are internationally based and didn’t get the “compassionate permit” to travel until he was gone. She suffered alone and watched him dwindle to eternal rest. A small concession was the warp speed of his demise. Three weeks after being diagnosed he slipped away surrounded by his family. It’s a tragic end to their love story.

He leaves many legacies in addition to his children. Thousands of students and their families, coworkers and friends mourn his passing. He’s left a mark on so many lives. I wish the survivors all peace as they reflect on the memories.

My heart is heavy. Seeing her today has made it real. RIP Cheffie.

EB

My sister nicknamed my mom EB. It stands for Evil Baby. It’s a fitting moniker for a feisty senior (84 years old) who loves to push buttons and lash out in frustration most days. But my visit the other day was different.

I think in a familiar crowd EB tries to find the right mix of angry and helpless that gets everyone jumping. A crowd is anything more than three people. It doesn’t take much to wind up the EB spewing machine. I say familiar crowd because the antics rarely appear around strangers. Strangers (anyone not in EBs regular world) have the opposite affect. Suddenly EB is a sweet old lady who everyone adores.

The other day it was just me. And Molly. So EB was quite ok. No major outbursts. Just the usual requests to keep my dad (her personal servant apparently) hopping. My hearing aids are beeping. I need more wine. The light in the hallway is on. Did I take my pills? Turn the TV off if you’re not watching. Switch the dishwasher on. Tune in the news. Where’s my radio? It goes on. My dad loves to play cards and that drives my mom nuts with jealousy. When I ask her what’s wrong she says “I can’t see anything”. She suffers from macular degeneration leaving her with limited peripheral vision. I ask what she would rather do than watch us play cards. The response is everything she can’t do. Ah. The pity party. We are all invited.

My dad shoots me glances that let me know he’s heard all this before. His patience (so short during his working years) is now endless. He answers all the questions EB throws out and thoughtfully explains things when she’s confused. I’m so grateful they have each other. They need each other and rely on one another. A perfect team.

Dad and I are successful moving EB from the pity party back to the card table. We do this by reminiscing. EB isn’t so great on short term memory but her ancient past is crystal clear (we have no way to fact check but her words are her reality so we go with it). During this visit EB felt the need to confess. She tells us she did a lot of bad things. What I get is how some of her history has rubbed off on me and how those same thoughts shaped her perspective.

EB had two step sisters. My grandfather had been married previously (before my grandmother) and had two daughters. When he met and married my grandmother (9 years his junior) they went on to have four more kids. My mom was the second oldest and only girl. Her older brother Hans ;the first born ) was her mother’s favourite. He could do no wrong. The step daughters (there’s some confusion around their departure) were sent to live elsewhere. They were unruly. All step kids are unruly. Lesson learned by my mom: don’t marry an older dude with kids. Big mistake. Oops.

My mom, in her mind, was often saddled with babysitting the younger brother. The fourth child came years later when my mom was sixteen. So she was wedged between the golden child and the burden child. Claus, the younger brother by six years took the brunt of my moms frustration. On weekends the three children were allowed to climb in the parents big bed. My mom peed in the bed (anxiety? Excitement? Didn’t want to take the time to pee in the bedpan for fear of missing out on something?) and in order to hide her faux pas she plopped her diapered baby brother on the wet spot. EB.

During the war (WWII) the three small children were often left behind alone while their parents foraged for food. The parents would work long hours on nearby farms in exchange for provisions. My mom recalled having to share her meagre rations with the golden boy. There was never enough to eat. Her mom (my grandmother) contracted TB. In those days you were placed in a sanitarium to recover. If you did recover. My grandfather was sent assistance of nannies by the Third Reich; the nannies came to help with childcare and housework. One of the chores was bathing the children. While filling the tub with water, you had cold water from the tap and boiling water was added, my mom held the younger brother. The toddler. As the hot water was poured into the tub, EB held her brothers seem under the boiling stream.

Meanwhile, the golden boy was a “pech Vogel”. Literally translated it’s bad luck bird. EB says he was a klutz and very accident prone. Apparently his dorkishness followed throughout his life. He was constantly hurting himself or his things. His parents bought him a scooter. Within a day it was mangled and he was injured. Later in life he splurged on a new car. Within a week it was crashed. But nonetheless, he remained golden. Was my moms take away from yore that the more needy you are the more attention you get? I recall that my mom was fiercely independent and strong always telling us we could do and be anything. Where did that person go??

I would like the opportunity to ask my uncle (the very youngest boy and sole survivor of the brothers) his take. Being so much younger he must have a unique perspective on these recollections (confessions).

After a lengthy trip down memory lane with several refills of merlot, EB needed “to move”. Moving for her is fidgeting in the kitchen or with laundry or collecting the mail from the building lobby. Or, in this case, to feed the dog. Molly knows that when EB hits the kitchen it’s a giant likelihood that there’s a snack nearby. Molly is never disappointed.

Molly embraces EB without judgement or concern. I’m going to do the same.

In the Rearview

I suppose that everyone gets to a point in life where there’s more in the past than the future. Every now and again a vivid image of something or another from years before pops into your present mind and gives you a jolt. A little trip down memory lane. Funny when you’re working and tied up endlessly with junk that’s thrust onto your plate you don’t have a lot of time to reminisce. It used to be the distracting joy of Facebook before it got political and no longer fun. I enjoyed seeing what “old” comrades were up to. Like being a bit of a voyeur. Not that I cared too much about their amazing breakfast or opinion on economics or their quest for sponsorship. Alas. I dropped Facebook like a hot potato last year. No regrets. So now my meanderings into the past happen as I daydream.

It’s the random images that sometimes make me laugh out loud. Like high school toga parties. Whose idea was that and why was it even a thing? Thank god there was no social media around then. I recall getting bed sheets from a friend because that would have freaked out my mom. You need my linens for what?? Of course none of the parties were held in dry, indoor places. They were usually outdoors and things could get messy.

I mentioned another random thought to my sister. While I was in the pool (alone) in Florida I recalled a vivid memory of our family’s above ground pool and how we (whoever was swimming that day) would run in circles around the pools edge causing the water to form a whirlpool. When the current got strong enough we could simply float and let it carry us in endless circles. Or, in the brilliance of the moment, decide to fight the current by running against it. We could amuse ourselves for hours!

Also in Florida I happened upon a vintage store that sold, among a zillion other things, vinyl records. Our next door neighbour just bought a turntable so I picked out an album for him. While doing so my mind flashed back to my own very first album purchase. Selected with pride at the local Woolworths https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crazy_Horses the Osmonds were all that. And, with just as much gusto, a follow up limeade drink at the cafeteria counter. Red vinyl stools and booths of course. With Formica table tops.

Our friends jokingly mentioned watching Lawrence Welk and as they laughed about the timelessness of the show (they actually still watch as do my folks when they can find it on tv) I recalled gathering around our one family TV set and watching the Sunday lineup. Wild Kingdom. Sonny and Cher. Walt Disney. My sister and I used to envy the hair flipping Cher was famous for. Jet black poker straight long hair. Wow. Lacking the natural hair to copy Cher we repurposed my mothers nylons or our tights by fastening them on our head do that the legs hung down like hair. We would sing and pretend we were Cher while flipping our “hair”. Our parents didn’t grasp the concept or the hilarity in it or else there would be photographic evidence of our performances.

I wish there would be no photo evidence of my early encounter with the local swans. Clearly my parents thought that my horror would be cute on film as I was surrounded and then swarmed by angry swans as I held the bread bag trying to feed them. I wasn’t fast enough apparently so the swans took the matter into their own beaks. As I sat crying on the banks of the river, being attacked by crazed swans, my parents laughed and took photos. WTF. I think I was two or less since my sister was no where in sight.

I admit that all of the really old memories are fond. Nothing troubling… and mostly quite hilarious. I find myself literally laughing out loud at the thought(s). It’s easy to forget that each day we make new memories. Time flies.

Pirates & Cigars

Where do you go when you want to mash up history, food, coffee, pirates and cigars. Look no further than historic Ybor City in Tampa. Today we took the plunge in 90+ F weather to check out the area that we have heard about for so long. We were not disappointed.

I booked a historic food walking tour. The food wasn’t historic by any means, but the area is a phenomenal lesson in local history. Our guide Ashley (herself a dedicated unapologetic foodie) https://yborcityfoodtours.com is originally from Alabama and transplanted herself in Ybor City 5 years ago without regret. Her passion was contagious and her knowledge impressive.

Our tour starts at the Centro; a large fairly new venue next to the Spanish Social Club (one of many cultural clubs in the area) where we meet in front of the statue of the areas founder http://Vicente Martinez-Ybor. Originally from Spain via Cuba this entrepreneur and visionary settled in what was excellent swamp land and built cigar factories and casitas for his workers http://tampahistorical.org/items/show/117

By offering the American dream, Ybor was able to lure settlers from Germany, Cuba, Italy and even Romanian Jews (who created the beautiful iron works including fencing and entranceway gate). The result was a melting pot of cultures. Each group erected their own social club which provided community services to their members including healthcare, English classes and dance parties (apparently these were legendary in the day and continue to present day). The cigar factories allowed the employees to hire “el lecture” https://whnt.com/community/hispanic-heritage-month/the-historic-role-of-el-lector-in-educating-cigar-factory-workers/ whose role was to stand on a raised platform and read to the employees as they worked. Educating the workers however resulted in some unrest as they realized they were being overworked and underpaid. The concept, however, was ingenious.

The bustling factories enticed an array of related businesses to the area. Cigar box makers and printers of wrappers (largely the Germans), shop keepers and food stores (where the Cuban sandwich was invented), coffee roasters and of course entertainment venues. The Latino influence in the area is the reason that chickens and roosters roam freely (and are protected by law). The Central Park area is a wonderful barnyard of clucking and crowing.

We sampled food and beverage including the famous Cuban sandwich, Latino inspired rice and beans with Pico de Gallo sauce (a nice spicy heat), NY NY pizza (where the Bucs got their post Super Bowl snacks!) and caffe con leche and chicken wings made famous by Guy Fieri in the local brew pub. Two thumbs up all around. No disappointments here.

In one establishment we were seated upstairs in a pseudo loft. What was interesting about it was the moveable bookcase leading to the “spook easy”. Literally a bar with a theme of supernatural. The decor was perfect with its plush high backed red velvet settees and wing chairs. Candelabras with dripping candles. Ouija board and other occult paraphernalia adorned the walls. Recesses filled with skulls and other eerie artifacts. I’m glad we were there during the day! Creepy stuff loses some of its creep in daylight. Nonetheless we felt our neck hairs tingle. They offer special events such as fortune telling and palm reading. Intriguing for sure.

Equally as interesting is the pirate lore. Some say it’s bunk, but the legends are fascinating anyway even if they are someone’s wild imagination. We learned about the infamous pirate Jose Gaspar (nicknamed Gasparilla). https://www.abcactionnews.com/news/local-news/the-legend-of-jose-gaspar-and-the-history-of-gasparilla. The story is captivating and makes the area even more intriguing. In his honour they host a parade and festival that’s the place to be in late January (canceled this year of course).

We wind up at the end for a coffee Latino style in a cafe/cigar making and smoking venue. A tiny place with oversized leather chairs and humongous Corona cigar ashtrays. You can watch the cigar making process as you lounge or take a peek into the humidor for a variety of options.

All in all a really interesting and enjoyable afternoon. Next time we come we will try out the street car trolley that chugs from Ybor City to River Walk in downtown Tampa. And enjoy dinner at the Columbia Restaurant https://www.columbiarestaurant.com. There’s more to see and do … we will be back!

Rudy in front of Mr Ybor statue
Centro
Visitors Centre
The Castle nightclub
Casita
Gaspars Grotto
Mural honouring the rooster 🐓
Gaspars Grotto
9-11 memorial

Mother Nature

Sometimes our world is a thing of beauty. These days it may be more difficult to stop and notice given the challenges and frustrations people are facing. I’m glad to be retired. Retirees have, generally speaking, the time and place to “stop and smell the roses”. Today was one of those days.

We had little on the agenda until later in the day. Our friends invited us for dinner and a sunset boat cruise, so we had the day to kick back. Normally we are on the go either to the gym or pickleball or golf or biking and we return home mid afternoon only to head out again in the evening. But today we did nothing for a change.

After a neighbourhood walk with Molly and a light breakfast, we took our reading material outside with our drinks (coffee) and settled into the loungers. It was hot and sunny with a gentle warm breeze. Typical of what we’ve come to expect. When you sit still for a moment you have a chance to clear your mind. Watch the clouds melt through the sky. Feel the sun on your skin like a warm blanket. Hear the birds (everything is mating!). It’s a cleansing feeling. Sigh.

I marvel at the little lizards as they scurry around the lanai (outside thankfully). There’s a bunny rabbit that’s been frequenting the side yard (don’t tell Molly!) and there’s plenty of food in the buffet. The birds are incredible; lots of different species. And everything is in full bloom. The colours of bougainvillea and azaleas and other tropical plants is vivid like 1960’s wallpaper.

At 3:30 pm we make our way after walking and feeding Molly. Our boat cruise and dinner is in Winter Haven which is a 20 to 30 minute drive. We arrive at Harbourside Restaurant where our group is waiting for us on the outdoor patio next to the canal and lake. The specialty of the place is seafood. Go figure. I have the early bird special which is grilled salmon with a baked potato and house salad. No disappointment here.

Our sunset cruise departs at 6 pm. There’s 8 of us so there’s four in front and four in the rear of the pontoon boat. The sun is still high and hot so I’m grateful for my sun hat. We set off to the canal and a tour that was very educational; our captain was well informed and shared her insights throughout the voyage. There are over 20 lakes on the “chain of lakes” system and they were connected by man made canals and locks in order to transport citrus fruit (the main industry in the area years before) to the railroad. These are fresh water lakes that vary in depth so smaller crafts with less draw are ideal. Hence the pontoon boats that are so popular. The citrus was transported on barges.

Aside from citrus the lakes are home to the former Cypress Gardens which is now Legoland (a family amusement park). But they kept some of the former assets such as the botanical gardens and the waterski show. The area around the park is a waterski haven and there are ramps and buoys to be seen. The jungle like shoreline is full of cypress and palm trees and many are loaded with Spanish Moss. Cypress trees are protected in Florida as they are slow growers and only grow well in water. One member of our group said that when buying real estate watch for homes with cypress trees as the trees will be under water in the rainy season. Yikes. Good to know!

In addition to the amazing homes and trees along the shoreline, the bird watching is intense. Our guide took us to the nesting areas and Mother Nature put on a show for us that made our night. Huge nests, many fashioned out of twigs and moss, were numerous in the trees. It’s mating season and so many of the nests had babies in them with one or both parents hovering nearby. The views were breathtaking and heartwarming. In one area there was an osprey momma sitting in her nest. The guide said by getting close with the boat we would anger the mom and she would summon the male. When the mom squawked we waited and within seconds the male swooped in and circled overhead. It was amazing to see how the male protected the nest and his partner. When we pulled away he stopped his circling and joined his mate in the nest. It was beautiful to watch.

The sunset is postcard worthy. As we cruise towards the sunset on our final leg back to the dock it occurs to me that life is good. Very good. I drift for a moment to think about how lucky we are to have such an amazing experience. To be on a cruise with the warm summer breeze caressing our faces and enjoying the best that Mother Nature has to offer.

We cap the evening off with an ice cream from Andy’s which is a local landmark. They even had maple walnut. Sweet.

Gator lounging on the dock
Thick moss
Lake house
Crane
Andy’s menu

Til death do us part

Today we lost a legend. Rudy and I might be the operations people behind Liaison College, but Chef Mick was the Chef. This morning he succumbed to https://www.webmd.com/brain/what-is-creutzfeldt-jakob-disease a super rare disease. We are in shock.

When Liaison College started in 1996, there was a need for trained chefs and cooks. The food network had become a must watch station and culinary arts was getting traction. In 1998 we were approached by a mild mannered Brit who had a superb culinary background. Including such highlights as apprenticeship under Anton Mossiman in England at the Dorchester and cooking for the Queen and the German Olympic team in 1988. Hello Chef Mick; aka Michael Elliott.

Things were never the same after Chef Mick came on board. He was a culinary champion and his students did everything to earn his respect. He was the consummate trainer who always put his students needs first. They loved him and thrived under his tutelage. He inspired budding culinarians to be their best and he won many competitions as a coach. His trademark sayings were legendary among students and alumni.

His life was devoted to culinary arts until he met the love of his life and together they achieved the excellence and success they earned and deserved. For many years they built their dreams into reality and created a successful business and also a loving family. It was an absolute pleasure to watch them grow and thrive.

Chef Mick took on every role with gusto. His gentle, easy way was magic with those he interacted with on any level. Everyone respected and admired him. I interviewed one of his graduates for a magazine article and she told me how he inscribed her text book at graduation and she has it proudly on display in her bakery. As she spoke about Chef Mick she smiled as she recounted anecdotes about her experiences with him as her instructor. I was so proud of her. And him.

One year for our Christmas party I arranged a car tour to the other campuses. To have a bit of fun I played “name that tune” with an 80’s CD I had in my car. Chef Mick, unbeknownst to me, was an 80’s aficionado and aced the quiz. We laughed about it for a long time because one of the songs was https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=0aqLwHP4y6Q

I have many fond memories of Chef Mick. Too many to recall here. Enough to make me feel the tremendous loss that today brings. Chef Mick loved culinary but he loved and cherished his family more. He will leave a void in the life of his four children and his beloved wife. I hope they, like so many others touched by him, will find some comfort in the wonderful memories left behind. I’m grateful for the time we had to enjoy Chef Mick. Thanks for the memories.

Godspeed, Chef. Heaven now has a new standard of food. Now it’s sexy.

The Venice of Florida

Today we grabbed our friends and enjoyed a lively double date in Winter Park. It’s hard to believe we’ve been here three months already! My laundry list of places I want to check out is still pretty long. One got the check mark and it was dandy.

The Scenic Tours of Winter Park are (according to our witty guide) the second oldest tourist attraction in Florida. They started in 1938 (with different boats of course) and have been a must do since then. We aren’t beach dwellers and prefer the proximity to golf courses and other activities than hanging at the beach. That’s a change for us since we are on permanent vacation rather than trying to soak up as much sun and sand as we can in a week off. So our idea of water is on one of the numerous (and I mean hundreds) of fresh water lakes.

The tour of the Winter Park canals and lakes is referred to as the Venice of Florida. And the weather was stellar at about 27C and sunny. We gather at the docks in the heart of WP (Winter Park) and join dozens of others who have chosen the same outing. Tours leave every hour and there are 4 or 5 pontoon boats which can hold about 12 passengers plus the captain. They run a well oiled machine getting people off and on the boats in record time. We shove off and the tour is underway. https://www.scenicboattours.com

The tour includes two lakes and two canals. The views of the lakefront mansions is breathtaking and a glimpse into the lifestyle of the Uber wealthy. The homes and gardens surrounding them are truly magnificent; magazine worthy. The guide gives us tidbits of trivia along the way and mentions that the home owners (many are known celebrities) are grateful for their privacy. They appreciate that the tour isn’t a Hollywood map of the stars. The most we got was “that’s an NBA player and he added a 20,000 square foot addition to accommodate an indoor basketball court”. One of the homes was under construction and will be (at 40,000+ square feet) the largest in the lake and will include a movie theatre, bowling alley and gun range. Really.

After the tour we headed into WP for a bite to eat and a cold drink. We ended up at an al fresco resto on Park Ave which is the main drag in town. https://310restaurant.com It is a fashion show in every sense: amazing cars, designer clothes on leisurely shoppers, flower pots brimming with colourful plants. A truly enchanting village setting with a picturesque train station and park area that’s manicured to the nines. Not to mention the shops: an eclectic selection of boutiques, eateries, wine and cocktail venues, a few brand name stores such as Restoration Hardware/Pottery Barn/Williams Sonoma, a cigar lounge and humidor (buy a stogie and smoke it in the lounge if you like). Basically a grand place to spend a few hours and a few bucks.

Our lunch was delightful and the best part was the view of the bustling sidewalk and road traffic. We savour the ambience and the conversation. But at the end we part ways: gentlemen exit stage left for the cigar lounge and ladies make off for the shops. My friend bought a kimono here last year and was hoping to recreate the vibe; she is not disappointed. There’s a great selection AND they are on sale. Bonus. We make our way down the street and stop in to the shops that are inviting of which there are many. Finally we return to the cigar lounge where we find the men enjoying their stogies and having met a new friend. He’s also puffing away (something he says is a daily event) and we find out some interesting things about him. He lives in one of the homes on the lake we cruised. He has annual trips to Calgary with his polo team. He thinks Cuban cigars are overrated (spoken like someone who’s country had them outlawed for years). All in all a very nice unassuming gentleman who was clearly in a financial stratosphere beyond our galaxy.

Cigars done we make our way via car to our final pit stop of the day. Lombardis Seafood. https://lombardis.com At Lombardis you can literally feel like you’re at the sea. They have every type of briny delight including our favourite (and reason for stopping in) Florida stone crabs. We try to indulge at least once while we are in Florida. We were first introduced to this delicacy by our friends who wintered here for years before us. Since then we’ve been hooked. The sweet crab meat is buried in the most hard thick shell ;aka stone??) that the fish monger busts with a hammer in store if you want. It’s typically served with a yummy mustard sauce. Delicious!!

We wrap our day revelling at the fabulous weather and the freedom to have done what we did. Florida; fuck yeah!!

Notice the black birds … they are pelicans!

One Man’s Castle

They say that everyone has their ideal castle. In the case of Howard Solomon it is clear. He built the castle of his dreams. Now it’s on show for anyone who wants to visit.

I think I would have enjoyed meeting Howard. He sounds like an interesting bird. His castle is a reflection of his dreams and that makes him all the more interesting.

Our friends are always trying to show us around Florida. We bike and walk the sights and scenes. When they invited us to see Solomon’s Castle we were on board as usual (we rarely turn them down). It sounded intriguing. We had no expectations and if you search on line there’s very little to glean.

Our private tour (we are a group of ten as our hosts are mindful of distancing) starts at 10 am. we are 90 min away so we have to be on the road at 8:30. That’s early for us … we savour our bed time. But Rudy sets the alarm (secretly I think he likes the early wake ups especially when it’s on someone else’s schedule) and we start the process. It’s a slow go for me. I’d rather stay in bed. But we muster. Ugh.

I snooze on the ride there. Our destination is Ona Florida and there’s no major highways to get there. It’s a scenic route to the middle of nowhere. We pull into the parking lot and our group is gathering. There’s our regular friends and another couple from St Pete’s. The husband is a retired oncologist; he’s had his vaccinations so I find his constant cough annoying rather than threatening. When we walk from the parking area to the ticket office it occurs to me that we are in a weird place.

There’s a castle which looks like it’s made from tinfoil and beyond it is a ship (I would describe it as a mini Noah’s ark) and other buildings behind it. Mr Solomon had a vision and we were in the midst of it. Our tour guide met us at the castle door which was flanked by knights in metal holding swords. We stepped inside the foyer as she pointed out the handmade stain glass windows all depicting nursery rhymes. I liked the cow jumping over the moon. As we stood in the main front room it occurred to me that there was zero natural light and a dank (think moist basement) odour. Our guide tells us that the place is set directly on swamp land beside a creek. When the property was purchased in the month of March many years ago, it was dry and lush. When the rainy season came the creek filled and flooded the property. The guide lamented the various hurricanes that caused water to rise and fill the castle. “See the water marks on the wall? ….”. Totally explained the smell.

Each room was filled with the whimsical creations of the artist using wood and assorted scraps of metal and other junk. As a cabinet maker by trade he used a lot of wood. His wooden paintings were very intricate and elaborate in some cases. According to our guide she was reciting the tour spiel in accordance with the artists written directives. It turns out he had a quirky sense of humour and especially liked to play on words. For example he created a cow sculpture using scrap metal; the udder was a gear wheel (round with notched outer edge and a hole in the middle). The hole was there so the cow could produce “whole” milk. Groan. There were many of these puns throughout the tour. The artist was very particular and in control of every aspect.

We wind through his house (which is now a museum curated by his children) and each room is cluttered with punny creations. The mans mind moved quickly and in staccato as evidenced by the pieces ranging from tiny statues to giant sized animals weighing in excess of 400 lbs! Quite breathtaking and disturbing at the same time. This artist held down full time work and managed commissioned art pieces and personal projects in between. Apparently he couldn’t sit still. Ever.

After the first tour segment we went to “the boat” for lunch. You could eat on the boat or in the jungle grotto outside which we chose. The menu offered a wide range of comfort food items. It was as delicious as expected and the desserts were heavenly. After lunch, propelled by our new energy, we walked to the “barn” for the second part of the tour. As we walked through the open pasture (yes, there’s animals and stuff) I realized what a sunny hot day it was. The blazing sun was baking us at 31C.

At the barn we are ushered inside (whew there’s ac) to the first chamber. It turns out that Mr Solomon was, in addition to his artistic flair, also an astute business man. He predicted the crash of 2008 and liquidated all of his stocks to purchase antique cars. He only purchased those carefully restored to their natural state. Wow. Scattered among the room are also model airplanes and other modes of transport built by the artist. In his typical punny way, he created a “bar car” – literally a car with the back seat set up to display bottles of booze. Clever.

There were about 12 cars in total and some of them had license plates. Some had crank shafts! And a couple had rumble seats (also known as the mother in law seat because of the general discomfort … your mother in law would only want to try it once!) The earliest Fords were only available in one colour: black. Then years later 4 other colours were added. It was an interesting lesson in the progression of Ford (the artists personal favourite) auto manufacturing.

At the end of the tour we part ways with our group. Some of them are heading on to the phosphate museum. Apparently it was a big industry in the day. Unfortunately (fortunately) we had to go home to our girl Molly.

Looking forward to the next adventure!

It’s the Little Things

There’s definitely a retirement brain mode. I used to laugh at my folks when they could only handle one thing a day like a doctors appointment or a car repair. But now I find myself in a similar boat; trying to schedule several non-routine events in one day spells epic fail. The retirement mindset is a gentle ripple compared to the tsunami of working life. How did we tackle such monumental hurdles every single day? When now a lunch date is all we can manage?

Of course there’s times when you have to juggle a few balls because things keep rolling along even if you are practically standing still. Even though my sister is totally handling my parents needs (while she holds down a very busy full time job!) there are a few things that I can help with from afar. Funny how one little thing turns into a part time job that sucks. Here’s the scenario:

My dad has been unable to enjoy reading for some time due to cataracts. He had one eye done a couple of years ago by a crochety doctor who treats patients with disdain (that nasty bedside manner filters down to his staff who are also rude and abrupt). Then comes covid and any hope of the second eye being done vanish in a puff of plandemic smoke. My dad complains (quietly but consistently) about getting dizzy because his vision is lopsided. I take him to the regular eye doctor and we inquire about options. It seems that the CCP flu only affects public hospitals and that private (fee payer) clinics are moving right along as usual. So I get a list of names and my sister follows up. Dad gets an appointment to see a doctor a few weeks later and surgery is scheduled shortly thereafter. A big difference from the 18 month wait and endless recalls with the public system that’s “free” and which my dad still has “floaters” from the first procedure. Anyway, that’s another story.

So dad gets the surgery and all systems are go. He can now read again! This new found super power means he needs reading material; a good time to get the local paper delivery again. My sister asks me to make the arrangements. No problem ; it’s the least I can do. I fire up my laptop (which has developed cobwebs) and search for Stratford Beacon Herald subscriptions on Duck Duck Go (I’ve also ditched Google along with Facebook, but that’s another story). There’s a super easy user friendly portal to “subscribe now!” I complete the online forms and submit using my Amex card to pay for 6 months. I get the email confirmation and let my folks and sister know. My “one thing if the day” was pretty simple. Mission accomplished.

After getting the newspaper for a couple of days, instead of the paper my parents get an invoice. For seniors who don’t control their money much anymore, getting a notice to pay is like a punch in the gut. On top of the invoice they also got phone calls. Another slap. They report to my sister and my sister let’s me know. What’s going on? I go back on line only to discover that the ease to sign up and pay is not mirrored if you have a problem. Now the process is tricky and complicated. I finally find a contact us mechanism and I type out my concerns. I call the number listed and leave my number. Then I wait.

I get a call from an Ottawa area code a day or two later (funny how these calls never come at your convenience but at theirs) Finally, someone to get somewhere. I explain the situation. Oh, she says, I see it here … we don’t accept Amex as a method of payment. Now my usual auto response kicks in: anger. This unsuspecting phone agent is going to get a blast. First of all, how is it remotely possible that I got an email confirmation telling me all was good (and papers started to arrive as proof) and that rather than respond via email they choose to harass by invoice and then phone? I demand that my parents be taken off the call list immediately and that my information be inserted as the billing contact. I use another credit card to pay (again) and I am assured that the matter is settled and taken care of. I spent 30 minutes on the phone to get this done; between ranting and “can I put you on a quick hold” and the automated credit card system not working …. ugh.

I report to my sister who empathizes but doesn’t have time to listen to my one thing of the day complaints. The paper should start to flow again. But it does not. I’m back to square one.

This time I check my credit card statement on line to see if the payment was processed. It was. I go through the labyrinth of contact us with no luck. I call the Ottawa area code number again. It rings. I have a person after waiting in the queue. Sorry she tells me, we don’t handle the Stratford paper distribution here, you have to call Stratford. So I do. There’s a company directory option but I don’t know who to call. The option for distribution is a robot message with no further actions possible. So I called the number most likely to answer the phone: sales. Bingo. I get a young lady on the phone who provides me with a name and number for distribution. Sorry she can’t transfer me as they are working from home. Fine. I call the new contact. Voice mail. A while later (again not at my convenience) I hear from Barb in distribution.

She can’t find our records. What’s the address again? What’s the name? Who’s name is on the account? What phone number is associated with the account? Are you sure you have a subscription? At this point I’m losing my marbles. Has retirement brain caused me to hallucinate and make the whole Ottawa call up?? Just as I’m about to explode she says: oh, here you are. They put you in as an apt number and all the others in the building are units. That’s the issue. WTF???

Great! I say. Can we fix the problem? Yes. She assures me that she will contact the carrier (she’s a new girl… just young.. but very reliable as her mother drives her everyday … Really?? I don’t care!!). Whew. Another 40 minutes but hopefully this is the cure.

The paper is put at the door of each unit/apt in the building who subscribe. I’ve seen it many times when visiting. Mom just opens the door and the papers there. However I’ve also seen it in the front lobby on the coffee table; a nice pile of papers like you might find in a hotel for guests. I think nothing of it until my sister lets me know (again) that the paper was absent.

I immediately call Barb. Voicemail. While I’m waiting in the lobby of the osteopathic clinic my phone rings. It’s Barb. Very inconvenient to say the least. She now explains to me that the carrier (sweet young girl with the helicopter mom) is not allowed in the building (building rules) so she leaves the bundle with unit/apt clearly marked on the front of each in the foyer. Someone from the building (there are several possible busy bodies that could be the suspect) takes the papers and either delivers them to the front door of the unit/apt or leaves them in a pile on the lobby coffee table. Oh. Good to know.

I let my parents know. If the paper is not at your doorstep then you have to go to the lobby. My mother then confesses to taking someone’s from their door since she’s entitled. Oops. Basically, from where I am, there is no way for me to manage this except to hold my breath and ask everyday during my daily call. Of course there’s no way to confirm their answers.

All this for a mediocre flimsy newspaper. No. Scratch that. All this because my dad can read. Worth all the agony. It’s the little things.

Note: I can’t wait to get back to Stratford when the travelling incarceration debacle ends and personally visit the Beacon office (if it’s open) and declare my displeasure. Hopefully without a mask on so they can see my facial expressions. but. Alas. I think I’m hallucinating again …. thank god for cheap wine.