Crafty Christmas…….

Cute Christmas Craft

Cute Christmas Craft

My crafting ability is pretty much confined to words, but I always find it fascinating how people can come up with craft ideas from ordinary things. I appreciate art in most mediums that I can think of, yet the variety of crafts is amazing. Sure, I did the make stuff out of popsicle sticks when I was a kid (under careful instruction) and I guess everyone made animals with Styrofoam cups, but actually coming up with an idea of something is not my strength (nor is usually executing the craft, but that’s another issue).

When a friend of ours gave us this cute Candy Sleigh, it was easy to see how it was done and in looking at it, you think – well, sure, that makes sense. If, however, someone had given me four bags of candy and told me to create a sleigh from what I had, I doubt I would have figured it out. Part of that, of course, is because I am not a visual person. The individual who did these acknowledged that glue is an important component. In actuality, we have a hot glue gun that hubby wisely does not allow me to touch.

Anyway, back to this cute thing that uses a Kit Kat bar as the base of the sleigh, classic curved peppermint sticks as the runners, and stacked chocolate miniatures to complete the look. We’ll disassemble it at some point and devour the candy, but we do want to keep it intact for at least a little while.

Two Thoughts About Presents…..

Yesterday managed to totally get away from me, but that can happen this time of year. I thought I wouldn’t need a trip to the grocery store today and in doing a quick inventory, I realize that a few items are missing. Ah well, that’s to be expected. Anyway, during the round of parties, giving and getting presents is often a topic of discussion and before I get to the system that my husband and I use, some (or all of you) may have seen a post going around on Facebook about modifying gifts from Santa. It’s an intriguing thought and I will pass it along for consideration. The idea is to be fairly modest in what Santa brings and then give the larger gifts as from you. The idea is that as children talk among themselves (as will happen), those children who get very little from Santa must wonder why they get maybe a small toy and another child gets the latest expensive thing on the market, especially if both children had the same item on their wish list to Santa. I realize this is contrary to what we often do as parents, yet if we want the magic of Santa to exist in children for at least a while, then it might be an approach to think about.

Okay, on to a system that hubby and I settled on several years ago as he always struggled with what to give me. I would provide him some options, and even at that, he would wonder which of the things did I want the most? Were they all equal or was I hoping that he would accurately guess my true preference? It was never an issue for me – I would watch him perk up at some tool advertisement on TV and that would take care of that. One year, probably by happenstance, I was in a jewelry store and there was a lovely gold manta ray pendant that I wanted and how long it would be in stock was questionable. I bought it and in coming home, told hubby he was cleared for Christmas present, that I was all taken care of and he could see it Christmas morning. He was so relieved that we officially adopted the system. Here’s how it works. We set a price range and we each buy something that we genuinely want in that price range at whatever time of year we want to. The other person doesn’t know what has been bought and the gift can’t be revealed prior to Christmas morning. In other words, he gets surprised by what I bought for me and vice-versa. Stocking stuffers are a different matter – those we do buy as surprises for each other. I mean, it’s hard to go wrong with small things. Anyway, Merry Christmas or Happy whatever holiday you choose to celebrate.

 

Forgot About That With The Remodel……..

The Smaller Christmas Tree

The Smaller Christmas Tree

Part of the remodel of the kitchen was to move the table, two sideboards, and corner cabinet into what was always designed to be the dining nook of the front room. Doing that, however, meant moving the love seat to under the front window and that arrangement is fine and has worked well. What I didn’t think about though was that would encroach upon the spot where we usually put the Christmas tree. Plus, I’ve got plants on the window ledge where I used to put some holiday figurines. Finding a place to temporarily move the plants is really more trouble than I want to go to, so our household decorations this year are fewer than before.

When hubby went to get the tree he took the smaller space into account and picked out a tree that fits well, but it is obviously smaller than in the past and I’m not one to bunch ornaments together too tightly. We’ve always had a lot of ocean-themed ornaments to include whimsical ones such as a scuba-diving Santa. I decided to focus on those and then fill in the remaining spots with others, making sure of course that we have a Nutcracker ornament in honor of all the Nutcrackers that our son has danced in (and will continue to for another few years). We managed to add to our wreath collection though and the ones we picked up are fairly large and quite festive. It all come together for a cheery look even if the tree isn’t as big as it was before. Oh, we don’t have odd blue lights on the tree – there was an extra reflection when I snapped the photo.

Those Old Detective Shows…..

We have a recumbent bike that we bought after I had a meniscus tear in my left knee. The doc said that if we would swap off using it for part of our workouts as opposed to always walking (me) or jogging (hubby), it would probably give us an extra 3 to 5 years “wear” on our knees. Since we remodeled the kitchen instead of having the dream house, we don’t have a dedicated exercise room and the bike fits into a corner of the guest room. (Yay for Febreeze!). We also do not have U-verse in that room, but do have an old television and DVD player. Unlike hubby who usually enjoys reading and listening to his I-pod while on the bike, I watch DVDs. I’m building a collection of some of the old TV detective shows and in a few cases, I’ve gone way back to some that I was either barely familiar with or didn’t know at all. I mean, we’re talking the original “Dragnet” before Harry Morgan joined the cast. Anyway, the other day, I popped in one with some “Peter Gunn” episodes (kind of knew that one), “Burke’s Law” (knew that one) and “Jim Diamond”. I didn’t know that one, but it has a narrator, a technique that we both like. The voice I knew instantly and it took a very close look to recognize a young David Janssen. It turns out that the original “Jim Diamond” was a radio show in the early 1950s and they brought it to television in 1956 where it ran for four seasons.

The extra interesting part of this is that one of hubby’s favorite TV detective shows from the 1970s was “Harry O”, the series starring David Janssen that was on after the “Fugitive” series finished. One of the first DVD sets I bought was the old “Harry O”, and unfortunately the  conversion technique wasn’t very good at that time (or with that particular series) and thus the viewing quality is rather lacking. It’s fun though looking back at the period pieces and seeing how so many things have changed.

An Interesting Encounter…..

Cabernet Sauvignon from Yarra Valley, Australia

Cabernet Sauvignon from Yarra Valley, Australia

This is one of those intriguing things that can happen when you travel and I may in fact, have previously posted about it. If so, bear with me, and if not, then you should get a chuckle from it. I definitely posted about our day of the Yarra Valley wine tour when we were in Australia. On that tour we visited five wineries and the very leisurely luncheon stop was at the Domaine Chandon. We (okay, I) noticed a couple at another table because the woman was wearing a beautiful top that caught my eye. We were finishing up at the next winery we visited after that and sure enough the same couple came in. We said hello, exchanged the kind of, “are you having a good time?”, sort of pleasantries that you do and discovered they were celebrating their 20th anniversary and we of course were celebrating our 25th although it was a month after. Unfamiliar with the actual sequence of wineries, we then proceeded to the last one for the day. Yes, you guessed it, the couple came in not long after we did. They were self-touring, but one of the staff at another winery had told them this was a “must do”.

Naturally, we began to chat more under the circumstances and of all the people that we could have met, they were both scuba divers and lived not too far from Cairns where we had the first leg of our journey. Not only were they divers, he was a doctor and therefore dealt with a lot of divers needing medical clearance or that had suffered accidents while diving. Then, as we talked more, we finally got around to introducing ourselves to Stephen and Beth. That was almost too much coincidence – Beth is my middle name and what I was called until I came into the Army and Charlotte got shortened to Charlie. I decided at that point that we would take one of the bottles we were bringing home and save it for one year from the day. I wrote a note on the label to remind us and that day was December 13th. We had lovely grilled lamb chops and the bottle of 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Dominique Porter, Yarra Valley. It was an excellent bottle, although I’m not sure they distribute in the USA. We trust that the couple had a nice meal that evening, too, wherever they happened to be.

Another New Hotel…….

Studio Suite at Home2Suites

Studio Suite at Home2Suites

As I have previously discussed, Homestead and Florida City are a good alternative for people who are visiting Key Largo. It’s true that you won’t get a water view, yet at times, rooms are simply not available in Key Largo and it’s an easy 30 minute drive (usually closer to 24 minutes). We attended an open house at the latest hotel to open in Florida City; one of the extended stay options from Hilton, a Home2Suites property.  They have a choice of one bedroom or studio configuration and I have to say that the one bedroom is much nicer than the first apartment I lived in. The studio is well laid out too, and has plenty of space for what someone like me needs. The fitness center is a decent size and the lobby area is pleasant. There is  a pool of course, and also grills outside. Wi-Fi is complimentary which takes care of that pet peeve of mine. Every time I stay in a place that charges for wi-fi, I criticize that on a survey and normally mark it off my list for future stays.

Even though Home2Suites has a nicely-appointed kitchen area in each suite, they apparently also offer a complimentary breakfast. They’re next door to the Cracker Barrel which also puts them close to Farmer’s and the Capri is in the other direction, as are the restaurants and fast food places clustered on that section of Highway 1 so people who don’t want to cook have plenty of nearby choices.They do have meeting space and other amenities for the business traveler as well.

The staff was all smiles and seemed to be having a good time with the crowd. We hope they’ll become another strong member of our community. They certainly appear to be off to a good start.

Kitchen Area 1 BR Suite Home2Suites

Kitchen Area 1 BR Suite Home2Suites

 

When Birding Is Like Scuba Diving…..

Spoonbill (183x276)No, I’m not talking about the birds that dive into the water for food. Nor am I at the stage where I can say that I am a birder other than in the sense of I enjoy them and always keep an eye open to see what I can. Yesterday was a rare treat for me. We were on the way back from Key Largo and in looking out over a wide expanse of marsh grass (or whatever it actually is) I saw a flash of pink and realized that I was seeing a roseate spoonbill in flight. How I longed at that moment for a camera and some kind of stop action! I was able to at least relish it briefly and that brings me to the comparison of diving.

One of the fascinations with diving is that you don’t know what you might see while underwater. Oh sure, there are the “usual suspects”, yet every time you submerge, there is a chance that something extra special will swim by, perhaps languidly if you’re lucky or in such a flash that you hope you either captured it on camera or someone else saw it too. Here, those types of sightings are larger sharks, manta rays, dolphins underwater, very rarely a whale shark. Other creatures such as sea horses or certain types of fish can also be a “treat” that are never guaranteed. The way to compare is that diving in the Keys, you will see snappers, grunts, squirrels just as with birds you will see egrets of all sorts, doves, mockingbirds – all enjoyable yet routine. The other common thread of course is the region-specific species that you travel to go see. After all, you aren’t going to get a California Condor stopping into South Florida nor will you see a leafy sea dragon. Destination diving, like destination birding is about going to a place that is the native habitat of a specific species and then hoping that you actually get to see it/them. One of the reasons that we chose this part of Florida is because we are fortunate to have a wide variety of marine life and bird life to keep things interesting.

Scrawled Cowfish have pretty colors

Scrawled Cowfish have pretty colors

Percentages Can Be Funny Things…..

No, this isn’t exactly about math. As I have mentioned in previous posts, math and I did not have a good relationship, and while in retrospect and with new understanding of the mechanics of learning I know that aspect of my schooling could have been reversed, there is also a great deal of water under that bridge, the horses are long gone from the barn, etc., In what may sound odd, this post is actually about what charities you decide to give to. I have previously addressed this issue coming from a slightly different angle.

The percentage of revenue a charity spends on their direct programs is the key component for me. There have to be administrative costs and there have to be fund raising costs since getting volunteers to raise funds is very difficult and I don’t like to do that myself. However, as always happens in capitalism (and anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I support capitalism), fundraising has become its own business and it is big business. The calls that you get from professional fundraisers are no different from any other telemarketer except these are for charities rather than to sell you a timeshare (or whatever). And since most of those companies operate on a percentage of what they bring in, you can understand that their reluctance to take no from you and their refusal to remove you from a calling or mailing list is not only because they are asking for donations for a worthy cause. So if you have a certain amount that you set aside to give to charities and you have reached that threshold, don’t feel guilty with the heartrending script that is being read to you. The individual making the call probably does agree it’s a worthy cause, but remember that like any sales’ commission, the more you give to the charity, the more the fundraising company earns, too. Their “job” is to get as large a donation from you as they can and it can be especially tempting during the holidays to give extra and there is always that end-of-year push. Give what you can and understand the attempted “guilt trip” for what it is.

Launching a New Quarter…..

Cover of the Program for the Launch of the Everglades Quarter

Cover of the Program for the Launch of the Everglades Quarter

Hubby and I had an interesting experience yesterday when we and a very large group of people attended the official launch for the new quarter from the U.S. Mint that features the Everglades National Park. Now that all the states have their quarters, there is a category for America the Beautiful and there will be 56 – one for each state, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Territories. (That’s American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S Virgin Islands for those who may not be familiar with the territories). The governors are the ones who determine which iconic site will be featured on the quarter and Governor Scott selected the Everglades. We, of course, all agree with that as more than 1,000,000 visitors come from around the country and the world every year to see our River of Grass.

It was a very well-run ceremony and the City should be fully credited with the way they managed the nearly 1,000 people who attended and that included participation by ten different schools. The schools had participated in each entering a “quilt” with squares drawn/painted by students in a competition to see which best depicted the Everglades. The South Dade High School Band played rousing music as their cheerleaders performed some routines. The 482d Fighter Wing Color Guard presented the colors and the various speeches were brief. In a wonderful gesture, each student present was given one of the new quarters and that was done in a manner that any event planner would have approved of. Oh, the date for the ceremony was almost the anniversary of when the Everglades was designated as a National Park – that was December 6, 1947.

Community Bank was on hand with rolls of the new quarters; one roll at a minimum to buy and a maximum of ten rolls. They, too, were set up very efficiently despite Mother Nature sending one of those hard, fairly short showers. Oh well, I’ve been wetter for less worthy causes.

 

Focus On One Thing…..

This is a post for all my readers who love photography. Among the reasons for us to change our plans and remain in South Florida for the foreseeable future is that hubby is getting more into photography, to include above the surface. (Anyone who knows me is aware that the photos I take with my Iphone is it for me.) Hubby though has been greatly inspired and two gentlemen here have recently established the South Florida National Parks Camera Club as a part of the Homestead Center for the Arts (http://homesteadcenterforthearts.com). By partnering with our two local National Parks, and Big Cypress not far away, members of the club have access to parts of the parks that are not normally open to the public. This benefit doesn’t seem to help keep mosquitos away, but it is South Florida.

Anyway, yesterday hubby attended an all day seminar by some well-known photographer that I’m not familiar with. In telling me about his day and how much fun he had, he mentioned that the guy talked about choosing to focus on one thing and becoming as proficient with that as you could with whatever equipment you could afford. His point was that most people shoot a variety of subjects and yet, if you selected one particular subject and really spent time with it, you would develop (no pun intended) as a photographer. In his case, it happened to be sports, but someone else might choose birds or flowers or sunsets. It wasn’t that you stopped taking other photos, rather that you spent extra time with whatever your “specialty” was. Hubby hasn’t decided what his will be, although race cars are pretty high on the list. How about it photographers? Have you done this already?