Not What I Was Expecting…..

Hubby and I will be celebrating our 30th anniversary in Nov. For those who have followed the blog for a while, we did the great big celebration of the 25th with the Australia trip. We didn’t intend to do anything nearly like that this time, but I was surprised when I talked to Hubby.

Let me give a little background first. We were married at Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland (that’s a sub-post of Aberdeen Proving Grounds). We split our honeymoon with four days in Nagshead, NC on the beautiful Outer Banks, then two days in Charlottesville, VA. Although I normally travel to Louisiana for my father’s birthday the first week of Oct, I’m actually going to see him next month instead. Son Dustin’s birthday is Oct 25th and the studio where he is Ballet Master always has their Fall show with the older students right around his birthday. We decided to do that this year and since the latter part of Oct is close to Nov 13th, I thought we would go ahead and celebrate our anniversary by taking a few days somewhere near D.C. I was expecting Hubby to say, “Let’s go back to Charlottesville”, or maybe even down to the Outer Banks or perhaps over to Maryland’s Eastern Shore or up in the Poconos. Nope – New York City. Say what? We have occasionally mentioned that as one of those places one should probably visit. I have basically seen NYC many times from the air, but spent only three nights there over the decades when flights were delayed and was always at an airport hotel. I was usually in a state of exhaustion/frustration with no thought of going “into the city”. Hubby has been twice for brief business trips. Now, I’m not going to say the fact he is very much into photography and one of the “Meccas” of photographers is in NY was the only reason he latched onto the idea. After all, we do enjoy food and that time of year the weather should still be pleasant.

We’ll only be there a few days and don’t plan to wear ourselves out. I think we’ll probably take the train up from DC rather than fly. I will also take comfortable walking shoes.

The Year in France, Part II…..

Okay, this continues the explanation of my year – well, really ten months – at the university in Angers, France. After a somewhat circuitous routing flying Icelandic Air, our group arrived and we spent the first afternoon in Paris. A couple of staff members from the university met us with a bus. Despite the jet lag, we did get a quick tour of some of the highlights and one would think I could recall my very first meal, but I don’t. As I mentioned, I was the youngest of our group and when we later met the students from Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, that also held true. Everyone was basically indulgent with me, although in addition to being the youngest, I was also the one with the least French background. Most had of course taken multiple French classes, although my month in Canada had helped. In fact, my first day of class with our professor, she asked why I spoke French with a Canadian accent. Naturally, I wasn’t aware I was speaking with an accent.

Anyway, the program was set up as semi-immersion in the sense our professors did not speak English to us. You could choose to take this even further by living with a French family rather than in the dorm, but I wasn’t ready to go that far. My lack of French background did place me in the lower level class so only one other student in our Louisiana group was with me. As I mentioned in the last post, this part of the university was designed specifically for foreigners to learn French. We had students from Denmark, Lebanon, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, and probably another country or two. All the classes were the equivalent of college freshman level. We had a number of field trips as well as classes and we were able to travel on weekends and holidays. It was about a three hour train trip to Paris and so it was not uncommon to do so. I tended to not go off as much as some of the others, but after a while, one of the French girls invited me to dinner with her family and I went there maybe once a month. She was the only one who spoke English so it was good practice.

English was not widely spoken in town and so transactions in stores, at the post office, etc. did sometimes result in either misunderstandings or protracted time to accomplish something.

As for food, what a difference it was. Aside from the fact I never thought about eating horse, (and didn’t have that very often), it was doing things like learning to eat fruit with a knife and fork. Peaches are not all that difficult – an apple is a different matter. At the time, I wasn’t a coffee drinker and that’s one of my regrets. I had a lot of hot chocolate and hot tea.The experience quite simply changed my life and when I returned home, there was a bit of, “How do you get them back on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?” (Old WWI song for those who may not know of it). Also, as it turned out, my high school diploma and college credits were unexpectedly impacted. That will be the third part to this tale.


The Year in France, Part I….

If you are brand new to the blog, do read the July 18th post before reading this one. Okay, here’s what “got started” with the Canada trip. My uncle, the oldest of three children of my maternal grandparents, was a state legislator for a while. It was during the time when the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana was established and in addition to the summer program in Canada, there were either seven or nine scholarships made available for the coming school year to go to France. Angers is in the province of Anjou in the Loire Valley where many castles were built. The royals and other aristocracy would go to the castles in the summer to escape the heat of Paris and associated illnesses. Rather like our Midwest, there is less of an accent to the French spoken there than anywhere in the country. One part of the University was designed for foreign students and that was where Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s had their respective exchange programs. Anyway, all the scholarship seats had been given to legislators from South Louisiana parishes for them to award. One of them came to my uncle and explained he couldn’t award his scholarship without risking offending someone and he offered the allocation to my uncle. My uncle asked if it would be okay for him to offer it to me and after all, a little nepotism was commonplace in Louisiana.

The kicker to all this was I would literally have less than a month from the time I returned from Canada, I would have just barely turned seventeen and I would be the only high school student because the others were all at least 2 years older and already in college. Now, it so happened, I had all but one American History credit I needed to graduate from high school and my senior year would be almost all college prep elective classes. I’m not really sure who talked to whom since a number of conversations took place without my knowledge. The high school worked out a deal where if I would take the American History course by correspondence while I was in France, I could be credited and given a diploma.

Needless to say, I was stunned when the plan was presented to me and it was a whirlwind for prep and departure. If I thought Canada was an adventure (and it surely was), it was nothing compared to what I was about to enter into. That will be the next post.

How It All Started…..

A discussion the other day brought back memories of what was in all probability one of those sequence of events that truly changed my life. Quite some time back, the state of Louisiana created the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana. They had a couple of programs; one of which was a summer school in Quebec at the Centre Linquistique quite far north in Jonquiere. I had taken French my junior year of high school, but the price for the summer school was outside of our budget. My grandparents on my mother’s side had an arrangement about taking some of the grandchildren each summer on a special vacation. We were sort of grouped by ages and the same year this program was started was when my “group” would have gone with my grandparents, although I don’t recall now where it was supposed to be. Anyway, they gave me a choice of going with them or they would send me to the summer French program.

I will put this into perspective. I would be seventeen later that summer and while we had traveled some, certainly never to that distance, nor on an airplane. The program was set up for a month, I think, with classes every day, and trips around the area. The program culminated with trips to Montreal and Quebec City. Needless to say, this was an incredible adventure. The other thing to understand is Louisiana truly in divided culturally into North and South Louisiana. For those who like extra detail, Lecompte is the “dividing line”. North is predominantly Baptist followed by other Protestants with a smaller percent Catholic. It is piney woods and a fair number of hills, with relatively few bayous and swamps. South Louisiana is mostly Catholic and “Cajun”, less elevation, with far more bayous, swamps, etc. and what most people outside of Louisiana envision. The point here is the “preservation” of French had a stronger appeal in South Louisiana, so most of the students in that initial program were from the other parts of the state. I had quite an adjustment to make in the whole process.

In fact, it was attending that program that subsequently led to me going to France during my senior year of high school. I’ll explain that in my next post.

Sort of Reverse Tourist Season….

When people visit South Florida for the first time in the winter to escape snow and ice, it really is a wonderful change to see palm trees, profusion of exotic blossoms, and so forth. That is also our “dry season” although we can get torrential downpours that usually dissipate quickly. It is therefore understandable if one has not experienced South Florida in the summer, the fact is it may well be 83 degrees at 6:00 a.m. and will get hotter along with high humidity. This tends to come as an unpleasant surprise. Combine that with it being the “rainy season” – which generally means one or more thunderstorms or “scattered showers” per day that once again, don’t necessarily last long, but do leave everything wet. Plus, those wintry climates that have beautiful summers draw visitors to their attractions.

So, for a number of outdoor tourist-dependent businesses, they have to “manage” the months of June-August just as our northern friends have their tourist slumps in winter months. On the other hand, it is the best time for diving around Key Largo and thus, Hubby and all the dive shops are often scrambling to meet the demand. It’s not unusual for the instructors and dive masters to work 8 or more days in a row with no break. This is also why the dive shops try to line up new hires in mid-to-late spring since you want someone to be familiar with your operation before the heavy season starts. This though doesn’t offset the drop in tourism for hotels and restaurants, but it does mean you probably won’t have to wait for tables and the room rates will be a little better.

Places like Disney, Universal, etc., don’t see a big drop because so many families are still tied to summer vacation time. They simply deal with the heat in the best way possible and yes, the amazing water parks do a booming business. That also results in the mid-Sept to mid-Oct “tourist surge” specifically from people who hold off to avoid the summer family throngs. In a state where tourism is a major economic pillar, you learn all sorts of interesting tidbits.

Another Memory Popping Up…..

Anyone looking at my overweight self would understandably be at least a bit surprised at the idea of me having done a half-marathon once upon a time. While I do have a regular work-out routine – just not hard enough to offset my  calorie intake – I have not in fact jogged hardly a single step since that half-marathon. The relationship was this.

Running is a requirement in the Army and the simple fact is, I’m not built well for running, even in my slimmer days. I have always been “curvy” and with being just under five feet tall, my short legs mean I have to take one-and-a-half steps to what a normal person does when running. Like many military members, I developed knee issues which of course one just deals with. Fortunately I wasn’t prone to shin splits, but I did also develop heel spurs which eventually cleared up. Anyway, as I was approaching retirement, one of my intentions was to swap from running to walking or other forms of exercise. However, I had somehow allowed myself to be talked into participating in the annual Kole-Kole Pass half-marathon. For those who remember WW II history, as the bombing attack at Pearl Harbor was underway, so was an attack on aircraft on the other parts of the island. Kole-Kole Pass is part of Schofield Barracks and the Japanese planes came through there. So, not only is it the 13 miles of a half-marathon, it is up and down the mountain. I was quite clear to the group that lured me into this – including my husband – I would jog, but walk up the mountain and they were going to have to hang around the finish line until I managed to make my way. As often is the case, there were festivities at the finish line and my companions said, “No problem.”

At least it was a beautiful day as we set off and I was very quickly passed by lots of people. I admit I wasn’t the last person to cross the line and sure enough, my little group was waving and cheering me on when I did finally arrive. The true muscle aches didn’t fully set in until the next day and I hobbled around for another few days.It was quite the experience and I admire anyone who chooses to do the long races.

Lost A Couple of Days…..

It’s been another of those weeks where my time at the computer was “parsed” between being at meetings/events and handling other obligations.

We did spend Sunday though at the annual Rum Renaissance Festival put on by the Burrs, who moved the festival this year up to Fort Lauderdale to the Broward Convention Center. It’s a nice location being only a couple of miles from the airport and having three hotels within a 10-minute walk. The Hilton is at the marina which gives an extra treat if you enjoy seeing boats coming and going.

Since it was the first year in the new location, there will no doubt be some changes based on experience and feedback. There are only one or two suggestions we will make. Anyway, the festival had 70 vendors, some interesting seminars, music to relax to, and plenty of fun people to talk to. Hubby is more the run drinker than I am, but the way we actually became involved is because when I spun the character of Chris Green off to create the series featuring her – Deadly Doubloons, False Front, and Georgina’s Grief – I decided to make her a lover of sipping rums. In searching around to include different rums in the stories, I found and didn’t realize at the time a friendship would develop from that initial inquiry. It can indeed be a small world.


Ah, A Tale of a Tail….

There are certain puns one cannot resist and this is such an occasion. I’ve posted before about geckos and so forth as part of living in South Florida. We have a wide variety of them and do enjoy watching them outdoors. When we get one in the house we always try to gently return them to outside even though that doesn’t always meet with success.

I couldn’t get closer for a shot of this one, but part of his tail is missing. In actuality, I saw him several days ago and much more of the tail was gone. This is their defense mechanism to allow escape from predators and the tail will eventually grown back. This particular gecko hangs around in the flowering shrubs by the front door and so has a fair amount of foliage to hide in which I imagine is what happened when perhaps a bird went after him. I’ll keep an eye on him (well, okay, I guess it could be a her) and see if he is still around as the tail regrows.

By the way, if you haven’t been into the short story archives on my website, there is one entitled, “A Gecko in the Umbrella”, you can enjoy:

Soggy Weekend….

I always have great sympathy when people have worked hard to plan an event, especially an outdoor one, and Mother Nature intervenes. The official hurricane season is not supposed to begin until the first week of June and we all know that it isn’t really until later we have to start paying attention. Except this is one of those unusual years when the first named storm, Tropical Storm Alberto, apparently doesn’t follow the calendar properly. It began as a possible “depression” and gained in its movement toward us. Not surprisingly, with the memories, and quite frankly damage, from last year’s storms still fresh, many people are a bit concerned as to if it is a portent. Allegedly not even though it isn’t following the standard pattern. Some of the planned events have been rescheduled and some of the smaller ones will probably be cancelled with sighs and shakes of heads.

One of the drawbacks to South Florida and the Keys is indeed the outdoor nature of our attractions. Once a small craft advisory goes into effect, diving, fishing, scenic cruises are pretty much shut down as is strolling through the national parks and frequenting outside dining. Since some restaurants have limited indoor seating, that can have a definite impact. This can be the time to catch up on movie-going, wandering through the malls, and discovering the different museums.

I will be getting caught up with a number of tasks today and tomorrow is probably okay since the event I am scheduled to attend is in fact at the Seminole Theatre. I’m not certain how fast the storm will be moving and it could be out of this area before tomorrow afternoon. Ah well, at least we won’t have to put water in the pool for a few days.


Underwater Favorites……

Juvenile Spotted Drum

I think divers are much like birders when it comes to certain aspects. There are the regular species you encounter depending on your region. You enjoy them and for some people even the “ordinary” bring a pleasure others don’t necessarily understand. Or perhaps it’s a combination of a setting such as forest, park, meadow, a back yard with bushes or feeders. Underwater is similar in that you can have reefs of different variety such as “patch”, “walls,” “finger”, artificial like shipwrecks which may be like the title of my non-fiction book, Islands in the Sand. The geographic location of those types of reefs dictates what species of marine creatures you will find just as the geographic location of bird habitat dictates what species of birds are seen. Yes, you do have migrations, more so among the bird population I think. There are absolutely known marine migrations which is why you get great white sharks cruising through Florida at times.

Anyway, one of the reasons our Key Largo reefs have an abundance of marine life is they have had increased protection for a couple of decades now. We don’t have the spectacular corals found deeper in the Caribbean, but we also aren’t over-fished. Among my favorites are angels, tiny blue chromis, yellow-headed jawfish, puffers, spade fish, spotted drums, trunks, midnight parrots, and file fish. Those fall into the category of regularly seen, but not quite as ordinary as squirrel fish and yellowtail snappers. On the non-fish side, I always look for sea cucumbers, anemones, tiny shrimp,  and do enjoy seeing lobsters. Everyone always wants to see eels, turtles, rays, sharks, Goliath Groupers – the “big stuff” for our region. While we have all those, you simply never know if you’ll see one or not when diving. The more often you’re in the water, the greater your chances obviously.

The point to travel to other dive destinations is in general to see creatures you don’t have here. Fiji was a great example. On the drive from the airport to the resort, the driver was proudly pointing out tropical features like palm trees and hibiscus – hardly anything new for us. Underwater though were amazing masses of soft corals and so many species native to the South Pacific such as “unicorn” fish.

The only disadvantage of our local reefs are they tend to be out where a boat is required instead of places where you can just gear up and go off the shore. But the sheer volume of marine life and good dive conditions throughout much of the year is why people come.