About Valentine’s Day…..

Poignancy Alert! Okay, I will upfront apologize if this brings a pang of hurt to anyone, but there are moments when I do engage in bittersweet emotional content and this is such a moment.

Valentine’s Day can carry a lot of significance whether you agree with that position or not. Back in my single days, I spent about as many Valentine’s Days without anyone special as with someone. And yes, when there was someone, we joined the throngs at the crowded restaurants to pay extra for the special dinner.

So, when Valentine’s Day came around after I was married to my first husband, it happened to be on a Friday. I waited all day for flowers to be delivered to my office. Friday was traditionally big Happy Hour at the Officer’s Club. Since my husband and I were in different units and therefore met at the Club, I thought – ah, he’s bringing the bouquet there. Nope, and not a word to me as we all enjoyed the evening. At some point, I allowed my temper to peek through enough to ask if he’d forgotten what day it was. Of course not, was his reply and drew me a valentine on a bar napkin. As the saying goes, “I was not amused”. The next day I was still pretty P.O.’d and when I returned from errands, there was the lovely bouquet on the dining room table. “How could you think I would actually forget?”, was his question as he did admit he waited too late to call for the florist to be able to deliver on Friday.  I did accept the apology and fast-forward one year.

Most of you who follow the blog know my first husband was killed in an accident when our son was only four months old. It was not long before Valentine’s Day and we were physically separated due to attending different Army schools. I was in Maryland and he was in Virginia. My parents came up from Louisiana and Daddy drove me to Fort Eustis in Newport News for the memorial service and to take some of my husband’s personal stuff before the rest was placed into temporary storage. As I was going through the desk, I found this big beautiful Valentine’s Day card he had bought in plenty of time. You can imagine my intense reaction. That’s been a very long time ago, but it’s one of those memories I suspect will stay with me forever.

Where the Days Go…..

I fully intended to post yesterday and managed to get caught up in a series of unplanned tasks. Since the day was pretty well already filled, that did cause a bit more slide to the schedule. One of the things is, as I believe I have mentioned in the past, we do have the seasonal population increase here which runs mostly Jan-Mar, but we see some increase as early as Nov and late as May. The reality is several annual events are built around the intent to draw in seasonal residents (I can’t recall if we’re supposed to no longer use the term snowbirds) and there are only so many days during the “core time”. Therefore, we have major things going on either literally back-to-back or sometimes overlapping. In my case, I’m involved with different organizations that either run or support those events and therefore everything I routinely do gets another layer added on top. The actual irony here is when people talk about how other months are the “slow time”, that doesn’t apply in our case. Aside from the fact I rarely have such a thing, it is especially true for Hubby because late spring through Labor Day is peak dive time. Unless storms disrupt, it is not unusual for him to have to go 7-14 days without a break. That also means he isn’t available to do routine things like grocery shopping, etc.

Anyway, back to our winter/early spring months that are genuinely jammed. There really is “something for everyone” from the Southernmost Rodeo in the country to multiple major fishing tournaments and with the Seminole Theatre hitting its stride, plenty of performances to choose from. Ah well, life certainly isn’t dull. At the moment, I am searching the calendar to try and find a day to go diving. I have indeed been out of the water too long.

You Never Know With Kids……

I mentioned our granddaughter loves that we have a pool.  This year during the holidays was a repeat of last year in that the temperature was such she could be in the pool the first two days and then unfortunately not the last two. She still had some difficulty in grasping the concept and by next year she should be okay which will no doubt mean the weather will be perfect and not an issue. Anyway, you never really do know what kids are thinking and the automatic vacuum for the pool is a perfect example. It attaches to an outlet in the pool with a flexible hose and runs a repeated pattern along the bottom for however many hours we have it set for. It’s great with picking up most of the leaves and is about the size of a medium pizza. There is a rubber “skirt” around it that resembles a small stingray and we do indeed refer to it as “Ray”.

Our granddaughter, however, didn’t like it and when we were in the pool, I kept having to push it away to make her comfortable. She wasn’t reassured by me explaining how helpful Ray was. One of the mornings it was too cold to get in, I glanced out and saw that once again, a tiny frog had found refuge on top of the hose and I was able to get the net, scoop it out and place it well away from the water. Our daughter-in-law was out with us watching the process and explaining to our granddaughter what I was doing. That piece of information apparently did not soften her view of Ray.  It will be interesting to see how she feels about it next year.

The photo was when we had a big ugly frog one day, but we haven’t had those around for a while.

Big, ugly frog in the pool

A New Addition To Check Out….

REEF is the short name for the Reef Environmental Education Foundation established in 1990 in Key Largo with a variety of programs set up for children through adults. Although the yellow “Keys House” office on the median between the highways at 98300 Overseas Highway could be overlooked, it’s more noticeable now thanks to a recent grant, some talented individuals, and work of the staff.

The 1913 building is in fact the oldest house in the Upper Keys, and as is the case with many historic structures, handicap accessibility is limited and space can be tight for some of their popular gatherings. That has changed with the new Interpretive Center opened in December 2017. In order to best utilize the space that provides wheelchair accessibility, two modular sections were brought in and adeptly joined together to become a multi-functional room for interpretive displays and classes. The impressive “wrap-around” interior mural is far greater than simply decorative, however. Stephen Frink, Key Largo’s internationally known underwater photographer, provided a series of his images and Jim Hellemn of San Diego used his incredible techniques to take the images and create a floor-to-ceiling seamless journey through different local underwater environments. Thirty-three species of fish are displayed in the sections of Shipwrecks in Service, Biodiversity in Barrier Reefs, Patch Reefs and Predators, and Important Inshore Habitats.

The fish and turtle featured are what REEF focuses on in the local area surveys.  The center is open during regular hours of 9:00-5:00, Mon-Fri. Their on-going and some new programs will be posted to the calendar as soon as they are scheduled.

The exterior of REEF also had a make-over with some notable features. One of the original wooden cisterns has been restored as a reminder of the days before pipelines were in place. A Native Plants Trail has interpretive signs about flora and fauna. This wide, wheelchair-accessible path dotted with a few picnic tables, curves around the office building. Other plans are to install an electric car charging station and a solar-powered telephone charging station.

If you aren’t familiar with REEF, their mission statement is, “REEF conserves marine environments worldwide. Our mission is to protect biodiversity and ocean life by actively engaging and inspiring the public through citizen science, education, and partnerships with the scientific community.”

Although fish surveys scuba divers and snorkelers participate in is a major program of REEF, there are workshops and events open to anyone who cares about marine conservation. If you’re in the area, set aside some time to stop by the center for a leisurely stroll to enjoy the mural of our “fin friends” and chat with the staff.

For more information log onto http://www.reef.org;Tel: (305) 852-0030.

Our Dependence on Repairs…..

In my former life of military logistics, with a concentration in maintenance (I’ll explain that in a post someday), I became keenly aware of the vulnerability of mechanical/electrical things. Matched to that was the variance in the ability of individuals trained to repair such items. Pretty well equal was the fact that impatience does not assist in the repair process. However, if the individual/individuals responsible for hiring/retaining repair individuals is not aware of shortcomings, that is something that can be rectified. That statement also comes with a caveat – there must be places that can adequately train individuals and one must also allow for experience as a factor. So, without getting into politics, which I do try to avoid in this blog, we really should do more in this country to recognize and promote repair trades at all levels. I’m not about to say a computer repair technician is exactly the same as a plumber, but when you have that toilet overflowing/stop working, it definitely affects your well-being.

Reliability of items is the other component and those who are old enough have seen the movement toward a “disposable” marketplace. That, too, is really another post and for the sake of this discussion, we’ll stick with the issue of training repair individuals rather than engineers, etc., that design and manufacture things. Anyone who has worked with students knows there are different ways of learning and there is a wonderful quotation from Albert Einstein about labeling genius. It goes something like, “…If you measure the intelligence of a fish by the way it climbs a tree, it will always be seen as stupid.” I don’t dispute the value of a college education, but in watching the absurd, quite frankly inexcusable escalation of college costs, the need for technical training in many areas for those who have the aptitude should get greater focus than it often does. There is a growing awareness in this country and if you have influence on young students in whatever capacity, do be attuned to the possibility that rather than a college path, technical training may be the right option, at least for that first career.

In closing, my posting has been delayed because we experienced network outages for almost six days. Is it a design issue, equipment, or maintenance? I don’t know. What I do know is we, like so many people today, greatly depend on network connectivity and are severely impacted when we don’t have it.

A Meandering Day of Fun…..

Burr’s Berry Stand as one of the stops of the Redland Rallye. (Photo from Rob)

Okay, back to pleasant topics. Saturday will be the annual Redland Riot Rallye. Rob and Robin Burr, along with son Rob, Jr. and I’m not sure who else, will greet teams at Historic Cauley Square on Dixie Highway, (Hwy 1). Redland is the large agriculture area that was carved out in the latter part of the 1800s by pioneering families who figured out how to work the difficult, but excellent soil. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the intense summer climate here means there are two distinct growing seasons. “Winter crops” are fabulous strawberries, tomatoes, corn, etc., that give way to exotic tropical fruits of mangoes, avocados, papaya, etc. A number of families and farms shifted from edibles to ornamental plants and there are side-by-side nurseries with hundreds of varieties of palms, beautiful flowering shrubs, orchids in all shapes and sizes. Not surprisingly, fruit stands/markets grew  up over the years, most of which are seasonal. The density of foliage in Redland causes much of this to be obscured from public view and not until you turn into a place do you see the growth. Thus, there is almost a “hidden Redland”.

Rob, who is of the seventh Deep South Dade Burr generations put together the Redland Riot Rallye in 1992 as a way to introduce people to these places. It is set up to be a day of leisure, of exploration followed by a fun party at Schnebly Winery and Brewery, a beautifully landscaped operation that has flourished through the vision and hard work of Peter Schnebly and his family.

The process is pretty simple. Each car (or whatever vehicle you choose) is a team. Sign-in is 10-11:00 at Cauley Square where you are provided a map and a card with questions to be answered at the fourteen stops. The Rallye ends at Schnebly where the cards are turned in not later than 5:00 p.m. There is a prize for the winner and plenty of fun to share.

Our schedule has prevented us from participating and once again, Hubby won’t be available, but I am going to make at least part of it this year. Here’s the link to learn more. www.RedlandRiot.com

A Sad Point….

Serious content alert. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I weight my post with either cheery or poignant subjects. Today is not one of those days as during the past month there has been a series of unexpected medical issues with some of the older childless couples I know. In these cases, it isn’t only childless; it’s small families with no relatives geographically near. One of the realities of choosing to retire/relocate to somewhere like South Florida is distance. Yes, leaving the cold of the Northeast, Midwest, etc., does mean much better weather (setting aside the problem of hurricanes), but it is also a very long way from family that may not have moved. That tends not to seem important other than the price one often pays for holiday travel. And initially, it probably isn’t important. The issue comes when the cost is less the point than the physical difficulty or inability to travel. Even as we age, our active lives lures us into thinking it will always be this way. After all, we’ve seen people in their 90s on trips, haven’t we? Absolutely, and the very reason we remark is because it is the exception, not the norm. In the more likely scenario of a debilitating illness or injury, it is both the distance of a relative traveling and the life being interrupted. In a case of a temporary situation, it might be manageable. Far greater complications arise if the circumstances call into doubt the ability to remain living alone. With small families, it is also possible the remaining relatives may be equally elderly and/or have medical/financial issues that prevent them from being able to help.

These can be daunting problems and the very reason I wrote Your Room at the End: Thoughts About Aging We’d Rather Avoid. Waiting until the moment of a crisis is not the time to plan for such events. Learning what options are available in your area is strongly advised because there are actually three main factors; 1) available resources such as at-home care, transportation, etc. – not all places are created equal – ; 2) cost; 3) who will manage/advocate the assistance. Let’s use the example of affordable at-home care for help that includes transportation for trips to the grocery store and meal preparation. Someone still has to make the arrangements, manage payment and quite frankly, keep an eye out to make certain services are being provided as believed. If these things are researched before hand, getting them started is a matter of scheduling rather than having to scramble and perhaps not having time to properly vet the individual/company. In other cases, maybe external services aren’t available and instead, a network of friends/neighbors will pitch in. That’s quite possible, but again, these are conversations to develop before the need arises.

The solution of entering an independent or assisted living facility is a separate issue that I’m not going to get into in this post. In fact, there are two couples who have been stalwart volunteers within the community for decades. Both have made the decision to relocate before the year end to be closer to their adult children/younger relatives. As much as I hate to see them go, these are the types of choices we must consider for our later years.

About That Age Thing……

My maternal grandmother was one of those women who never wanted to admit her age. I never quite understood it and I think it may be less of an issue these days, although I’m not certain of that. The group of women friends I have my standing Happy Hour and other events with in general don’t mind telling their age and most of us accept the process philosophically. I think it probably has to do with us have worked in interesting jobs, traveled a fair amount, and enjoyed our youth in the day. We also understand that the 20/30-somethings who see us no doubt can’t imagine they will be like that someday. I haven’t had a “traumatic” birthday yet, but I am sometimes a bit startled in thinking of being 64. I’m obviously close to another “big” number and who knows, the moment could hit when I say, “Goodness, I’m not ready for this.” I think the whole being active for much longer is part of why we don’t view aging in the same way. Granted, I walk and don’t jog any longer, but that has far more to do with the fact I never liked jogging and only did it as a requirement of my Army life. I swapped back to my preferred walking as soon as I was able to.

I’ve also never wanted to bother with coloring my hair and that hasn’t changed. I’m fine with whomever wishes to deal with it, but what a lot of effort it takes! I may have mentioned in a previous post all the women on my mother’s side of the family have fine, straight hair and we “gray” early. I had my first silver hairs around 20. In my case, they were/are silver as opposed to white. My mother, unfortunately, had clusters of white instead of evenly streaked, so her decision to color made a bit more sense. As for wrinkles, again, it just seems too much of a bother to have some multi-part daily regimen to deal with. On the other hand, I have always been careful about moisturizer, especially with 30ish SPF sunscreen living here in South Florida.

Fiction and Non-fiction…..

I’ve posted before about the differences in writing fiction and non-fiction and with my latest book, To Play on Grass Fields, I’ve had several questions since I have a note in the book about how it was inspired by my experiences in Haiti during Operation Uphold Democracy (1995).

The reason it took me 20 years to actually write this book is because 1) the main theme is very complex, 2) I wanted to be cautious of the technological, economic, and social elements I included and that required a lot of research, and 3) I wasn’t certain of what approach I wanted to take. Ironically, one of the original angles I wanted to use for the climax of the book I decided to change because I didn’t think it would be credible, and yet, something similar is currently occurring with the resistance in Iran. Setting that aside for the moment, some of the more brutal aspects depicted are sadly based on events that have taken place in other continents. Third-word countries, and especially those considered virtually hopeless for any chance of development, face a very different reality than do those of emerging nations. Have I personally experienced it? No. Have I worked with/known people who have traveled in some of those places? Yes. If you watch movies such as, “Hotel Rawanda” or “The Last King of Scotland”, they are based on true stories.

The lengthy discussion in the one chapter about transforming the military of the fictional Malathos is quite valid. This is one of the areas that was discussed by the Task Force in Haiti and is being implemented in a few (too few) countries to try to lessen the possibility of future change of government by coup.

I debated for quite some time about including the final segment “Excerpt of Lecture by Dr. Byrne”. There were, however, points I wanted to make I could not and keep the dialog/pace moving as I wished and that’s why I created the final segment as I did.

Star Wars Update…..

Our son is a big time Star Wars fan – it was one of the first non-animated movies he watched at home (and watched many times) and “Return of the Jedi” was the first movie he saw in a theater. He’s read many (if not all) of the books and when they were here last week, we kept granddaughter while they went to see “The Last Jedi”. Hubby had been wanting to see it so we did a matinee on Wed. It is a long movie of almost three hours and definitely has some dark tones. We do not in general go to the theater and make exceptions for the “big screen” pictures. All the special effects in these movies puts them into that category and you do get an eyeful as well as “earful” with swooping crafts and lots of explosions.

I won’t do a spoiler in case someone reading this hasn’t seen the movie yet and plans to. It is interesting though to see the characters who were so very young in the original as they have aged. Naturally they’ve added new young actors in different roles to keep a balance. I don’t have the faintest notion of how many more of these there are supposed to be, but there is one about Hans Solo scheduled for the summer. I’m not sure of the concept and will no doubt hear more about it from my friends and family who are fans.