Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

from Left: Poppie, Vange, Suki, Limo, Me, Sparky, Vori, Landfill, Terry and Zorro

We decided that we needed a group shot of all of us for family and friends. That is simpler said than done. Specially when there are six animals and four people. It is bad enough to get the people to look in your direction, imagine what it was like to get the animals to pose. Surprisingly, the animals came out more natural than the people as we tried to steer them for a pose. Regardless, we all had a lot of fun posing for this sort of family portrait.

Limo, Zorro and Me

Limo, has been running around like a 7 month old Dalmatian, which says a lot if you know anything about the breed. He has been a little crazy while at the farm. He runs around full tilt through the woods like a deer or plays with his pals Suki, Sparky or Landfill in the dog pen. All three are wonderful dogs that have been rescued at one time or another by Vange and Terry. Of course, his favorites are the horses. He has was not really around them in the farm where he was born and last time we were here this summer he was impressed by these giant dogs! Well, enjoy the holidays and lets hope that 2011 is good for us all. So until next year. Happy New Year and Happy Gardening.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Back to North Carolina for Christmas

Limo checking my whereabouts

Last year at this time I was packing the car to join my friends Terry and Vange in North Carolina. Vori, Vange's brother and I made the trip on the Prius in the famous Christmas blizzard( Happy New Year blog January 10 2010). We drove right through it with hundreds of cars abandoned along the road and it and it was hell on wheels. We left the house early am and after abandoning the car at the bottom of the hill made it up to the ranch to have warm delicious soup at about midnight. What a drive!

Also, what a difference a year makes! At that time I was sure that I would move to Asheville, North Carolina to join other retirees and find paradise in that mountainside community. Well, as you can see I am little further south. Many reasons prompted the decision to come to Florida that range from weather to home values and property taxes. Certainly the house I found in Florida could not be passed up.

Just this weekend, I went to a party in the Seminole Heights section of Tampa. This is a historic neighborhood of Florida bungalows similar to mine. The party was at a friend from New Jersey that exited there about two years ago. He lives in a glorious house which has been for the most part restored and modernized to make for a splendid home. As a consequence of its condition the house was purchased for almost three times the price of mine. It made me happy to know that when I get through with my remodel I will have something that will command quite a price as I am by the beach, more or less.

A little plaster opening for the new vent grew quickly!

For now, I have a lot of work ahead of me. As a matter of fact, while I write this blog a repairman is fixing the damage caused by the AC/Heat pump people last week. The new more powerful system needed an additional vent and a return. The crew installing the new vent cut the hole for the new vent and created a little damage around the vent. Plaster is great but if you break the way it is attached to the lath it starts pulling away from the ceiling and can pull more plaster in the process. The repairman has made quick fix of what was a sore on the ceiling of my house. The AC people are not happy about paying for the repair but it was their inability to deal with the plaster correctly that caused the problem. They tried worming their way out of their responsibility blaming the old house, but I applied Teddy Roosevelt diplomacy without a big stick and it is now almost repaired.

Meanwhile, I have a few more simple gifts to wrap and a little packing to do. I am sure I will have to clean up after the repairman as part and parcel of this adventure. Tomorrow, at the crack of dawn we shall take to the road again for a ten hour trip North. With any luck there will be no snow this time and even if it is cold I will be able to drive all they way up to the front door. Limo, I am sure is awaiting a chance to go running with horses as his Christmas wish. Enjoy yourselves, we will.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas in Florida

I am back in Florida. I spent my last day up north, until next year, with my friend Julia having some quality time and in many ways revisiting our life in Center City Philadelphia. I can be somewhat melodramatic without any intention but as we walked the streets of Philadelphia I felt a sense of change and loss as so much of it has changed so dramatically since I first arrived in 1992. So many businesses seem to have changed hands and even for a recent arrival such as myself, I have seen multiple iterations of culture and institutions in very little time. I remember saying to Julia that I needed to go to a place where I have no history, where I don't have to think of all that has come and gone before. I want to discover something new, even if it is not as grand or established.

One such institution is the Old Wanamaker Department Store that has since been Lord and Taylor and now Macy's. Regardless, it still displays one of the most wonderful Christmas musical shows anywhere. I remember a winter in the 90's when my mother came to visit and it was so cold we took refuge in the Wanamaker tea room overlooking the display to warm up and enjoy the show. The tea room and my Mother are both gone and but the display continues as our memories...
In Florida they don't take themselves too seriously but I suspect they manage to enjoy Christmas just the same. I have been to a Victorian Party at the Safford House, the oldest house in Tarpon Springs around the corner from mine where volunteers use the season to celebrate and no doubt to raise some money for their causes and to keep the termites at bay. I say this because the house was built in 1883 out of heart pine and it was restored in the early 2000's only to need a fumigation soon there after for all the new wood that was used in the restoration managed to provide a feast for the little critters. I have slowly started to discover that my house is not all heart pine like I thought and it has suffered more at the little feet of the termites. Oh well, something gone eat you sooner or later.
I have come down in part to install air conditioning/heat pump which my old house needed. The system in place was installed in 1986 and regardless how good it was then it had long stopped working as intended. The recent cold spell here had tested its ability to produce heat and I knew it was not producing cold when it was hot here when I first saw the house. I did not need this expense but what are you going to do? At least there is a tax credit for the new system which is incredibly efficient and will hopefully last another 24 years!

As you can see from the image the old one looks like a little rust bucket and the new one like Darth Vader. The system was installed in a day and the house went from 1986 to 2010 in heating. The heat pump comes on for an hour and the house is toasty. The old one worked all night and never managed to get it beyond the low 60's. Although it is not the heat that I am worried about. I am confident that when summer comes it will be ready to extract gallons of water from the humid air and make life comfortable here in the tropics.

After the Wanamaker show I came home to finish packing for my trek to Florida. I realized that this trip was the beginning of saving some of my oldest friends: my plants. I don't say this with any disrespect to my two legged friends, but I have known some of my plants longer than many people. They have come to me in all manner of ways. I have some of my Mother's plant. One in particular, a Croton, which I have managed to kill and bring back from other cuttings more than once. The Croton, being one of my most important plants from my childhood, as hedges of it lined the entry walk of our home in Cuba. Well, I brought the last two remaining cuttings I had made and figured out that they could go in the Florida soil/sand as soon as I got here. Wrong, the weather turned cold and just as soon as I placed them outside I managed to salvaged them the next day. One more or less okay and the other a bit traumatized by the cold it has never known. So back in a pot they are waiting for warmer days to return outdoors.

This poor little Staghorn fern was given to me by my friend Shinichi Tanaka in Laguna Beach California some twenty years ago. His partner, and one of my dearest friends Niels Dahlerup would put up with me often in their backyard as I directed gardening traffic fixing this, pruning that and helping out as a way of paying for my supper for the many weekends I spent with them. They had a Jaccuzzi garden overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the Staghorn ferns clung to walls and plants making this already delicious place look more inviting. Just before leaving California to go to Graduate School at Penn I visited one final time to have Shinichi give me two of the ferns to remind me of California. This year I lost one and I figured the remaining one should return to a place it can flourish.

I have packed a few others for this trip. My Agave Americana was wrapped and ready to come but the car was full so I was forced to leave it behind. Agaves are indistructible so when I return it will be there waiting for the next trip South.
A plant that made the trip was this Calamondin orange. It has a story and a half! My friend RJ picked the fruits from his homestead in Brownsville Texas. He saved the seeds and grew them in a small south facing window in his Co-Op in Manhattan. Somewhere along the course of events he grew more that a dozen plants and handed them out to many of his friends. I have had mine for six years or so which I brought down from Manhattan and have nurtured into a small topiary potted plant. Well, no more. It now resides in the sand next to the Ponderosa Lemon, the Tangerine and the Mango hoping to inspire it to grow and produce its strange fruit that is somewhat bitter but has a sweet edible rind.
Similarly many of my plants have stories, some not so romantic or complicated but they have been with me for some time. When I really have to cull my life of many things I will worry about lightening my load for now, I now have a house twice the size of the one I have lived in New Jersey so I figure I can take just about anything I want. Most of my dear plant friends will reside in my new Crescent garden, just off my dining room. As you can see it is not much. I have been at work even in the local cold temperatures putting some nutrients into the powdery sand. What a job I have ahead, but the journey is exciting and new.

Bordering the Spring Bayou where the Manatees are wintering in herds to stave of the cold I noticed the local little illuminated train (sorry for the blurry image I left my tripod in NJ) that reminded me of the Wanamaker Christmas display. It is solitary and small by comparison but just as heart filled to those here. My new friend Paula was disheartened by the budget cuts that eliminated some 1500 Poinsettias from the display. Strangely enough that reminded me of another plant to put in the garden. In Cuba and in California as well as Florida, Poinsettias grow and bloom outdoors at this time of year. A house like mine would have had an old plant or two to celebrate the holidays. It will again, Happy Gardening and Merry Christmas!