Category Archives: Florida Friends

Word for the day: Enlightenment

Verb. Def: The act of stuffing random strings of cheap Christmas lights into the belly and down the limbs of defective, tacky, holiday animals in an effort to resurrect them.

If I could have shot this moose, ala Palin, I would have. But we don’t have guns.

I barely deserve your attention, given my total lack of attention to either my blog or yours. Sorry about that. I’m busy with the holidays just like you, traveling back and forth between snowy mountain house and Florida, getting ready for a visit from our first grandchild, teaching felt classes, getting out holiday orders and trying to launch my website. (If the “webmaster” finds out I’m doing this post instead of uploading descriptions, blog posts related to felt and inventory photos, I’m in trouble…). On top of all of that, I have something on my mind. (Ha! A Pun. Fill you in later.)

Anyway, I’m in Florida this weekend but the whole reason I chose to stay in Asheville for this season was so I could see a beautiful fresh snow all the way to Tennessee. Rich is down here, working and playing ball with his “Boys of Winter” league and I’ve been missing some perfectly good nooky companionship in order to watch the seasons change. No sooner did I get on the plane on Friday than did it start snowing. Now, my neighbors report they are snowed in on the mountain with a beautiful blanket of fresh wet white stuff. They are all good people and have been busy checking in on the Sophie Cat and watering the tree. It looks as though I’ll have trouble flying home tomorrow afternoon and if I do get into Asheville I’ll have to play find-ur-car among the other snow-covered vehicles in the long-term parking lot. Then, because the temps are dropping I’ll have to scrape forever, in inadequate clothing and then I won’t be able to make it up to the house. Ah, me.

So, several things on the agenda for this weekend. Misha graduated. Amazing. Abby marries this Russian immigrant, much to my shock and horror and he turns out to be the world’s most admirable fellow and they continue to be madly (I mean giggly, laughing, supportively, affectionately, hotly, madly) in love. He’s studied hard, with English as his second language and worked 40 plus hours a week outside of school and finished his degree in business. We’ve grown to love him, too and we are very proud of him. Today-Sunday-is the day he would have attended graduation ceremonies but instead they packed up the car and headed back to Durham where Abby has finished her first semester as a doctoral student at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. They were very excited to get back under one roof, with their Chicago rescue cat, Grey. 

(Abby and Misha, literally on top of the world on Mt. Elbrus in Russia one year ago. They continue on so.)

I also wanted to get the token tacky holiday yard art up for the season, because this is, after all, Florida. Damn those Chinese! Not only are they plotting to be  the smartest people on the planet; they also wreak havoc with this nation’s emotional stability by fuckin’ up the cheap Christmas lights we buy by the bazillions. And you know, there are two types of people: those who, when confronted with half a dead string of lights, throw them out and run to Walmart and those who sit on the ground poking and pulling at every single damned light bulb trying to fix the fuckin’ mess. And then move on to the effin fuses. Guess which group I fall into? I also do poorly on standardized tests. Dammit. Okay, enough profanity about the lights and I kept it all in one paragraph.

So the moose was a mess and the polar bears need to be in rehab as paraplegics and the penguin keeps blowing over, but the menagerie is up. This involved, as noted above, a lot of cursing, two people and a furious stuffing of surplus lights into various body cavities that had necrosis from previous years. One moose, two polar bears, 3 geese, a penguin, a frog, an alligator, and a partridge in a palm tree. And a couple of random Charlie Brown strings of lights never pulled off the Norfolk Pine for the past three years, blown every which way. Looks positively festive and bright. If I win the lottery before Dec. 26 I’m going to buy every wonderful 3-D holiday light creature on sale anywhere, the day after Christmas. Then I’ll be ready for next year.

(Everything looks better in the morning. Rich took this with his cell phone, no less. My camera is acting up. I want Julie Zickefoose’s camera for Christmas.)

Last night Rich and I went to the movies so we could spend some time holding hands in the dark. We watched Unstoppable. What stupid fun. I loved it. Afterward, we were walking across the Baywalk shopping area and came upon two of St. Petersburg’s finest. Splendid, splendid gorgeous black Percheron horses who came from the Boston police department, we were most impressed with their uniforms. They get their own special detailing including reflective gear, shiny badges in the middle of their broad chests and special protective shoes that allow them to walk on crushed glass without harm. I pet one and I’m telling you, his coat was SO soft. The officer riding him said he had his “winter coat” and I believed that because so does Sophie and they feel equally luxurious. All about the animal fiber, you know.

(Ridiculous, I know. But I just had my cell phone and I was trying to capture how incredibly black they were with bright shiny regalia. Shoes! They wear shoes that come up to their shins!)

What else? Oh! I needed to visit Boyd Hill and say hello to our new juvenile Bald Eagle, Abiaka. What a handsome fellow! He was born late 2009 and fell out of his nest as a baby last March. Sadly, he was injured to the point that he can’t live free so he will live with out this life with us, educating others and getting a great daily diet, alway a whole red snapper on Fridays (bet you didn’t know Eagles were Catholic.). Rumor has it that Abi has the spunky disposition of a teenager and he loves nothing more than to pull the plug on his bathing pool. Which, of course, leaves him high and dry until someone checks in on him some hours later. Fine now, while it’s cool but he might want to leave well enough alone once things heat up here next Spring. Eagles do love their water. As soon as I got to the park there was a fierce down-pouring of rain and Abi seemed positively delighted, prancing about with wings spread and calling out.

(Abi, enjoying the rain. He has a partial bamboo screen so he can decide how much time he wants to spend in the public eye as he gets acclimated to life as a program raptor.)

Anyway, with all this traveling back and forth, I ought to have my head examined. Guess I’ll tell you about that next time. Also, it IS the Third Sunday of Advent and yes, Bonnie, I have my purple candles, this year beeswax from our local farm market, and that means it’s about time for Buckminster Fuller to put in an appearance. I’m working on a second chapter. Cheers!

And you call yourself a teacher???

Seven may be the age of reason according to the Catholic Church but the 26 of them clamoring around me this past week, shrieking “Miss Vicki! Miss Vicki!” at the top of their piping little lungs seemed beyond reason, felt no guilt and had no sense of moral responsibility as far as I could tell. God, am I getting old.

At some point long ago (when I was unconscious?) I agreed to come back from North Carolina one week after the moving van left to teach art camp in St. Petersburg. What was I thinking? Wool felting to 7 and 8 year olds in 104 degrees in Florida in August? Obviously, I wasn’t even paying attention because I thought I was teaching 10-12 year old camp.

With 26 children, there were the usual suspects: the one sad south side  boy with the worst case of ADHD I’ve EVER seen, the porky blond girl who couldn’t keep her fingers out of everyone else’s work and kept asking if it’s lunch time yet while continuously eating the “snack” her mother had packed (usually something sludgy, in a paper tube) and the bright-eyed Bridgett who alternated between divisive in-groups of three and falling on the floor, precisely at 2:37 pm, wailing that everybody hates her, which was actually close to accurate but was still highly disruptive.

On Tuesday I was busy demonstrating how to gently pull the wool into wispy bits to lay down for felt. Getting them all to quiet down and gather round and pay attention was, in my book, a major accomplishment. My elbow was being continuously bumped and buffeted by Miss Pudgy but I used great restraint and said nothing until I heard her mumble, “And you call yourself a teacher??” I looked at her as she stared at me with an expression of complete innocence, a “who, me?” expression and while I was tempted to ask, “What’s that? You think I’m an excellent teacher?” I genuinely laughed and continued on. By Thursday I was proclaiming, “Justin! This is NOT samurai warrior camp! If I see you running around with those scissors snapping in the air one more time I’m going to glue your butt to this chair!” and ” The next one of you that ‘accidentally’ locks yourself in the supply closet STAYS in the supply closet until tomorrow at 3!” I’m quite certain I would be fired in week two if I were in a regular classroom situation and while I was earning at the rate of 48,000/year I have no idea how young teachers earning half that survive a single month of teaching. No idea.

I had watercolor pencils floating in my felting soap, yogurt in the merino wool and newspaper turned to paper mache on the floor, but in the end it was all good. There were several teenager assistants to help referee, do bathroom runs and take them away for a half-hour lunch. My ADHD child was a real sweetheart and tried so hard to get it together, I was able to sell Bridgitt on the virtues of positive attention as opposed to negative and my plump little friend ended the week saying, “I know. I know. ‘Patience is a virtue’ but Miss Vicki! Miss Vicki!…” With the help of my good neighbor, Other Vicki, I finished sewing 26 pieces of handmade felt to homemade pillows and the week ended on a high note with everyone taking home a completed project. 

Despite the complaining, I love teaching and being around children. The energy and creativity and burgeoning sense of humor of a seven year old is delightful. And, for just a week, I do it very well and the kids have a great time. Win-win.

(this note ends with “teaching me things about art that I didn’t know”) I like that.



I flew home this morning from St. Petersburg and it’s a little bit bittersweet because I really love my good friends there, I love our little house with the big porch and January through March, it’s quite the pleasant respite from winter’s wrath. Otherwise? This mountain home is all we had hoped for and more. It’s incredibly beautiful, non-stop. The weather, the trees, the birds, deer, snakes and our resident black bear with three cubs. The local organic food, the corn maze, the self-serve produce stand, the CSA. The four-gate passenger friendly airport, the EarthFare store. Hey! This morning, after Rich picked me up from the airport we stopped for some groceries and stood in line next to Andie MacDowell! She’s a lovely woman (I could tell by the groceries in her cart- it seemed important not to stare at her so I looked at her groceries) who, in real life at the grocery store looks exactly the way she does in her movies. Around here she goes by Rose Qualley.

Rich had been hoping for a bear sighting and I kept saying no, no, no. We do not want her and her three wee ones here, knocking down bird feeders and trampling the melon patch. The night after I left for Florida Rich called to say he was over that. He reported that Sophie was in her usual window seat and he was watching TV when all of a sudden Sophie BLEW across the room, never touching the ground, with her tail the size of the Hindenburg. She landed on Rich’s chest with all four paws of claws fully extended, bounced off the lovely cherry headboard and flew into the office with McCloud close on her heels. A full four minutes later Rich heard the crashing and banging down on the drive. We had several large Waste Pro containers, 99.5 percent full of end-stage construction trash and .5 percent food waste. The .5 warranted an hour and 15 minute rummage that left trash spread all over the giant drive apron and down the road into the woods. I guess it took him a couple hours to clean up.

Late this afternoon I went down to the garden and picked tomatoes, again. It’s been alternately dry and wet and this garden was planted so early in the season that most things have bolted and are near done. The Romas are everywhere, on the ground, on the plants, strewn about the yard by wildlife. The heirloom tomatoes are just coming in; I picked some Mr. Stripey and Black Cherokee today. The Black Cherokee have wonderful belly buttons and both have magnificent summer flavors of sweet and acid. Tomorrow I will can tomato sauce one last time with the Romas and then, 40 quarts thus far, call it good for the year. I’ll use the heirlooms that we don’t eat for canned tomatoes. I’m ready to tear down the summer garden and get a clean venue for fall herbs and greens, some carrots, peas and cooler weather crops. What should I do with nearly 200 jalapenos?

I am reminded of my weekly calls with my father when I was 40 and he was 64, two years before he died. I was a single mother and full-time psychotherapist and I would respond, “I’m fine, Dad- just way too much to do” and he would always answer, “Lucky you.” How right he was. I’m a fortunate woman to have this life with way too much to do.

It’s Sunday and finally a day of relative rest (aside from those tomatoes).We’re off to the WNC Arboretum today. I joined when I first arrived two months ago but Rich hasn’t been yet. The annual quilt show, this year themed “Stars Over the Mountains” is there and ends today; one of my neighbors here is a world-class quilter and I want to see her work.

(Sophie,in her felted bed, on bear patrol)

The Ultimate Demise of Minky

Last week our contractor called me to say “thanks a lot” for warning him about the stuffed fox hidden under the basement stairs of the mountain house. They were pulling things out in preparation for laying tile down there and I guess a couple of the builders screamed like girls.(Foxy never did like the neo-industrial architecture of the Chicago condo. He jumped at the chance to go to North Carolina.)

Those few of you who have known me for a while know that I had a brief fling with taxidermy. Back in Michigan I could sometimes be found haunting antique stores, not in search of a Roseville vase or a Chippewa basket but rather some hapless stuffed critter. I admit that I was fascinated with these specimens that, in life, I couldn’t get close to but as taxidermy, I could admire them to my heart’s content. Small mammals were my favorite. And although I would never be involved with the killing or commissioning of such an item I did really enjoy my little collection, much to the amusement of BCMA. In retrospect it was probably much to the horror and bewilderment of some of my patients. Ah, me.

Anyway, I’ve been busy organizing life and this household in Florida for my move north to Asheville. Rich is coming along in about a month and a bit, after everything is done and our possessions have been pulled out of storage and brought down from the Midwest. It makes the most sense to have everything as settled as possible before he and the cats arrive. A slight digression: Curious thing about marriage. The past couple weeks as I’ve been really very busy, with many details in my head, I have gotten a bit short with Rich’s apparent inability to find a fork or open mail. But as I was thinking about it, I realized that we each have gone helpless in certain areas, deferring to the other for assistance. Really, we’re more capable than we each act. So when I considered the possibilities I realized that if Rich is at the mountain house when the van first arrives and dumps everything off, he’ll be distressed because he can’t work in peace and I’ll be distressed because he’s not helping me lift boxes and move heavy things. And we’ll give vent to our distress because that’s who we are and then there will be that negative pall over something new and special and happy. It is far better for him to stay here and work and mind the kitties. I’ll be there, managing just fine (remind me I wrote this in a couple of weeks) getting everything arranged and put away. When Rich isn’t around I surprise myself with my own physical strength and if that isn’t sufficient I’ll just work around what I can’t do until I can snag trusty Rosario. (he has no idea he’s becoming a fixture in my plans and in my blog, poor fellow.)

As far as the cats go, they like routine and they do not like change. They would prefer to stay put whether we go or not. It would be fine with them if the Roomba put out their food as long as it was at 7am and 7pm. Not really. They like us and besides, the Roomba wouldn’t do the litter box.

They not only like us, they bring us food. Much in the same way that Rich and I are in some ways helpless to care for ourselves but care for each other, so it is with the cats. McCloud can’t open a can and although he surely could, he hasn’t gone out and caught any sustenance for himself lately. But he reliably brings us bunnies. And Sophie brings birds. Every morning when we get up the bedroom floor is littered with delicacies for us to eat. I think Sophie is a tad brighter because she at least brings things that vaguely resemble birds while McCloud just brings large balls of yarn. He would move dozens every night from the living room to the foot of the bed if I didn’t intervene but since he also enthusiastically kills each and every skein, I’ve got him down to his own basket of 6 balls, all tangled and in shreds. Every morning we round them all up and put them back, Cloudy’s bunnies in his basket and Sophie’s birdies in hers. Then we thank the cats effusively and give them breakfast.

The two of them are in for a rude awakening when they get piled into the car and driven north.I plan to have their baskets of yarn and toys in a convenient place near our new bedroom but still…When I worked at Lincoln Park Zoo we would often change up the habitats of the animals just to keep them on their toes. It’s called “enrichment.” By giving them a whole new environment to explore they stayed alert and curious and didn’t get complacent. So, Cloudy and Sophie- brace yourselves for a little enrichment.

(Okay. As I was writing that I had deja vu for this delightful Monty Python skit. I have tried to describe it before and no one seems to have seen it but me-except now I find it on YouTube. Go here and laugh with Confuse-a-Cat.)

Where was I? Oh, right, moving in circular fashion back to taxidermy. Working at the zoo pretty much cured me of my interest in taxidermy. I had lots of opportunities to get up close and personal with all sorts of furry creatures and besides, I began to feel fairly guilty on behalf of all us ignorant folk for lording it over animals in the first place when really, we should try at all costs to leave them to themselves when we can. That includes not being party to enjoying stuffed ones, thereby denying them the privilege of the whole dust-to-dust scenario. Who knows? A dung beetle might come back as a meerkat, left to decompose in peace. But here I was, stuck with the responsibility of a half-dozen taxidermied animals. Hence the fox under the stairs at the mountain house.(Minky, minus an ear and two moth-eaten feet, finds herself unceremoniously dumped in the trash today. Life moves on.)

Minky made the move here to Florida a few years ago when (God forgive me) I dressed her up with Christmas bows and posed her under the tree- back when the house was on the Old Northeast Christmas home tour. (Now that I think of it, it’s possible that this had something to do with my lack of acceptance in the neighborhood garden club. Then again, I might be imagining that.) Yesterday, in the process of packing up some things that will go north I discovered that Minky has acclimated to Florida’s pestilence and high humid temperatures about as well as I have: not at all. And now I feel badly because while I was having my own encounters with the dermatologist and tending to the cats flea allergies, I ignored Minky who was just sitting in an old fishing creel in the corner, coming apart at the seams.

The moral of this round about tale (yet another one) is that, as noted in Ecclesiastes,  there is a time and a place for everything. My skin tells me that much of the time, Florida is not a place for me. The cats’ constant struggle with flea allergies and the subsequent itching and fur loss suggest this place is rough on them during the really hot times.  Many of my plants, nurtured over years, including begonias from my mother, have struggled with the Florida heat and sun.(These plants will hopefully survive the trip and thrive in North Carolina)

On the other hand, plants that I could never grow before flourish here,  in a fashion I never imagined possible. Orchids and ferns go wild. Rich thrives here in Florida, especially since he’s found a renewed love for playing baseball and a group of swell teammates. He does a much better job of growing where he is planted, in any case. Me? I need the seasons. I need the contrast between full vibrant green and dormant cold ground. Basically, I need that deciduous thing, the starting and the stopping and then all over again. That’s more my nature.

For a fair part of the year, I will miss my friends here, especially my good neighbors Marion and Other Vicki and Ken and south of the bridge Cathy. I will miss the art people here in St. Petersburg and classes at the Morean Arts Center. I will really miss Shadow and Wheezer and Phantom and Hoo2 and Mystic, my feathered raptor friends and all of my fellow caretakers at Boyd Hill. I’m not sure yet what my schedule will look like; I’m going to let the weather move me so we’ll see. These next couple days I’ll be loading up my car and heading to the mountain house- the first house that I have ever really designed with me and my life with Rich in mind. A house to fit my life. Imagine that. What will the reality be, for me and for Rich and those flea-bitten cats? Imagine that!  I’ll see you there.(Okay, I admit it. There are things about Florida that are simply beautiful.)

Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day

Whenever a day rolls around, about once every 8 months, when I don’t have something to do I get very antsy about everything I have to do that day. That’s because, the one day when I don’t have anything to do is invariably the day I need to catch up on a thousand things I’ve put off doing on all those other too busy days. You follow? Today, Monday, is just such a day and I’m sitting here all anxious and stewing because I have nothing to do today and should really get started.

Likewise, when about ten days pass over here without an update, I get increasingly anxious and by  2 weeks I stop even dropping by because there’s nothing happening but I have about a thousand things I could catch up on in a blog post. But I’m not going to. Briefly-

Since last we talked, I’ve been to the mountain house twice more and it’s almost a home. I am like Lookin At Lucky in the gate to get there. I should be gardening right this minute instead of doing this. Abby loaned me Misha for a couple of days and he kindly helped load a UHaul with the IKEA innards to our new closets there, plants, wool, the Frank Lloyd Wright dining table and Rich’s motorcycle. Then he drove it north and unpacked it all into a onsite storage thingie because we are in the sheet rock phase of construction when there is dust,dust,dust and more dust. I met with the electrician over lighting details- where we need them and what kind (as long as we seem to be redoing the whole place it’s a good time to put lighting over Rich’s desk area, small spots in the hallway for art, etc.), picked out a chunk-o-granite for the guest bath, carpet for the master bedroom-the only room that will be carpeted- and made other flooring choices: cork, slate, tile. Then we turned around and raced back here. The best part of this last trip was the car trip back, learning a bit more about Misha and his life back in Russia, BA (before Abby). He’s a fairly quiet guy and I appreciate that. He generally doesn’t chatter and if he doesn’t have something to say, well, he doesn’t just fill the airwaves. But we had some good talk time in the car.

Okay, I don’t want to write about this anymore until I can be there for good and that should be in a couple of weeks. I did order the radio signal wi-fi installation for June 1, so I do have plans to continue on about house things then.

Let’s see, what else? I’ve taught some more workshops and decided once and for all that I need to neatly sever felting business from personal ramblings so today, with nothing to do, one of the things on my list is to lay claim to my felt weblog name I’ve been holding for a year now and design that site. I’m loving teaching, doing it more and more and stretching out into silk fusion and some mixed media classes. I’m hopeful I’ll find an inroad into that community of fiber artists in Asheville.

Everyone around here is fine, knock wood. Abby is excited about going to Duke but first she is going to Mexico this summer. The musician is happy with his art teacher. Rich is busier than ever with work and fast pitch old guys baseball. That is a very big deal here in St. Petersburg, complete with some Hall of Famers. The Half-Century league, aka Boys of Winter, have been playing for 78 years. Babe Ruth used to watch them play when he was here for spring training. And if you’re on the Half-Century League you just live to, well, live to the Kids and Cubs League. You can’t join that until you’re 75. In the meantime, Rich comes home from games and practices covered with massive bruises that cause me great concern, especially given the state of our personal health insurance- which, once COBRA runs out, will be non-existent and we will have to divorce and go off and marry Canadians. Don’t get me started. Before that happens, we will go for our long postponed honeymoon to Italy in October and stay here at La Frateria and Mondo X. What do you think? Good?

(With nothing and everything to do today, I should take up golfing. Except it’s raining hard today. Rich, without fail, sends me phone photos from the golf course of the most wonderful birds. I know what these babies are. Do you?)

While I can’t get anything much posted up here, my good friend Ken is lighting out across Death Valley today in his scooter trip across America to raise money for the little school in Ecuador. If you haven’t been keeping up on the Scooter Diaries you have been seriously missing out- now THAT is a blog worth reading. Get out of here and go check out Ken’s adventures. I’ll let you know when there’s something worth reading here.(I donated for Ken’s Death Valley/Bakersfield stretch but he best not run out of gas because I am NOT going to be part of a search party…in Bakersfield)