Friday, 30 December 2011

Merry Crimbo and the rest of December.

Christmas and all its chaos seems to kick in a bit later here in Naples than it does at home.  Maybe as they celebrate Thanksgiving late in November folk haven't got their eye on the next holiday until they've got that one behind them.  For whatever reason I do get the feeling that the real Christmas season here begins o/a 1st December.

On that particular evening we went to Fifth Avenue for the tree lighting ceremony which is a pretty big deal and always brings out the crowds in their Christmas finery.  We felt full of figgy-puddingness as we wandered up and down the street and listened to singers and watched dancers strutting their stuff.  Our evening concluded with the lighting of the tree (by the mayor) and we pootled off home feeling very Christmassy.

By now I also had The Nutcracker and It's a Wonderful Life under my belt.  These are two of my absolute requirements to usher in Christmas.  After putting up the Christmas decorations outside the condo I had completed the set.

My next Christmas task was to order my grocery from Tesco ready for delivery the day after we get back.  This is a nightmare of the grandest proportions.  

Firstly I had to be able to figure out what food I need to (a) restock an empty cupboard (b) to accommodate one (gluten free) guest for four days and (c) an overlapping other (new to me so don't know what he likes) guest for two days, followed by (d) food that will keep/freeze/last to see us out for the rest of our stay as we don't have a car on the road and have to manage with top up bits from our local shop.  This meant endless continually revised lists of meals and ingredients needed for the meals which meant my work space looked liked Dicken's circumlocution office in Little Dorritt.  It also meant I went on line to Tesco to add and alter about half a dozen times before I was (fingers crossed) happy with the result.  Other than forgetting the Majool dates it proved pretty successful.  Needless to say my daughter (tongue in cheek) tortured me with an hourly reminder that it can't possibly be Christmas without a Majool date!

Part two of the food ordeal is actually trying to book a delivery slot.  Each date is released 21 days ahead.  I managed to get a slot for the 22nd reasonably OK which I did just in case I didn't snare one for the 23rd.  They come on line at midnight in the UK so dead on 7 pm I was at my machine trying to sign in and book a time.  It took one and a half hours to just be able to use their system as it was so overloaded.  Finally I scraped up a delivery for the 23rd as the best compromise between one early enough so we didn't starve in the interim but not too early for Christmas to have manky food by the time I got to it.

As for Christmas gifts.  Postage to all and sundry is crippling.  I decided when Lucy was born to buy her a Hallmark Christmas decoration each year for her to collect.  2010's went to Canada with me when we visited her in September that year.  This time I discovered that the mailing costs were twice the cost of the ornament.  Gayle kindly rescued me and bought one I had chosen on my behalf.  Thank heaven for Paypal banking. Looks like I will be taking one in May for 2012's Christmas when I visit.

I'll come back to Christmas I am sure, but for now I am looking at the other day to day stuff.

Set against all the expenses of the Yuletide we seem to have had a great (Naples) bargain month.  In one week we managed to get two free lots of cheese.  We were overcharged a dollar (the till price and the package label didn't match) so you get to keep the item and the full price is refunded.  We were recipients of more terrific customer service two more times that week.  I had bought (my three millionth) pillow thirty days before and used it each night but wasn't happy with it.  As I had actually paid a reasonable amount for this one in a desperate attempt to find a comfortable one I wondered if I could take it back.  Sure enough, no real conversation or questions about it - bing, bang, bosh, money back.  The third bit of happy shopper was a food mixer which I'd had two years.  It was bought to make bread and even with the addition of bread hooks didn't really do the job although all the blurbs attached to its advertising claimed it did.  I rang the company, not to complain, but to ask for advice in case there was something I was doing wrong.  No problem we'll send you another one - later model, slightly more powerful motor and we'll also add in the dough hooks.  Four days later I had a spanking new mixer!  How ever long we live here I can't get used to such service.  

We also ate out many times since we arrived using various coupon, restaurant offers and Groupon purchases, one of which led us to eat at an unpromising Deli opposite the park.  It turned out that it made a great lunch of soup and sandwich and, in this case, for half the price.

We did seem to have a panic flurry of shopping before our guests arrived for them and for Christmas bits and bobs to take home but it was all very pleasant and we managed to squeeze in our usual free concerts and movies.

The day Phil and Sue arrived (from a brief stay in Orlando) our dishwasher decided to die but it was fixed the following day under our service contract so no big deal.  On the same day we had also booked for a musical 'do' at the library but P & S decided to give it a miss, so Ken and I tootled off on our own to a jolly evening of Christmas music and a bit of audience sing-a-long.  We just needed a mince pie and mulled wine to top it off.

More Christmas music followed at Golden Gate High School on the 17th, courtesy of Naples Orchestra and Chorus.  We did this with P & S and Carole joined us too.

Even more music was soaked up the following day with the regular concert in the park.  We did a diner meal at Mel's following this rather than a posher meal and had some great ribs.

A couple of days later (20th) and Ken and I were on our way home for Christmas.

We got back to a problem with our heating system... there's always something!  It had managed to stay on non-stop for three months at a cost of about £100.  Just before we left we had done a belt and braces job by having an exterior boiler stat put on the garage wall to avoid last year's burst water pipes.  It seems this had managed somehow to stick in the on position.  Ken eventually solved it and normal life began with our welcome home trip to the chippy to buy lunch!

I have found a terrific local cleaning service and they are happy to do odds and ends of work for me as and when, so the next day we were scrubbed from top to bottom by Kirsty.  Meanwhile I worked on tidying the garden (see my burygardeners blog).  With the arrival of the mountain of food the following day we were ready to 'DO' a sort of Christmas.

My daughter appeared on Christmas Eve and we had a very low key but pleasant Christmas lunch on the day itself.  I made some notes early on Christmas morning which may as well just stand as is.

Christmas 8 am and I am up on my own.  We had a very late night with Sally so I don't expect to her or Ken for a while.  My sleep pattern is totally screwed up.  I got up at 5.30 am on our first day back , 10.30 am the next day and no sleep at all the next night so I got up and stayed up and did useful stuff like wrap gifts for Xmas stockings.  Today was a 6.30am beginning... So here I am.

I am spending useful quiet time thinking and writing and eventually preparing lunch.  My thinking began with a bunch of Christmas resolutions for next year. Firstly I want to come home at least a week before the big day so everything isn't such a rush.  It would allow me to do it properly if we are here for three or more weeks.  I hate this half hearted not quite Christmas.  The ba humbug thing just doesn't work; all you do is spoil other people's Christmas.  In reality you probably don't but that's how it feels when you are the mom and responsible for the world and his wife's happiness.  I want a Christmas tree and the rooms looking like Christmas...   be this Christmas day or not I may persuade Ken to go in the loft and lug a tree down. He was a bit reluctant at 1 am this morning!  So far  the only food I seem to have forgotten is the dates!   How can you forget the dates!  Needless to say it was the first thing Sally asked me for when she arrived.

My second resolution is to skip this year's rubbish idea of no presents for the grown ups.  All that's happened so far with the exception of Ken! is that I have the embarrassment of accepting gifts from everyone and not being able to return their kindness.  So my nice cool adult logic is swamped with guilt and feeling like the cheesiest person around.  I promise you I have given everyone's present buying money to charity but even that comes with the guilt of my feeling smug about doing something good by robbing someone else of the pleasure of opening a pressie.  Hey ho, back to the drawing board.  I think I need to heed what everyone has been telling me all my life that I should stop trying to control the whole world and just accept that things are what they are and how they should be and most folk like it that way.  Apparently the world hasn't just been waiting for me to arrive on the scene and get it organised properly.  As with all great megalomaniacs I am saddened by this.

Meanwhile I am off to peel a sprout.

Boxing Day saw the arrival of Sally's partner and we did the classic English Boxing Day cold cuts meal.  On the 27th Ken's children, Susan and Richard, were added into the mix and we caught up with them.

While all this was going on my 'mosquito bites???' which I had flown in with had turned into (nasty blistery) chicken pox as confirmed over the telephone by a doctor.  I had it as a child and only 13% of the population get it twice.  I have also had shingles (at 60) so was thrilled to be doing the rounds again.  By the time Christmas (and ours visitors) had gone I was feeling decidedly ill with it.  When it gets to the stage where you actually choose not to drink a cup of tea because the effort of having to pick up a cup several times is just too much, it is time to worry.

I made an appointment with the doctor who diagnosed a staph infection and gave me antibiotics and antihistamine and an appointment for a week later.  I absolutely knew this was a wrong guess - but what can you do?  The antihistamine (non-drowsy) made me feel even worse! and I'm never happy loading myself with high dose antibiotics but...........

Meanwhile I was convinced I had a viral thing called pityriasis rosea and, when I went back to the surgery, the nurse and doctor had also come to this conclusion; without my suggesting it!  After upsetting more than my fair share of doctors by telling them what disease I've got, I have finally learned to keep schtum.  Why don't I just be brave and tell them and save all our grief and time?  If you are interested enough and click on the link the photos look exactly like I looked, other than its a man's hairy chest!  I am now on week six (13 Jan) and am just about feeling OK, so its been a long haul.  Sadly I have no tips on how to avoid this little treat.

So, as you've probably gathered my last couple of days at home consisted of flopping about the place and dreading the journey back over the pond to the sun.  I'll tell you how that went in my January epistle.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Bye, bye November...

For anyone still keeping up with my increasingly boring life I thought I'd tidy up and finish off November. I want to make a real effort to be more organised and write one month at a time in some regular sort of way. I know I must have said this a few times before and not managed it but let's make this my old year's resolution and see if I can do it - starting at the end of December! I can see the excuses creeping in already - I'll be so busy in the UK with visitors that I'll never get a chance on the 30th!

But for now ... to the last week of last month!

I left you on the 22nd up to my gunnels in painters. On the 23rd - the third and the promised last day - five painters were thrown at the job. Those of you who know the apartment will realise that five people living in it is 'full'; five people decorating in it, is overflowing. As always we escaped.

A quick flit round the shops and a great lunch in a, new to us, Greek restaurant (Pelagos). It had been commended to (us) the audience by the conductor at the Phil when talking to his guest pianist. They were both perfectly right - terrific food, good price, nice people. It has been added to our regular eatery hit list. 

We were asked to be back by 3 pm when they expected to be finished and to bring the balance of the money in cash (!) We were given some spiel about paying the lads for Thanksgiving (the next day) and the banks being closed on Thanksgiving.  No, it didn't make sense to us either, we just assumed it was a cash in hand tax fiddle for everyone concerned. We duly reappeared on time and hid out at the pool with a book for another hour as they clearly weren't any where near finished at three. At four we returned to 202 to stand around in the smell and dementia for a while. I finally gave up and rang my sweet neighbour in Georgia to ask if I could sit in her apartment (next door), which I did. It was very odd sitting in someone else's home. I told her I felt like Goldilocks and ended up sitting in three different places before leaving. Four-thirty and some more rolled round and the guys eventually left clutching the wad of money. It seemed neither the owner nor his two sons deemed it necessary to turn up and check the job or even pick up the cash. Mmm!

As for the decorating....   The job itself was utterly shambolic to say the least but they did do it in three days as promised and the end result was acceptable. Nothing like the quality which was promised in the sales pitch. It has been just a quick clean up right through. It does feel good though to take ownership of the place at last. I always feel a home feels more like yours when its been painted right through. It looks like a a giant sugared almond but its what I like. Ken just sighed and said, "Colour? what colour? looks white to me....''

As with everything else in this foreign land even painting and paints are different to back home. The trouble I had trying to determine what was meant by a flat enamel ('flat' being our matte) as opposed to just a flat paint was a pain. No-one even understood the question - basically all I wanted to know was, would it shine? That being precisely what I didn't want... reply ... no it just has a slight sheen (!) does that mean slightly shiny?... no, its flat with a slight sheen! Trims and interior woodwork here are usually painted in the same (latex!) paint as the walls - so every colour and degree of shininess under the sun can be chosen and mixed for you.  I preferred an oil-based wood paint.  We were told that white oil-based paint for the trims and doors only came in one white and in semi-gloss. (I confess to not having checked this out as I trusted the painter not to be telling porky pies!) Similarly ceiling paint in white is just that - no fiddling around with shades of white or finishes. The gloss turned out to be just like our white gloss of years ago and stinks just as badly. I had forgotten just how evil the paint of my childhood was. We lived with the doors and windows open for days and were still afflicted with stinging eyes, vaguely sore throat and chest (even Ken!) and in my case a permanent headache, which I still seem to be suffering from a little. Neither of us can smell the paint any more, but than could just be a case of getting used to it.

The 24th was Thanksgiving Day. As in previous years we retreated to Cracker Barrel for our holiday dinner like the saddos we are. This year it proved very useful as we both looked dire in terms of clothes and bodies because we were in the throes of putting the place back together again following the painting spree. Ken actually likes his Cracker Barrel Thanksgiving Dinner. American food is decidedly man food!

The ongoing smell never managed to ruin my appetite, of course, but it did prevent us from eating at home (!!!) so day five arrived and I had to eat crabs legs again! This translated into a huge plate of crab legs (a dozen maybe?), nine generous sized sushi, a plate of ''what does that taste like?'' samples from the other 200 plus buffet dishes, followed by another plate of crabs legs for pudding!! oooh I almost forgot the three Chinese pastry/cake things for pudding number two. I have such self control!

I've struggled to keep to my weight this month with too many meals out. I know the food police won't get you if you don't clear your plate but I am one of those people who keep going and going even past the wanting it stage. If there is food in front of me I'll eat it. As I said to a friend I still have the bulging bits all over but they just don't weigh as much.

The 26th brought our annual (my birthday) outing to The Nutcracker. So nice once in a while to be a 'growed-up' and dress up and go out after dark especially to somewhere like the Phil. I wish everyone else felt the same. Most of the audience are a delight in both clothes and manners but there is a small group who haven't a clue about theatre etiquette or who deliberately flout it, which is worse in my book. Someone actually brought a baby to the ballet. Maybe to a matinee performance, especially The Nutcracker, which you expect to be filled with children, but to an evening performance?  I think not. Luckily it was only a slightly grizzly baby! We also fell foul of a couple immediately in front of us who really needed a hotel room. I think whispering, giggling and eating each other's faces is a tad inappropriate for any theatre venue? To some extent I love the performance enough to get lost in it but was I brought curtly back to earth now and then by their almost non-stop antics. Being British and, in truth, not wanting to seem to be an old kermudgin I was useless at actually resorting to 'ticking them off'. These weren't idiot teenagers but a couple in their high thirties (at least). Even in my five quid dress (but nice shoes!) I felt vastly superior!

The following day (Sunday) I had somehow got roped in to help out at The Naples Concert Band concert which Ken 'works' for. It was fine. I discovered I don't actually mind shaking a red bucket at complete strangers and demanding money. It is odd the sort of talents you don't suspect in yourself... this is one I should have tried sooner and I could have been rich. Though Ken tells me you can only do it at a concert otherwise it is called demanding money with menaces.

Our month ended on the 30th with a minor blow. Someone, or rather several someones, have decided in their wisdom to erect a shiny Alcatraz black chain link fence along the line of the woods opposite our condo.

(The photo actually isn't our lake, but looks the same. This fence borders two sides of Sherwood 1 and must have cost an arm and a leg!)

Probably bits of my email to R says all I want to say on the subject:

I've calmed down a bit now but I am still saddened by it. Ken thought that a fence along the border of Sherwood meant just that ... In the woods along our border line. We both appreciate that it probably would have cost more to put there as it would have been more difficult to erect but to have spoiled our view in this way is pretty poor. You know I would always choose barrier planting to block access.. Nicer to look at, cheaper to install and virtually maintenance free especially in a wild wood!! There seems to be a resistance to it over here for some reason. Using a fence instead seems to lose on every point: it will need maintaining to some extent and if someone is determined to trespass it will need fixing every five minutes ... It is pretty easy to wreck.

Why shiny black? Dark green to help it blend and a matt finish would have been much better.  This one glows delightfully (!) in the setting sun... certainly ruins my favourite moments on the lanai!!!!! Aaaaaarrrgghhh!

The only option we have left is to plant in front of it and anything we do plant will look like some sort of hedge as it will probably be a single specimen... Fig? Bougainvillea? Etc and will need maintaining regularly... More expense! And still it won't be the original more  attractive wild aspect we once had. The best form of planting would be a layer of what is on the other side.. In other words put a strip of wood on this side of the fence therefore making the monstrosity ACTUALLY be in the wood as it should have been in the first place. Can you imagine the cost along the length of that stretch?.... That's not going to happen!

Another issue this raises is our own access to the woods... Dog walkers, the man who meditates there, nosey bobs like Ken and I and the fire and other emergency services though they will just hack through it I guess. Anyone who wants to live in there now can do so in comfort as no-one from this side will be checking on them. Fencing our BORDER might have been a good idea but chopping off part of our property just seems plain daft to me.

I suspect my problem here is that I am awful at living in a communal way. I pride myself on being excellent at tolerance and compromise but in truth that is probably only on the things I don't feel all that strongly about, when it comes to things that matter to me I want them done my way!  So, a board-run apartment is a bad fit for me.

I mentioned about being very homesick last winter and that I hoped I wouldn't feel like it this year but alas I do. I kept pushing it away and refusing to indulge myself in it to such an extent that eventually I ended up blubbing like a baby one of the days to go home. Poor Ken is bewildered by it all. It isn't that this place isn't wonderful - it is. This is something which has no basis in sense or reason. I just want to go home! The only defence I have is that many people who emigrate to a much better life reach a point where they realise they don't want to be a 'foreigner' in a 'strange' land and they desperately want to go home where everything, even the bad things, chime harmoniously with their soul.  Almost everything here now seems to jar.  In effect Ken and I have lived in America for five years, even though that is composed of ten half years. In a way that seems like us having been here more time, not less. When I get here now I just feel like an émigrée who needs to go home. I am weary with trying to rationalise it and to convince others that it makes some sort of sense, especially when I know it doesn't.  All I know is that I am left with the insoluble conflict of not wanting to live here any more and that I will miss it dreadfully when I don't!

Everyone is perfectly correct in that I would hate the winters back home and that I would miss Naples, so I stick with the plan. The last time we sold up in Naples and bought the house in France I was the one who knocked that on the head a year later because I wanted to be back here!   Also Ken loves it here more than our life in the UK. There really isn't a solution. Coming here will have a natural end at some point simply by our advancing old age and the cost and the practical difficulties encountered doing it. I am just marking time and hoping that the end is sooner rather than later (though I suspect it won't be). Meanwhile like a prisoner under house arrest in a palace I tick off the days to December 20th and then to March 29th.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Autumn has finally arrived in the trees outside the apartment. The pine needles on the larches have turned into rust and started to  drop.  Another seasonal signal here is the mess the live oaks make with their indestructible leather leaves and tiny acorns which get crushed underfoot all over our paths.  My mother would have a field day with her broom.  This was a lady who swept cherry blossom off the lawn. That said, it seems that everything else still flourishes and continues to grow at a galloping rate. Even the said trees only manage to just thin themselves out ready for the Florida winter: if you weren't scrutinising them you'd never notice. We don't do 'season's of mists and mellow fruitfulness' over here but, then again, neither do we do frost and ice and snow and and you can keep that.

As always I can't believe the best part of a month has gone by since I was last doing this and I'm beginning to wonder if Ken isn't drugging my tea and I'm losing whole days.  This would also explain why I never know what day of the week it is.

Looking back through my diary this should be the shortest piece ever as I can't find anything vaguely interesting to relate but when did that ever stop me?

I left you on the day our air con unit and water heater were replaced.  It was a great piece of work - two men and bing, bang, bosh indoors and out and it was all done.  In and out like a fiddlers elbow. The same certainly can't be said for the chaos I am sitting in today typing this. We have the decorators in.  They are doing the whole place.  Handy tip, have one room at a time done!

We got three quotes which all came in within $50 of each other.  This made it really hard to decide on who to hire. I fancied ol' blue eyes simply because I fancied ol' blue eyes but we went with the first guy - Sam.  He had spent the most time doing the quote so he seemed to listen properly and appeared to be the keenest.  He was also the one who followed up a couple of times during the next week while we were waiting for other people to quote. As usual with these things by day one we had realised it was just a good sales pitch. In the interim days we had coughed up $900 for materials which was instantly cashed and when I tried to get a couple of queries answered it was like writing osame-fuda paper prayers. On day one (yesterday) the promised 'three men for three days' became one man for Monday - garrulous Gary - who is a one man moaning band.

Without a backward glance we had enough sense to abandon him and flee to our lunch and the shops. Same plan quickly formed up for today. Gary arrived at 8 am, which meant us getting up at 7 am, (for us this is the crack of dawn!).  He then proceeded to natter to Ken for 35 minutes before lifting a brush. We fled again to a long lunch and a trawl round consignment shops. Right now it is four o'clock and my weary bones are settled into my chair in the only room pretty much untouched by the wrath of vinyl warriors. There was better news today though, as I've already said Gary arrived at 8 am and then shortly after that son of Sam popped in and another painter joined them and  son of Sam left!  While we were out hiding from them another guy arrived so when we got back there was Gary plus two (!) wielding the brushes. Hey presto, finally, three men.  Even with the ad hoc additional 'staff' I don't have a hope in hell of seeing the back of them tomorrow and as the next day is Thanksgiving... ???? As I said to a friend in an email today -good job we don't have our usual sixty guests for a sit-down full-on Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday; or do Ken and I usually just go to Cracker Barrel? I can't remember.

The Saga of Gary and his Jolly Rollers is be continued.... 

As I said at the beginning I have nothing thrilling to report. My diary is just full of all the usual stuff and nothing in particular stands out other than November is my birthday month. My birthday is actually a birthweek. In my family the cards stay up for a week to allow any tardy card or gift givers time to catch up (!) This means additional birthday treats are also allowed during that time. Seems eminently sensible to me. My 66th segued into about ten days this time. Everyone came up trumps with gifts and cards in good time. Even my chap was able to present me with red roses at breakfast as he'd sneaked out the previous evening on the pretext of a bike ride to buy them and hide them overnight.

The extended extension (!) began with one of my many gifts from Ken arriving the following day. I had mentioned that I fancied some little Reutter dishes (1/12th) on sale on E-Bay but I was too cheap to pay the price asked so he bought them for me and, even though they didn't manage to arrive in time, I was thrilled to bits. He is a little gem.

He'd also booked dinner at one of the best restaurants on 5th Avenue (Verginas) but I cried off. For me it would have just been a trial. We went once years ago, probably another birthday; they were quiet snotty as we are obviously neither rich nor famous. I suspect if you are both you'll get the very best obsequious treatment.   In addition - here comes every woman's crie de coeur - I haven't anything to wear. In my case this is absolutely true. I am thirty plus pounds lighter and three sizes smaller than last year. Verginas is the sort of place which demands that elegant understated New England linenessity (just made that up so don't bother looking it up, you'll either know what I mean or... (Ken) not). I have one set of (bargain) dressy clothes for the Phil which is far too dressed up for Verginas. So the fretting about it 
all day and then the not brilliant evening wasn't the birthday I wanted. I persuaded him to cancel and, to his despair, I chose one of our regular eateries - Grand Buffet. This is a cheap all-you-can-eat Chinese Buffet but it does have crab legs at the weekend. It was great.

In the already established Ormson we-know-how-to-do-a-birthday mode of taking my mother around Staples (stationery shop) on her 80th, we decided to include a trip to Home Depot for paint samples. I had a lovely day. I did no chores whatsoever, fed my face full to busting on crabs legs and played at rainbow painting the apartment. Sounds like a second childhood?

Five days later we went to the Phil for an excellent concert. 
 Mozart's beautiful Piano Concerto No. 18,  Rimsky-Korsakov's intoxicating Scheherazade, Berlioz's dramatic Overture to the opera Benvenuto Cellini. Three wonderful pieces. That in itself is a rare find. I usually suffer two boring or show-offy ones for one good one. We also always go to the pre-concert talk by the conductor, which is not only informative but always amusing.  Jorge Mester in particular has a dry and ready wit. He also takes a moment to talk to his guest performer. This time it was Soyeon Lee who also amused and elaborated on the music and her performance.  She had been asked by Mester to learn the piece for this concert as it wasn't in her repertoire.  She said it was one she hadn't even heard.  When asked by an audience member she also said that it takes about a week to 'learn the notes' and then it is a case of playing it whenever you can using the score (without benefit of orchestra) until it becomes a part of your body.  It might be worth noting she played without any music.  She is a delight to watch as well as to hear.  The resulting piece was truly beautiful. She didn't wear the famous dress (take a minute to look at this).

On November 9th the following happened:

Emergency Alert System Nationwide Test (EAS)

The first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) will take place on November 9, 2011 at 2 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time).

The purpose of the test is to assess the reliability and effectiveness of the system in alerting the public. This national-level EAS is a national public alert and warning system that enables the President of the United States to address the American public during extreme emergencies.

On November 9, Comcast customers and the public will hear a message indicating that "This is a test." The audio message will repeat “This is a test.” The video message scroll may not indicate “This is a test.” The video text is likely to inform viewers that authorities have issued an “Emergency Action Notification.”

Regular programming will resume once the EAS test concludes. The audio message will be the same for both radio and television. The test may look like regular, local EAS tests that most people are already familiar with, but there will be some differences in what viewers will see and hear.

As a disaster warning it was pretty much a disaster in itself.  Some stations didn't play it, others played it longer or shorter than they should.  Ken tells me that there is a Florida one done every month.  When I asked him why, in eleven years, I hadn't a clue that there was a pretend Florida tragedy each month he said - we don't watch TV in the daytime.  So - basically it is a great idea for promoting daytime TV or  radio.  The quiet people will just have to blow up or fry or whatever it is we are supposed to be avoiding if a tragedy occurs before 8 pm.  No, I don't have an idea for alerting quiet people other than very refined softly spoken gentlefolk dropping off a nicely printed deckle-edged card signed by the President.  Will I have to RSVP?

To finish I'll flit back to today.  I bought a very nice jacket from a consignment shop. I am turning into my mother.  I promise you it is a new one - honestly.  It is all very bright and very Floridy - not a bit like me.  This reminds me to tell you about my best bargains ever.... a couple of weeks ago we went to see if Bealls Outlets at Pine Ridge had gone as we had been told by two different sources that it had: any way it was still there, so we went In for a trawl.  I managed to get  Lucy a couple of cute things for pennies and, for me, I got  two tops and one pair of trousers. Here comes the bargain of bargains. The trousers were reduced to 50 cents......  there was 95% off the original discounted price and then after that I got the usual Monday's old person fifteen per cent off and then I  had a five dollar voucher for being a good customer.  There are days at Bealls they pay you to take stuff away.  

Even our avoid-the-painters lunches are bargains.  Yesterday we had lunch at First Watch and used my get a lunch free coupon.  Technically it was out of date but over here - no problem - that's fine.  Today we ate at Perkins with a 20% coupon.  Tomorrow we might use our Groupon coupon for 5th Avenue Deli which gets us $26 worth of lunch for $10.  This is proving to be a tough decision as we fancy trying a Greek restaurant on Davis.  We still have thirteen buy one get one free Subway coupons, and half a dozen discount coupons for Beef O'Brady's.  There's just not enough meals in the day to save money!

So on with the motley.  Talk to you again soon.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Nice weather today...

As for the beach - we timed it well.  It was followed by two days of solid rain with a showery day before and a showery one after so we were well and truly water-logged.  very unusual for us here to have back to back rain.  it's the first time I've ever seen the water in the lake rise above the concrete inlet/culvert thingy.  This was accompanied by thunder and lightening and a tornado watch all day and all night.  Good stuff.

We then drifted into our presently perfect weather - high 70s in the day and 50/60 overnight.  It is just spot on for me.  We are off on a tour of the community on our bikes in a minute just at my favourite time of the day when everything turns gold.(5.30 pm)

We are sort of waiting for a tropical storm which is due here next week.  You get a couple of days with a big hoo-haa of how it might be a hurricane - late in the season like Wilma was.  We are now at the stage of well maybe not - just a tropical storm, so who knows what the weather will actually be like next week.  It's almost like being in the UK!

As we are home for Xmas I'd like a mild December over there so I can actually get outside.  Two years ago we came home for ten days and I flew in, got the taxi to the house, stayed put, followed by the taxi to the airport and flew out.  Truly that's not an exaggeration - Ken still can't believe you can stay in a house for ten days!!  I hate slippy icy roads and pavements.  So, whatever it does here it has to be better than that.

As for doing lots of things - we seem to find something most days even if it is only eating and shopping!  We use the libraries a lot for films and other stuff they put on and have just been to pick up a book I ordered.  I forswore eating out partly out of frugality and partly because I moan about everything we eat.  We agreed that last Thursday since which time we have eaten at Grand Buffet the following day - how can you not want spider crab legs - Ikea on Saturday as we were miles from home and out again yesterday because we were at the shops.  Nothing like being strong-willed.

Our second concert in the park was the freebie given by the Phil and, like the first one, we got rained off.  This time the orchestra also upped sticks and left.  Probably shouldn't call expensive violins, cellos and their like, sticks? We did get a programme though which gave us a good deal.  If we took it to the Phil booking office we could get tickets for a concert in November for $25 each.  Off we duly trotted a couple of days later.  I am trying to persuade Ken this can be my birthday outing instead of the very expensive Nutcracker which he buys me every year.  I love it but two posh outings so close together really isn't necessary; think of all that 'I can't find anything to wear' malarkey which I'll have to do twice.

We may well be economising any way as we've just been stuck for a three and a half thousand dollar repair.  It began with our water heater not heating up properly.  It is like our old electric immersion heaters we used to have in the UK, but this one has two elements as it is a very big tank, and one of them had gone.  We have a contract with a company who take care of all our  stuff like that - remember the new washing machine last year?  So, Broward came out and replaced it - bing, bang, bosh, no charge.  We got the usual dire warnings about a 12 year old tank needing replacing as they rust and leak and then you have a major problem. So Ken did his usual searching all and sundry for the best prices for a couple of days and we were going to have that done for about five hundred plus.  Meanwhile on Monday the annual inspection of our air con was done and we got the also usual dire warnings of a twelve year old system is two years past its sell by date and could implode/explode/die/leak/whatever any second and we'd hate that!!  Ken (and I) have dragged our feet on all major spending here since buying this place but he decided we really had to bite the bullet on this one.  Over here especially it makes a big difference when you sell.  It is commonplace to have stuff like that deducted from the asking price so you don't gain anything other than letting someone else have the newness instead of you.  Guess what - Monday was yesterday - today they were here and the job's done.  We do find all round that customer service here is good - if they say they are coming they arrive - they work quietly and tidily and get the job done without breaks and forgotten bits and pieces.  We've never had a problem with any work we've had done.  Ken also thinks it was a good price, especially as they also agreed to replace the water heater at the same time and only charge us for the cost of the unit ($300).  So we are much lighter in the pocket but comforted in the 'what if it goes kaput' areas.  I was doing a mental calculation of how much a year this would cost us before we die and the engineer did say they last ten or fifteen years so our kids would be OK when they inherit!!  I've only got ten or fifteen years -OMG - my life measured out in air con systems.

Couple of footnotes...   Have you ever read that you can get stung by dead bees and wasps?  You can.  I found a dead bee on the lanai (they are still visiting their old address) and picked it up with a tissue - one big achy thumb!

To go with the big thumb I thought I'd improve my hair so I cut myself, what my mom would call, a donkey fringe.  this is not a good look even on a donkey.  The result is a cross between an aunty of mine - no names, no pack drill,  (it is scary how much I look like her!) and Julie Andrew's Maria from the Sound of Music.  So now I don't know whether to just moan a lot (I do that already - told you I was like my aunty) or screech ...'' the hills are alive to the sound of music''..  which, in my case, they wouldn't be.  I'll leave you with that image.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

South Florida Dollhouse & Miniatures Show

To be precise it is
The South Florida Dollhouse & Miniatures Show and Sale
Clarion Inn
7859 Lake Worth Road

This is a 275 mile round trip for us.  That said don't try and compare it to to a 275 mile round trip in the UK; as I said to Ken when we set off across Alligator Alley with two other cars in sight - ''It's not quite the same as the drive to Birmingham and the NEC which was the last show we went to".

I'm getting fed up with Alligator Alley it doesn't live up to its name any more. I am sure when we first came here we never went along it without seeing 'gators?  The last couple of times nary a one!  The stinkers.

Any way we tootled off to the Show....mmmm... more a display really.  Twenty-four stalls as opposed to the 200 I last spent six hours with at the NEC.  (details of the show itself in my Tout Blog).  My saint of a husband sat with a his book outside by the pool in the shade.  He did nip in to the Perkins which was on site and have a coffee and key lime pie;  he claimed he was perfectly happy.  I was less than an hour on my spree so we decided we'd stop by Ikea on the way back for lunch and a mooch.

I left Ken parked up at a diddy table with yet more coffee and his book and had another hour and something fettling round Ikea.  I can always find bits and bobs to buy from there.  Sadly it included a block of chocolate, most of which I demolished before I was in the car.  This is how I get fat.  I did a bit of mental arithmetic after scoffing it and realised there's something like 1000 calories in the bar - nearly a whole day's extra food being consumed.  I'd have to miss three meals this week to pull that back and we all know that's not going to happen.  Hey ho, two steps forward and one step back.

On which subject....  as of Thursday we agreed to give up on meals out two and three times a week until we have visitors; firstly because I moan about them all (!) and secondly it will save some pennies.  That was Thursday... on Friday we ate at Grand Buffet because it was crab leg night and I needed something to cheer me up and today it was Ikea because we were miles from home; so we are doing well so far.

The whole point of this prattle is because I just had to share this with the English folk -  the doors from the ladies toilet in the Clarion Inn.  I have nothing more to add!

except a broken arm.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Settling in... maybe....

We've been here a couple of weeks and  seem to have run our way rapidly through the check-list of everything that is Naples.

Minor repairs (guest bathroom tap aka faucet), major repairs (the water heater aka immersion heater) - no cost, courtesy of a contract we have with a repair company ,  meals out at every one of our usual eateries from crabs' legs at Grand Buffet to Chicken Marsala at Carrabas and everything in between.  We have done the concert in the park, been to the beach ; as for shopping, we've done that and more.  We have staggered under the weight of our usual huge food shopping to restart the empty cupboards and giant fridge/freezer and visited all of our regular large and small stores all over town, which was swiftly followed by returning stuff to all our large and small stores all over town.  This even included a bread machine (!).  We have just been to see Jane Eyre at the library.. so, now can I come home?

We hit the beach yesterday afternoon around 3pm for an hour and a half.  It was 83 degrees F and Ken tells me the Gulf is at the same temperature right now, so he was in his element  literally immersed in it.  Meanwhile I sweltered and fidgeted and counted the minutes.  Ungrateful wretch I hear you cry and you are right.  I also hear many 'Poor Ken's' - right again.

For the first couple of years when we moved to this apartment, we had a resident frog who lived on our outside lamp;  presumably munching the moths etc. which were attracted to the light.  He used to leave little mounds of frog concrete which had to be hacked off in our first grand cleaning session on arrival.  Believe me nature takes over rapidly in our six months absence in the summer in this climate.

Last year the frog decamped and we had the prettiest of green lizards who only stayed a couple of days until he caught on to the idea that the humans had retuned.  Here he is again to welcome us this year but, again, he has moved on to pastures new. Don't you just love his backward toes.
 This was another of  Mother Nature's little gems outside the bedroom window.  I thought it was a wasps nest but the chap who came to get rid of it said it was yellow-jacket bees. He also said it was a good size but had removed a larger one earlier in the week - the honey was still in his truck!  Luckily the association pays for this little task - $350!!!!  As of today we seem to have got rid of the nest but not the bees.  The nest, incidentally, is a fantastic structure made out of paper which the bees make from slivers of wood and their digestive system.  I did ask if they could be left alone but was answered by both people as if I was a complete lunatic.  I have since discovered that they nest in your eaves and loft and eat the wood and plaster, so maybe not a good idea to keep them.  As for relocating I doubt there is a bee relocating service in Naples.  Everything would be sterilised if it were possible.

This is a picture of our first (Jazz Band) concert at Cambier Park.  It was a hit and miss sort of day weather wise; the rain held off for a long time but eventually we did have a shower.  Most of the audience ran for the hills but dammit man, we're British.  High eighties and a brief shower sitting under a tree - not really a major challenge.  We stuck it out to the end.  For this we are promised a party at the leader's house at the end of the season - Oh Yes, you can see me there can't you?  You were needed, Sue, the umbrella ladies were also a bit sparse.  They said they were going for the Guinness Book of records for the least number of umbrella ladies on stage.  The most is something like 2,000 - bit too far to go for that title.

So, as I say, we are here and we dig in deeper each day.  I am not as down with it as I was last year and am I just  trying really hard not to wallow in misery and remain as positive as I can.  I'm actually pretty useless at that as I am a glass-half-empty person by nature.  Cynicism was invented for me.  

The beach was hot and itchy, the meals out are American and I crave some simple clean cooking and vegetables.  Everything seems structured on fat, sugar, salt and... oh yes.... don't forget the cheese!  I can't buy lots of food things I would buy at home and so I feel adrift when I'm planning meals.  The sunshine is wonderful and the scenery lovely but it barely changes - oh for a bit of drama!  I have nothing to wear as most of my clothes here were (UK size) 18 and 20 and I am now 14/16.  TV is even more appalling than ours....  see what I mean about being a misery. 

The major positive (weather aside) is that it is all still so very civilised over here and people are charming and kind and service in restaurants and shops is a delight.  The apartment is nice, the community is nice and I always love the generous size of all things American.  I hate the cooker though.  I thought I'd just throw that in just in case you thought I'd been body-snatched by Pollyanna.  It is like cooking over an open fire.  The elements at the top and the bottom are totally exposed so it is inclined to burn the bottom of things before the top is done.  It is huge, but because I am hugging the centre of the beast for everything I can never get more than two things in without compromising on something.  No wonder they grill and BBQ everything.  Hey ho!  Farewell from paradise for now.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Safe and sound

So, yes, here we are safe and sound.

Yesterday began with my saying goodbye to the garden and the house with a mini-snivel; seriously, I swear I'm getting dafter as I get older.  It was really hard for me to leave.  Good job they aren't thoughts I share (too much) with Ken or he'd have me locked in the attic and banned from lighting candles.

Trip to the airport was a bit of a drag as it took the best part of an hour, so we lost some of our planned time.  That said, I'm always secretly happy with that as we really didn't seem to spend any waiting time in the airport.  The security check was an absolute doddle - through the fast lane - and it certainly was - just a straight walk through.  My iPad had to go through twice for some reason.  It is just part of the world-wide conspiracy at all customs points to look out for me..... it is always me.  Any way, up, up and away and two films and some games on my iPad (8hrs 18mns) later there we were in the U S of A.

Make mental note for future trips - I requested low fat food and it was sooo much better than the usual stuff, especially as I didn't get the horrid snack thing they do - I think it was a yuck pizza slice.  Actually Ken was even better off - he did low sodium which meant he could have an ice cream whereas I couldn't.

We de-planed and joined the immigration queue and proceeded to shuffle at the giddy speed of one inch and hour to the man in the box.  Every single time (this is not an exaggeration) I have a problem with the finger scan.  It always gets repeated endlessly.  The machine gets wiped, my hands get wiped, the computer is fiddled with and finally I have to do all the digits on my left and right hand which still seems to leave the officer with furrowed brows.  Yesterday I managed to do even better - I broke his computer!  I put my four fingers on the screen as requested and he said everything froze.  Several phone calls, lots of faffing with the computer and some actual throwing of bits of stuff around in a temper, including the phone (seriously scary!) and some minutes later we tried again.  As always it wasn't a good result and I did the usual both hands and thumbs and was allowed to go even though he still looked perplexed. I also often get my baggage opened and checked and I have been through the iris scan a couple of times a year for four years and it has never worked for me a single time.  Me .... paranoid??  I think not though I am concerned there is some racism going on here.  They mark me out for this treatment just because I am from the planet Krypton.

Off to recheck baggage and get the next plane out of Atlanta to Fort Myers.  We had just enough time to do it comfortably  without any sitting around.  I did have time to register the high number of eateries there are and the all-pervading smell of Cinnabons and burgers and Pizza - the smell of America? or just Atlanta airport?  No wonder these places proliferate - you can eat a couple of burgers for a dollar each or buy a Wolfgang Puck healthier sandwich (from a kiosk) for $8.97 each.  It is a bit of a no-brainer as to why America runs on high fat, high sugar, high salt.

On board our next flight out of Atlanta we had an announcement from the pilot which I've never encountered on board before - "we are looking for three people to volunteer to get the 10 pm flight (we were on the 4.10 pm) for $600 each and flying first class".  Four (!) people were there before the sentence was finished.  Darn it - sounded like a bargain to Ken and I.  I think old people at the back of the plane should be given a head start before these youngsters.

Something else we encountered as a first for me was being asked by the pilot to lower the window shades and turn the cool air vents on when we landed in Fort Myers as it helped keep the plane cool while it was on the ground.  We understood why when we exited the airport at 6.30pm into an outside temperature of 88 degrees F.  Smells again came to the fore...  I always love the wonderful spicy, damp smell of Florida when we arrive.  I try to savour it before we get used to it.

Today we've been out and about shopping and returning the hire car in a temperature of 91, so it is still their summer weather here. We'll have to try to get to the beach as often as we can so we can "use" the sea while it is still warm.

I'm also grateful for the excessive good manners and customer service, as always, and the lovely empty roads before the season kicks in.  Even I managed to drive on them today without the colly-wobbles. 

A bit more scrubbing and sorting tomorrow and we will be ready to just get on with living here until next Spring.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

New Career?

I think I've missed my calling and I should have been an American tour guide.  Clearly I can construct an itinerary to die for.

What a weekend we've just had.

We left Bury on Saturday about 9 am after tidying the house, cleaning ourselves and packing an overnight bag.  This, in itself, is an achievement for people who don't usually get up until nine.  

Off we go to Wolverhampton where we collect a dolls house table.  After a bit of a kerfuffle and a couple of panic moments we manage to fit it in the boot of our (now tiny) car.  Off we go to Bracknell, stopping en route, around 1 pm, to eat our packed lunch.  Oh yes, I forgot to mention I packed that before we left at the crack our dawn - well, the crack of our dawn.  

Somewhere around 3 pm in leafy Berkshire we collected the new (to me) dolls house.  Another wiggle and jiggle and in it goes into the boot.  Now we are off, back up (almost) the way we came, to Cheltenham for our overnight stay.  Before even going to the Motel we had to do a little divert to a garden centre to buy a strawberry pot to match the one I bought there last summer.  Not only is it a great price - huge and only £16.99 - but it is a very particular shape and colour and I can't get one to match anywhere at home.  The Motel experience was a bit odd really in that we'd booked a room in Briarfields which is the caravan site where we've stayed a few times when we've visited Pam and Ken.  We were a bit peeved that someone was actually on our pitch which we felt should simply be left in memory of us with perhaps a little plaque or something.  So yes, a bit strange coming and going to a bedroom.  We have a standing joke Ken and I, that wherever we stay our room is always upstairs and as far down a corridor as it is possible to go.  No change there then.  Lugging cases to these rooms is bad enough; this trip I also wanted Ken to lug my dolls house to the room as I wanted to measure it for the show the next day.  Now, which is the more crackpot - me for thinking that was a good idea, or Ken for doing it?  So we had a bit of a breather for an hour or so and then went to see Pam and Ken and had the usual lovely dinner (and visit) at their house.  We said we'd meet for breakfast at 8 am the next day.

8 am on Sunday and we arrive at The Harvester to find P & K already there, which was, in truth, a lovely surprise as we can't imagine getting up at that time on a Sunday - apparently people do!  We had a great breakfast with them and by nine o'clock we are off again.

This time we went to Stafford for a Dolls House Fair.  (If you want to see the stuff I bought etc you'll need to look at the photo album - link in the column on the right)  I had a terrific time culling over 90 stalls and Ken killed some time in the car park and then went on to meet Richard for lunch in Eccleshall (more driving).  He got back to pick me up at around 2.30 pm but I had just sat down to lunch.  That is a very rough description of what I'd sat down to eat - chicken pie and chips - the pie was full of a sort of salty wallpaper paste and I can only assume they boil their chips!  Any way, I promised Ken I would be very quick but I needed to go back in and check out something before we left so we got away about 3.45 pm.

Even then our day wasn't over as we needed to get petrol, shop for food and check out our friends' house (they are away for a month).  Eventually we were home.  After emptying the, by now, packed to the gunnels car and having put all the stuff away we could finally collapse at home with a cuppa.  Deep joy.  A lot achieved and all pleasurable.  Can't speak for the driver - 470 miles round trip!  (Yes I know, my American readers won't be impressed by this number - you need to drive in the UK to understand what it means!)

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Links to photos

 I recently decided in all my blogs to add links to individual photo albums in the left hand column.  In a short space of time I've come to realise that's going to be a bit unwieldy as there will be a ridiculously long list very soon; so I've put individual links back into the text of the post.  Don't forget to click on the highlighted text to look at the pictures.  As soon as I can I will remove the links I have on the left and attach them to the appropriate places in the blogs.  I'll just put a link to my main site (containing the individual albums) there instead.  Apologies in advance if that doesn't happen immediately - too many things to do and too little time right now.

Gone but not forgotten

The title refers to me I hope ....  I haven't written a thing here since I got home in April.  I have been writing now and then in my other three(!!!!) blogs.  Not that I am offering that as a reason for writing nothing here  I swear there never seems to be the (right) time for it.  I am mentally 'writing' all the time and come up with wonderful passages and thoughts and arguments which I really must try to get down on paper but they drift away and the days move on.

The purpose of this tiny piece is to direct you to some new albums and a new blog and to promise (yet again) to make a real effort to come and talk to you soon.

A week ago we got home from a week in Alston, Cumbria.  Its claim to fame is that it is the highest market town in the UK and that it is 20 miles from any decent size town in any direction.  We discovered that it lives up to both these claims.  The driving was stupendous - mile after mile of views across half the county whilst climbing up moors along twisty and often narrow roads. The only other risks to life and limb were the bikers - motor and pedal - who obviously have this area marked as their ultimate challenge ride.  One of the roads (A686) lays claim to being the most scenic in the UK (!).

While staying at Love Lady Shield Hotel we visited a couple of NGS gardens (photo links for those are in my garden blog), a couple of NT places - Aira Force and Gibside and a great two-for-one Gardeners World offer - Hutton in the Forest.  So there's a bunch of photos for you to have a go at here if you are interested.

The apartment we rented we got through a Living Social offer (like Groupon if you've heard of that), so for a couple of hundred pounds we (and sometimes four of us) had a week in something which normally costs six hundred (can't be bad).  It was really, really nice -  a new, very spacious two bedroomed place, lacking nothing - for the normal person that is.  You are listening to a woman here who takes her own Dutch oven and chef's knife with her.  I won't list the other three thousand items we also took so I 'could manage' to cook.  I was not made for camping.

We went to Aira Force on Monday (two days into the stay) and guess who fell down the steps to the fall (well named) - yup!  I had scrambled up half a mountain on vertical uneven scrabbly paths, arrived at the summit with a glimpse of the falls.  At this point the National Trust have kindly constructed some sturdy, nice and even steps down to the bottom so you can get terrific views.  Three steps down and down she goes.  One hurt back, two arms and a leg.  I now have a head, trunk and one leg that function without pain.  This combination does not lend itself to much.  The rest of the week was spent doing short hobbles round places like Gibside and Hutton in the forest whilst others gambolled off to have fun. I didn't do too badly at Hutton as it was at the end of the week but I pretty much missed the 18th century splendour of the remains of Gibside so I can't extol the virtues of that place.  It was nice for a picnic in the sun though.  The temple is also incredibly beautiful and there is the (sad) fantastic story of Lady Mary Eleanor Bowes.- one of the Queen Mother's ancestors.

We also visited quite a few ice cream shops as my daughter and my other half make it their duty to find anything vaguely ice cream and home made wherever we are.  No photo albums for those though.  All in all we had a good week and the weather was kind to us.

I'll leave you to the photos and hope to come back soon for a natter.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

My Other Blogs

I've added links to my other two blogs (on the left) for those of you who are following those.

Friday, 8 April 2011

April 2011

I'm absolutely cream-crackered but sweetly content.  Gardeners out there will recognise the feeling.  I've just spent most of the day in the garden beginning the clearing up after six months abandonment.  It is always a cross between the Secret Garden and Miss Haversham's when we get back but at least when you do it there is a huge payback. It was so hot today - actually summer temperatures (around 18C) so absolutely no excuse not to get on with it.

Had we not had six breaks in our cold water pipes and a broken boiler thanks to the -17C experienced in Bury (the repairs were finished the day we were flying home!), I would have thought you lot were telling porky pies.  Clearing the veggie beds today I dug up proper radishes; only the slug damage prevented them from going on our salad.  There were half a dozen potatoes all sprouting into life and showing above the soil and the land cress that I’d left to rot down over the winter to improve the soil was eighteen inches high and in flower.  We have rhubarb almost ready to pull and so far I have only one dead plant to report.  This is an incredible result following the winter the UK had again this year.

Sitting down to do this at last I realise I am missing three months - nothing new there then.  Having had a slightly discontented time in Naples (just me, not Ken) it actually feels more like I have actually lost six months.  

Just looking at my collection of disconnected reminder-words on scraps of paper not a lot springs to mind:  I suspect that won’t stop me.

... so back to January........

On the 7th we took off for Daytona Beach for an overnighter to do a Dollhouse Fair in Port Orange the following day.  Note the American/English difference – dollhouse in America, doll’s house in the UK.

The journey from Naples to Daytona along the back roads was really interesting as we got to see the true heart of Florida which seems to be hidden by the beaches, Disney and general tourist life of the State.  

The heartland was actually populated first, mostly by ranchers and quite a lot of those beginnings remain.  I wonder if, like me, you hear ranch and think ‘big farm’.  It is difficult to imagine the size of some of these properties.  One of the ones to recently sell out in various ways was The Babcock Ranch. This was 100,000 acres and valued in 2004 at $460,000,000.  Yes, that's millions; I didn't make a mistake with the zeros.

As always with this sort of thing the owners might be as rich as Croesus but the workers were always dirt-poor and seemingly still are. The shacks and shanties which you see along the route take some believing in this day and age.  Think ‘Winter’s Bone’ – a movie which if you haven’t seen you must try to get on DVD.  I suspect many of the original crackers* have given way to a new immigrant population.  This is visible as you drive through the very small towns.  Almost all of them are Spanish in language and content. Many ranches now, of course, have become orange groves. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

The sort of endemic poverty is underlined by the huge billboard advertising along the route such as one declaring 'medical - no insurance? no problem' and one that we did find astounding 'Don't abandon your baby'.

I seemed to have made a note of loads of signs that simply made me smile such as the Yacht Club - hundreds of miles inland in Arcadia - that proudly stated its name as - The Red Neck Yacht Club.

A ranch carried a sign under its name – just in case you didn't know what a ranch was - 'Commercial cattle'.  This was a double whammy - what other kind of cattle are there?  Pets?  

Then there was the demolition company called Balls Wreckers, and the Baitesville Casket Company had me a tad worried as clearly Norman is alive and well and running exactly the right business in Florida.

I warn you this will be a long list as it was a long journey and Americans seem to have a knack for 'naming' and, no, I don't think they are deliberately ironic.

Stetson University - where presumably they all done Stetson's for graduation.  A bar actually named - A Wild Western Irish Bar, which doesn't bear thinking about on a Saturday night.  Goat’s milk fudge and ice cream - mmm yummy, if a little smelly and a zillion corny altered spellings such as Rest-a-Whyle Restaurant (why?).

Ken, of course managed to find a selection of fifteen hand-dipped ice creams en route, way out in the back of beyond at a glorified truck stop with a couple of huge smokers for ribs.  We managed to get to that place three times!

Our motel in Daytona was all of $59 and we had a $50 coupon so $9 for overnight and breakfast for two can't be bad. For this we were right on the strip on the beach and pretty much in the centre, not to mention a swimming pool and hot tub.

We did the obligatory drive along Daytona Beach which is a great experience especially when you get it pretty much to yourself as we did.  It was very windy but not especially freezing.

On Saturday (the next day) we went to the Dollhouse Fair.  It was a small but interesting group of mostly fairly amateur makers of stuff.  I got a few bits and bobs but it didn't take very long to get round so we set off to find lunch.  We ended up at a place called Booths Brewery.  This was the equivalent of a British pub with meals. I had green fried tomatoes for a starter; I think you have the feel of the place now.  I was amused to see a newspaper hanging on the stall door in the ladies (to read?).  There was Listerine mouthwash and plastic cups by the washbasin - presumably so you don't go home reeking of booze?

Back to Naples and the chores such as an oil change on the car - would you believe $9.95 plus tax for the following?
  • 5 qt oil
  • new filter
  • 25 point inspection
  • 4 tyre rotation
  • check brake pads

We do miss our Naples bargains.

On the 13th along with Carole and Ted and following fish and chips at the British Pub (Mercato) we got to see the raved about movie for this year - The King's Speech.  I totally agree it was a beautifully delineated piece but I thought it made a TV drama-documentary rather than a movie.  It felt very insubstantial to me.

Phil and Sue arrived 15th January for their stay with us until 17th February.  They had already had a week in Orlando.  We filled our time with the usual pool, beach, bikes, restaurants, movies, shops, concerts in the park and the occasional library offerings.  I did get a strange glimpse of the future at one of these soirées.  ‘Hooray for Hollywood’ delivered a very talented (ex pro) dancer/singer twirling her way through a very wide repertoire.  The weird thing was I swear she was probably 70 plus.  Beautifully surgically adjusted but ‘old' never-the-less.  I had this panic moment of feeling I was in an old people's home watching the Friday entertainment being done by someone older than me. Déjà future!

The chaps got in a visit to the Swamp Buggy races trial which they thoroughly enjoyed - little boys, home made vehicles, competition and ..... mud - could it get any better?

We all also pootled off to the Everglades Sea Food Festival which I've seen on TV every year and have never been.  For a foodie it all looked splendid..... on TV ...............  but in real life not an experience to repeat.  It was like going to Blackpool Pleasure Beach on a Bank Holiday Monday, but with retro American bikers.  Still, as they say, we’ve done it.  Tick the box.

By the 11th March we had all decamped to Orlando for a week.  The next day I got to do a morning at a fair sized Miniatures show at the Radisson while the others entertained themselves elsewhere and collected me for lunch.  We got all kinds of coupons and offers for attending a time share presentation amongst which were tickets for a dinner-show - Arabian Nights.  The horses were beautiful; after that - least said soonest mended. The show was OK but the food was literally inedible, not to mention unidentifiable.  Had we paid good money for that we'd have been a bit cross.  I'm not an Orlando fan - the Disney thing isn't my cup of tea at all not because I'm an old fogey or perhaps it is because I've always been an old fogey.  

Phil and Sue flew home on the 17th and we left Orlando the next day having decided to go home via Tarpon Springs.  This was a bit of a detour but so worth it.  Before that Ken took me to the best miniatures shop in the world – I am sure it really is.  Ron’s!  A sweet, smallish sort of add on to what I assume is his home (check out the photos).  Ken sat on the porch in the sun with his book and I lost the morning in there.  Thousands of tiny perfect things – all of which I wanted, few of which I could afford.

Tarpon Springs itself turned out to be charming:

The Sponge Industry helped build a Greek Community that is now famous not only for the worlds finest sponges, but for some of the finest Greek Restaurants, Markets, and Bakeries in the Country. What you will find at the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks: Greek Restaurants, Bakeries, Natural Sponges, Sponge Diving, Tours, Sightseeing Cruises, Unique Greek and Florida Souvenirs, lots of Shopping, Jewelry, Art galleries, Aquarium, and Live Entertainment

For once the travel blurb is totally accurate.  It is still an interesting little town even though it is touristy because it is still a working town too.  It had the really odd feeling of actually being in Greece.  All the men sat around smoking and nattering and the women were presumably hidden away in the kitchens.  Best of all though here I had, without doubt or exaggeration, the best restaurant meal ever – any time, in any country.  Wonderful restaurant called Hella’s.  The building itself was the crazy mix of gods, and seashells and blue and white tile and gold trims that only the Greeks can do.  Ken and I shared a $22 taster plate (not a meze) of about six main course items – each one as good as the other.  Even the stuffed vine leaves were the very best I’ve ever eaten by a mile.  I have just made Pasticcio today and, believe me, they would have tossed mine in the bin and laughed in Greek.

Doll house miniatures also took us to Boca Raton for a day trip.  It clearly wasn’t stand-out in any way as I really can’t recall the place, a meal or anything else!

Returning from an extended trawl of the shops on the 19th March we caught sight of the Super moon.  It was actually sort of unnerving being so huge and red.  It looked exactly like a Naples setting sun but in a black (!) sky.  Apparently it was the closest to the earth on that day for 18 years.  I don’t suppose I got to witness the 1993 one in quite the same way in Bury.

On the 28th our farewell meal wasn’t exactly pushing the boat out as we both decided we needed to do a farewell to our favourite baby back ribs at our local Mel’s Diner before returning to the UK.

29th and winging our way home.  We had a superb trip back; Ted gave us a lift to the airport, no flight delays and just twenty minutes to change flights in Atlanta, so no hanging around the airport.  We ultimately arrived back in a Manchester that wasn’t too cold and Phil and Sue collected us.  ‘Home’ was sort of wet and grey but Oh – the daffodils, magnolias and cherry blossom made up for it.

So we’ve been back a little over a week and the charm hasn’t worn off yet for me despite the usual can’t find anything, cleaning and gardening.  We’ve managed two meals out with chums, a garden centre, a bit-of-a-do, bought a new fridge and recording gizmo for the television, sorted the insurance claim and booked me on a flight to Calgary in May, so we seem to be all systems go.

I’ll try and post some photos tomorrow.

Footnote the next day:  

Nice/nasty surprise today - I climbed into every pair of long trousers I possess in turn as it was raining and I needed to go to Tesco.  I discovered that seven pairs no longer fit (by a mile) and so are on their way to the charity shop. I seem to have lost two sizes in weight since being here last.  I promise you it isn't an actual diet; I just decided I would cut out all snacky rubbish food and only eat my proper meals.  I am 21 lbs lighter and as I said smaller than when we left for Naples.  The downside is that not a many of my clothes fit me.  I now only own three pairs of long trousers.  I hope I have some crops that will do; I haven't tried those yet.  Indeed two of the pairs being chucked away are actually brand new because I bought them in Naples when we first arrived to bring back here so they never even made it to being worn.

So, those of you who actually see me this summer please ignore the fact I seem to be always wearing the same clothes because I will be!  I am still dropping two pounds a month (a very slow business) but until that stops and I settle into the weight I am eating for I'm not inclined to go and buy more stuff.

In addition to this I've had my hair chopped very short - maybe that accounts for the weight loss?

*The rugged pioneers that settled the area were called "Florida Crackers." It is believed that they got this nickname because of the cracking sound their whips made as they herded cattle.