Saturday, February 26, 2011

Spring floats down from the sky, and Guana sends News

A small yellow flower peeping up from a bed of moss and last year's oak leaves is often the first glimpse of spring where I live. Carolina jessamine is a glorious twining vine that lives happily cheek-to-cheek with oak trees. It climbs high up, seeking the sun, and its first blossoms fall to the ground, calling my eye upward for the message: the light has come. Spring may not be here just yet, but it is close, oh, very close. Creating contrast for the jessamine at treetop-level is the clear blue sky so typical of this time of year, clean as a soul's salvation and as welcome. You can't see it in this picture, but you'll see it in the canopy of oak trees further down the page.

It was a day of contrasts, illustrated by the clear weather at home this morning that gave way to a low, moist fog, waiting to soften the edges of the view as soon as we stepped onto the beach. The fog didn't really pull back its long grey fingers until past noon. As we walked off the beach around 1 pm, it was still visible in the distance, settled between the rows of dunes separating the Atlantic from A1A. Because of the weather the beach was nearly deserted until afternoon, but we happened upon couple who share our simple joy in a good walk in a beautiful place, Irene and Joe, seasonal visitors. They were watching for whales, looking for sharks' teeth, and unsuspecting targets of Bandit's ongoing social outreach program. We met them both south- and northbound on their walk and chatted for a bit at both intersections, in contrast to most beach walks, where we keep our own counsel or talk to each other in the easy shorthand of the long-married. It's funny how chance meetings and conversations with strangers can deepen your appreciation for the smallest things, including the presence of a veritable paradise right in your own backyard.

Contrasts and simple pleasures lingered into the afternoon for us. The peace under the oak canopy was interestingly cracked and broken by the sights and sounds of aircraft, including several really loud passes by at least two sets of planes flying in very close formation, moving so fast it was difficult to catch sight of them through the branches and the Spanish moss moving in the wind.
Aircraft or not, the pileated woodpecker pair continued their work, indifferent to the disturbance, and as the afternoon wore toward evening, the barred owls called "Who? Who? Who cooks for youuuuuu...?" right over the whine of jet engines, taking not the least notice.

The cool damp of the morning fog had by this time given way to a spring day warm enough for the taking off of sweaters. The dogs found puddles of bright sunlight and stretched into afternoon naps. My dear old person and I strolled around the estate, noting the tiny hints of spring. Besides the Carolina jessamine, which fairly burst into bloom two or three days ago, we have camellias blooming at long last.

Those of you who love Ms. Moon's camellias will find no similar expertise here, for I have but one variegated camellia that doesn't take itself very seriously. But its blossoms carry the same promise of spring throughout their very tightly wound winter wait, and are as eagerly anticipated. We found one very tiny perfect fig leaf open on one of the fig trees, small buds on the cherry tree, and the first of the wild violets I love most of all, the delicate flower nestled among its heart-shaped leaves, waiting to be noticed.

Another small, non-botanical flower reached me today, too: my constant nagging about using social media to put a spotlight on GTM NERR is being kindly received, and it may be that I can lend a hand...stay tuned. For now, you can find all the news and events in the newsletter and PAY ATTENTION: whether you're a photographer or a walker or a fossil collector or take an interest in local environmental issues, or are a history buff, there's something in here for you. There are photo safaris, organized walks, visits to Marineland (the "Matanzas" part of "Guana Tolomato Matanzas") and lectures on specific topics...hell, there's even a beach walk, focused on understanding the delicate ecological subsystems we probably don't even think about on our many excursions to this very spot.

As the day fades gently into evening, the theme of contrast echoes once more, carried on the sharp edge of the cooling air. The pools of warm sunshine have disappeared into oak shadows and I need a sweater once again. Time to put chicken on the grill, time to wash greens for a salad, time to check with my dear old person and our dear boy about slicing strawberries. Time to go in for the night, my dears, and wish you sweet dreams and beautiful Sundays.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Coming soon

It hasn't been a weekend conducive to writing blog posts at Eat Here. We've had some issues involving wells and pumps, things evocative of (insert shudder here) Hardware Stores. So since I haven't had the focus for a thoughtful post, I've come up with a list of things I plan to write this spring. This is Eat Here's Coming Soon list for Spring 2011.

I'm going to work on my definitive Sister Patricia Eileen post this spring, collecting the work I've done so far, combining it with the generous recollections of others who've loved and appreciated her, and writing one combined post. Apologies in advance to those of you who know this story already; for those of you who don't, here's a brief recap. SPE, as she was fondly called behind her back when she was at her formidable best, was the Director of Music at the Cathedral of St. Augustine. She was the beloved, marvelous, talented, infurating, iron-willed inspiration to a generation of singers whose voices she brought to full potential, and for me she was a life-changing teacher and in some ways a substitute for my mother. These days she is lovingly cared for by the order through which she served the Church for many long years as she's afflicted by a form of dementia and, ironically, profound deafness. Sister Rosemary is in charge of SPE's pastoral care, and believes the collected memories will help SPE's caregivers have a more complete picture of the many years she lived and worked in St. Augustine. I know she's right. I've been putting it off, of course, because facing dementia is hard, and it's harder for people who've dealt with it in their own houses. To tell the story of a living person whose life has been made hollow and empty by this cruel disorder is to straddle the line between life and death. The person you loved is gone. In her place is another person, no less precious, but a stranger at best. At worst, she's a stranger who doesn't have any idea who you are, or how much she means to you, or how she changed your life. It is a hard thing. But it's Coming Soon at Eat Here.

Hey, this means if you have something about SPE to share, and you haven't sent it to me already, PLEASE DO. Quick, before I lose momentum!

Guana News
A much more cheerful Coming Soon is news from Guana Reserve. I hear another learning session is planned on the topic of Beach Fossil Collecting and Identification and I promise to keep you posted. I'll post any news I have about North Atlantic Right Whale sightings, and I also expect to have lots of news as the nesting season gets underway for the local sea turtles we all watch over with such hope.

Food (of course)
I've been inspired by my friend Lisa to write a post about the lighter side of Julia Child. French cooking isn't always heavy or serious, and I believe Julia knew this and wanted her American audience to understand it, too. I'm no expert on Julia, of course, but we've been celebrating her birthday here for some years as devoted fans, sometimes even marking the occasion with a dinner gathering. So Julia goes to the Coming Soon list, too.

There's more, of course. I've been making some rather nice hats and things, most of the early beauties of the earth have tiny, promising buds, and the Goddess has flung open her arms this full moon with astonishing high- and low tides, among other things, including black and white warblers visiting and wrens actively nesting in our garage...much, much more. But for tonight there is gratitude for an artesian well, which allows us running water, albeit without much water pressure; generous friends; a flexible workplace and best of all, readers who will give me a pass on a real blog post, accepting a Coming Soon in its place.

Follow Me on Twitter
blogspot doesn't have a terrific Follow Me widget, but I really like Twitter and find myself using it more and more. If you tweet, please find me. I'm AngieatEatHere, and remember, Twitter is case-sensitive.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Eat Here's favorite grilled sandwich

Time for Eat Here to return to a topic near and dear to us: Did you eat yet?

Sandwiches are always a viable evening meal possibility for us, and this is an old familiar favorite. You probably have your own variation on the theme. For us there are a couple of necessities: sourdough bread, real beef pastrami, good cheese and homemade coleslaw. In your house these may be as varied as rye or wheat bread, turkey pastrami - or, honestly, no pastrami at all; you can leave it off altogether and still have a fine sandwich - and storebought coleslaw. Sorry about the cheese. By Eat Here Eatery rules, you can't really make this without the good quality cheese, though endless variations on that theme are certainly possible.

For perfection, you should make your own coleslaw*, but you can come very close to perfection with good-quality coleslaw from Publix or a local deli you already love. From that same deli, get some thinly sliced pastrami and cheese. I recommend baby Swiss or nice sharp cheddar, but my people are wimpy about cheese; a good quality white American covers this inadequacy pretty neatly. You'll need Thousand Island dressing to add a gentle tangy touch, though of course any homemade dressing meeting those requirements will do nicely. For hardware you need a good cast iron skillet or griddle (we use the latter) but if you don't have one, any skillet will do.

Here's the how-to. Place two slices of sourdough or whatever bread you prefer facedown on the cast iron griddle and set over medium-high heat. (We don't butter these since God knows we do NOT need the extra fat, but you can, if you prefer.) Gently spread the face-up sides with Thousand Island dressing (or your chosen variation). Place sliced cheese on one slice of bread and adjust the heat so the cheese can begin to melt while you add ingredients. Top the cheese with a slice or two of pastrami to taste, or omit this step for a vegetarian version of the sandwich. Top this same slice of bread with a generous dollop of coleslaw. (For the Rodney version of this sandwich, top with sliced bread-and-butter pickles or petite gherkins. For the Angie version, top with sliced jalapenos or roasted red peppers, or, um, both.) Assemble both slices of bread into a sandwich and flip gently as needed to toast evenly. Key to success: toast long enough to melt the cheese a bit without overheating the coleslaw.

Cut sandwich into halves or quarters and serve with salad. Sound good?

In a two-cup measuring cup, place about 4 tablespoons of sugar. Drizzle sugar with best-quality vinegar (raspberry or pear vinegar are great, but plain old apple cider vinegar works just fine), using just enough vinegar to absorb the sugar. When the sugar is completely absorbed, add about about a tablespoon of regular mustard and about a cup of mayonnaise or salad dressing. Let this mixture stand for 15 minutes or so before topping the vegetables.

Shred half a head of cabbage, a couple of carrots and half a sweet onion into a large bowl, and when the dressing is ready, toss everything together. The cabbage will shrink as if by magic and the big bowl will outlive its usefulness, but the outcome of the work is delightfully worth the effort, including washing out that big old bowl.

Time out of mind

When you listen to music, do you hear harmonies in your head? And if you do, can you remember a time when you weren't able to hear them?

In one of the precious moments of very early spring with which north Florida blesses us most years, I walked along the beach at Guana today with a two delighted dogs and a dear old person. This is the time I dedicate to reflection, to contemplation, to what is called prayer in some spiritual languages. Today my internal reflections were framed by the drama of the high and low tide marks, defined by the fullness of the moon. And those reflections turned again and again to memory; specifically, to conditions of my own memory for which I have no fallback recollection. What existed before a given memory?

Until she died about four years ago, neither of my sons could remember a time in their lives when we didn't have a well-loved nursemaid of a dog named Sheba. She came to us when Mac was a little more than three years old. When he searches his memories there are no conscious flashes of images in which Sheba isn't at least a peripheral presence. Likewise, I don't believe either of my sons remember the ocean being introduced to their consciousness. Like their dad, they remember it as always having been there. In contrast I have a mental image, undimmed after all these years, of the first time I stepped into the shifting sand and surf of St. Augustine Beach. I was seven years old, had been born and raised among the hills and mountains of east Tennessee, and I had never seen anything so dazzling. My sons, like their dad, were carted to the beach most days, weather permitting, as babies in diapers, and set down into warm tide pools to sift sand and turn brown as acorns. Like Sheba, the beach was Always There.

Music and vocal harmony feels this way for me. My ear was tuned by my genetics - both my mother and my father were fine singers, and it might be argued that my father was actually quite a gifted singer whose sweet light baritone was relatively untrained but undeniably lovely. My mother fed me close harmonies with breast milk. I absorbed melody, nakedly gorgeous vocal ability and preservation of musical history through the voice of Joan Baez before I could talk. It would be many years before my dear teacher Sister Patricia would introduce me to formal bel canto singing, but when she did I recognized it right away. I'd been able to harmonize with "Barbara Allen" as a toddler; the duet of Palestrina's Stabat Mater was a challenge I'll have to tell you about later but as difficult as it would be to sing (and I'm proud to tell you I did selections from it with Miss Judy, one Lenten season long ago), it sounded like the most natural thing in the world to me. My mother poured the folk music of her time into my open ears and heart but she also believed in its roots, which were most easily to be heard in those days in the Grand Ole Opry. This, too, she poured out like baptismal waters. By the time I was invited to sing in a choir when I was eight years old, finding an alto line a third below the soprano was as comfortable to me as an old quilt. And though I already knew I didn't have the top range to voice them, those upper harmonies a third or a fourth or a fifth above the melody were just as familiar and comforting in my inner ear as that same faded old quilt.

What, my dears, do you recall in this way? Is there something you know you must have learned but cannot remember the learning of it, so that it seems something you were born with? Is there a person to whom you must have been introduced who nevertheless seems to have been with you from the moment of your birth? Are there other like tricks of memory and learning?

Or is it just me?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

One Fine Thing

Everyone has a first novel, as a Booksmith publisher's rep used to say; everyone has a first novel because everyone has their own story to tell. True novelists are born storytellers, who have many more than that one best-known and most intimately understood tale. By this standard it's easy to recognize storytellers in those second and third novels that succeed for their authenticity and resonance with readers. But let us not dismiss those who have only that one great and deeply honest tale to tell. Each person's personal story is of interest, though some are made more so by the embellishment of good writing. Occasionally you come across one which is much more than interesting. Now and then, you may be fortunate to hear a personal story so compelling as to transcend any dependence on the telling itself.

On a very ordinary day, I crossed from the building where I work to an adjacent building in search of some insight into a technical problem. I'd worked with Nash* for several years, not every day, but on several large projects where my understanding - and therefore success - had been enhanced by his knowledge and the generosity with which he shared it. Among a sea of cubicles, I found him and pulled a chair into his cube to ask questions, preparing myself to listen as Nash translated highly technical answers into more or less layman's language for my benefit. I posed my set of questions. In a moment during which he quickly considered how to frame his answers in such a way that they'd be helpful to me, I passed a casual eye around his cube, noticing framed awards and certificates of recognition and personal family photos. I focused on a photo of his young son; we chatted about kids, about boys, about having boys who were 5 or 6 years old: homework, headstrong behavior, whether or not to coach soccer or baseball, how to get them to listen. We laughed, enjoying the contrast of common ground and diversity of our connection. I was a middle-aged woman of Irish and English extraction, raised a Catholic in the southern U.S., with all the psychic wrinkles that implies. Nash had emigrated from India, where a deep value for education had been instilled in him. He spoke more than 5 languages comfortably. His dark eyes flashed with inteliigence and humor, and his early education had come from priests and brothers in a Catholic school. They'd seen his abilities quite early on, he told me: when he visited the school of his youth as a grown man, the walls were still hung with certificates of achievement he'd been awarded, records which hadn't been surpassed despite the passing of years.

He began to answer my immediate work-related questions, but I continued to be distracted by the photos on his desk. When I made out the details on one of them, I interrupted him rather rudely to ask about the faces looking out from the photo. Who were they? Did I know any of them? Was the small woman in the middle someone who would be recognizable in the western world? It was a bit of a story, he said, a bit shyly. Could we have lunch together so he could tell me?, I asked. Yes, of course, he said.

When we sat to eat, the tale flowed quickly and with a subtle note of pride. The photo that had caught my interest showed a group of young men, most of them (Nash would tell me) from Indian or Pakistani families. They were college students who'd been relaxing together in a common area, sharing a meal, talking inconsequentially, when their casual talk turned to speculation about the future. What will we do, one of them wondered, What great deed will we do that will define us and make us memorable? As they talked, one of them said, What if we set ourselves a task? What great and fine objective could we challenge ourselves with? They talked a long time together. Nash had been reading a newspaper before the long philosophical discussion began and he picked it up now. Looking out from the paper was a photo of Mother Theresa. It seemed to be a gentle inspiration, and before the evening turned to morning, the group of young students had decided: they would take up a collection of money and perhaps other donations, and they would take these to Mother Theresa herself, wherever she was, far, far away in Calcutta. And they would do it during a break so that no classes would be missed.

What began as a well-intentioned but impulsive, youthful, almost off-handed generous impulse became an informal mission. Because of the physical distance between their university and Mother Theresa's mission, the friends agreed they would bicycle to her with whatever collection of donations they were able to amass. Nash had no bicycle, but circumstances aligned themselves so that a bicycle found its way to him, and the mechanical fixes the bike needed were somehow managed. As the group of friends reached out for donations, they found such an outpouring of generosity that the logistics of delivery became another challenge: it was a long trip, they had a school schedule to keep and they had no money or arrangements for hotels or transportation. And yet it seemed that each question was answered with every step. When they needed to rest for the night, villages opened with hospitality. When they needed to continue their trek by night, word had spread so that truck drivers followed the bicycles at a distance with their headlights on, lighting the way for the riders. In truth, Nash told me, his eyes bright, they felt as though this simple, youthful idea to do just one fine thing had gotten some special celestial notice. Their One Fine Thing was being helped along by an energy they hadn't expected. And before they knew it, they'd arrived in the city and been directed to the facility run by Mother Theresa. Perhaps most remarkably of all, someone had spoken to her and she would be delighted to meet with this group of young men, most of them students of engineering and technology, none of them unusually religious or particularly idealistic. Interestingly, in Nash's telling of the tale religion played almost no part. This had been a mission of kindness. If any of the friends had a particularly relgious motivation, it seemed that was a completely private matter.

On Nash's desk was captured that moment: 8 or 10 young students of varied backgrounds and destinies, towering in a rough circle around the tiny, wizened and perfectly beautiful woman who had touched thousands directly and millions indirectly. Here was a glimpse of his One Fine Thing, he told me, the One Fine Thing he would be able to tell his son about, the thing he would be able to challenge his son to achieve for himself. This was how he saw the conclusion of his brief moment, really. It was his own effort to do something good to make a small but unforgettable change to the world, and it is his enduring effort to pass that human requirement on to his children, whose job it is to find - and do - One Fine Thing.

My own cube, whether or not it really is a literal cube (after all, who doesn't feel at least a little bit at home with Dilbert?) certainly shares latitude and longitude with someone else who has A Story, and maybe someone with a fine thing they've done or are just about to do. I just have to remind myself to listen.

*Nash is not his real name.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ancient and modern, washed on the shoreline

Note to self: Self, you are very lucky. There is no snow on your roof. The air temperature today was close to 60 degrees. You walked on the beach today. Do no complaining, Self.
Note to friends in northern climes: Friends, I wish you were all here.

We attended a clinic today at the Environmental Education Center at GTMMER. It was conducted by one of the guys who works at Guana, a self-taught amateur fossil collector like many of us named Jake, and a good time was had by all. Our friends Suzanne and Chuck came down (we were sorry to miss Ray and JoAnne - feel better soon, Ray!) and we spent an hour or so comparing some of our favorite finds and learning from Jake and each other. One gentleman had what Jake thought might be a sperm whale tooth, collected many years ago from a beach in the Bahamas.
It must have been 6 inches long, or more, and was quite amazing. Another lady brought the beautiful white turtle shell you see in the photo.

Jake's own collection included some examples of fossilized pieces we've all found but identified with varying degrees of accuracy. He took us through a thoughtful presentation, but spent a good deal of time poring over our pieces, identifying where he could and honestly admitting where he couldn't. Perhaps the most exciting piece we talked about was a jawbone with one tooth remaining in it, brought by Suzanne. Since it was Suzanne who first made me realize that the dull old sharks's teeth we'd collected for years were actually relics of planetary history dating back thousands of years, I took special pleasure in finding that the jawbone was mostly likely that of a jaguar, and probably more than 12,000 years old.
It's a terrible photo, taken with my phone, but you get the idea. Interestingly, we have a tooth, found some years ago along the beach in Guana, that almost looks like it might fit into that piece of jaw.

The room at Guana's EEC was full of people. There were old veterans of the beach walk, incidental collectors, people of our age and older, and, delightfully, at least a couple of young fans, one of whom shyly asked several questions and another of whom came in late and asked for help identifying the species of sharks from which her carefully gathered collection of teeth had their genesis. My dear old person and I stopped on the way out to donate a piece we'd found last weekend. It looked like an arrowhead, and so might well be an artifact of an ancient native people, although when we picked it up, it looked like a piece of rock. When it was cleaned up, we started to think it mightn't be an animal fossil, so we left it in the care of the Guana team. From there we set off for the beach, and walked 2 or 3 miles into a chilly northwest wind under a bright blue sky skirted with wind-brushed white clouds. It was a lovely Saturday. I do hope yours was at least as fine.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Beach fossils at Guana's Evironmental Education Center

We have a huge jar of these. They're fossilized sharks' teeth, all collected from the stunning beaches of a Florida State Park. .
Tomorrow we're joining a bunch of other beachcombers and fossil freaks and interested learners at Guana's Environmental Education Center to learn more about some of the stuff we've collected. Walking a couple of miles on a pristine beach several times a week is restorative and healing. In the case of my dear old person, as many of you know, it's also a potent method of pain management, at least for a litle while. And you can build quite a collection, if you want to, of mesmerizing artifacts from the ancient history of the planet.

Good news: the kind people at Guana called me again, this time to say they'd like to do more than just add me to a mailing list. They want to reach out to you, gentle readers. How amazing is that? I can hardly wait to hear from them, and to extend their news to our little circle. Until that happens, please let me know if you'd like to help with invasive species removal, or are interested in learning more about the role of fire in ecosystems. Both involve field trips, and the former is an opportunity for hands-on volunteer field work.

Bad news: state parks have been on the budgetary chopping block. The list includes Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Park, and local favorite Washington Oaks State Park, where many springs have welcomed countless visitors as the dazzling, flamboyantly glorious azaleas open their faces to the returning sunshine. For the moment Lord Voldemort has said no to the closings, but keep your eyes open, people. These lands are fragile, diverse and preserve our heritage but they are dangerously vulnerable to loss.

Really good news: your own state parks, whether in Florida or elsewhere, are probably just a few miles from you. And whether or not it seems likely to those of you in the northeast, spring is within scenting distance. A few more weeks, everybody. In Florida and Arizona we can already hear the herald of spring in the eagerly-awaited clarion call with which baseball fans put winter to rest: "Pitchers and catchers report". Spring is coming. Spring training is coming. Birds and flowers are coming. In a few weeks we'll all be able to step outside and bask in it.

Until it gets here, my beloved old person and I will wrap up in scarves and sweatshirts and walk on the beach. And I'll bring you all the news I can from the tiny, beautiful microcosm of life at Guana Reserve.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The weekend before

The weekend brought a couple of beach walks for us under a lowering sky, sometimes promising rain, sometimes delivering on the promise. Now and then the sun would break through and illuminate some small treasure like this beautiful, doomed starfish, washed back and forth in the surf. There were few beachgoers willing to walk in the chilly wind under the dark skies so we had the beach to ourselves, as is often the case this time of year. The new moon brought what weather geeks call "astronomical high tides", along with their companions, beloved of beachcombers: astronomical low tides. On this day the views to the north and south were nearly as astronomical in their contrast.

This was the view to the north. Its warning, to those of us accustomed to subtropical midwinter weather, is of a cold wind and perhaps rough seas.

This was the view to the south. Here the warning is much more dire: I am a cold, dark wind from the south, from which compass point usually come sweet warm breezes. I might even be catastrophe.

There was a beautiful eye in the center of this, an opening in the clouds that really looked like an eye, just above where we walked on the beach. It wasn't so much the eye of a hurricane as it was a gentle celestial eye, opening on the dramatic meteorological activity. I tried to catch it with the camera in my phone, with mixed and mostly unsatisfying results. But you don't need an image. Reach back in your mind to a moment of your own. Think of the weekend, or the weekend before that one, when you walked on the beach or in the neighborhood or in the park and saw a break in the clouds, a beautiful blue spot, touched with swirls of white clouds, a glimmer of hope against the dark, lowering clouds.

So much for romantic reflection on the beauty of the weekend that was. I now direct your attention to THIS Saturday's Beach Fossil Day at Guana's Education Center, which Rod and I eagerly anticipate (what ARE those things we've found on the beach??), and to whatever your own weekend may promise.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The secret languages of families

If you zoom in on this image, you'll see what made me stop in the middle of the road to take it: a wild turkey. She was crossing here to catch up with a flock of 8 or 10 other birds. We still have wild turkeys in Florida. In my younger days I often saw them across cut fields of pine forest, as I walked quietly behind a friend or family member armed with a bow or a black-powder rifle, for turkeys are notoriously suspicious and easy to spook. I haven't told you these stories yet? I must remember to write these, my loves. For now, my only sightings of wild turkeys are along roads, in places turkeys only find themselves because of encroaching development. It's part of the contrast of Old Florida and present-day Florida and a reminder that there are really very few years dividing the two.

This is an aside, of course. My central topic calls back to my past, but is more cerebral than primitive. It's about the language of a family, crafted slowly and almost unnoticed over the course of years and still emerging, despite the fact that our boys are mostly grown. There's magic here, for you almost certainly have a story just like this. It is the magic of love and family and continuity.

When I talk to one of my best friends on the phone today, I often use a greeting phrase like, "Hello, my little plum blossom..." or words to that effect. This is thanks to my girlhood and lifetime friend Carrie O'Hare Hogan, whose greetings included fruit, the more obscure, the better. She would call and say, "Hellooo, my little persimmon", or " little kumquat..." or something like that. After we were both married and had taken our husbands' last names with some reservation, she always greeted me on the phone with, "Hello, Mrs. Christensen", to which I always replied, "Hello, Mrs. Hogan", and these greetings entered the lexicon.

When Dylan was quite small, perhaps four years old, we were driving down a street in St. Augustine, overarched by golden raintrees that actually were wet with recent rain. When a heavy shower fell from the branches and splashed on the windshield, Dylan said calmly, "THAT wasn't very welcoming." It sounds so silly. But we burst out laughing and those words have been part of our family's secret internal language ever since. We say it whenever anything surprises us just slightly with its unpleasantness. Dylan is also the author of a beloved family slur that evolved from his unexpected use of the word "bonker" as the most devastating of insults. This was leveled at me when he was really angry: "You are a bonker poo-poo Mommy." Well. Ahem. For a couple of months I endured this from both my sons; it still surfaces now and then.

In local parlance, The Man Who Came to Dinner is referred to as The Movie. Other families have their own versions. Ours provides a taste of the pleasure of holiday reunions across time and distance. We only have to hear, "You are the moonflower of my middle age and I love you very much" to feel as though turkey and sweet potato pie are about to be served, a warm fire snuggled up to, and soft laughter of friends and family about to envelop us.

Other movies have shaped our language. We've never quite recovered from The Emperor's New Groove, which gave us our standard exchange when a possibly painful challenge is expected to be welcomed defiantly:
Person 1: "Sharp rocks at the bottom?"
Person 2: "Most likely." And then, in unison,
"Bring it on."

Thanks to Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson, who brought to life the character of Blackadder and his dogsbody, Baldrick, new ideas are introduced in very bad British accents with the words, "I have a cunning plan". This falls into the (credit to Monty Python) "say n'more" category. And in recent years, Madagascar, courtesy of Sacha Baron Cohen, gave us, "Shut UP, you're so anNOYing!". Since about 1990-something when we saw the movie Black Sheep, the word road when pronounced "row-addddd" reduces us all to helpless laughter. Actually I suppose that doesn't really constitute an addition to our family language. I just put it in here because I know it will make my family laugh. There are others, some more profane and some more obscure. I imagine there are more yet in your houses and hearts. Do tell what they are.

As a good-night postcard, here is the view to the west from Mane de Leon Salon. It was a beautiful sunset. I hope you enjoy it, despite the camera's inability to compensate for what the human eye does with so little effort. Between you and the sun is the Intracoastal Waterway, sunlight reflecting on the shimmering water.