Friday, January 31, 2014

The Business Side of Living in Paradise

Florida has over 1300 miles of coastline with beaches and a semi-tropical to tropical climate.  This is the draw for much of America and the globe when they want a vacation break from snow and ice.  This is where you can golf, swim, and play tennis year round. (Except many of the days we were here were cold and wet!) And this is where snow birds and frogs descend to escape the winter weather up north.  Snow birds come just for the winter and then return back home each summer.  Frogs come to stay until they croak.  Demographically in Florida, 18.2% of people are over 66, which is not as large a segment as one might think although it is higher than the national average.  Mean household salary is about $47,000.00.  I wonder if this is a typical working salary or a retiree's salary?  (All photos taken at Marco Island, some blurred -  taken from a canoe.)

Got beach??

Paddling off into the mangroves.
My husband was raised in southern Florida, so he is familiar with the entire state and can really see the changes that have happened over the decades.   He remembers hunting on vast acres of pine woods and palmetto scrub as a teenager.  Those acres are pretty much what the city of Orlando is today.  Back then Orlando was a small cattle town with a few orange groves and large cattle ranches and undeveloped land.  Today Orlando is theme parks, time-shares and anything else that caters to the tourist industry.  We spent a few days on Marco Island to the southwest and the geography from their to Naples above which used to be mosquito heaven is now the land of the very wealthy.  Castles that are homes on the beach and condos that cost a million dollars and hotel rooms over $300.00 a night are available, unless you want a water view and those hotel rooms are twice as much.  Further inland, as is the theme in most of  Florida, are less expensive condos, retirement homes and finally trailer communities on small lakes.  There are  more than 30,000 lakes that cover a little more than 3 million acres of land in the state, most natural but some are rock pits created from development and phosphate mining. The lakes range from very small to the nation's fourth-largest natural lake, 448,000-acre Lake Okeechobee. The temperature difference can be more than 10 degress warmer when you leave the beach areas and head inland during the summer and 10 degrees colder in winter.  Toward the Southeast lies Miami which is much like any city except that there are more flamboyant colorful types walking the streets.  Above Miami is Fort Lauderdale which struggles to survive as an old florida town now city.  They have built a riverwalk and culture area that is rather nice in downtown.

There were lots of people not in as good shape as this dude.

The very center of the state still has horse farms, cattles ranches, and orange groves (although I was told 80% of the citrus industry has collapsed due to "green disease.")  I actually received a gift of clementine oranges in a bag...that came from California!  This part of the state along with suburbs outside the above mentioned cities have communities struggling with poverty, drugs and illegal immigation.  Not unlike much of the rest of parts of the U.S.

Rick Scott, the current governor, has been against the Affordable Health Care act from the beginning, but that does not stop him from taking advantage of its Federal dollars.  Prior to his becoming governor his company was involved in a nasty health care lawsuit.  He took the 5th amendment over 70 times during the lawsuit.  He now has awarded his largest campaign donor a huge medicare/medicaid contract which most believe will result in much higher health care costs for those using it since it promotes for-profit health care which means a shaving of services to make a profit although much of this will be in the health care system in prisons paid for by tax dollars to profit this company.  His HCA company was reported on in a Wall Street (August 15, 2012)  article which reported that it used the profit profile to increase certain private hospitals' bottom lines while slashing medical care to many.  My advice is to not retire in Florida unless you are a millionare.

Yes, if the weather had been better, we would have had a great vacation, but we did have a nice time and staying indoors on a rainy day gave me time to blog.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Granny Alice in Wonderland

What had possessed us to stay in this area?  It was a coupon for a free week, of course.  We had spent money on a wedding and other things this year, and this resulted in us getting lots of points and the offer of a "free" stay in a condo.  The condo is in the heart of busy, traffic-congested, fast-food-filled, gift shop rip-off Kissimmee, Florida.  This is the center of the state and as if to test our vacation spirit even more, the very ridge of that famous solar vortex has edged here making the weather very cool and unpredictable with sun then rain then sun.  The condo where we are staying is a little larger than a postage stamp.  The swimming pool is even smaller.  We have a view of the large dumpster in the parking lot where they are currently dumping the building restoration materials from the other building that they are upgrading.  No shopping or restaurants are within walking distance, and the kitchenette is amenable only to cooking food via microwave.  At least it IS quiet at night and free!

We had spent a long weekend at a lovely hotel (expensive) on Marco Island and then another week's visit with friends near Ocala prior to this, so this wrap-up week is a bit of a downer.

Kissimmee, for those who do not know, is near three thousand (well a bunch of!) theme parks and shows and good and bad restaurants in Orlando.  You can visit Disney (3 theme parks), Universal Studios (2 theme parks), the Holy Land, Busch Gardens, Dinosaur World, and Cypress Gardens now LegoLand...just to name the most obvious.  You can visit Sea World and take a ride past penguins, blast off in a Jetlev personal flying machine, take a gater filled airboat ride, off-road somewhere in the jungle, swim with dolphins, zip line at the zoo or get tickets for their paint-ball shoot experience.  There are all kinds of Las Vegas type shows to fill your rainy afternoons and evenings.  If you have the money and time, you can do it all and stroll through the many outlet stores!

We have 'been there-done that' with our children and grandchildren over the years, and while we have not visited every single theme park or seen every single show, we are life-time satiated.  We are also here without young ones and have no need to maintain a check-off the list.  (If you are young, I am sure this sounds depressing to you, but when you get to be our age, you will not find it depressing.)

So, yesterday we drove to a state park, put in our canoe and paddled down a river to a lake.  I took a ton of bird photos (will share a few later on my other blog), saw deer, my first wild pig, and enjoyed a misty day.  The day before we visited the Orlando Zoo and a Florida spring, both which were nice if not thrilling.  Today they predict rain, so we may head to a shopping mall in the morning and then search out a show or movie later in the day.  Since we live in the country, it takes so little to please us.

Thursday and Friday are supposed to be sunny and warm, so we will flip a coin and drive the hour and a half to the Gulf shore or the hour to the Atlantic and beach it for a day.

I do NOT miss the weather that is happening where I live, but I am hoping my pipes did not freeze while I was gone!!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Searching for Just the Right Symbol

There were three of them, two men one younger and one older and a young woman.  Two did not want to be there; they were never big on symbolism or ceremony.  The young woman knew that she had to be the one to take the lead.  She firmly pushed her foot forward sliding into soft and impressionable sand out across the long beach toward the water and they dutifully followed.  The walk seemed longer than it had ever been.  Such a vast emptiness in front of them.

Weather was moderate.  Wind was gentle.  Air temperature was innocuous.  It was as if Mother Earth was napping today, or more likely, holding her breath to see if they got through this.

Was it just last year that the old woman had been sifting through these sands for shells and fossils?  Was it just last summer that they had to help her to her feet after a long afternoon sitting and crawling in the sand?  They gathered the plastic bags of finds, the water bottles and her small red cooler.  Then the young man had to find her wooden cane.  It was almost impossible to see it leaning against the pile of driftwood, already melding itself into oblivion, perhaps realizing that soon it would be cast out with all the other dusty and faded things which were no longer needed on this earth, those things that did not provide the warm memories needed for sustenance, those things that do not become interesting fossils returning after millions of years.

Today, they just had to find one fossil.  That was the challenge they had set for themselves.  One simple petrified tooth of a shark, perhaps, would suffice.

They were surprised at how therapeutic the sifting of sand through ones fingers felt after a while of the sun warming their backsides.  Like sugar it fell aside, just a few granules sticking to the inside of the fingers and leaving larger bits of flotsam and jetsam in hand.  How the old lady had loved this exercise.  Her eyes would light up with glee when she found something unusual or particularly lovely.  She would tuck it into her jacket pocket.  When her pockets got too full they would transfer the bounty to a large plastic storage container, to be further sorted and discussed at home for the rest of the afternoon until dinner.

They had never enjoyed it as much as she did, and usually, they played cards on the blanket, walked the shoreline, took photos of water birds, or played with the baby after its nap.  She would recognize compatriot collectors on the beach.  They would smile and nod and then come over and show her their finds or pull out a special tooth from their pocket and discuss whether it was from a sand shark or actually an Otodus.  Since this creature had no bones, all that was left for man to view after unimaginable years was its many teeth.

The young woman found the the first one, small but completely shaped and in two shades.  The men, minutes later, each found a tooth, almost at the same time, one larger than the other.  Three fossils and in excellent shape.  The old woman would have squealed in delight and would have ordered them to be careful and not lose them before placing them in the container.

Tomorrow they would visit her grave and each would have a special gift to place at the stone.  And they would feel her smile, from whatever sandy shore she now rested her soul no longer needing a cane or plastic holder or help in standing.

(Two photos completed with a skeleton of a story.)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

How Do You Feel?

So, tell me...what do you think about travel?  Something to look forward to?  Something to be endured?  Something to be avoided?  What about modes of travel?  Which is your favorite?  Cruising?  Train?  Plane?  Automobile?  (I would include biking or walking, but I am talking about cross country right now.)  How do you feel about packing?  I have a routine and am OK with it except when I have to pack for cold weather, moderate weather and warm weather all at once.  OK with it except when I have to pack hiking wear, swimming wear, and dinner wear for the same trip as I am doing this time.

I used to love getting on an airplane, but with all the stupid restrictions, the tightening of space, the awful food, and the long security lines, I actually dread getting on a plane.  I do like train travel but have not done much of it, and so cannot really tell you if I would like it as a permanent selection.  Cruising on a large ship is my absolutely least favorite way to get somewhere.  I hate the fact that I am stuck on a manufactured moving island with too many people.  Eating, drinking high caloric substances and enduring manufactured fun are on the agenda and then you are allowed to disgorge somewhere for the day and fight everyone else to the museums, tourist shops and restaurants.  (I am not talking about the small cruise ships because they have much to recommend them.)

Anyway, this trip is by automobile.  Heading down to Georgia (Savannah) for a few days and then to Kissimmee, Marco Island and Ocala before heading home.  Husband is staying on for a half week canoe trip into the wilderness (and yes I do have thoughts of widowhood as I send him off to do his favorite things) and I will catch a plane out of Orlando back home to my daughter's house where I will have left my car. 

Will there be posts along the way? go back and answer my questions in the first paragraph in your comments.  Oh, yes, those were prehistoric sharks teeth in the last post.)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Gathering Place

Last month in between bouts of cold weather, we took two of our loved ones and headed out to the nearby "beach".  It is not on the ocean and the water remains shallow a long way out, but it is a nice pretense when one needs an open water type day.  It is a great place for a fossil hunt or beach glass find, and my son has married a gem of a girl who thinks something like this is actually a fun thing to do, explore vast amounts of sand.  (His last girlfriend had issues with a manicure.)

There were strollers, in the photo below two each both with long witches manes deep in some philosophical conversation as they took their constitutional.  I would have loved to have kept up a bit and listened in as you know very much what a nosy people watcher I am.

In stark contrast were two young ladies who had found some treasure on the beach and were eager to share with their mother.  How much would you pay to be that age again for just the day?  Maybe if you click on the photo, you can see their loyal best friend in the middle waiting for them to pass him so that he can once again catch up.

There are those who come with everything but the kitchen sink pushed on a small trailer to stay for a full day and enjoy the cool (58 degrees F)  but pleasant weather.  I cannot help but think his wife is at home enjoying a peaceful afternoon ;-)

Then there are the real solitary types for whom this communion with waves caressing the sand is a necessary or a greatly enjoyed restorative experience.  You can just see him in the far left.  I would give more than a penny for his thoughts.

And we did find a few fossil and beach glass treasures as a reward at the end of the day.

As person who loves stories, I wish I was creative enough to write one for each of these photos.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Hungry? Let's Play!

I saw the second installment of  a movie, The Hunger Games, over the holidays.  I had read the book trilogy a few years ago, and wondered why it was such an easy read, because it was pretty good.  Then I learned that it was written as a Young Adult series.  When I was reading I felt that it seemed not that far-fetched, and then I saw the two movies and felt that it was not really the was the present.


If you have not read The Hunger Games you can go here for a Cliff's Notes Summary.  Or you can read my quick summary which leaves a lot out. or you can read the books.

Summary:  The books reflect a society that is under the control of the privileged few.  The privileged dress exotically, have exotic eating habits and hobbies, can indulge in almost anything and are happily ignorant of the fact that they are surviving on the backs of the various districts that produce food and products for them and keep the country going.  Each of these districts has a skill level, an important product or resource for the country, and in most cases a bare survival life style for its citizens.  They get money and food based on their contributions to the country and get additional bonuses if they have a winner in the hunger games.  The rich and powerful government tightly controls everything, has technological eyes everywhere, and finding out what is really going on is information only for the privileged few.   The games themselves involve an annual contest where children are "reaped" by lottery from each district and placed in a televised battle to the death with lots of science fiction animals, weather, and weapons and against each other.  It is a contest that reminds the citizens that a revolution against the Capital can result in annihilation.  I do not do the book justice with such a short summary, but it is a good (not great) read.

Now, back to my premise that we are in a society much like the one above and getting closer every year:

We have two societies already in this country:  1) The very wealthy and upper middle class  2) The rapidly shrinking middle class living on the edge and the growing poor.  Following are even more clues that we are strangely close to this story.  Our wars are not far from being battles to the death for our young (mostly) which we honor if they return, even missing pieces.

1)  The NSA scandal which indicates they watch us more than we know
2)  Fashion shows---I mean really have you seen anything more exotic than the parade of costumes the rich wear?
3)  News stories on men who dress as inflated dolls!
4)  Digital grieving and lighting virtual memory candles via computer for the departed.
5)  Edible packaging of foods
6)  The woman who had plastic surgery to look like a Barbie Doll.
7)  Clearly visible plastic surgery and Botox injections on male and female newscasters giving them the oddest places for wrinkles and dimples when they lift an eyebrow or grin.  Go ahead and check a few talking heads next time.
8)  The legalization of marijuana which has resulted in pot hotels with pot smoking lounges, a surge in buildings that are designed for growing the weed, and a new Wall Street fund for pot that is growing like madness.
9).  While the U.S. poverty level has been reduced in this country since the war was declared by President Johnson, world poverty is growing very fast.
10)  One citizen worries about their next meal while another citizen buys the fancy package for their new car that will not only heat the seats in the winter but also cool those same seats in the summer. 

And lastly...3-D printers that can print pets that do not need to be fed or cleaned up after......yes, maybe that one is made up, but do you really think that is very far away?

Half of us get lazier and half of us work so much harder.  It is the Hunger Games.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Contrasts and Missed Opportunties or the Downside of the Holidays.

A series of pre-holiday incidents that made me think and wonder when I will get it right:

In early December, when we were setting up our Christmas tree, the 'Thin Man' who had felled those large trees this summer knocked at our door for a reason we never finally understood.  He seemed to think we wanted more mulch, but perhaps that was Hubby's comment because the Thin Man never said that.  He began in a fitful fashion to explain about the recent theft of most of his equipment from his storage yard which resulted in  letting go all the staff but two for economic reasons, and a further ramble about police, his exploration of the 'hood' (a term which he apologized for using), and other tails of his activities in his pursuit of the missing saws and a generator.  Later he confused the story even more by saying that two of his workers had up and quit for no reason, and that he suspected them of the theft.  We surmised he had been drinking due to his glazed red eyes, although his manner was polite and his voice clear.  After lengthy anecdotes on his part and our sympathetic responses, he finally left us standing with tree ornaments still in hand in the open doorway and unformed questions.  There was no offer of a bonus holiday gift from us, as he claimed to have $1800 in his pocket (?) and there did not seem to be a way to help him without belittling him in some way.  He left us with a rather dour feeling in our hearts for days after.  There are so many people in this world that seem to be the victims of their own mistakes and behavior, but who are basically not bad people.

The following week we headed up to Philadelphia to attend a 50th wedding anniversary of friends.  We spent a day layover to enjoy the city, and as luck would have it, we were there to enjoy a small and lovely wet snow.  Big sloppy flakes fell everywhere.  Within minutes struggling cities are transformed into postcard scenery after such wet snowfalls.  We slogged through the streets to look at holiday window displays, shopped at their famous downtown market center with breakfast crepes to die for,

and watched the Macy's Christmas light show in the shoe department...yes, it is a family tradition here as we met a three generation example listening to Julie Andrews voice host the singing.

We also thought we saw the Pie in the Sky guy...just an inside joke for British readers.

By the time we returned to the outside, several ambulances were stopped at various intersections for various reasons.  We crossed the street only to see a large man fall to the sidewalk while crossing an icy patch just ahead of us.  He did not move after that.  Several people tried to help him up, but he did not respond and was too heavy for them to lift.  We hailed a nearby ambulance driver, who responded that he could not stop because he was on a call, but finally, at our insistence, exited the vehicle to check on the fallen pedestrian.  (Drunk, drugged, elderly, homeless hoping for shelter?)  Who could tell with all the bundled clothing and snow-covered face.

We then trundled into a pub down the alleyway and watched an afternoon wintery football game over a lunch of mussels and pasta and wine under lots of holiday glitter before a foul-mouthed ardent Eagles fan made us return to our hotel room with our holiday purchases to watch the second half of the game in peace and quiet.  Then it was back out to dinner at a place recommended by the hotel.  One of those places where the servings are small (you order various tapas) and the seating is miniscule.  The only thing large, are the prices, of course.  We had become good friends of the young couple seated just to the side of us (another story for another day) before we had even ordered dessert since we were seated close enough to cut each others food!

It was late, dark, and very cold as we departed the restaurant for our two block walk back to our hotel.  The streets were no longer busy with shoppers or automobiles.  We passed one homeless person bundled like a wrapped mummy in the shadowy shelter of an entryway to one of the stores.  I did not stare, only glanced, still focused on my walking and not falling.  The person's face was covered in scarfs and tucked down, never noticing the outside world in his struggle to stay warm.

I was concentrating on walking carefully across the icy sidewalk and while I had finished only one glass of wine, I was not feeling as coordinated as I would have liked.  Hubby and I did not hold hands or take each others arms or take our eyes off of the treacherous terrain ahead for very long.  It was every person for him/herself!  Life can be like that sometimes.

Then out of the shadows a man without head cover but in a warm winter coat and holding the hand of a small bundled boy approached us asking if we lived in the area and knew about it.  We glanced up, apologized that we did not know the area at all, looked down again and we continued to carefully make our way forward.  The man started to cross the street and then turned back to us explaining he was looking for a shelter where he could get a hot meal.  I took him at his word and pointed to the Catholic church down the block, because I had seen it lit for mass earlier when we went to our dinner.  He headed in that direction and we continued on our way.

Stupidly, it did not occur to us to give him money for food.  Although the restaurants in that area were all very expensive and mostly took reservations at that late time of night.  The incident and my casualness haunted me all evening.  Was that a test from God?  Was that an angel in disguise?  Was I so focused on not falling and finding warmth that I let a child go hungry that night?  Later when I was inside and warm I wondered why did I not offer to take him to our hotel coffee shop?  ( I had written a check to a church with a winter homeless shelter just the week before, but it was a church far, far away from here and that in no way eased my conscience.)

Homelessness has a long history in our wealthy country.  Philadelphia's first pan-handling ordinances were passed in the 1820's, so disenfranchisement is historic to this area.  It is a very complicated issue.  Many of our homeless are veterans and families of veterans.  Approximately two-thirds of our homeless are disabled in some way.  Mental patients were released from state run hospitals in the 1970s with a cut in Federal spending and these people ended up on the streets creating our first bump in homelessness.  Bigger cuts to housing subsidies, low-income mortgages, and HUD agency budget cuts happened in the 1980's.  That is when I saw more homeless people when I went into the cities.  “people who are sleeping on the grates…the homeless…are homeless, you might say, by choice.”  A quote from one of our former presidents who actually believed that and most likely never interviewed a homeless person in his wealthy life or lived in a northern climate. 

"According to the United States Conference of Mayors, in 2008, the three most commonly cited causes of homelessness for persons and families were a lack of affordable housing, cited by 72 percent, poverty (52%), and unemployment (44%).  The suggestions to alleviate homelessness included providing more housing for persons with disabilities (72%), creating more employment opportunities (68%), and building more assisted housing units (64%)."  (Wikipedia)  We do not have affordable housing but we do have empty houses abandoned by the banks who wrote obscene mortgages.  Abandoned houses that no longer make the banks any money, but blight the neighborhood.  What if the banks wrote them off, and taking those not purchased by those fancy real estate flippers, found some way to sell the leftovers to the newly homeless?  I live on a street where a house, that might have garnered $700,000 to $800,000 dollars during the boom, has sat idle for years and is now falling apart.  Yes it is too far into the country for an unemployed family, so perhaps not the best example...just an example of the write-it-off mentality of mortgage brokers.

This December Congress cut food stamps (which mostly go to feed poor children) and did not extend long term unemployment insurance with the view that it would encourage people to look for jobs.  No one ever cites a survey or study on how starving people makes them look harder for a job, so in my book, that is what they are, opinions to ease guilt of lawmakers doing this.  The few people I know who have used unemployment benefits are certainly not happy about it, and would take a job if they could find one.  But job creation is another very complicated issue.

Thanks to this pathetic, disengaged Congress, there will be more homeless and hungry on our streets in the coming months and throughout the year.  There will be more sleeping bodies on the streets for my grandchildren to pass on their way to the museum.  One U.S. Congressman suggested we put children to work as janitors if we are going to give them a free/subsidized school breakfast.  (Then we could fire the working father janitor and get cheaper child labor?)  At least we haven't completed the grand immorality that Japan has.   Japan has a solution for their homeless people...! 

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Knock, Knock...Who's there?

My house is clean, my decorations packed away, my refrigerator and freezer being slowly emptied over the weeks ahead to use up all the "old" food.  (What a blessing to write that I have old food when many have little food.)  My floors are vacuumed and/or mopped, my laundry done, and the guest bedrooms' sheets all changed.  I ran my 3 and a quarter miles on the elliptical today and lifted some free weights...none of these were New Year's resolutions, because that makes them dangerous and confining.  I just like to start with a clean slate and hopefulness and find some way to justify that glass of wine or plate of dessert.

2014 welcomes us anal-retentives, just as she does those who are celebratory rather than Puritanic in nature and those who slouch, still half- asleep on the sofa, trying to watch the Rose Bowl game and trying to not think about their dread of the work day ahead. (Been there and done that!)

2014 also welcomes those who rise from a tangle of ribbons and partially cleaned food plates and watch little children that have way too much energy as they greet the first day of this year.  She smiles at those who gaze at piles of laundry and wonder if they will start the sorting before they run out of underwear.

2014 also welcomes those who spent the day at the hospital/rest home/therapeutic foster home holding a hand and trying to smile more and trying to remember gentle and humorous anecdotes for someone they love.  2014 comes with a ray of promise and a pat on the shoulder.

2014 welcomes those who have seen many new years come and go, and who now wonder how many they will see in the future.   2014 takes their shoulders in her forceful hands and says, "One day at a time, my not stare at the future.  Savor today!"

But 2014 is especially happy to greet those who took that leap, changed that habit, headed down that new and very different trail, made that big decision and changed their life forever for the better.