Friday, July 19, 2019

How Private are Private Conversations?

Ever wonder if your computer is listening to what you say? It just might be.

A little while ago I was about to go outside to mulch the garden with grass clippings. But before I did, I told Ralph I was going to find a dust mask to wear. Last night, I had trouble breathing because I didn't wear a dust mask yesterday while raking and I didn't want to experience that feeling again.

I knew we had dust masks somewhere in the house but wasn't sure where so Ralph and I discussed possible spots.

Long story short, I found the mask, did my mulching and went for a swim. When I was done, I came inside and checked Facebook. And what did I see?

You guessed it! An ad for dust masks.

Coincidence? I think not! I don't have Alexa or Siri or any other electronic helper but what I do have is a microphone on my laptop. It seemed obvious to me that my conversations were being overheard.

Solution? Turn off the computer's microphone. Go to SETTINGS. Type in MICROPHONE PRIVACY SETTINGS. Turn OFF microphone. It's that easy.

Seriously, I don't really mind having ads targeted to my shopping needs but the whole overhearing my private, personal conversation bit in order to decipher my purchase interests is just a little too much BIG BROTHER for me.

If you feel the same, try disconnecting your microphone too. The switch works both ways - ON and OFF.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Message to a Tailgater

If you’re in a hurry
Pass me
Go on
Speed on down this two-lane road

I won’t be pushed
To push the pedal
I’m driving along
At a comfortable pace

It’s not a race
To get somewhere faster
I'm not after anything other
Than a safe arrival
At my own destination

That’s not entirely true...
I’m also very much
Enjoying the view
Did you even notice
That field of phlox
We just passed by?
Or the red-tailed hawk
In the cloud-filled sky?

I bet you missed them
In your rage and frustration
At my slower pace
And obligation 
To obey the speed limit

If you want to go faster
Then pass, sir
A dotted line says it's fine
To get in front of me
Feel free 
To get off my tail
With your preoccupation
Of using a car
For intimidation

At last, you’ve done it
Were it a race
You’ve won it

And with you now gone
I can drive on
Minus the bully or rush
Although, sadly, driver
As the distance between us grows wider
I know you are missing so much 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Hello waxwing! Goodbye mulberries

It's mulberry season in Central Florida and that means it's also cedar waxwing season.

White mulberries...yum!

For those unfamiliar with these cardinal-sized birds, let me introduce you. Cedar waxwings are tawny-colored, white-outlined-black-masked, fruit-eating beauties with voracious appetites that can decimate an orchard within hours.  Because of their aggressive feeding habits, fruit farmers hate them but to anyone who loves birds, the annual arrival of these masked bandits to a mulberry tree, backyard holly bush or dogwood tree is a cause of delight.

Voracious little cuties

At our Groveland property, cedar waxwings have been devouring white and black mulberries on a seasonal basis for two decades.  With seemingly uncanny timing, these yellow-bellied bundles of grey and tan feathers arrive en mass about a week or so before the mulberries are ready to pick and proceed to stuff their stout little bodies with as many berries as they can find.

At first only a few birds - the designated scouts - stop by to survey the situation. I suppose it is their job to make sure the fruit trees are still where they were the previous year and report back to the rest of the flock when the fruit is ready to pluck.  I can always tell when they're here because the air practically shivers with the shrill, high-pitched whining sound waxwings make as they flutter back and forth between mulberry branches and a nearby sycamore tree.

A flock of waxwings resting in a nearby sycamore tree after devouring mulberries
This year, our mulberry crop is more plentiful than ever but if you think that means we will have buckets of fruit to harvest, think again. Between the ground-grazing feral pigs who eat the fallen berries and the cedar waxwings who eat the hanging fruit, we are left with merely a sampling of sweetness.

But, as I've come to learn, sweetness comes in many forms. While the birds' proclivity to get there first may prevent us from reaping the full bounty of our productive orchard, their amusing antics satisfies our appetite for sweet entertainment.


Cedar waxwings may be gluttonous bandits that decimate a fruit crop within hours but there's no denying their decided cuteness.  Are they fat little feathered thieves?  For sure. Are they fun to watch as they gorge themselves on mulberries?  Absolutely!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Baby cranes!!

It was lunchtime when Ralph and I drove down the dirt driveway to our Groveland homestead after being away for a week. We regularly go back and forth to New Smyrna Beach and each time we return I'm eager to see what surprises await me.

This time the surprises were exceptional!

A pair of adult sandhill cranes and their two chicks were right next to our garage as we pulled in.  Instead of getting out and unloading the car as I usually do, I grabbed my camera and began taking pictures.

Below are some of the many shots I took of the new sandhill crane family.


Sandhill cranes lay one or two eggs in a nest of twigs and reeds that both parents build in a protected spot. Once the eggs are laid, the parents take turns incubating them for 32 days.

Sandhill crane parents take turns incubating eggs

Despite their attentive care, only one egg often hatches and even if two chicks emerge from the eggs, there's a good chance that only one baby bird will survive to adulthood.  By the look of how well both of these chicks are learning to find food, I'm hopeful that each bird will make it to maturity.

A new family of sandhill cranes!
Mom, Dad and two chicks

Feeding baby

A sandhill crane's diet consists of grains, berries, seeds, insects, worms, mice, small birds, snakes, lizards, and frogs.

The  chicks rest in the weeds after the tiring work of trailing their parents

Baby cranes stay with their parents for 10 months after hatching but it takes two years before they are sexually mature and ready to mate. During their juvenile stage, they socialize with other young cranes in order to find a mate. Once mates are chosen, sandhill cranes are monogamous and stay together for life.

Walking by a stand of Hawaiian Gold Clumping Bamboo

The spider may be a mere snack to an adult sandhill crane
but it's a huge mouthful  for a baby to swallow 

Baby cranes grow up quickly.  Over the years, we've been fortunate to watch many crane chicks go from fluffy, wobbly newborns to gawky adolescents to grown up birds.  The chicks that greeted us upon our return to Groveland are very young, less than a week old.

Two babies.  Two parents.
Learning to live.
Learning to love.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Family time

As the years go by, it becomes more and more difficult to get everyone together for our annual family reunion.

There are schedules to coordinate. School. Work. Personal commitments. There's travel to arrange from homes far away.  And then there's health. Who's coughing, has a fever or experiencing a general feeling of malaise.  Yet, despite all the obstacles and last minute changes of plans, our family managed once again to gather together for a week-long reunion at our Groveland homestead.

All of us together in one place

This year's gathering included more activities than expected considering how many of us had colds that prevented us from getting as much sleep or energy as we would have liked.

As usual, the lake and pool were a huge draw. Countless hours were spent in and around water with our grandchildren especially enjoying the fun of playing with cousins they seldom have a chance to see.

Bathing suits are unnecessary at our secluded homestead

Atom adding finishing touches to the drip castle he and his cousins
built by the lake

A fine stack of sand balls
Our kids used to make these when they were little
Now our grandchildren make them too!

Timmy played so much with his nieces and nephew during
the week we were all together.  He's so good with kids!

Little squirts (Trillian and Ella) having fun in the pool

Cousins with goggles
Atom, Maya, Ella, Trillian

After many years without a boat to ski behind, Ralph, Tim and Amber were able to once again go waterskiing behind Ralph's new (to him) Mitzi Skiff with the grandkids eagerly along for the ride. Thanks to Amber and Scott, who bought a huge raft, the kids were also able to enjoy the speed and excitement of being pulled along behind the boat.

Ralph hasn't forgotten how to slalom and trick ski.
Neither have Timmy or Amber

Fast and fun rides on Hour Lake

While motoring around the lake was fun for many members of our family, my personal preference leans more toward quieter activities like the walk Jenny, Timmy and I took at the Sarah Maude Mason Nature Preserve in Howey-in-the-Hills.

Timmy takes the 'high' way along the brand new boardwalk though a cypress swamp 

Taking in the view at the observation tower overlooking Lake Harris

Late afternoon light and no bugs to bother us on our walk through the preserve

Jenny and I also took off on Saturday morning to visit Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive in the hope of photographing some birds and animals. We weren't disappointed!

Jenny photographing one of the many alligators we saw

So many gators!

Of all the waterbirds we saw,
we both liked the blue-winged teal ducks best

Here a coot, there a coot, everywhere a coot-coot-coot!

Simplify..simplify..spread your wings and simply fly!

Back home people took turns preparing meals, washing dishes and picking up toys and towels scattered about. Games were played, balls were juggled, birds were fed, trees were climbed and people went off on explores around the yard and gardens.

Maya and Ella fascinated by a centipede
or is it a millipede...?

Our native green anoles were of much interest to all the grandchildren
but especially to Maya and Ella, who live in MA where lizards are uncommon

Much time was spent jumping on the trampoline and climbing trees.  The rope swing got a good workout too.

Ella jumping

Unfortunately, the mulberries were about a week away from being ripe during our
family-together-time, but the trees were still great for climbing, as Maya demonstrates.

After playing with some of Jenny's old My Little Ponies,
Ella and Maya paint ceramic sculptures Jenny also found in the attic

Never too young or old to ride on the ropeswing

Playing hide-and-seek with Pinky Dog

While there were some things we didn't do together this year like check out Clermont thrift shops or do a group shop at Publix, new activities were added to fill the gap.  One afternoon while Ralph and I were out of town taking care of business, Jenny, Brett, Maya and Ella visited Rock Springs with Amber, Atom and Trillian.  Wish I could have been there too but I'm glad they got to experience the springs.

Whenever we all get together, there never seems to be enough time to do all the things we'd like to do.  But really, the pleasure is in being together whether it's at home, around town doing things together or just hanging out as a family.

Once upon a time it was just Ralph and me.  Then there were six of us - four children and two parents.  Now, after 47 years of marriage our family has expanded to include two wonderful son-in-laws and four amazing grandchildren.  If the essence of life is love, our cup overfloweth.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Making love in bamboo

I was heading down our unpaved road on the way to town.  It's a bumpy road. I was going slow. To my right is an 80-acre forest slated to become a subdivision. To my left are a few of our rental homes on large lots surrounded by bamboo. Something in one stand of Bambusa multiplex caught my eye.  I slowed to a stop then backed up for a closer view.

Two snakes were entwined in the 'boo.  At least I thought that's what I saw.  It was hard to tell from inside the car so I grabbed my camera and got out for a closer look.

Yes!  Definitely snakes! (I love snakes) Two black racer snakes were entwined in a tangle of love.  Reptilian whoopee in a clump of bamboo.

Snakes watching me watch them

Although this was the first time I spotted two black racers mating, I've seen racers many times before. Southern black racers (Coluber constrictor) are the snakes I see most often in the garden and around the house. Harmless to people but deadly to rodents, birds, lizards, other snakes, frogs, toads and insects, I consider black racers to be an essential part of nature's arsenal.  Pest control at its most basic level.

Black racers in an amorous embrace

This slender reptile can grown up to 6 feet long with a solid black upper side, a dark gray to black belly, white chin, white throat and brown eyes.

Entwined in the 'boo

Male racers become sexually mature on or slightly before their second year but females take a year or two longer to reach sexual maturity. After mating, a female may lay up to 30 eggs that hatch about 3 months later. When they do, the 6-inch-long babies are fully prepared to hunt and live on their own. That's good because after a week or so of guarding their newly laid eggs, the parents leave their future offspring to fend for themselves.

This is the view that caught my eye as I was driving down the road

Encountering two snakes mating was a completely new wildlife experience for me. While some people may shudder at the very thought of encountering two snakes mating (or, sadly, at seeing snakes at all), I reveled in the moment. The snakes obviously loved what they were doing.  I did too!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Great egret greets the day with a smile and a laugh

An unoccupied bluebird nesting box next to Hour Lake is a popular perch for a variety of birds. 

On a recent dawn, a Great egret took advantage of this lakeside platform to practice its morning ablutions by preening, stretching and posing in enough postures to satisfy my seemingly unquenchable photographic thirst.

Below is a sampling of the egret's antics.  Hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

"Good morning!"

A bird bigger than the bluebird nesting box

Starting the day with a laugh!

"Gotta itch! Gotta itch! Gotta itch-itch-itch-itch!"


"Aren't my feathers pretty?"

Big feet. The better to scratch itches with.

Done preening
Looking fine in sunshine


Saturday, February 10, 2018

Dolphins, dawn and a calm lagoon

Early morning. Chilly. Instead of biking to the beach I decided to drive.

Instead of my usual haunts - 27th Ave. Beach or Hiles Blvd. - I rambled on down to the lagoon side of Bethune Beach.

It was a beautiful morning.  Cold but calm.

Ripples in calm water

I hoped to see some dolphins or manatees and was not disappointed. Shortly after walking down the boardwalk overlooking Indian River, I noticed a moving stream of ripples in the water.  A telltale sign that aquatic company was heading my way.

A pair of dolphins arrived shortly after I arrived

Two dolphins swam swiftly from the north into the small cove by the park.  I was mesmerized by their antics.

Looking north from the park boardwalk

As captivated as I was by the dolphins arrival, I was equally awed by the burgeoning day. I felt as if I was embraced by beauty!

Such a sky!

In addition to dolphins, a great egret and several pelicans had gathered in the cove.

Great egret on piling. Pelican in water.

Most likely the birds were there for an early morning feeding. Probably, the dolphins were too. But I like to imagine that they, like me, had come to greet the day. Quiet time. Calm water. A new day getting under way.  Ah...the wonder of it all!