Safflower and Milkweed

Why do you want to grow those things again?

Because they’re DIFFERENT!

But they look like weeds, the thorns on the leaves pinch, and then the flowers dry up and …

I said they’re different.  Besides, we’ve got the seeds.  Why not grow weird plants?

I have basil growing in my garden so I can make pizza.  Green onion in pots make so much that even I can’t eat it all.  My Rosemary has grown into a carpet of green.  I have banana plants in a pot that are taller than I am by a solid two feet that I need to break into separate pots for gifts. I can’t give away my spare coleus or mango trees.  There are peanuts growing all over the place…

Yes, PEANUTS!  As in Jimmy Carter’s pride

And the conversation petered off at the end.  People let their artichokes grow all the time and they end up with a big purple poof that looks like the yellow safflower blossoms.

Beauty is where you find it.  No, I mean YOU find it.  I may not agree, so don’t let that hold you back.  Be creative.  Grow what you like, especially if you like it on a pizza.

Gardening here is simple, drop a seed, it grows.  It may grow out of control.  Up North, that hardy Asparagus Fern you grow in your bathroom.  Down here, it is a noxious and invasive weed.  I can’t understand why someone wants all those thorns growing inside their house anyway.

But they like it.  *sigh*

So I’ll grow a few more oil seeds in my garden.  The flower bloomed, and stayed intact. I put the dried flower in a plastic bag, rolled it between my hands, and got more seeds.

You might ask where I get safflower seeds?  We ordered something electronic online.  It showed up saying that it was shipped from Bahrain of all places.

Bahrain?  Don’t they usually sell products in barrels?  Crude Oil?  Safflower oil too I guess.  There has to be a reason why you live where you do for centuries, so enjoy.

I put some seeds in the front garden and watched.  Landscapers came by and raked them up.  I put more seeds down and will “box” them off with old roof tiles.  They are good at figuring that all out.

I hope.

As for the Milkweed, well it was in the pot first.  It made it to the seed pod because the Monarchs never discovered it.  I carpet bombed the neighborhood with milkweed seeds where ever they were left to grow from the last time I did that.  The butterflies will enjoy that,  they’re back already eating the daylights out of what is in my yard.

Now, if I can only figure out how to squeeze inside my hedge so I can plant that variegated hibiscus to fill in some bare spots, I may be getting my flowers back!

Goodbye, David Clarke

I told myself I wouldn’t write this.  I had already said my goodbyes in a few ways, made my comments, and as is normal these days I made some comments on your facebook feed.

Then I saw this picture of you on a pass through my picture collection.

It must have been what was in the back of my mind when I wrote on facebook that day.  It’s exactly what you’d do.

You’d park yourself in the backyard under my umbrella.  Next to the pool, you would go out there “Not To Smoke” but you would anyway.  You were the only person allowed to smoke on the property but never in the house.

Bringing your cup of tea out there, it became Your Spot.  You could look across the pool at the tropical plantings secure in the knowledge that they were tended to by someone else.  You were taking a break from your duties.  I guess we could call you a Concierge because you were always doing something for someone in some weirdly random way.  I was always surprised to find out some of the things you would do.

My backyard was your refuge from all of those duties.  You came here, occasionally but not frequently enough, to get away from all that happy nonsense of the life you chose during the week we met.

I have known you since, as best as I can tell, February 1987.  We met when I vacationed there and you had just landed from London.  It was a vacation from that life, but you would make it permanent.  A lucky break or three gave you just enough to be able to set roots down and you could live there.  Maybe I have the timing off one way or another but that is my best guess.

We kept in contact excluding a gap in time.  One chance meeting I was walking into the market some time around February 1992 and there you were coming out.

It was like old times.  We did not lose contact again.

You visited us in Philadelphia.  You enjoyed my own neighborhood of Chestnut Hill as much as we did.  I was told it looked just like the English countryside town that you came from.  It was “Very English”.  When you were there, I didn’t tell you that the shop owners took you to heart.  When you left they would occasionally ask when you were coming back.

Later we moved to Wilton Manors, Florida.  It’s a full 190 miles away and a long four hour drive from you in Key West.  I was warned that it was one way in and one out and traffic could completely block.  People could have a 10 hour trip through the keys because “The Sysco Truck broke down” or overturned or some dumb tourist cut in front of it.  All were plausible.  None happened when I went down there.

Just watch your speed driving the Keys.  They will ticket in some places at one MPH over.

My visits were a mirror of yours.  Take over a room, drop the suit cases, and relax before a long wander through town to see how much things changed.  Key West changed completely over the years.  Wilton Manors less so.

Every visit I would spend fixing your computers.  I was happy when you got a Mac because then you wouldn’t get those Windows viruses.  Then the virus writers targeted Mac and you would get them there.  I remember you had a literal stack of machines and every one would end up used up and set under the bed in the spare room waiting for care because Virus.

Stop clicking on links in emails, please.

Well now there are no more links to click.

No more Mangos to duck from the trees.

No more check ins.

Someone else will feed the cat that visits you on your porch for food and sometimes come in for a short visit.

You died suddenly of natural causes on July 29 2017.

I didn’t find out until after I called you and left a message, worried.

Four minutes later someone on your facebook feed confirmed it.

The stories went back and forth.  You never completely hide from friends.  Now it is much easier for friends to talk.  We shared details of how you were planning to come here but kept missing the trip because you were feeling badly, twice in the week before.  Each time this happened I’d implore you to visit the doctor.  You would become more strident about my coming to visit.  I think we know why now.

I had a wonderful chat with your friends, even in your home town.

You were so very proud of that town, Winsford, England.  When I showed you how to virtually walk down the street there you were “gobsmacked”.  So was I.  I would love to see it myself but probably never will get there, just like  at this point I doubt I’ll get back to Key West.

I captured that picture of the big stone church and put it on your computers every time I set one up for you.

In fact there were three computers here for you to look at.  All with the picture of that church in Winsford, England.

We would go through those pictures and virtually visit your town with the old show To The Manor Born on the TV.  We watched that series so many times that we could quote dialog along with Audrey and the Rest.  All those old comedy shows that you’d bring along, some I had seen, some not, and always a very enjoyable time.

You are and now were more than a friend, you were a big brother from another mother.  You will be missed.

Goodbye David.

Snail on Tree

In the yard, there is a little garden.

The little garden is an island afloat on a sea of grassy green.

In the middle of that island is an old snag of a tree.

I can’t bring myself to cut it down.  It’s old, it’s moth-eaten, and it’s partly dead.  But the parts of that old snag are quite thoroughly alive.

The old snag is a bottle brush tree.  It puts out red flowers that look like a bottle brush from time to time.  So I cut the dead spots off and leave the thing be.  I’m overdue for cutting more dead spots off that tree.  Because of those dead branches, I also have lots of air plants, Tillandsia, growing on the bark.

It is its own little ecosystem.

Spanish Moss, ants, birds.  It’s full of life even if the tree can’t decide what to do.

After a rain, much of that life is forced to the surface.  You can go out there and watch the lizards crawl over it and poach a few insects.  That is their place in life, to keep the pests down.

They don’t seem to mind being watched anyway.

But on the bark this one day was a snail.  They usually are seen stuck to a window or a post or some other vertical object.  When they are there, normally, they are not alive.  In fact it is rare that I see one out in the open like this particular day.

A little piece of Escargot trailing a shell that looks like a fancy chocolate, right there in the open, on my half alive tree.

Sure, I could cut it all down but what is the point.  I already have a palm tree next to it.  I did not plant that palm.  It ‘involuntarily’ grew in my pot in the back yard, and took it over.  Most likely thanks to some errant bird that left the seed when it was getting ready to fly from my Sea Grape tree in the back yard.  I did not weed the palm until I realized it was too late so I cut the pot away from the plant and dragged the root ball to the front yard where I figured I would need it.

The blasted palm tree is now more than 15 feet tall.

So it’s all a nice little family.  Half dead bottle brush tree.  Out sized palm tree.  Some red screw palms and another clump of green ones on the other side.

And the chocolate shelled snail lives there happily as well.

We will just call it a garden, uplight the palm, and call it done.  May as well.  You get some interesting visitors from time to time, you know.

Sunrise on Wilton Manors

I get up whenever I feel like it.  Unfortunately I tend to feel like it as early as 4:30 AM.  A late day is getting up at sunrise.

Part of it is habit.  I would get up on weekends back in the day.  First it was for rowing on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia.  Later it was for running in the Valley Forge National Park, or to the trails for biking and Inline Skating.

I miss the Skating the most.  South Florida with its drivers that aim for anything out there including other cars is not conducive for putting any decent distance on inline skates.

Decent distance for me is 100 miles per week.  That is 162 km for the Imperially Impaired.

But the habit continues.

Lately it is a two mile, 3 km dog walk every day, rain or predawn shimmer.

That predawn shimmer can be quite beautiful.

I’m out there with my faithful side kick and shadow, Rack the McNab SuperDog (TM) every morning and we cover practically the entire Wilton Drive.  It’s a coping strategy.  You see, Rack is quite fearful and having little traffic before 7AM, we’re out there to try to do some distance to keep in shape.   It works, but it also serves to allow him to get a taste of what he is afraid of without truly having a major panic attack.

The minor ones will trip you up enough anyway.  To get out and explore your own town at a time of morning when there are few others out there truly is a privilege.  On the one hand, you get a weird zombie movie or post apocalyptic vibe where there are tumbleweeds rolling down the main drag.  It’s dead quiet, and there are only a few  people up.  You can ignore them.

But there are the changes as you walk along.  The skies go from indigo to purple to blue.  You get a Subtle Hint Of Mauve, whatever color your eye translates that to be, on everything, and the buildings begin to glow.  The flowers begin to pop.  Later you hit the golden hour and the world wakes up.

So does the traffic, and that can be a distraction for a fearful medium sized mostly black dog.  He gets more insistent to get

Off The Drive and turn back into the neighborhood to head on home.  It’s a 45 minute or more wander.  Later walks are always longer.   You need to take care getting across that street that you didn’t when you left home.  People wave, the officers in the patrol car flash their lights or chirp their sirens to say hello, dog walkers emerge.

I am living my own version of the intro to the movie Roxanne as all the sudden I am smiling as a baby Beagle and a Pug are wrapped around my legs begging for attention and Rack is snuffling around the owners looking to be pet.

We’ll end up home soon enough.  Herd a few ducks, watch the last clouds turn from golden to white, and ponder whether the rain will come on shore before you get home.

Another dog walk at sunrise ends with the cool of the living room.

Hello!  I’m home!  What’s for Breakfast?

There Is Quite A Lot Of Wildlife Watching Me

I admit it.

Actually I admit it frequently.

I’m fascinated by the wildlife that we have here in South Florida.

Walk out into the yard and I’m being watched.

Lizards, literally everywhere.  I had heard there were a lot of them around, but coming from a “temperate” climate like South Jersey, I never really believed that they existed.  You just don’t see a lizard staring back at you from a Pin Oak tree in Cherry Hill, NJ.

Here, I walk to the front door and there are lizards sunning themselves on my driveway watching me back through the glass.

I’ve seen Muscovy Ducks on my front porch more times than I care to count, and I’ve taken to inviting them to leave.  They’re way too messy to be a good house guest.

They are perfectly fine on the water and near it, but the one night that I stepped onto my porch after sunset and found myself interrupting some seventeen of them making funky Duck Love and smelling the pungent aroma of what happens when you startle them, they needed to move on.

Did you know a bird will lighten the load before flying by making a poop?

Some other places have alligators in their swimming pool.  Key West, Florida has Chickens.  I suspect they are fine until they get to be a bit too populous, but people brought them there to begin with.  If you don’t want chickens, help yourself to the eggs they leave under your shrubs.

I wonder if they will trade a few chickens for some ducks?

They came there because their many generation removed grandparents were used in fighting.  That’s not at all allowed these days, but some did escape and settled in.

So I did get to see the chicken cross the road, even if I am still not quite sure why it did.

You end up with wading birds deciding that it is time to perch on your Jeep.  It doesn’t happen too often, they aren’t out there every day.  Luckily they are some of the more shy creatures out there.  If you get anywhere near them they fly off.

I have seen these Snowy Egrets, or what ever they are called, walk across lawns in long herds like something out of a Disney Movie.  They’re also the reason why I don’t tell the landscapers to spray the yard.

We get so many of them here that the grubs I see them going after are kept well under control.  Along with the Black Racer snakes in some rare occasions.

But we do get quite a few visitors.

In the morning, being awakened by the song birds that show up in my bottlebrush tree is a normal happening.

Some of them are louder than others.  And some are more insistent than others.

It’s also why I  have a habit of waking early, or at least an explanation.

Go on outside and have a look around.  The sheer volume of things that I see in my own little yard here in suburbia always has me wondering just what am I missing.

I’ve been told that there are scorpions here, and if I leave my boots outside for some strange reason, I bang them on the pavement to make sure I don’t bring any hitchhikers in.

I’ve found way too many lizards to count.  They do keep the spiders at bay though and that’s a welcome aside.

After all, a Banana Spider in the house at the size of a Volkswagen is a but of a shock.  For a while I was fortunate.  My old windows had another predator that took up residence in one small nook.  Then the house was upgraded to Impact Resistant glass.  Hurricane Glass they call it.  But it also took the nook away and my frog was gone.

I do kind of miss the frogs after all that is said and done.

Really, Frogs, since I saw three there the day before the nook was taken away a couple years back.  Funny how things like that end up in unexpected places.

At the moment though, there are the butterflies.  Sure, I have all of those creatures cohabiting with me, the dog, the parrot, and the humans in this house.  But the plants are all scattered with a dusting of butterflies in various stages of life.  They all will hatch as time allows them, and I am surprised that they spend more time in that chrysalis than I would expect.  After all, hanging on a leaf just means you’ll get spotted and the leaf could get brought inside for an incomplete photography project.

But I am sure that you all have heard that before, haven’t you?

Wildlife Photography Takes Forever Or How A Monarch Pupa Took Up Residence In My Living Room

I suppose it was meant to be.

I figured out that if I cut a length of Mexican Milkweed about the length of your longest finger and put it in wet soil, there was a good chance it would root and grow.

About 80 to 90% chance of success I have noticed.

Then if you planted them in a sheltered place, they would get to the point where they would look appetizing to a passing Monarch Butterfly, and eggs would get laid on it.

Knowing that the life cycle of a Monarch was short, and that I had only a few Mexican Milkweed plants, I watched them get decimated back to sticks.  They even sampled my Mango tree and some of the Coleus that are near by.

I noticed that I had three pupae forming in the plants that I had found, hopefully more than that.  There were 16 caterpillars feeding on that one sad last plant.

It hasn’t really recovered.   Give it time.

Some of them made it into strange places.  That Mango tree in a pot had one in a very visible spot.

I began video taping the Chrysalis when it began to turn translucent.  They go from a beautiful jade green through translucent, then transparent, and will crack open so that the butterfly can emerge.  It takes about two weeks.

 

I had that camera out there so long that South Florida began to come out of the Dry Season and into the Wet Season that we’re “celebrating” with a vengeance.

Seven Inches of Rain yesterday.

That last dry day though.   The pupa that was on the little Mango tree is no longer.  I went out and checked it and the pupa had vanished.   Bringing in the camera, I looked at the time lapsed video and there was a flurry of action when the disappearance occurred.  A female Cardinal bird had spotted the camera, perched near it, and spotted the pupa hanging under the leaf.  One peck and the pupa was gone.  The bird actually looked into the camera and if it is possible, she smirked at it.

Fine!  Be that way.  I took things into my own hands.

There was a second one that managed to find a home up in a set of wind chimes.  I’m leaving that one alone.  The third one, on the other hand, is now in my house.

But that third chrysalis I am taking care of.

It was on a leaf in my garden.  Specifically a red dracena plant that I had planted as shrubbery under the windchimes that are home to that second chryaslis.

The leaf got cut, brought inside and adhesive taped to a mat that my dog uses for the background.    I had a set up.  I could put the camera on the table and instead of walking all the way to the tripod on the back of the property next to the shed, I could simply turn it on and let it be.  Every time I would walk past the camera, I would inspect the camera and my little companion, and make changes if needed.

That was about 3 days ago.  I’m starting to get cabin fever.  There’s a rhythm to this sort of thing.  It needs to be observed if you want a chance at any success.  A Monarch won’t emerge late at night, so I am effectively “off duty” after dinner.  They want to have the sun to dry their wings and get ready to fly off.

It does not happen in seconds, rather a few minutes to dry, and flap about.  Then they take off.  I will be able to switch off the ceiling fans, and re-position the camera for that scene.

But for now I wait.

It’s not even a guarantee that I will get a successful video.  The creature could die.  There are no errant Cardinal birds in my house, but things sometimes just don’t “hatch”.  It’s pretty reliable that at this point it will hatch, it’s in a controlled environment at 76F and household humidity levels.

It could wander off the frame of the camera, which is close and only as wide as the leaf is.   It could do that when I am out of the house, which I have been fortunate enough not to have to go anywhere for a bit.

But at least I will get the emergence.

If you look closely, you can actually see the distinctive orange and black pattern of the Monarch’s Wings inside the clearing skin of the chrysalis.  So I believe that this one is still alive, and still growing.  Percolating perhaps.

Give it another day or three.  After all, it’s their movie, isn’t it?

And sometimes the story is in the journey and not the destination.

The Broken Poang Story or You Want To Drive Across The County For A Bolt?

The story started once upon a time in the dark ages called the 1980s.  I have a friend from way back then who got a job with Ikea when they opened their very first store here in the US in the fabled land of Plymouth Meeting, PA.

He was a fan of some of their products and since I had a major car accident where I was “laid up” for an entire summer, it was years before my muscle mass was strong enough that I could get comfortable in a chair, I would need to look for some furniture.

My friend suggested trying out a Poang Chair.

“A what?”

He described this weird flat pack thing that you get to assemble.  You select the upholstery you want with it, put it all together, it looks stylish and has clean lines.  The one I am sitting in now has a leather cushion and fits in quite well. I did eventually get one, but it was quite a few years before I did.

I went to a store and saw it and did like it but somehow managed to avoid getting one through the Apartment Stage of Life into my first home.

Then, I moved to Florida.  Then being in 2006.  One of the first things I managed to get was a Poang.

You see, Poang Chair frames are so sturdy that people tend to give them away rather than throw them out, or they end up at a better thrift store.  That is how I got both of mine.

 

I did go back to Ikea and upgrade the padding and upholstery on the first one – they are designed to be replaced by simply pulling them off the velcro on the frame.

 

It was a strange synthetic blue that looked like it belonged in a frat house basement.  When I put on the smooth and supple chocolate colored leather covering, it dressed it right up as well as the matching ottoman.

Yes, I do like them.  The second one serves as a desk chair.  Although my back is

much much better now, I can’t just sit in any old chair all day long.  The Poang is the exception.

The other chair has the original cotton fabric covered foam upholstery.  I’m fine with that.  Some of the upholsteries can be machine washed depending on the care instructions on the tag so you might be able to toss the covering into the washer, cold, and it comes out clean.

 

Some are dry clean only, and leather needs its own cleaning regimen.  Your mileage may vary.  Consult your owner’s manual.

 

Just let it air dry.  If it shrinks because you used Hot, you’re stuffed.  The original Frat House Blue covering shrank, I haven’t been bold enough to try to wash that beige one since it goes well with the colors in this house.

The other day though, I found out what the weak point was on the chair.   I was watching some drama on TV when all the sudden I was on the floor.

You see, there’s this bolt on the shoulder of the chair.  It holds the part you sit in to the frame of the chair.  Since everything is built very efficiently, remove one part and it just becomes a pile of bent wood.  They are built to bounce slightly while you are moving around in them but I guess 10 years of bouncing took their toll.

In my case, it was a pile of bent wood, reclining at a strange angle, me on top of it all and grateful that the dog did not get crushed under it.

That fabled bolt simply sheared.

“Help.”

I heard running from the other room.  “Are you alright?!??!”

Yes, it’s fine, I’m just at a strange angle.  Can you help me up?

I had to wait for my friend to calm down after I got rapid fire questions about how it happened, what caused it, why did I do it, and other minutia.

Obviously I didn’t break my favorite chair on purpose.

“Well I’ll have to make a trip to the hardware store.  They keep parts for these things.  Barring that, it’s back to the Ikea Mothership and get a bolt.”

I was told not to do anything, he’ll drive me to Ikea, we’ll get the bolt.

“All the way across the county to get a bolt?  I know Ikea stands behind their products but we don’t even know if …”

I was cut off.  It’s a treat to go to that giant blue barn of strangely named the merchandise.  “We can get a Right Sized Dinner there and get your bolt.”

*sigh* OK, I’ll give you a couple days and we can go otherwise I will start looking in the big box hardware stores.

Only my pride was harmed in the collapsing of my chair.  I waited a few days and we went out there.  Sitting shotgun in the car listening to that mechanical woman’s voice on the car’s GPS try and fail to figure out a good route to the store and tell us for the first half hour to “Make a legal U Turn” over and again.

“Come on, you silly voice.  It’s West out Oakland Park, South to 136th st after the curve!  Keep going until you see it just shy of I595.  It’s South Florida!  Locals Don’t Take Interstates at Rush Hour!”

We got there, got a Right Sized dinner, explored the items that were named at random by tearing pages out of the Stockholm Phone Book.  There were a few things I would not mind getting, and the Poang Rocker caught my eye yet again but the house really is Full of Things and I don’t need to shop.

Getting to the end of the maze I walked over, took a number and waited for one of the ladies at the counter to call “165!”.

“Hello, I need a Bolt!  My Poang collapsed and I was dumped on the floor!”

I got a bemused look and the tiniest hint of a smile.

“Ten years to a bolt, good gas mileage.”  She looked at a parts explosion for the chair.  They actually do stock all the parts to make their products in case you lose one or are shorted one.

Or in my case, ten years of use, the chair decides to shear one.  I’m a big guy, but not outlandishly so.  I understand that the load capacity is well north of my own 6’4″ and 225 Pounds.  They used to have a display where they were pounding a Poang chair with hydraulic lifts to illustrate their strength.

Good to know that I am not too big to use a chair!

She came back holding two of the bolts plus my sheared bolt.  Part number 146654, and no thank you I don’t need the special Ikea Allen Wrench part number 100001.

“Thank you! I can fix my favorite chair with that bolt!”  as I took both.

You never know when you need a spare bolt!  Maybe some time in another ten years I will be going back out to Sunrise, FL, to get another Right Sized Meal and some other parts after replacing the other bolt.

Just don’t know.  But it’s better than ending up on the floor with a surprised look on your face and a broken bolt to extract.

Now… if I could find a piece of plywood here around the house.  About 18 inches by 20 inches.  I could firm the seat up a bit.  Ikea products are very hackable.  End tables for $10 that work as computer racks are well known, and someone once built a man cave under a platform bed constructed from bookcases.

 

I still have my eye on that rocker for next time…