Wednesday, February 21, 2018

To gambol and gamble

Dunedin,FL – There is never any shortage of things to do! This past weekend there was an art festival in downtown Dunedin, so Val and I pedaled into town with John and Fawn to have a look. We took the Pinellas Trail, a wonderful bike path built in part along old railway lines, that now provides dozens of miles of bicycle and walking trails in a huge loop.
It was past three o’clock when we parked our bikes and started walking – to me, it seemed quite late for an arts and crafts fair, and I half expected to see many booths closed up for the day – but everything was in full swing, with lots of visitors and a long line of tented booths stretching along the city’s central park. It was wonderful to see all the different wares, from fine art to kitschy knick-knacks! Some booths were devoted to a single product, such as hundreds of beautifully decorated hairbands, while others offered a wider range, such as poster art, jewelry, cloth items (including sleeves for your ceiling fan blades – huh??) and gorgeous photographs framed for hanging. One booth had children’s clothing hand decorated with charming 3-D fairy-tale figures or superheroes.
A guitarist was strumming away with his hat out for donations, and the smell of popcorn wafted out from one of the food stands. Fawn found some darling garden ornaments for a friend back home, and Val and John bought leather pouches to hang from their belt loops or bike seats. As we pedaled back, we paused at the Legion along the path, where a live band was entertaining crowds of people at their outdoor café. It was the President’s Day long weekend, so people were in a holiday mood.
We are always in a holiday mood, and hardly noticed the date! It continued to feel like the weekend when, on Tuesday at lunchtime, folks on John and Fawn’s street in the park hosted a Kentucky Derby event. The ends of the street were closed off so they could set up lawn chairs and tables, and for days leading up to the event, the women were working up fancy hats and figuring out wardrobe choices so they could arrive in style – and did they ever! Fascinators, wide-brimmed straw hats and tons of feathers and ribbons fluttered in the warm breeze as they all gathered. The men folk also wore various head gear, but somewhat more subdued. One fellow dressed up in a white lab coat, rubber boots, stethoscope and gloves – the horse vet, of course!
The entertainment of the day, after we had sampled a generous and delicious array of salads, barbeque and desserts, was a horse-racing game played on a peg board with little plastic jockeys on horseback that moved forward along the peg holes. It involved a deck of cards, dice and a plastic pot of quarters, dimes and nickels for bets, and lots of cheering and clapping as the “race” progressed. A good time was had by all!
Tonight, we are dining Italian-style. The clubhouse is decked out with checkered tablecloths and wine bottles with candles stuck in them, and we will be served a lasagna dinner, salads and dessert. It will be in air-conditioned coolness, and I expect we will have some kind of Italian soundtrack while we enjoy our meal. Good thing we have a whole week to go before weighing in at Weight Watchers again!

Friday, February 16, 2018

My neighbours and other animals

Dunedin, FL – Last Saturday, John and Fawn’s neighbours threw a brunch party for everyone on the street, to which we were also invited. Lawn chairs and tables were set out on people’s front lawns and on the street, and everybody brought a little something to round out the French toast, bacon and sausages that were the main part of the meal. A gorgeous spread of fruit salads, homemade cinnamon buns, golden baked eggs and real maple syrup from Canada – John and Fawn’s contribution – tickled our taste buds as we lined up to load our plates.

When most of us had eaten, the fun began. At one end of the street, they’d set up a game of cornhole (we’d call it bean toss – aiming bean bags at a board with a hole in it), and at the other was a giant Jenga game, with stacked wooden blocks that stood about four feet high. People took turns trying to extract a block from lower parts of the structure and placing it on top without making the whole thing tumble down. Great rounds of applause greeted every successful placement. It was lots of fun!

The RV park is home to several hundred residents of all ages – but mostly retired folks like us – and a considerable number of dogs and cats who keep their owners in reasonable shape on daily walks. When Anna visited John and Fawn one evening, she brought her furry companion, who fell completely head-over-heels in love with Val. Who wouldn’t, when gentle hands were so willing to provide a tummy rub?

There are other creatures who call the park home as well. One is a lonely egret, with long legs, sleek white feathers and a long pointed beak, which has adopted a plastic bird of the same species as its best friend. The plastic egret bobs back and forth on its pedestal, planted next to its owner’s trailer, and the real bird stands nearby in rapt admiration. It’s quite a sight!

The other day we caught sight of a healthy-sized box turtle by the roadside. When I got closer to snap a picture, it waddled away and then stopped. Slowly, its feet and head retracted into its deep green shell and it waited until I left it in peace!

Now that the weather has finally warmed up a bit, the frogs have been giving us a nightly concert. When night falls, a trilling chorus begins, and hardly ever lets up! In the daytime, we often catch sight of tiny, nimble geckoes that dart out of sight the minute you get too close.

Of course, we know about the rattlesnakes that inhabit the area, so whenever we bike over to John and Fawn’s after dark, we make sure to light our way with a flashlight. One encounter was more than enough!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Author, author!

Dunedin,FL – “Wouldn’t it be neat,” I said one evening last November, “if we could meet Michael Connelly in person when we’re down in Florida?” Val had read more than a dozen of Connelly’s police thrillers by this time and could hardly put them down.

This former newspaper reporter from Los Angeles had penned a whole series of novels starring Hieronymus Bosch – a.k.a. Harry – a seasoned LAPD detective with a knack for solving murder cases. The author’s bio indicated that Michael Connelly was currently a resident of Tampa, FL – just a short drive from where we would be staying.

Our interest increased once we got to Florida and began watching the Amazon TV series “Bosch” with John and Fawn. Val was very pleased to see how well they depicted the events in Connelly’s novels – but that was not by chance: Connelly was one of the show’s executive producers, and he himself chose Titus Welliver for the title role.

We mentioned our interest in meeting Connelly to John and Fawn one evening, and moments later Fawn, staring at her cellphone, murmured “oh my goodness!” – she had googled Connelly’s name and up popped a notice of a free meet-the-author and book signing event in Tampa in early February!

Val and I immediately sent in our names to reserve a spot; only a limited number could be admitted. We noted the venue, a restaurant/bookstore called the Oxford Exchange, and a few days before, drove in to Tampa to find it and scout out places to park. Our excitement was contagious: John and Fawn said they’d like to come too, but there were no more spaces.

Never mind, we said. We would try our luck. The long-awaited day arrived, and around three o’clock (for a 7 pm event) the four of us were on our way. We arrived 45 minutes later. Inside the white-brick building we found an optician, a bookstore, a coffee shop, a home décor section and a sit-down restaurant. We enjoyed our meal, while servers set up chairs for the evening’s event.

By the time we finished, a lineup had formed outside. Then it was time for guests to find seats – after organizers checked their list of names. Moments before the event started, we saw John and Fawn filing in – a cancellation had opened up a couple of spots!

For the next hour, Michael Connelly talked about his novels, his characters, the TV series, his future plans and much more to a rapt audience. He answered questions for a while longer, and then moved to the small table where he would sign books. In the lineup, Val kept his newly-purchased copy of The Last Show tucked under his arm.

Soon, Val was conversing with the man himself, thanking him for his great books and mentioning his own police career. “To Val Zanin, who knows about Harry and Renee”, Connelly scrawled above his signature, naming protagonists in two of his book series.

As I write this, Val is seated in the La-Z-Boy chair, engrossed in his newest Michael Connelly novel.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Stayin' alive

Dunedin, FL – On Monday mornings here at the RV park, everyone gets together for a singalong, led by our amateur band (which produces a pretty good sound!), morning coffee, and announcements for the coming week. There’s no shortage of things to participate in! – and for every level of involvement, from marathon peak form to standing-in-the-wings observation.

It’s great to have such a variety of choices. It’s also sobering to know, from those morning announcements, that some residents who used to be doing all sorts of things in the park have suffered health setbacks, and in a couple of recent cases, passed away. As members of an aging cohort, we know our time is not infinite, and doing what we can to make the rest of our lives the best of our lives is a very good idea.

Which is why, since we got here three weeks ago, I’ve been exploring various offerings – all of which are free of charge – at the clubhouse. I’ve been line dancing on Thursday afternoons, and yesterday I had my first exposure to yoga! I had to purchase a yoga mat for the class, which I found last week at Walmart for a reasonable price – and it even coordinated with the colours of my running shoes. Bonus.

Never mind that the running shoes were not worn for the class; at least I looked good arriving with them on my feet and the mat tucked under my arm. Our virtual teacher was projected onto a screen on the wall, so she never saw my rudimentary attempts to keep from falling over when, down on hands and knees, we had to extend our right leg up and back and counterbalance with our left arm up and forward.

And she never saw me grab Fawn’s hand, next to me, when we wobbled stork-style on one leg with our arms outstretched. And she didn’t hear my vertebrae crackle when I pointed my chin to the ceiling and made a vain attempt to grab my heels behind me as I knelt on my mat. I didn’t mind that my fellow yoga participants could see all that, because none of us could call ourselves experts. But, whether limited by arthritis, excess pounds or lack of practice, we were all there doing what we could. Stayin’ alive.

The least appealing part of the class for me was the part when we laid face down on the mat. My lovely pink-and-grey Walmart special was so fresh out of its wrapping that it gave off great fumes of whatever chemicals went into its rubbery components. Note to self: before next class, hang it out in the sun and breeze for several hours to off-gas! Whew!

It felt good to have tried something new, and to have given my body a good – but gentle – workout of stretches and positions that addressed all my muscles and limbs. My daily fast-walking has always been a good habit for cardio, but this was a worthwhile addition.

This morning, when I popped in to the club house on an errand, I saw another onscreen teacher guiding a class of residents stepping and kicking to a lively Mexican sound track. Looked like a lot of fun! I checked the weekly calendar to see what it was: Zumba. Hmmm… maybe next Tuesday I’ll be giving that a whirl too.