Saturday, March 18, 2017

Sarasota Creators & Collectors' Tour

The annual Sarasota Creators & Collectors' Tour is always great fun. I love getting a chance to peek into artist's studios and chat with them about their work. Dorrit's as keen as I am, so she's the perfect partner in crime.

Raven Skye McDonough
Our first stop was the Galleria at the Ringling School of Art + Design, where an assortment of artists were gathered. Although we methodically worked our way around the room, I had my eye on Raven Skye McDonough from the moment we walked in. I am familiar with Raven's collages from a couple of shows she entered at the Visual Arts Center. As she likes to say, she "paints with paper." She often incorporates her own handmade paper and photographs into her work.

I particularly loved this colorful collage (whose name I neglected to note). Raven shared that her inspiration was the bust of a Roman emperor she had seen in the St. Petersburg Museum of Art. If you look closely, you'll see that the eye of the "emperor" is the head of a nude woman, so he's seeing things from a female point of view. Clever. To see more of Raven's art, click here.

Miller's Admit One Ticket Shoe
In the nearby gallery Made By--which exclusively shows work by Ringling students and grads--we enjoyed Louis Miller's "The Art of Shoes." There were a number of paintings of shoes on display, but I was more intrigued by the 3D works.  There were shoes made from wire and corrugated cardboard and other types of paper, including a roll of tickets. While chatting with Miller and his wife, she mentioned he had kept these tickets since he was nine years old, somehow knowing they would become useful someday. We also learned that she's the one with the shoe fetish, which I suspect he doesn't discourage.

Detail of work in Lucy Barber's kitchen shelf series

From there we were off to the artist studios. When we first entered Lucy Barber's studio, I wasn't sure about her subtle paintings. I tend to go for artwork with color that hits me over the head. But the more time I spent with them, the more I liked them.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say I fell in love with her "kitchen shelf" series. The inspiration for the series came from the light that fell on, yes, a kitchen shelf with five of her father's WWII journals on it. The kitchen walls were painted yellow and, she says, "glowed" when the morning light filled the room. Her works capture this feeling beautifully. For more of Barber's work, click here. (I'm really drawn to the radishes, too.) 

Two of the participating artists were located east of 75, territory into which I'd never ventured. Their studios were definitely worth getting off the beaten track to see.

Duncan Chamberlain's Camera Man

As people who go to galleries with me know, I sometimes break into a jog when I see a work of art I must get to immediately. (I know--it's not a pretty image.)  And so it was when I laid eyes on Camera Man by Duncan Chamberlain. Seriously, how could you not love a larger-than-life sculpture made from old cameras?

Duncan came to his art naturally.  His father, John Chamberlain, was a renowned scrap metal auto part sculptor. (This explains the multitude of bumpers lying around Duncan's studio.)  He worked as his father's assistant for a number of years, cutting, welding and fabricating parts. And then it was time for him to strike out on his own. In addition to Camera Man and some other whimsical works, Duncan's yard is peppered with some beautiful aluminum sculptures that I could envision in my friend Maggie's own sculpture garden. 

Last, but definitively not least, was Andrea Dasha Reich. Walking into her studio is a jaw-dropping experience. Her vibrant, large scale art takes over the massive space. It was hard to know what to look at first. Luckily, Dasha was on hand to provide an explanation. 

Although Dasha is Czech, her medium is not glass. Instead, she calls herself the Queen of Resin. She likens works such as the one shown here to a BLT sandwich, although a club would be more apt given the number of layers. When you see this piece from the side, you can appreciate how painstaking an effort it must have been to create. It's also a rather toxic process that requires gloves and a mask.

Reich with a Fusion work

Dasha's latest work is her Fusion series. The base of each work is a photograph of one of her paintings printed on canvas. She then layers on paint, resin and resin pieces to create a totally new work so expressive it nearly vibrates.

Click here to see more of Dasha's striking work (and a glimpse of her studio, which you can find if you scroll through the photos ). If you are in Sarasota, Dasha has an upcoming show at Alfstad & Contemporary, which opens April 7th. Her work can also be seen in State of the Arts Gallery, a truly fabulous gallery that features the art of more than 35 contemporary artists. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Katilyn Greenidge

The Tournament of Books (ToB) is underway once again, compliments of The Morning News and Field Notes. Organizers refer to it as "a month-long battle royale among the year's best novels." They quickly back pedal a bit, though, saying, "But it’s not really a contest. We’re not even sure it’s a 'tournament.' What the ToB has been and will be, as long as we’re putting it on, is a month-long conversation about novels and reading and writing and art that takes place on weekdays in March." The winner is awarded this year's coveted Rooster. 

However it's characterized, the ToB is fun to follow.This year's short-list of 16 (or so) books included many I had already read, including The Nix, Homegoing and Underground Railroad. Then there were some books that I'd given the old college try to read, but had given up. (The Vegetarian and Sweet Lamb of Heaven fell into this category.) That left a few books with which I was unfamiliar.

After discarding a couple out of hand based on off-putting descriptions, I checked the others out from the library. Last year's ToB was, after all, how I found Chris Adrian and Eli Horowitz' crazy The New World (which I loved and nobody else seemed to even like) and Kent Haruf's lovely Our Souls at Night.

Which brings me to one of this year's contenders -- We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Katilyn Greenidge. The description of the book piqued my interest with its story of the Freemans, an African-American family that decides to participate in a study at the Toneybee Institute in rural Massachusetts. They move to the Institute, where they are introduced to their new family member -- Charlie, a young chimp abandoned by its mother. The family brings fluency in sign language to the project, and their job is to teach Charlie how to sign. But of course it's not as straightforward as that.

The book moves between the present, with various family members narrating the action, and 1929, with Nymphadora of Spring City as our protagonist. The characters share a connection to the Institute. 

The Freemans' story is hard to explain, much less in a concise manner. So I'll settle for telling you how the family came to know how to sign.

Laurel, the Freeman matriarch, grew up in Maine as an only child in a family officially designated as the northernmost Negroes in the United States. Her family's tree farm was given the sole entry for the State of Maine in The Colored Motorist's Guide to America (a book I first heard of last year in the play "Alabama Story.") 

Laurel learned to sign after the Hallelujah School for the Colored Deaf came to the farm. She was fascinated with the expressiveness of their hand movements.

"She [Laurel] was no longer adrift in Farragut, Maine," Greenidge tells her readers. "She had discovered a universe where silence wasn't cold and stony but warm and golden, where there was no need for speech. Signing was full. Signing made words important. It was beyond condescension or awkwardness or fear or loneliness. It wasn't avoidance or dismissal. It was, as far as Laurel was concerned, the perfect language."

Her children, in turn, learned the skill when they were growing up. Until they moved to the Institute, they primarily used sign language to talk behind their parents' backs.

The family's time at the Institute is filled with complicated interpersonal dynamics, both inside the family and in a world in which they are outsiders. Their story is interesting and unsettling and thought-provoking.

Portrait of a girl by W.E.B. Du Bois from Paris Exhibition
But it is the story of Nymphadora that continues to haunt me. When we first meet Nymphadora, we learn that, like her mother before her, she was a Star of the Morning. (Her given name was Ellen, but she liked her chosen religious name much better.) Her parents committed suicide when she was a girl, leaving her to find her own way in the world.

She became a teacher, which is how her path crossed with that of Dr. Gardner of the Toneybee Institute. Gardner was lurking around the school at which Nymphadora taught, sketching pictures of the children. It fell to her to ask him to stop.

"I am an anthropologist and I enjoy studying all people. The [African-American] people of Spring City are excellent specimens," Gardner told her. Upon seeing her face, he tried to explain.  "If you are familiar with the science of anthropology, you can see why I would want to draw your students." 

"Yes," she responded. "And I can see why I shouldn't allow it. I don't want them ending up somewhere in some study, examples of Negro buffoonery, like you scientists like to do. I won't have them studied, if that's what you want to call it." 

They get into a discussion in which Nymphadora tells Gardner that similar studies have already been done. In fact, a picture of her as an Infant Star was included in W.E.B. Du Bois' Exhibit of American Negroes at the Paris Exhibition. Gardner takes note of her pride at having been included in the exhibit. Perhaps, he suggests, she might like to take the place of the children as his subject. One things leads to another, with disturbing consequences. 

We Love You, Charlie Freeman is a book that has lingered with me. It is well worth adding to your reading list.

Sadly, though, I can't root for We Love You to advance in the ToB. It is up against my favorite book of 2016, The Nix by Nathan Hill. It will be interesting to see which book comes out on top.

For more about the Tournament of Books, including this year's brackets, click here.  Happy reading!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Embracing Dr. Seuss Differences Day

I rarely get the chance to interact with kids. In fact, living in Punta Gorda, I hardly ever even SEE children. And so when I read that Sarasota County's Embracing Our Differences program was seeking volunteers to read a Dr. Seuss book to an elementary school class, I signed up. It was a wonderful experience.

I was assigned to read Dr. Seuss' The Lorax to Rebecca Shipley's third grade class at Glenellen Elementary School in North Port. We were encouraged to practice reading the book out loud a few times. I dutifully checked The Lorax out from the library. I was a bit surprised to find that it was 32 pages long. I was also struck by how political the book is.

In case it's been a while since you read The Lorax, it tells the story of the Once-ler, a man who decides to cut down a single Truffala Tree to knit a thneed. A passerby offers to buy the thneed. Before long, a factory's been built, the trees are being cut down four at a time, and the animals have headed off to friendlier climes. Eventually, all that's left is a landscape of stumps. Even the Lorax, who speaks for the trees, has departed, leaving behind a pile of rocks with the word "Unless." The Once-ler is baffled by the meaning, until a child shows up. "Now that you're here," the Once-ler says, "the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear/UNLESS someone like you/cares a whole awful lot/nothing is going to get better/It's not." And, with that, the Once-ler throws the child the sole remaining Truffala Seed. Maybe, with time, the trees and animals will come back.

Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) wrote the book in the early 1970s at the start of the environmental movement. Forty-some years later, the message seems particularly timely given the White House's desire to gut the EPA. But I digress. 

Walking to the school office to check in, I saw people dressed up like Dr. Seuss characters, with crazy socks and striped hats a la Cat in the Hat and "Thing 1" and "Thing 2" signs hanging around their necks. In keeping with the theme, I was given a bag of goldfish to sustain me. (Get it? One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.). 

I was greeted warmly when I got to the classroom. Remember how desks used to be set up in nice straight rows all facing the teacher?  Well, no longer. The kids were seated three to a circular desk equipped with laptops and headphones.  I would have loved to have seen how classes work in this environment, but I had a job to do.

Becky invited me to sit in a rocking chair at the front of the class and, if I liked, to put on the colorful boa awaiting me. The kids settled in on the rug at my feet. After I established how old they were (eight or nine) and explained that I might need their help because I was new to this, we were off. 

Not surprisingly, it wasn't a straight read-through. I had mentioned Seuss' nonsense words at the beginning, and at one point a boy noted--quite correctly--that "biggered" wasn't a word.  We discussed how the kids were able to understand what it--and other made-up words like "Grickle-grass" and "Whisper-ma-phone"--meant, though, given the context.

At one point someone referenced a scene in The Lorax movie, and the kids started giggling. "Is that funny?"  I asked. I was assured that, indeed, it was quite funny, but that I couldn't be expected to understand why since it was kid humor.

The best part, though, was the circle discussion after I was done with the book. The kids organized themselves, and Becky handed over a pencil that looked a bit like a Truffala Tree to the first child. Only the student with the "tree" was allowed to talk.

We had touched on the fact Dr. Seuss books are fun but also have great messages. Some of the kids picked up on that, with one boy saying how "inspiring" he found Dr. Seuss. Someone mentioned how bad corporate greed was. Not all the comments were so serious though, as a number of the kids just liked how the Truffala Trees looked. (They are pretty cool.)

One little girl earnestly commented how the book reminded her of the movie "Wally" (in which, apparently, people also wrecked the world). I was impressed by the analogy.

Way too quickly, the hour was over. The kids applauded and a couple gave me big hugs. It was a terrific afternoon. 

Note: Embracing Our Differences is a non-profit organization whose mission is "to use the power of art and education to expand consciousness and open the heart to celebrate the diversity of the human family." While it is not a part of Read Across America, it has joined with the fun of celebrating Dr. Seuss' birthday for the past four years with reading events in Sarasota and Manatee Counties. 

"Celebrating Friendship" by Adorable Monique (Naples, FL)
Brenna Wilhm, Education Director, talked with me about how Dr. Seuss' books fit with Embracing Our Differences' work with diversity and inclusion. "Cat in the Hat," for instance, provides an opportunity to discuss standing up to bullies. "Horton Hears A Who" explains the importance of listening to a cry for help. And "Green Eggs and Ham" shows that you have to look beyond superficial differences.
Next up for the program is an art exhibit in Bayfront Park in Sarasota that will run from April 1-May 31. Students from around the world submitted artwork and quotes interpreting the theme "enriching our lives through diversity." From the more than 10,000 submissions, 48 pieces of artwork and 46 quotes will be featured. Stay tuned for more on that.

To read more about Embracing Our Differences, click here.   

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

An Evening with John McCutcheon

Having spent an hour on the phone interviewing singer-songwriter John McCutcheon, I was looking forward to his concert immensely. He had been charming and funny and full of great stories. I was more excited to see him take the stage, banjo in hand, than I would have been to see any rock star.

After an endearing, "Hey," he began to sing. "Oh, I wish I was a mole in the ground...."  What?!!!  Had I heard incorrectly? Nope. He continued, "I wish I was a mole in the ground/Twas as a mole in the ground I'd root that mountain down/I wish I was a mole in the ground." 

But there was no need for concern. After one stanza, McCutcheon picked at his banjo and launched into a story about the song that made its choice perfect.

Growing up in Minnesota, McCutcheon played the banjo. He calls it cultural denial. He told of finding a 78 recording of the 1928 song "I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground" by Bascom Lamar Lunsford. Title aside, it had what he was looking for -- banjo accompaniment. And so he bought the LP and taught himself the song.

McCutcheon's first gig at a folk festival was at the Mountain Dance & Music Festival in Asheville, North Carolina. The Festival was founded in 1928, and there were some serious singer-songwriters there. McCutcheon was admittedly nervous to perform before an audience of 5,000 folk music fans. But he had learned that none other than Bascom Lamar Lunsford was the founder of the Festival. He knew just the right song with which to make his debut.

McCutcheon hadn't noticed the wizened gray-haired old man standing just offstage. You guessed it -- Lunsford was not only still alive, but at the Festival. Knowing that might have led McCutcheon to pick a different song. And he certainly wouldn't have regaled the audience with the well-known fact of Lunsford's legacy. But all turned out well. And, as many of McCutcheon's stories end, the two became friends during the "too short" remainder of Lunsford's life.

The story alone would have made me eager to hear the rest of the song. But McCutcheon's commentary sealed the deal. With reference to the lyric of "rooting that mountain down," Mr. McCutcheon said he liked the idea of rooting the mountain down from the bottom up.  "We've learned that nothing trickles down," he said. "It all percolates up."

No song was performed without an explanation of its genesis. McCutcheon talked about reading something in the paper one day and telling his wife about it with a bit of outrage.  "It sounds like a John McCutcheon song to me," she said. "And I know just the person to write it." 

After obliquely commenting that it was a song we needed to hear right now, McCutcheon launched into "Y'All Means All." It's a song about acceptance and caring from the perspective of a Southern grandmother. She invites everyone to her table for supper even--or perhaps especially--those people she doesn't like so much.

What John omitted in his commentary to the politically conservative Charlotte County audience was the content of the article that had inspired the song. It was about the North Carolina law requiring transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates. The White House had revoked the Executive Order on the issue a couple of days before the concert.

Vedran Smailovic in Sarajevo rubble
One of my other favorite songs from the evening was "Streets of Sarajevo." The song was inspired by the actions of Vedran Smailovic, also known as the Cellist of Sarajevo. In 1992, during the Siege of Sarajevo, a bombing killed 22 people standing on a breadline in front of a bakery.  For 22 consecutive days following the bombing, Smailovic exited a nearby building wearing a tuxedo and carrying his cello and a folding chair. He set up his chair and proceeded to play Tomaso Albinoni's "Adagio in G Minor." Soldiers warned him he was making himself a target of sniper attacks, but he persisted until each victim had been ackowledged in this way.

In the song, McCutcheon sings, "And every day he made me wonder/Where did he ever find/The music midst the madness/The courage to be kind."  (To see an incredibly powerful YouTube video set to McCutcheon singing his song, click here.) And while that alone gives me goosebumps, there's more. 

As I said, McCutcheon has a habit of becoming friends with everyone he encounters. The song led to a friendship between McCutcheon and Smailovic. In fact, the two recorded a special version of "Streets of Sarajevo" with Smailovic accompanying McCutcheon on the cello.

One way to get the recording is to buy a copy of McCutcheon's book "Flowers of Sarajevo." The book translates the events depicted in the song into language understandable by children. It also comes with a CD that includes both the McCutcheon/Smailovic collaboration and a performance by Smailovic of the haunting Adagio. Needless to say, I bought a copy.

I suspect it's obvious that I have become a huge John McCutcheon fan. I guarantee that you will as well if you hear John perform. He travels the country, so there's a chance he'll be coming to a location near you no matter where you're located. It is worth making the effort to get there. 

To learn more about McCutcheon and his upcoming appearances, click here.  And to read my story about him in Florida Weekly, click here.


Saturday, February 25, 2017


It seemed like hyperbole when an organizer told me that attending Greek Fest was like going to Greece for the week-end. Admittedly, I'm not the best judge, since I've never been. But the outing seemed like a pretty good facsimile to me (absent, of course, the Aegean Sea). 

The indentation in my forehead
is not a wrinkle!
The Fest is organized by the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Port Charlotte. Craftily, visitors are funneled through a tchotchke area when they arrive. Bruce made a beeline for the fisherman's caps. I bought a colorful headband of plastic flowers that dug into my forehead and gave me a headache. (It WAS festive, though!) 

With our shopping done, Bruce, Dorrit and I headed off to check out the desserts. We felt like kids in a candy shop as we surveyed our options. Of course there was baklava (and baklava cheesecake and, in another location, baklava sundaes). But there were other exotic treats as well, like galaktoboureko (flavored custard baked in phyllo) and loukoumathes (Greek honey donuts).  Properly sustained, it was time for Dorrit and me to take some dancing lessons.

Pride of Greece Dancers

Dorrit and I quickly picked up the steps to our dance, known as the hasaposerviko. We proved proficient even when executing the "gyro," which is a turning move. (We tried to figure out why it's also the name of a sandwich. Maybe because it's rolled?)

The Pride of Greece Dancers were decked out in elaborate traditional garb. They ranged in age from three years old to just out of college. They were amazing. The older dancers moved fluidly around the dance floor, with their instructor periodically yelling out a celebratory "Opa!"

The Zorba dance
The little ones were too cute for words. Often the dances just called for them to hold hands and circle their way around the dance floor (with more experienced dancers leading the way). They were, however, sometimes called upon to sing and do some more advanced dances -- like the hasaposerviko.  Dorrit and I wanted to join in.

Throughout the dancing, audience members would run up and shower the dancers with dollar bills. This is a traditional way of showing appreciation for the performance. At the end of the number, the dancers picked up the money and put it in a donation bucket.

When the dancers took a well-deserved break, it was time for the grape stomping. Needless to say, Dorrit and I were first in line to participate.

A crusty old guy had the job of washing and drying our feet before we stepped into the grape stomping box. As we squished the grapes, we danced around as much as possible given the tight space. We were exhorted to stomp harder because no juice was coming out of the spigot. Eventually, enough juice flowed to fill a small glass that some of the organizers actually drank. When it was time for other women to have their turn, our feet were washed and dried again, and we slipped back into our shoes. 

Having worked up an appetite, we headed off to get some real food. It was hard to decide what to eat. Moussaka? Souvlaki? Tyropita?  Bruce and Dorrit decided on keptedes, or Greek meatballs.  I opted for some roasted chicken with Greek spices. It was all quite delicious. 

To see our evening in action, click here for Bruce's fun video: 

Greek Fest will be celebrating its 25th anniversary next year.  I will definitely be back.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Paint Your Heart Out, Punta Gorda

Nancy Johnson
Paint Your Heart Out, Punta Gorda is the type of event that reminds me what a special community I live in. Volunteers spend a day painting the exteriors of homes owned and occupied by locals who are indigent, disabled, veterans or seniors. The event is organized by TEAM Punta Gorda and Charlotte County Habitat for Humanity. (Quite aptly, "TEAM" stands for "Together Everyone Achieves More.") 

Although this is the fourth year of Paint Your Heart Out, it was my first time participating. I painted with the recently organized Isles Yacht Club Women, a group dedicated to working on one-off events in support of our community. We--along with the other painters and organizers--gathered bright and early last Saturday morning to get our assignments and shore ourselves up with coffee and doughnuts. The parking lot was overflowing with the 135+ people who had volunteered to help out .

Pre-Paint Job
Nancy Johnson, CEO of TEAM, talked a bit about the "ethic of service" in Punta Gorda. "The community turns out every year because that's the type of community we are," she said.

Mike Mansfield from Habitat chimed in as well, saying, "It takes a village, and the village showed up again today." 

With that, we were off to the eight homes awaiting us.

When I arrived at the house we had been assigned to paint, the project seemed a bit daunting. The house was in serious need of a good paint job and some general TLC.

Roy, our site supervisor, walked us around the house and identified the areas to be treated as trim (which would be painted white to provide a contrast to the sandstone beige of the house). He also explained that the brick side of the house could not be rolled because of the deep grooves between the bricks. (As it turned out, the bumpiness of the stucco on the entire house required either some serious elbow grease for painters using a roller or a second coat with a brush in order to ensure an even coat.)

Contemplating the bricks
There was no allocation of responsibilities. "This is your project," Roy said. "You have to own it. That's why it's called 'paint your heart out.'" I was a bit nonplussed, but more experienced volunteers grabbed their tools of choice, selected a spot and got to work. 

Truthfully, it didn't take long to make some headway once the dozen or more of us got started. I used the opportunity of painting next to Nancy to find out a bit more about the program. She explained that TEAM's job is to provide the volunteers and organization and to raise necessary funds. Habitat for Humanity, together with local builders and contractors, provides the expertise required for the project. The homes to be painted are nominated by local pastors and other community leaders. They are then reviewed to determine their eligibility. Some homes are too fragile to withstand the power washing required. As a bonus, the homeowners also get a brand new mailbox painted by an artist from the Visual Arts Center. 

The end is in sight
As the morning progressed, I realized that I wasn't well-suited for every job. I tend to slather on the paint, which made doing areas where the house proper met the trim a bit messy. Ditto for rolling the ceiling of the car port. (It took a couple of days to get the paint out of my hair.)

But that's the great thing about working with a group. Some people were really good at the things I wasn't, so I happily relinquished those jobs in favor of something else.On the plus side, I found I'm not nervous at all about standing on a ladder.
IYC Women

As noon approached, people who had already completed painting their homes arrived to help us wrap up. I was impressed with their excess energy. We were scheduled to be done around 1:00, and we were essentially finished by then. Some people stayed longer to put on the finishing touches. I, however, headed out. Despite a lunch break, fatigue was setting in. But it was definitely that good kind of tired, where you feel you've done something positive. 

Plans are already underway for next year's event. For those not in the area, Punta Gorda is not alone in hosting a community Paint Your Heart Out day. So if this type of volunteerism sounds like fun, keep your eyes open for an opportunity near you.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Girlfriend Get-Away

Lynden, Pat and Pa

Traditions are a wonderful thing. And one of my favorites is my annual outing with friends from my time in Nova Scotia. This year's adventure was geared around biking the Pinellas Trail between Dunedin and Tarpon Springs.

Our first stop was the Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg. In 1903, plumber George Turner purchased four acres in what is now downtown St. Pete.The property had a lake on it that filled an ancient sinkhole. Mr. Turner promptly drained the lake and turned the area--15 feet below street level--into a gorgeous tropical garden.

Over time, Mr. Turner's gardens became so popular that he began charging a five cent admission fee to tour them. (Inflation being what it is, it now costs $10 to enter.)

In 1998, after being nurtured by three generations of Turners, the Sunken Gardens were declared a local historic landmark and purchased by the City of St. Petersburg.

I knew none of this history when proposing the stop. The Gardens just sounded interesting, and I knew my friends are botanical types. As promised, the Gardens are pretty impressive. They are incredibly lush, with water features and all sorts of beautiful palms and bamboo and bougainvillea. We marveled over the amount of maintenance required to keep the almost jungle-like property in such good condition.

I was taken by the flamingos, which do in fact stand--and sleep--on one leg.(Interestingly, scientists don't seem to know exactly why. Some think the posture allows the birds to conserve body heat, since they lose warmth through their legs and feet. Others believe it allows the non-standing leg to rest so the bird can make a quick getaway if it suddenly became prey. Whatever the reason, it's quite charming. ) It was fun to watch them scoop water into their beaks and filter out anything other than tidbits worthy of eating. And it was interesting to see their feathers stand on end when they got into a bit of a squawk.

We awoke the next day at our "quirky" AirBNB to perfect biking weather -- cool but sunny.  (Note: Even the Nova Scotians thought it was cool, so it wasn't just my thinned out Florida blood.) We headed out to rent bikes but were quickly sidetracked when we spotted  a farmer's market. 

We all fell in love with the Oprah-approved Fouta spa towels. They can be used as beach towels or bath towels or a throw. And, as shown here, they can also be worn as a wrap at the beach. (The photo featuring our Mediterranean model was a condition of my purchase.)  Their versatility reminded me of the old slice-o-matic with its catchy "it slices, it dices, it makes julienne fries" ads.

With our new treasures tucked away in my car, it was time to get the main event underway. Jake, our new buddy at Energy Conservatory Bike Shop, set us up with rental bikes for the day. (Our enthusiasm over having a cute young guy help us was a bit embarrassing.)

The Pinellas Trail is a biker's dream. The 47-mile path runs from St. Pete to Tarpon Springs. It's plenty wide for two bikers to ride abreast with an additional lane for walkers and runners.  The Trail is the western-most section of a Coast to Coast trail that runs from St. Pete to Cape Canaveral, a route that warrants future exploration.

For our outing, we had decided on the Dunedin-Tarpon Springs leg of the Trail, which is about a 12 mile ride each way. We meandered along, chatting and anticipating the exciting Sponge Docks (and the promise of an authentic Greek feast) once we arrived at Tarpon Springs.

An unexpected sight
on the Pinellas Trail
Suddenly, we saw a crowd of people and heard a lot of ape-like whooping. We had stumbled upon the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary, which has outdoor cages where some of the residents spend their days. Conveniently, a volunteer was outside giving a short explanation about the Sanctuary.

The facility is home to over 100 animals that have no place else to go. In their previous lives, they might have been pets or film stars or zoo animals. The Sanctuary is intended as a haven in which these animals can live out their twilight years. We didn't have time to go inside, so I didn't get a feel for the whole place. But the apes outside put on quite a show for us. One sweet ape would mimic on-lookers when they clapped. Two large apes were swinging and screaming and pounding their chests. (I'm betting they were the retired film stars.)

Finally, we reached Tarpon Springs. The Sponge Docks area is a tourist trap extraordinaire. There's shop after shop with sponge-related items. And while we made a brief foray into a shop or two, the food was the main attraction. 

You (meaning me) might expect such a tourist spot to have over-priced restaurants with barely edible food. But happily, the Greek community in Tarpon Springs is serious about its food. Our friend Jake had suggested we check out Hellas, where we dined on octopus and grape leaves and pastitsio. I was glad to burn off some of those calories on the bike ride back to Dunedin. 

There was more to our adventure -- sunset at Honeymoon Island State Park, a book discussion, a great craft fair, the Charlotte High production of "Tarzan." But the best part of the week-end was just spending time together. We talked about our lives and the world and people we know. As Pam told her husband, "We share our hearts." While this comment immediately made me mimic gagging, I might be the one who appreciated our talks the most. I'm already looking forward to next year's get-together.

Sarasota Creators & Collectors' Tour

The annual Sarasota Creators & Collectors' Tour is always great fun. I love getting a chance to peek into artist's studios and c...