Saturday, November 28, 2009

NSB Thanksgiving with Pat the Turkey (No relation to beloved Pat in SC)

Four members of our cast of characters gathered in a lovely rental home in New Smyrna Beach.  Well, actually six characters including the Bostons.  It is a lovely home located on a quiet street on the southern end of the beach, one block from the ocean.

Orlando Grandma, Mr. Tennis, The Maven and I were able to spread out and enjoy ourselves in this cute three bedroom home.

It has a tiny, cute kitchen with a little gas stove which proved to be a bit of a challenge in which to roast, Pat, our Turkey. (The bag boy at Publix suggested I name the bird, Pat, and I promised I would) I tried a salt brine for Pat this year and that was cause for excitement as I knew I would be transporting the 17 lb gobbler sealed in a huge ziploc bag where it had been "brining" all week.  Pat survived the trip (well, I suppose "survive" is not an appropriate term) packed in ice and just fit in the small oven.  Everything turned out just fine and we enjoyed the meal in the dining area.

Across from the table are these built-in shelves with "beachy" decorations.

The Maven was there for a couple of nights along with her hamster, Athena.  She stayed in one of the three bedrooms.  Athena stayed in the lovely family room and would roll around happily in her exercise ball.

Panda and Athena in a standoff

There was a lovely window filled in with glass blocks in the family room.

Mr. Tennis and I had the most luxurious bathroom!

We had such a relaxing, food-filled, fun weekend complete with scrabble battles, good movie (Orlando G-ma and I give "The Blindside" two thumbs up!), good company, lots of walks to the beach and surrounding areas. Not to mention a Gator win over FSU!

Yes, she beat me at scrabble, but I will get my revenge!

In memory of "Pat"

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all my family and friends!

Although we will be missing one key ingredient this Thanksgiving for the first time in the history of The Fantastic Four, I am not sad.  The Writer will be very well fed and taken care of by his super-talented GF, Sammy.  Can't wait to compare the results of our salty birds!

The Bostons, a hamster, Mr. Tennis, Orlando Grandma, The Maven and I will be heading to a nice little rental in New Smyrna beach.  My Thanksgiving wish every year is for cool weather and it looks like this is the year we will get it.  Not exactly beach weather, but good walking and lounging-about-with-a-book weather.  Susie and Bumby will hold down the home fort and The Maven will see to their needs during her off-work hours over the weekend.

Best Wishes to everyone for a Happy and Safe Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I Hate ACORN(s)

Okay, so some of you got excited thinking I was finally going to talk politics. Sorry to disappoint, but I'm talking about these little annoying offspring from our live oaks.  Oh sure, they're cute and the squirrels like them, which is quite evident in their expanding bodies.  However, after two months of listening to them drop, then roll on the roof, or ping off the windows or grill, I have had enough.  Add to the disrupted sleep the many garbage cans we have filled with them and put out for the poor yard waste collectors.  I know these guys are earning their wage every day because thousands, maybe millions of acorns add up to very heavy garbage cans.

As I have been shoveling these little demons it occurred to me that they must have some practical use beyond adding to the oak population.  They have a cheesy meat inside of them.  I know this because our old shepherd, Ziggy used to munch on them like they were gourmet popcorn.  And then get sick. None of our other dogs have ever touched them, so I guess that was a Ziggy quirk. Maybe they are edible, but I'm so sick of looking at and hearing them that I don't care to research it. Perhaps The Writer's GF, Sammy, would like to add an acorn dish to her food blog. What do you think Sammy? 

Actually, the acorns only fall every other year.  We went a few years without them and I actually missed them because it meant the natural routine of our trees had been disrupted.  And when I say disrupted, I mean totally thrown out of whack by Hurricane Charlie.

We have begrudgingly raked and bagged leaves, shovelled acorns and trimmed the branches of these beautiful giants for the 20 years we have lived here.  In return, these beautiful trees give us wonderful shade all summer and lower electric bills.  Not to mention an abundance of wildlife to watch: squirrels (of course), raccoons, possums, owls and numerous other types of birds including the Pileated Woodpecker (just like Woody!) and Bald Eagles.

August 13, 2004, our family experienced something terrifyingly unique when Hurricane Charlie blew across the state.  We huddled in our hallway with Panda, Nicki, Susie and Bumby.  Jake and Floppy rode the storm out in Jake's room off the kitchen.  We never expected to take the hit we did.  Nothing compared to storms such as Andrew or Katrina, but for our neighborhood, historic. 

We were lucky, while the beautiful woods behind our house were devastated and have never been the same, our beautiful guardians, the live oaks held, but shed a ton of debris and many limbs.  Our across-the-street neighbor, Mary, had her front yard live oak crash into the street and my chair re-do friend, CG, lost almost every tree on her lot, eleven total.  But our houses were all spared.  It was seven days without power in the August heat, day after day of cleanup and then weeks before the debris was collected by the FEMA trucks from our parkways.  Compared to people who lost their homes because of downed trees or flooding, we were very lucky.  Morning after Charlie, our backyard.

Mary's tree.  Fell away from her house, missed parked cars.  All neighbors went out with chainsaws and cleared the street first thing in the morning.  Charlie hit about 9pm.  We didn't know the extent of damage until the next day.

Sometimes out of a difficult time, comes something good.  Although it would be two years before our live oaks returned to a normal cycle of leaf production, loss and (ugh) acorn ejection, we had some good fortune.  Because of the loss of so many trees in the woods behind us which shaded our backyard, but prevented the grass for growing well, we finally got a backyard lawn!  It is wonderful!  No more dirt and the view from the back windows (if you don't mind Kudzu strewn tree trunks) is green and lovely.  We miss the afternoon shade, but I guess it's a trade off.  Grass!

So, I guess I shouldn't be annoyed when I hear those acorns rolling down the roof at 4am because it means that our beautiful trees are trying to get back to normal.

The leaves fall next.  Then the oak bloom...  But, I'm okay with it.  Really.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


This is a word that many have used to describe my unique, intelligent, generous, sometimes-difficult, funny father.   I knew him as Daddy for the first half of my life and for some reason after I got married and had kids, I started calling him what everyone else called him, Dick. My oldest brother, my father and my grandfather all share the same name, Richard, so hence the shortened nickname.When my older brothers were kids, they called him Dick, and my dad insisted that their friends call him the same.  For some reason that did not carry over to my childhood and my friends, because he was known as Mr. Hughes by all of them.  That still didn't hamper his reputation as the most fun kid on the block.  Kids on my street would ring the doorbell and ask for Mr. Hughes to come out and play.  He would come out, grab them by their hands and flip them over again and again.  Or, he would lead a neighborhood hike to the ice cream shop on Saturday nights, trailed by 8 children and a neighbor's poodle who would be tethered by the belt my father removed from his pants.
In his later years my father used to tell a story over and over again that actually had some basis in reality because here's the picture to prove it!  He was the emcee for his company's Christmas party and brought me on stage to ease his nervousness.  I was not quite 2, yet he always claimed that I charmed the audience with my remarks to the mayor of Montreal (where we lived at the time).  According to Dick, he gave me the honor of introducing the mayor and wishing him a Merry Christmas, all in French! So, Joyeux Noel, Monsieur Mayor!

My father was a child of the depression.  He went to work at the age of 12 to help support his family.  Family lore has it that since he could play just about anything on the piano by ear, he would sneak off and play in the evenings at the "speak easies" for tips.  Sometimes this was the only money for food his family had each week.  My grandmother made a lot of macaroni and cheese and tapioca pudding to sustain them, he told me.  He wouldn't eat either of those if he could help it as an adult.

After securing a college scholarship at Cooper Union in NYC, my dad worked as a soda jerk somewhere in Manhattan while he lived at the YMCA.  He studied chemical engineering and that appealed to his brilliant mind.  I still have some of his college chemistry books with his meticulous notations in the margins.

Dick married his "first wife", as he liked to call my mother, in 1943.  They were both 25 and WWII was in full swing.  I don't know the exact time frame, but one of my dad's first jobs was at Columbia University working on a project for the government, The Manhattan Project.  He was sworn to secrecy and couldn't even tell my mother what he was doing.  I think this was very heavily engrained in his mind, because he was always a little paranoid about being abducted and made to spill his knowledge about the project. When we moved to Florida in 1974 he listed our phone under my name so no one could find him and I was instructed about what to do if anyone approached me about him.  Among his stories (that he would share) about The Manhattan Project was a brief encounter with Albert Einstein and meeting Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower.

Dick and his "first wife", Maude, on their 50th wedding anniversary

My dad had a thirst for knowledge that never was fully satisfied.  He was a voracious reader, something he passed on to his children.  His love of travel was taken to a different level when he learned to fly at the age of 47.  My mother was a nervous flyer and only went up once with him, but I was his co-pilot for many trips including our most challenging one when we flew from Toronto to Los Angeles in 1969.  This trip included flying along the rim of the Grand Canyon, spying a meteor crater in the desert, stopping in New Mexico to visit the Pueblos, rambling around the Las Vegas strip (where we got thrown out of a casino because he was showing me a slot machine) and finally getting to my personal mecca, Disneyland.  I don't remember how long the trip took us, but it's one of my best childhood memories of my father.

Dick and his beloved "Romeo".  Named for it's call letters RGE, Romeo Gulf Echo.

When Mr. Tennis and I got married I told my dad that he would be gaining a son and he said, "Well, I already have two of those".  Nonetheless Dick and Mr. T got along very well.  My dad appreciated the intelligence of my husband and they had many long discussions and epic backgammon games.  Mr. Tennis always treated my dad with great respect and in his later years, tremendous patience and affection.  In the last years of his life, my father would always greet his son-in-law by saying "hello Basso Profundo!" referring to Mr. T's deep voice.  The respect, affection and admiration was returned by my father and I think he enjoyed having that third son after all.  My mother and father dancing at my wedding in 1981.

I always felt that my dad had an overwhelming sense of responsibility from a young age and that's why he enjoyed my childhood so much after he had "made it" in the corporate world.  While he could be a bit of a tyrant about school, piano lessons and household chores, another side of him would emerge when my friends were over for a sleepover. All the lights would be turned off in the house and my friends, me and my two parents would play hide and seek.  And no one would shriek louder than Dick Hughes when his hiding spot was found and he had to run to home base.  I saw this same enthusiasm for childish fun after my children were born.  Christmas 1963, Toronto.

Suddenly the taskmaster was gone and "fun grandpa" emerged.  He had boundless energy and patience for his grandchildren and they could do no wrong in his eyes.

The Writer and The Maven were two of my father's biggest fans.  He always did everything to the max when they were visiting.  Who can forget the "special" desserts complete with "fluff" and umbrellas that Grandpa and his grandchildren would create and parade out each evening? Or hunting for "palm tree monsters" with flashlights on nighttime walks?

Grandpa Hughes and The Writer blowing bubbles in Dunedin

Grandpa giving The Maven a treat.

Maven's first Christmas, 1989.  Not sure how long it took Grandpa to get up from that position, but he had his granddaughter's sympathy since she was still crawling as well.

Watching birds at the little beach at Med Manors.

                                                                                                                                             People always told me I took after my dad and that used to mortify me.  I definitely have his stubborn streak, his quick Scottish temper, and I'm pretty quirky as well, but surely I couldn't look like him!  Then I found this picture of the two of us and I can see the similarities in our faces.  The nose! The eyes! The mouth! And by the way, my glasses in this picture were seen as a total extravagance on my part by him.  I was usually given the choice of perhaps two frames in the bargain section every four years.  When I was a junior in high school I finally asked for some more modern frames and he, ever the frugal Scot, said I had to pay the difference in price.  He always called these my "fancy frames" and claimed that they were the reason I finally started going out on dates.  I guess he was right because these are the ones I was wearing when I met my future husband.  They were worth the extra money!  1979. My father and me at my brother's wedding in South Africa (yes, South Africa! The travelling bug was definitely passed on to my brother)

There are many more "Dick" stories. Family members, friends and acquaintances could fill a book with their recollections of this unique man.  But I have one final remembrance and that is:

Happy Birthday!
November 22                               

Monday, November 16, 2009

Doggie Disney World

We had such great weather here this weekend so Mr. Tennis and I couldn't pass up the chance to take Panda and Sadie to their version of "the happiest place on earth" - the dog park.

Each time we go there is great excitement in the house with much pacing, panting and a little whining for good measure.  And then the Bostons start acting up too.

We gleefully leap into the car.  Panda sits nicely in the backseat, but Sadie can't contain her excitement and must sit on my lap with her dog breath in my face.  Because the weather was brilliant we went with the windows down and our progress was tracked by one backseat driver and one foul-breathed front seat passenger.

At last we arrive at Fleet Peeples Park in Winter Park.  This is a large fenced-in park, on a lake with dog washing facilities available (a necessity after jumping in the lake and rolling around in the dirt).

The are the usual skirmishes, but for the most part all the dogs seem to get along when they are off-leash.  On-leash seems to trigger territory issues in some dogs (yes, ours) so we take off the leashes as soon as we can.  Then everyone is on more equal footing.

Of course, we have to run security checks.

Perhaps make a new friend.

Or run into someone who looks just like you.

Always keep looking over your shoulder because you never know who might be sneaking up on you.           

Talk about your face-splitting smiles. 

Two tired, dirty, happy beasts.

Besides Fleet Peeples Park, The Bostons have two other favorites:  Fort Desoto Dog Beach in St. Pete,  a beach where dogs and humans can run around off leash, and Paw Park in Sanford where most of the surrounding restaurants are dog friendly.  One park they definitely want to check out:  dog park in the Hollywood Hills in CA where their humans saw more dogs in one place than they thought possible.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Welcome Presence

There are some people you never actually meet, but who have a great impact on your life nevertheless.

This is such a person, Grandpa Courtney, Mr. Tennis' dad.  I never got to meet my father-in-law, but his influence has always been present in our family.  This very picture was always on display whenever I had the pleasure of visiting at Gramps' little lake house.  My first thought when seeing this picture was that Mr. T looked nothing like his dad, who was blonde and blue-eyed.  As I grew older and had children of my own I came to realize that we inherit so much more than just our looks from our parents. Our personality, intelligence and talents are passed down as well.  I've heard many stories over the years about this fine man and have been amazed at how many similarities there are between him and his eldest son.

Courtney left this life in a most heroic fashion when his sons were 9, 7 and 3.  His fighter jet was shot down over Vietnam. 

For many years this was the only picture I saw of my father-in-law and I had in my mind that he must have been a very serious person, no nonsense and all business.  Then his wife, Orlando Grandma, gave us some of Courtney's old slides and other aspects of his personality were revealed and the many similarities between Mr. Tennis and his father were confirmed.

He enjoyed being on the water, just as his son, Mr. Tennis, does.

He liked to water ski, even making his own skis.  Did he fantasize about being a Cypress Gardens skier the way his son, Mr. Tennis, did?

He had a sense of humor about his height & wasn't afraid to poke fun at himself. 

He had excellent taste in women!  Here Grandpa Courtney and Orlando Grandma are shown celebrating their first anniversary.

He was a devoted family man.

After seeing some of these more candid shots of my husband's father, I discovered a fun-loving, devoted, athletic man in addition to my original impression of an intelligent, stoic military man.  I realized that even though Mr. Tennis did not physically resemble his dad and lost him at a young age, he inherited a great many of his best qualities.  I know that Courtney would be very proud of the outstanding man his eldest son has become, his wonderful grandchildren, and of course, his lovely and generous wife. As for me, I missed the opportunity to meet the man who would have been my father-in-law, but I didn't miss the opportunity to "know" him.  For that I am grateful.

Happy Birthday
November 15th
Love, From All of Your Family