Friday, May 30, 2014

The Last Couple of Days…A Mongoose Gets Loose!

Sparky's been teaching nearly every day to have some extra money for trips this summer. Sorry, no photos for this part, privacy issues for school kids, parental permission, stuff like that….

Kindergarten…..It was Cowboy Day, er, Cowgirl Day…Sparky had a great time going along reading stories with a Texas drawl and wearing a big ten gallon hat borrowed from the classroom teacher for a little while….It was fun to urge the little ones to "get along little doggies!" C'mon, cowgirls and cowboys, saddle up your horses, it's CHOW time!"  A LOT of the kids had on cowboy hats, or chaps or bandanas, and the teachers gave out metal sheriff stars for good behavior. The kindergarten teachers even tried to teach the kids to line dance. THAT was interesting! Kids going every which way and loose!

Another day this week was wacky Wednesday. Some of the staff really get into these theme days….This is one of the wonderful special education program teacher aides, Miss Stox…She followed the theme days every day this week. She has the patience of Job with the kids. She's great!

We special education teachers are a little wacky, don't you know! Gotta have a lot of heart and spirit to work with special needs kids.

Sparky subbed in a first grade classroom the next to the last day of school. Everything was going as well as could be expected, with kids at an all time high energy level, when Sparky introduced a lesson on popcorn which was going to be served later that morning. The object of the lesson was to first explore a piece of popcorn--a kernel, with the senses. OK, kids…what do your eyes tell you when you see the kernel? What do your ears tell you?  "Uh, Mrs. Sprinkles, (the kids hadn't got Mrs. Sparks down yet)…I just dropped the kernel in my ear and I can't get it out."   Sparky says, reassuringly, "Oh, you probably actually dropped it on the floor honey, don't worry about it. "   "No, it's really, it's in there, I can feel it!" the little girl says, remarkably calm. Sparky is starting to feel not so calm. She's thinking, oh, boy….this is not going to be good….Sent the little girl down to the clinic….Sparky checked in later…. "Oh, yes. There really was a kernel inside her ear. She's going to have to be sent home and taken to the doctor or the E.R. where they will suction it out."   Yikes! Thankfully, parents weren't too upset. These things happen all the time says the nurse…Don't worry about it…..The teacher won't be upset…Sigh….says Sparky. But she still worried….

OK, so we move along to visiting the second grade classrooms as a preview for the first graders to familiarize themselves with their possible teacher for next year. Parade around the second grade classrooms, one at a time, ask questions, see what's what in second grade. We get to the last classroom visit, and the teacher has a critter in a wooden box with a partial metal cover on it. The kids ask what's in there? Is it alive? Yes, he says. What is it? ask the kids, crowding around the box like trap. He points to the board where there's a mongoose illustration being shown as the current second grade class is studying them, and he asks, what do you think it is?  The kids guess "mongoose". He says, that's right! Sparky's like, yeah, sure. But she can see that something is in there. Be careful, he says, as the kids lean in closer, trying to see.  He adds, they bite! The kids lean even closer, "I wanna see, I wanna see!"

The teacher says, "Can you hear him purr? Listen closely, but not too close. You can scratch the outside of the box and maybe he will come closer to the screen where you can see him." We all lean in, including Sparky, trying in vain to see the little mongoose, and all of a sudden the teacher yells, "LOOKOUT! THE COVER IS LOOSE!" The cover flies open and out flies a pelted fur animal of some sort. Sparky screams "AC-C-C-C-C-K-K-K!" The kids scream, "A-AAAAAACK!" The animal was wired to the trap door opening to come flying out when Mr. W. pulled the string. It was some kind of skunk pelt. And the kids went bananas…."DID YOU SEE THAT? IT HIT ME IN THE NOSE!"  "IT CAME FLYING RIGHT INTO MY FACE!" exclaimed another. "It scared me half to death!" Sparky said. And she told the teacher,  "Mr. W., I think you just shortened my life by about ten years!" The kids couldn't stop talking about Mr. W. and his animal for a LONG time after we got back to class. But it was really funny. Naturally, all the kids wanted to be in Mr. W.'s class for next year.

We got through the rest of the day without incident….Whew! Sparky is going to miss the little rug rats, but she's ready for a rest!  See you soon….in a calmer place probably….

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

May is Manatee Mating Month!

Saw a photo in the paper this morning about sightings of manatees close to the shore in Gulf waters. Guess the females are trying to get away from the males and get some rest. The females will come quite close to shore trying to get away for a bit. On Lido Key recently, 17 males pursued a tagged female manatee trying to get as close to shore as possible to get away from her pursuers. Apparently, the males pursue the females for WEEKS! Mating herds are most often seen in the bay. But lately, as the females have been getting tired, three shored herds have been seen in the past two weeks.

from the internet
The paper had a cautionary warning: "DON'T TRY TO SEPARATE OR PUSH THEM AWAY FROM EACH OTHER!"  Manatees with their bulky bodies (they can weight up to 3,000 pounds) and the roiling of the males jostling for the females trying to get a mate could cause injuries to someone. There's a lot of violent thrashing and rolling going on in shallow water. Guess some people think the manatees are going to strand themselves and need help getting pushed out to deeper water. Leave them alone and let them do the deed, is the preferred recommendation. And by the way, it's against federal and state laws offer them food or water…..Just an F.Y.I…….

We've got love bugs mating, we've got manatees mating, the turtles are laying eggs…What else is going on? A trip to Anna Maria Island City Pier for the latest sightings….Rays! At least two schools of them parading back and forth along the city pier…Wonder if they are mating?

Sparky loves the way they orchestrate their swimming and turn maneuvering together….
The pelicans are interesting to watch. Sparky always thought their food was obtained through plunging into the ocean from high dives in the sky. But sometimes they just sit and wait for the food to come to them. Down goes the bill into the water, and their throat pouches swell up to the size of huge balloons as they use their pouches like a net. They hold both the water and the fish in their pouch.

Then they drain the water from their scoop, and proceed to swallow the fish with great big GULP, GULP, GULPS, clapping their beaks together as they swallow. Their pouch is also used to hold water to cool themselves down, too.

 This is pretty common to see, too. The seabirds were landing on the pelicans just as soon as they saw the pelican's head swish below the water.
"Yoo-hoo! I'm here for my snack!"
They waited trying to figure out how they might partake in some of the pelican's food. Then they started to get impatient. This bird started pecking the pelican's head!
"Hey, what am I, chopped liver? Gimme some!"
The pelicans weren't interested in sharing, not one little bit…..
"HEY! Don't you know it's impolite not to share???"
Finally, once the pelican's head came up, they knew their chances were greatly diminished, so they flew off, looking for the next bobbing pelican head…..Pelicans eat up to about four pounds of fish a day and these guys didn't seem to having any trouble finding the fish today. Over and over and over the beaks went down swooping for the fish kill. 

We were sorry to see this pelican had had a run in with a fisherman, you can see the fishing line around his beak, it almost looks like a pair of spectacles, but he was still able to eat….There are signs on the city pier how to disengage the fishing line from birds if they get attached, but you would think it would be VERY difficult to restrain a big, combatant pelican to get the line out, wouldn't you?

We saw one lone manatee a ways out from the pier. We think it was a tired female…..

We LOVE Anna Maria Island and the city pier…..Another beautiful day in paradise, as everyone who lives here likes to say…..

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Well, I'm Hot Blooded, Check 'n and See….

"Hot blooded, check 'n and see….I've got a fever of 103…." Song by Foreigner

Sparky is ashamed to say, she's 63 years old and never has donated blood. Not really sure why not all these years, a little afraid they'd find something wrong, just a little leery of the whole procedure, hates needles, things like that…BUT---something on the radio today moved her to change her mind. And once Sparky makes up her mind, THERE'S NO CHANGING IT! (Don't I know THAT! exclaims Eldo.)

The local radio station, WSRZ, 107.9, was championing a blood drive--"Pints for Plays" with lots of enticements…pizza, free tee shirt, the usual cookies and drinks, Tervis tumblers, and if you donated a pint, you could pick a tumbler (marvelous outdoor glasses by the way), a plug for your own business,  OR ANY song and they would play it on the radio. They had been playing very eclectic music all morning long and announcing each donor's name along with the song… The music was fabulous! Something just clicked for Sparky, because she LOVES music and she decided, TODAY was the day to donate. Off she went for what turned out to be a marvelous experience and a brief claim to fame…..Stay tuned…..

Sparky signed up, and was led by a kind volunteer to one of SEVEN portable blood mobile labs located in the Target parking lot at University Drive, Sarasota, and to a capable phlebotomist named Alyssa. Alyssa was very thoughtful and caring, very thorough in her explanations and the  whole procedure went very very smoothly. Alyssa asked Sparky if she was going to pick a song after the donation, and Sparky said, "Oh, yeah! Got it all picked out. I'm going to ask for Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines". (That's a really funky dance song in case anybody is not familiar with it.) Alyssa says, "Oh, terrific! I love that song. I've been wanting to hear some up tempo music. Ask for that, would you?" Sparky said, "Absolutely!" So she did! Sparky got a cute little bow on her bandage when she was finished.

On the way out of the donation area, the local radio station asked Sparky to read a scripted message. "Hi, I'm Jeannie, from Bradenton, FL. I just donated blood to Pints for Play, sponsored by WSRZ…." and I snuck in, "my favorite radio station" after the call letters. Which it really is, my favorite radio station….

On the way to some errands afterwards, Sparky was listening to the radio in the car, and her song came on! She decided to call the radio station and just thank them for a fun, enjoyable experience. She wasn't thinking when she started to explain that she was 63 years old, and a first time donor. The receptionist says, "Just a second, would you mind if I patched you into the D.J.'s?" Sparky said no problem. All of a sudden, she was talking live, on the air, and basically explained again, she was a first time donor. They were shocked and asked some questions. Sparky explained that she didn't know why she waited so long, fears kept holding her back, etc., and that she was glad she decided to donate, and planned to be one from now on on a regular basis. After ending the phone call, a few minutes later, the d.j.'s played Sparky's "confession", saying that she didn't know it, but her phone call today would help a lot of other people in the same on-the-fence situation, take that step forward and donate. They played that conversation several times the rest of the day during the drive. AND, because Sparky snuck in that "favorite radio station" bit, they played THAT several times, too, the rest of the day!  It was fun to hear your own voice, although it sounded very different to Sparky.

Sparky had such an enjoyable experience, that she dragged Eldy back to the blood mobile for HIM to donate. He thinks he hadn't donated since he was in his twenties, and he donated a DOUBLE unit…Way to go, Eldy!
We came home with two Tervis tumblers and a 5.00 coupon for Anna Maria Island Oyster Bar, Eldy's favorite restaurant.

A terrific experience, and both of us have decided that we will not hesitate to be donors again in the very near future, with no enticements needed… It's something we both should have been doing all along. It just took a little push! Thanks to the WSRZ radio station for putting together such a great drive...AND they beat last year's record for number of pints donated, over 600 in one day!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Kayaking the Potomac!

On Sparky's last day visiting her daughter, Kelly had to pack for work after having a few days off to visit with her mother, (that's me, Sparky). So Kelly presented Sparky with a gift certificate for an early Mother's Day present, kayaking! Woo hoo! It was within walking distance so off Sparky set for the Key Bridge Boathouse where they rent kayaks. The boathouse is right under the Key Bridge in D.C., a very cool location under a very cool looking bridge.

The people at the boathouse were surprisingly not very helpful as far as what kind of current and which direction it was moving when Sparky asked. (!) Really? You are going to put a tourist in a boat and just send them off without any guiding information? They gave Sparky a Wilderness Tsunami, which was a lot slimmer profile and narrower cockpit than what she was used to, but it was very sleek and tracked very straight. Sparky was sort of glad she didn't have her regular point and shoot camera, as the boat felt a little tippy, and the wind was kicking up a bit. But the trip out and back was fine, and rewarding as you shall see.

Sparky had two hours to explore the Potomac….There are two ways you can set out…off to the right down the river, where a more quiet, nature like paddling excursion awaits, or you can paddle around Roosevelt Island and as you round the bend, you can see the Lincoln Memorial from the water--cool! It was a VERY dreary day and rain threatened…..

Sparky chose to go around Roosevelt Island. It was quite cool and a little bit windy, so she didn't stay out long. The island's edges are littered with trash, and the Potomac is a dirty looking river. Sparky was not impressed with how the government is maintaining its properties for visitors. More about that later…..It was unbelievable how much trash there was along the shores of Roosevelt Island all the way around. BUT---Sparky spotted wildlife! Birds….ducks….and specifically, a mallard taking a nap.

The coolest part of the mallard scene? There were FIVE beautiful wood ducks sitting on a log, just out of Sparky's camera phone range. If you look really really hard, they are sitting on the curved log, a little way above the mallard's head. Here is a photo from the internet showing just how beautiful they are…Sparky saw five males, all with the beautifully colored heads. Spectacular!

A little further along the island, Sparky spotted a BIG turtle. It was snoozing…..See? His eyes are closed.
turtle snoozing just before a rude awakening
Sparky decided to coast her kayak and not paddle…Uh-oh! The boat was heading for the log and was going to bump! At the point of contact, the turtle had been peacefully sleeping until the bump woke him up. BAM! He jumped right onto Sparky's kayak bow, and then PLOP! into the water! Sparky was totally startled at the path the turtle took, and she's sure the turtle was equally shocked at waking up and seeing the bright red kayak and the camera in his face! He was a beautiful turtle, have no idea what kind he was…..

Time to head back….

Sparky loved her kayaking trip out on the water today. She felt she was really blessed to see some nature in the midst of an urban environment…..

Tomorrow, it's time to head home, as in Bradenton, FL….Thank you, Kelly, for a wonderful time! She's a terrific host and it was so great to have some mother/daughter time together…..

Bye for now…….

Monday, May 12, 2014

Wine a Little, You'll Feel Better!

Sparky could easily be a wino….Well, not really…But she does enjoy a glass of wine now and then…Off to Reston, VA today for the Great Grapes Wine & Food Festival at the Reston Town Center….Lots of Virginia wines to taste, over 200 wines to choose from 20 participating wineries, plus food and crafts. Courtesy of some VIP tickets Sparky Jr.  bought for us today, the VIP tickets enabled us to have some free hors d'oeuvres--fruit, cheese and crackers, yum! AND we got a free wine glass and a tee shirt! Sparky is such a lightweight when it comes to wine drinking that consuming FOOD is important here.

It was the perfect day for such an event….
We each got little lanyards to hold our glasses, as they were GLASS and breakable…Here's Kelly, with hers….
And Sparky with hers, already feeling fine…..

Lots of great spirits here today, heheheh…Don't you just love a grown up who can still be a little silly? This guy just radiates silliness, which this world needs more of, Sparky thinks!

Here's a free spirit….Didn't catch her name, but aren't these wonderful? She was kind enough to let Sparky take her photo….
Sparky was a little bit disappointed that there really wasn't much food offered or much in the way of crafts, but the purpose of the festival was to promote wines from Virginia, and that they did.

We had a great time, and headed home…Tomorrow is Sparky's last day in Virginia….She is going to miss Kelly and all the wonderful, tall tall trees and nature that are here…and the fantastic temps which have been in the high sixties during the day…NO HUMIDITY! Nice! Stay tuned for some kayaking fun on the Potomac next time…...

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Solemn Occasion and Some Other Not so Solemn Stuff

Off we went on the Metro to visit Arlington's finest. Sparky had no idea how hilly the national cemetery was….nor how beautiful it was…The cherry trees were HUGE!

We went to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Changing of the Guard and John F. Kennedy's grave….

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier…So many people have written about the rituals and ceremonies of the changing of the guard, we hope we won't bore you with the details that are commonly known, but Sparky will share what SHE didn't know about it, in case it's something new to you…There is a bunch of stuff out on the internet that is totally not true, like the guards can't talk to anybody their first two months of duty so they can study who's buried in Arlington Cemetery and know where they are located, and that they can't drink alcohol or swear the rest of their lives or they have to give up their "wreath pin". That's a bunch of hooey! So here's some TRUE blue :-) stuff about the guards and what we saw the day we visited….We were TWO FEET AWAY from the guard's shift change ceremony.

An impeccably uniformed relief commander appears on the plaza to announce the Changing of the Guard. Soon the new sentinel leaves the Quarters and unlocks the bolt of his or her M-14 rifle to signal to the relief commander to start the ceremony. The relief commander walks out to the Tomb and salutes, then faces the spectators and asks them to stand and stay silent during the ceremony.

The relief commander conducts a detailed white-glove inspection of the weapon, checking each part of the rifle once. 

This was quite the ceremony. As the relief commander inspected the gun, it was with great precision and orchestrated movements. He didn't just look at it, check the chamber, etc. He was like one of those traffic cops who orchestrate traffic with elaborately fine tuned, smoothest of silk hand movements that could be put to music. Ever see one of those? It was amazing to watch the commander coordinate the inspection with such fine movements of his hands. The gun moved just in increments. His hands moved in precise increments. You could see that he does this with the same precision each and every guard change just as the guards measure and time their steps. As the new guard comes in and gets his weapon inspected, then turns around and prepares to start walking his guard duty, we saw the commander reach behind and give a gentle tug at the coat pleat of the soldier in front of him, which to our eyes appeared to be perfect already, but apparently it wasn't laying just right. Everything has to be just PERFECT and perfectly timed. This was unusual to see, to say the least.

Then, the relief commander and the relieving sentinel meet the retiring sentinel at the center of the matted path in front of the Tomb. All three salute the Unknowns who have been symbolically given the Medal of Honor. Then the relief commander orders the relieved sentinel, "Pass on your orders." The current sentinel commands, "Post and orders, remain as directed." The newly posted sentinel replies, "Orders acknowledged," and steps into position on the black mat. When the relief commander passes by, the new sentinel begins walking at a cadence of 90 steps per minute.

The Tomb Guard marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns, faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process. After the turn, the sentinel executes a sharp "shoulder-arms" movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the sentinel stands between the Tomb and any possible threat. Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed -- the 21-gun salute.

Of course this was VERY moving…

Arlington is a BEAUTIFUL cemetery with much to see and explore. It's quite the hike and elevation from the bottom of the hill to the top where the Changing of the Guard takes place. Sparky got a good workout today from climbing to the top. It was well worth it!  There is a trolley you can take if you are not up to the walk. The buildings'architecture is just beautiful….

And there are many famous grave sites to visit…John F. Kennedy's grave is not to be missed…..

And now for the disclaimer…Sparky means NO disrespect on coupling of the Changing of the Guard ceremony with the following DC Metro report. She just decided to make this one blog post instead of two little short posts.

On the way back, we took the D.C. Metro, a terrific subway system from an out of towner's viewpoint. Sparky is sure the locals probably don't agree….Now you need to know there is D.C. Metro etiquette to be followed on the escalators up and down from street level to the subway level. You stay on the far right side steps of the escalator going up or down if you are simply going to stand and let the escalator move you. The left lane of the escalator steps are for people in a HURRY!--They will be taking the steps as fast as they can, hurrying to get wherever they are going--and you'd better stay out of the way. Nothing makes a local madder than to have gawking tourists blocking the escalator so they can't zoom downstairs or upstairs to get where they are going. Sparky made the mistake of standing in the middle of the escalator steps when she first started using the Metro's escalators, and Sparky, JR. quickly pointed out how this works. 

You also need to know that Washington, D.C. is not a city full of stuffy lobbyists and lawmakers with no sense of humor. No, siree…There might be a lot wrong with Washington's politics, but DC Metro riders know how to have fun! Once a year, subway riders sport and support "NO PANTS SUBWAY RIDE DAY". Yep, you heard that right. If you really want to blend in, you don't wear pants riding the metro that day. And a LOT of people participate!
courtesy of the internet, Sparky did NOT take this photo!
You bring pants just in case any authority figure asks you to put them on, but for the most part, everybody knows that it's No Pants Day and you dress the top of you normally, and hopefully, put on your best skivvies or boxers or prettiest undies and act nonchalantly, like you do this on a regular basis. And by the way, there are party stops along the way…..Sparky is not making this up. This year's No Pants Day was in January! Here's a link just in case you think she is! 

The idea of the ride, according to Facebook, “is to appear as if you had no idea that you were missing pants or that you knew but didn’t think it was a big deal.”
Organizers advise participants to keep pants on your person but hidden in a bag or backpack.
“If any figure of authority tells you to put your pants back on, do as they say,” the event page says. “Unfortunately indecency laws are entirely subjective and while we haven’t had any major problems in the past, we’d like to keep on DC Metro’s good side so the event can continue for years to come.”
Way to go, D.C.! What a great town! Sparky thoroughly enjoyed her visit there, and hopes to be back some time for No Pants Day. And NO, Eldo, Sparky is NOT going to participate! (WHEW! says a relieved E.) Bye for now.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Sparky Gets Out of Town!

Sparky went to visit her daughter in Washington, DC. Actually, Kelly lives outside of DC, so Sparky learned how to get around on the Metro with her daughter to visit some great locations in D.C. We had lots of fun, and did a lot of stuff in four days….Ate a lot, walked a LOT, and it was just absolutely wonderful! The cherry blossoms are still blooming. Sparky even lost two pounds walking up and down the hills of Arlington and D.C..The architecture of the Capitol is AMAZING! It's so cool to walk around knowing you are in the heart of the nation's government, gazing up at these buildings and thinking about what is going on (or NOT!) as laws are being made, judicial decisions coming down the pike affecting and shaping our future, lobbyists pressing for their causes.

First, we went to the national botanical gardens. Being that real estate is at a premium in DC, the botanical gardens are small in comparison to many other botanical gardens Sparky has visited. As a matter of fact, the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, FL, blows away the national gardens as far as size and attractiveness. But the national gardens were still beautiful, if compact. The central foyer was decorated with a "symphony" of orchids… There were many varieties of orchids displayed everywhere in the main atrium.

Some varieties of flowering plants in the main atrium were designed in the shapes of musical instruments--a violin and a harp, and a French horn.

 Beautiful symphony music was playing orchestrated with a water fountain of changing multi colors….The orchids were just gorgeous!

Sparky saw an orchid with her name on it! But it wasn't her favorite….Nice name, eh? :-)

Sparky took a photo of Kelly at the gardens that has since become one of her favorites of her daughter.
There are other wonderful parts to the gardens, too, besides the entry atrium. There was a medicinal gardens portion that was quite interesting to read about. Sparky also enjoyed the endangered/rare plants species section of the gardens. She learned that the Florida yew  is one of the rarest trees in the world. You can only find it along a 15 mile section on one side of the Apalachicola River in the Liberty and Gadsden counties of Florida in forested bluffs and ravines. A lot of the yews are on private land and not protected because endangered species laws are not applicable to private landowners.  The bark of the yew has taxol, a cancer fighting compound that is used in fighting breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and kidney diseases. (Taxol is also found in the Pacific yew.)

The plants and their lines of symmetry are always fascinating to Sparky.
A type of fuchsia
Sparky loves ferns
And sometimes, there are just very unusual plants that command the photographer's lens….Sparky has no idea what kind of plant this is, but it was cool!

We spent a couple of hours wandering around, enjoying the beauty and the music of the garden--Handel, Vivaldi, Mozart….

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the gardens today…..Next time, it's Arlington Cemetery!