There’s a snake in my coop!

Theres a snake in my coop!

Theres a snake in my coop!

I have mentioned before that I am a city girl living in the country these days and I have mostly gotten used to the random wildlife encounters – giant spiders the size of my hand, weird bugs, gopher tortoises digging holes and the occasional snake in the yard…. But I have to confess I was surprised and proud of my recent reaction when nature got a little closer than expected…

Eric the snake wrangler

Eric the snake wrangler

I went out late one afternoon to collect the ladies eggs from the coop and when I opened the second nest box a giant snake was looking me right in the eyeball! Did I scream? Did I run? Did I faint dead away of shock? Nope, remarkably, I did not!

hiding in the coop after I chased him away from the eggs

Hiding in the coop after I chased him away from the eggs

I dropped the lid, yelped and took an involuntary step backwards – then promptly opened it back up again so I could take a picture LOL. (You got to identify these things so you know what to do…)

Scarlet King snake - thankfully not a coral snake

Scarlet King snake – thankfully not a Coral snake

When we first moved in, we saw what we thought was a Coral snake on the front step and scared to get too close we took a picture and looked it up – fortunately it was just a Scarlet King snake – harmless but it looks a lot like the deadly Coral snake on first glance. They both have red, yellow and black stripes but the order is what is important.

Red next to black, friend of Jack
Red next to yellow, kill a fellow.

Words to live by people….

Gopher Tortoise on the pool deck

Gopher Tortoise on the pool deck

Eric did see a Coral months later, mostly however we see Black Racers which are likewise harmless – this one was new to me so I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I opened the box and took the picture he was clearly trying to move away – I think more frightened of me than I was of it – just barely LOL.

Golden Silk Orb Weaver Spider - beautiful but huge!

Golden Silk Orb Weaver Spider – beautiful but huge!

I chased him off before he ate any of our eggs and sent the picture to Eric who was on his way home. When he arrived a few minutes later he got the grabber and went to investigate.  (I may have been able to chase him but I draw the line at actually trying to pick him up – we all have our limits and thats what husbands are for LOL)

Sand hill cranes - my fav Florida bird

Sand Hill Cranes – my fav Florida bird

At first, we thought he was gone, but I saw him up on the top rafter – Eric managed to get him out and was astonished that it was at least four and half feet long – I don’t think he believed me when I told him how big it was LOL

possibly a mole king snake... not sure LOL

Possibly a mole king snake… not sure about this one LOL

After a little research we discovered that is was a yellow rat snake (some people call it the chicken snake since it likes eggs and will eat chicks if available) Fortunately all our ladies are likely too big to be in any danger from a snake and he can eat as many rats as he can find – even thought Catness, our badass barn cat, doesn’t leave much room for that LOL

Deer in the pasture

Deer in the pasture

Haven’t seen him since – Much prefer the deer and Sand Hill Crane sightings LOL

Black racer staring in the window at me...

Black Racer staring in the window at me…

Black racer on the pool deck

Black Racer on the pool deck

 

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Planes, Trains & Automobiles

Reflecting Pool

My work travel is normally a fairly solitary thing. I fly in, meet with clients and fly back out but recently the stars seemed to align and I was able to tack some family fun onto a work trip to DC.

My husband and youngest son flew up with me the weekend before the meeting and we flew our oldest in from Chicago to meet us – what could possibly go wrong?

Vietnam Memorial

The first day was a blast – we walked miles taking in the monuments on a glorious fall day. Proper fall is a rare treat for us – in Florida you just have an endless summer (not that I am complaining) Seattle and Ireland were both so rainy that the leaves just ended up sticking to the pavement and getting gooey and slippery – Yuck! So walking through crisp golden leaves in the sunshine was wonderful

White House

Thanks to Senator Bill Nelson I scored a White House tour – so very cool. I planned to prank my mom who was watching our dogs by buying a gag gift from the airport and telling I had stolen her a hand towel from the president for her as a souvenir LOL

City at Night

My guys were so enthusiastic they even went out again at night to see the monuments lit up – feeling old and decrepit I stayed behind in the hotel and rested my aching legs. They came stumbling back to the hotel, completely exhausted, several hours later but with some great photos to share

Capitol Building

Sunday was a little grayer and we started the day with a visit to the Holocaust Museum. Emotionally draining, wrenching and haunting – but a very necessary reminder to never be a silent bystander in the face of such evil.

I have no adequate words so I will just post this

First they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

View from Old Post Office Tower

Later we visited the Ford Theatre were Lincoln was shot and also the Old Post Office Tower which is the second highest point in DC and with the Washington Monument still closed after the earthquake, the only place to get 360 degree views of the city. It’s a beautiful old building and well worth a visit.

Box number 8

However our weekend was about to change dramatically – with Hurricane Sandy on her way my meetings were cancelled and they started to shut down the city. Our oldest got out on one of the last flights Sunday night before they shut down the airport but the rest of us were stuck.

National Archives

Don’t get me wrong there are much worse places to weather a storm than a Hilton Hotel and we were extremely fortunate, unlike so many friends and co-workers in New York. Our power stayed on and we had internet and salty snacks – so we battened down the hatches and waited for the worst to pass.

The next day we woke to find the city and airport still shut down and after long conversations with the airlines we realized that if we wanted to get out that week it was not going to be by plane – that just left trains or automobiles….

So we rented a car and headed due south – I think it was South Carolina before we got out of the bands of driving wind and rain – it was so good to see a glimmer of blue sky.

Our plan was to cross three states and at least make Savannah Georgia that first day – taking it in shifts we did just that. I have always wanted to see Savannah so we stayed in a hotel in the Historic District – might as well make the most of the situation right?

We had a late dinner in Belford’s in the City Market before getting some rest. I had Fried Green Tomatoes for the first time which were great!

Honestly, I have tried grits a few times in the past and always hated them – but amazingly enough the shrimp with grit cakes I had at Belford’s were pretty damn good –  I guess I just needed to go to the right place 🙂

Savannah Steet

The next morning we were up at sunrise, determined to see a little of the city before jumping in the car again. Savannah is a city built around squares most of which have been restored so we dashed around the streets taking in as much as we could in 90 minutes

Beautiful architecture and homes around every corner – I even found The Armstrong House – I was about to knock on the door and tell people I was home now and they should move out asap but there was nowhere to keep my horse so I decided against it 🙂

Forsyth Square

We will definitely have to come back soon and explore properly but the road was calling our names, so we jumped back in the car and headed home, making it just in time to hand out Halloween candy to the trick or treaters

900 miles and 5 states in a day and half was not exactly how we planned to spend our time but we certainly wont forget it in a hurry and it was so good to get home

Early Halloween Fun

Please don’t eat me zombie child

I have always loved Halloween it is one of my favorite holidays  – I love to get dressed up and celebrate – throw a costume party – watch at least a month’s worth of scary movies – turn the front yard into a spooky graveyard for the trick or treaters – whats not to love?

I have been a horror movie buff since I was about 10 years old. I would sit up and watch the Hammer Horror Double bill on Sat nights back in Ireland. I watched all the old B movies and Twilight Zones known to mankind and don’t get me started on zombie movies – I am ready to do a zombie movie marathon anytime. In fact when my husband and I were on a second or third date he asked if I had ever heard of Dawn of the Dead and when I said “Of course I love George Romero movies” his jaw dropped and he told me I was the perfect woman LOL

So finally after two years of living in Florida, we finally went to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal last night. As annual pass holders we could take advantage of getting in an hour early last night and beat some of the crowds. Well worth doing since the lines got completely crazy later.

Much to my shame, the dubious honor of first scream went to me before we even got into the park….. We had to pick up wristbands before we went in and a stilt walker (no scary costume – just a regular guy on stilts) jumped out from behind a palm tree at me and yelled “BOO!”  Oh for shame – at least my husband and teenager had a good laugh at my expense.

Once inside we had early access to a couple of the haunted houses – Universal’s House of Horrors and Alice Cooper’s Welcome to my Nightmare.

Bloody Nurses selling blood bag jello shots

I have to admit this was, surprisingly given my halloween fan status, my first ever haunted house experience. Thinking back, I don’t know that they had haunted houses in Ireland when I was growing up – I remember a couple funhouse or house of mirrors things but that is not really the same at all. Then of course when you have kids you start doing all the family friendly Halloween activities – visits to the pumpkin patch, corn mazes etc

So I was looking forward to this – fully expecting I would scream just like I do on the roller coasters – but knowing they are not supposed to touch you and are just people in costume – how bad could it be?

Well the first one we tried was House of Horrors and although there were plenty of screams it was really more laughter – the house was pitch black and people jumped out at you around each corner. Yes we jumped but it is kind of a cheap scare – no real terror involved. Fun, but no big deal.

Next up was Alice Cooper – this one really freaked me out! Very dark and the characters and tableaus inside were much more twisted and frightening – or at least they hit on my personal scare triggers. I was suddenly wondering why I had willingly put myself in this situation. I was holding onto my teenagers shirt as we went through and I think I just about strangled him a couple times LOL

Jon doing his best nerd face before we head into New(KD) Vegas

We hit Pen & Teller’s NewKD Vegas next and mercifully this one incorporated a little humor – good scary fun – Toxic vegas showgirls and Elvis jumped out at me and the 3D effects were a different take on just using darkness to disorient everyone. However, just as we were about to safely exit, one last character leapt out at me…..

Of course – it had to be a freaking clown! I hate clowns! I had a recurring nightmare as a child about an evil clown that sat on the foot of my bed –  long before Pennywise the Clown existed (thanks for cementing that fear firmly in my brain later in life Stephen King LOL) I even cringe a little at the ad for the Post Office shipping boxes that features the creepy clown doll.

So I went running out of that place like…well…. like a scary demonic clown was after me! My teenager pretty much laughed his ass off at me. Whatever – I wont be shamed – it was a freaking clown, people! Running away was the only smart thing to do!

Dutch courage?

After a break for some food and of course a blood bag jello shot purchased from a bloody nurse – much needed after surviving a walk though a shambling horde of hungry zombies in the street – we headed to Walking Dead.

I loved this one – I watch the show religiously. It was not super dark so you get see the zombies reaching for you though fences and shambling after you trying to eat your brain. It was really scary and fun for a zombie fan.

The last house we went through was Dead End – this was also awesome – they built a full on haunted house, exterior and all,  filled with all sorts or scary creatures – more traditional ghosts, ghouls and freaky spirits. I loved it! There was a couple really scary moments for me – one when a faceless woman came after me  – she was so creepy I just about ran up my teen’s back in an effort to get away LOL The second was when a Grudge style woman in white with long black hair jumped out at me. Those Japanese horror movies are another scare trigger for me – they frequent my nightmares anyway so I just about had a heart attack!

this poor woman in the glass coffin had live rats crawling over her

After that the lines were so long we decided to call it a night. Frankly all those constant adrenaline spikes are completely exhausting – After 5 haunted houses I don’t think I could have handled another one…

There are two houses left that we didn’t go through – Gothic and the big draw – Silent Hill. I played those games and they are the scariest video games I have ever played… If Pyramid Head jumped out at me I would likely drop dead from fear!

The good news is I survived and didn’t pee my pants  – the bad news is, I just need to work up the courage to go back – or maybe not…

Time to Simplify…

Being a beach bum is the life for me….

I don’t know exactly what has led to my shifting ideas of happiness – is it because I am in my 40’s, is it a reaction to the technology soaked life I have led, is it the state of the economy or the environment? Maybe it is all of these things but, I have had a growing and persistent urge to change my life. I want to be more present in the everyday moments – step off the hamster wheel and go smell the roses – or in my case the orchids and gardenias 😉

It is not a new idea and I know I am not the only, or first, person to think it (there are a million books and blogs on the subject of voluntary simplicity) but this constant striving for the next thing – the better car or bigger house or shiny new gadget is getting old – all the people and things that clutter up my life and make it hard to breathe have got to go.

Its time to simplify…

Growing up back in Ireland in the 70’s – there were a couple shows I loved to watch. The Good Life was a sitcom about a suburban couple who decided they wanted to drop out of corporate life and live simply – the planted a garden and had pigs and chickens much to the bemused horror of their friends and neighbors who where very much still part of  the cocktail party culture  – it was a cute show with funny characters and the notion of doing things so differently resonated with me even then. I am no Felicity Kendall wanna be – I still want to shop for shoes –  but I really would like to have chickens in the yard so I can have fresh eggs and we have long planned on buying acreage so I can have my horse with us not boarded 30 minutes away.

The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin was another favorite – all about a man who can’t stand his corporate life and the rut he and his family have fallen into so fakes his own death and reinvents himself in a series of hysterical attempts to do something different and non conformist. If you like offbeat comedies with dark overtones – then you should do yourself a favor and rent it – dated but still funny.

Reinventing yourself and trying to find what truly makes you happy is an old idea – once we have enough to cover our basic needs, then humans start thinking about what fulfills them. Maslov’s hierarchy of needs is, of course, the standard here. But in our consumer driven culture we often confuse having more as being the goal – when really we need to understand the concept of enough. There comes a point of diminishing returns. Not having a thing might be a problem but having 10 of a thing likely doesn’t bring your more happiness than just having enough of a thing.

Don’t get me wrong I am not about to discard all my belongings and live in a cave on a mountain top, writing a manifesto or anything, but I have slowly come to the conclusion that   I need to turn the volume down on all the chatter so I can listen to what really makes me happy and focus in on that.

So this is the beginning. I am going to declutter my life and home, I am going to unsubscribe from the spam, I am going to spring clean my friends list on Facebook, I am going to do more of what I love – sketch, ride my horse, travel with family, enjoy my friends, plant a garden, walk the dogs.

And I am going to pay more attention to the quote from a poet I had never heard of till I came across it many years ago.  I turned it into a piece of calligraphy and hung on my wall as words to live by –  many years ago when I was 19 years old. It has been on my wall, wherever I have been ever since, but sometimes we lose sight of important things even if  (or maybe because) we see them every day.

“There is always something to do. There are hungry people to feed, naked people to clothe, sick people to comfort and make well. And while I don’t expect you to save the world I do think it’s not asking too much for you to love those with whom you sleep, share the happiness of those whom you call friend, engage those among you who are visionary and remove from your life those who offer you depression, despair and disrespect.”
― Nikki Giovanni

Here’s to a new beginning….

Fork & Screen

Downtown Disney’s Fork & Dine

Recently, I discovered that the Downtown Disney AMC had dine in theaters  There are only a handful of them across the country and I had been wanting to try it out and see if the experience was too distracting.

Avengers was opening that weekend and since I wasn’t holding out much hope that the movie would be any good at all I figured this would be a great test case. At least we would have cocktails to mask the pain…

You have to buy your tickets in advance and choose your seating which is really perfect, since you don’t have to worry about getting stuck in the front row or waiting in long lines to get a decent seat.

The theaters are quite small only about 150 seats and have a pretty steep decline, keeping your sight lines unobstructed despite how tall the people in front of you might be.

Loving those recliners

The seats are big, comfy recliners – a huge hit with my guys…. and there is a shelf like table in front of each row with muted lighting and little red buttons to summon a server.

Full menu

They have a full menu of fairly decent, bar style food. Appetizers like Parmesan Fires and Onion Rings, Crab Dip were a few of the ones we sampled. Our teenager ordered a burger and fries with a coke and we got a few cocktails for the adults. You can, of course, order popcorn and candy just like a regular theater but we wanted to try something a little different.

Once the movie began the lights dimmed even more and it was frankly a little hard to see what we were eating. I would recommend simple finger food unless you plan to eat your meal during the trailers before the main attraction begins.

 

The magic button

I had expected ordering during the movie might be tough – having people take orders and deliver food in the middle of the action should be intrusive, right? But honestly the servers were quietly efficient – dressed in black –  they really didn’t spoil our enjoyment at all. We got another round of cocktails and a slice of cheesecake for our teenager in the middle of the show and it was pretty smooth. Of course we were watching an action flick – I might have felt differently if I were watching a tense nail biter or emotional drama….

Big screen with cocktails…

 

 

All in all it was a positive experience – everyone had a good time and surprisingly the movie was much better than expected Joss Whedon’s writing made even Thor slightly amusing which I would never have believed possible  🙂

Like kids in a candy store…

Ist Oriental Supermarket

This week I took a trip to a local Asian market, hoping that it would be at least comparable to the ones we had back in Seattle and we were not disappointed! 1st Oriental Supermarket on W Colonial (I swear to God that’s what it’s called…I couldn’t make that shit up) gets two enthusiastic thumbs up.

 

Dragon cake

We were greeted by the bakery counter as we entered and some amazing dragon decorated cakes – these would be such a huge hit at birthday parties – I clearly need a fancy occasion to warrant that much awesomeness!

The store turned out to be huge and well stocked with all sorts of goodies. They have a nice produce section with all the basics plus a bunch of exotic fruit and vegetables that I am really not sure what to do with….. research will clearly be required. I picked up some fresh bamboo shoots and various mushrooms for my attempt at summer rolls that evening.

Fresh bamboo - in a toilet???

I was delighted to find quail eggs also which prompted a desire to make sushi too. Not a issue since I had no problem finding nori (seaweed wrappers) and a tub of masago (fish roe).

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fish section was fantastic – all sort of fresh fish and shellfish available – along with a few things I am definitely not brave enough to cook, like eels – I have eaten them many times in restaurants, but not sure I could eat them if I had to do the prep work. Definitely the largest fish selection I have seen here in Orlando.

Fresh fish

There was a fantastic section for cooked food also with ducks and geese hanging up looking crispy and delicious – it was hard to pull ourselves away…

Yum!

We must have spent an hour wandering the aisles and marveling at all the good stuff – I got  my favorite “tempura wasabi seaweed chips” – not sure what they are actually called but these things are like crack cocaine – you cannot stop eating them once the bag is opened.

Best wasabi tempura seeweed chips evah!

Also picked up some fizzy sake, dried shrimp, cool sodas in a clear plastic “cans”, frozen hum bow – for my teenager who could live on dim sum –  shrimp dumplings, rice paper, rice noodles, jars of pickled cabbage, fish sauce, plum duck sauce, sweet chili dipping sauce, sirracha sauce (long live the rooster) and a variety of other things that we couldn’t leave the store without….including some green apple pop rocks that jumped in my cart at the register – hello 80’s

I did not buy this....

That evening I planned to amaze the family with my sushi making skills and yummy shrimp  and pork summer rolls – unfortunately, although delicious, they were just not photo worthy. I need to practice wrapping the rice paper tighter  – they were a bit floppy and messy looking – but dipped in the sweet chili sauce with eyes closed they tasted great.

Jon's vegetable free summer roll

My teenager quickly decided that all those vegetables were not working for him so he made his own rolls with shrimp and noodles only – in a stoke of genius he decided to pour the chili sauce right  inside the roll so he didn’t have to waste time dipping LOL

We had a fun interactive dinner and leftovers made a decent stir fry the next day – now I have a pantry full of random stuff I need to get some recipes for LOL

Food Truck Wednesday

Food Trucks Wed

Orlando has a pretty cool food truck scene – there are multiple regular events locally to sample their delicious wares – one particularly fun one is Lake Lily Park in Mailtand. This is very close to where we live and the setting is really nice – pond with fountain, live music, lots of people bring their dogs  and usually about 9 – 12 trucks to choose from – it is a weekly event on Wed nights from 6 – 9pm

This week we were hosting a co-worker from Dundee, Scotland so I suggested that the team go together and try it out. A lot of the food trucks use Square which lets you pay using your iPhone – so for a UI designer and self confessed tech nerd that is always fun. Plus, I was pretty sure that it hadn’t reached the UK yet – so for all intents and purposes we could claim it was a work related, educational trip LOL

Crab with Pork Belly by the lake

The weather was perfect  – sunny, mid 80’s and we had 9 trucks to choose from. A favorite of mine is Big Wheel Provisions so I made a beeline for them and got the crab rice bowl – which I have had before and absolutley love. This time I was asked if I wanted the pork belly – I had no idea that was even an option –  of course I said hell yes!

It was fantastic!!! I may be back next week for more. Andrew our Scottish coworker followed my lead and was not disappointed – much better than haggis, or the standard fish  & chip trucks from back in the UK, that is for sure.  Another designer on the team tried the fish truck and got some healthy salmon, my teenager hit up the Brisket Bus and got some sort of meaty grilled cheese that made him beyond happy….

Another coworker got some mac & cheese, and yet another had deviled eggs & fried oysters –  which seems like a weird combo to me but what the hell – try anything once, right?  The Korean BBQ truck was also there which I will have to try next time if I can be pulled away from the amazing pork belly…

Paula Deen Burger - heart attack time....

One of the highlights of the evening was realizing that the Treehouse Truck was serving the “Paula Deen Burger” Basically a bacon cheeseburger between two Krispy Kreme doughnuts – probably with a side of butter –  but of course we wanted to make sure Andrew had a good story to tell back in Scotland about eating like an American LOL

 

 

 

 

 

Andrew eating American Style LOL

Teenagers always up for a burger challenge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So obviously we ordered one and it was ceremoniously split between three of the guys (my teenager included – what teen can resist a challenge like that?) They all proclaimed that it was actually very good before slipping into their diabetic comas…

Yum Yum Cupcake selection

Oreo cupcake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yum Yum cupcake was also in attendance and we had to sample some of those – there was a salted caramel and chocolate cupcake, an Oreo cupcake, a peanut butter chocorama and of course red velvet –  my choice for the evening was Dolce Gabbana – a tres leches cupcake which was milky and delicious. Yum yum is right!

A good time was had by all and I don’t think it will be too long before another trip is required >8)