Sunday, April 5, 2020

Mosaic Monday #74: Let's Go to the Beach!

Sand between my toes.  The smell of salty air wafting on the breeze.  A rum-infused cocktail nestled in my hand.  I have been day-dreaming about all of this, especially since it is a given that our planned family vacation to Grand Cayman in early May is now nothing but a dream.

Coincidentally, I recently cleaned out my bed-side table (so much free time on my hands!), and was tickled to get re-acquainted with a travel journal I began in August 2011.  Would you believe the first entry was about our trip to Belize?  Yes, another beach vacation.  So, I thought this would make a great post for today.  I may not be going to the beach anytime soon, but I can certainly re-visit one through my memories.  Pull up a sun chair and a Rum Runner and let's go!

The journal - 2011 to 2014
Belize is a nation on the eastern coast of Central America, with Caribbean shorelines to the east and dense jungles to the west.  Offshore, the massive Belize Barrier Reef, dotted with hundreds of low-lying islands called cayes, hosts rich marine life.  And that is why we traveled there.  In the spring and early summer of 2011, all four of our family members became certified scuba divers, and Caye Caulker would become the first place we utilized our new skills in the ocean.  Exciting and a little bit terrifying.  

Sometimes you have to participate in something  to know it is an experience you don't want to repeat.  Such was the case with our diving on Caye Caulker.  Quite simply, we didn't know what we didn't know.  Here is what we learned.  One: drift diving has some risks.  On one dive, #1 Son had trouble with his ears, and when he re-surfaced with Spousal Unit, the boat was 400 yards away and the boat driver couldn't hear them shouting (the fact that he was listening to music with earbuds didn't help).  They eventually got his attention and he returned to pick them up.

Two: diving beyond the protection of the reef means wave action, an abundance of wave action.  Fortunately, none of us tend to get seasick, but it certainly offered some challenges when entering the water.  We still tell the story about #1 Daughter and how she was the first one to leave the boat on our first dive ever - she showed no hesitation when she flipped backwards off the side while the boat was pitching up and down!

Three: we like to dive in clear water.  On a couple of our dives, the dive master said "head down to the bottom and I will meet you there".  Five minutes later, we huddled near the sand with our dive buddies, and we can't see a thing beyond our fins.  If we can't see him, how will he see us?  Obviously, we all survived, but it doesn't do much for the length of your air supply when you are sucking it down due to nerves!
#1 Daughter found this conch shell in the water near the beach

Sign says "Amanda's Place"
Lest you think that our trip was a total bust, I can say that we enjoyed the small pool that came with our accommodation, a house called Amanda's Place.  Amanda lived across the street, and we felt an immediate connection with her since she was originally from London.  At one point during our stay, the kids fixed the pump cover in the hot tub, and she treated them to ice cream at a shop down the street.  Her dog was called Scrumpy, and her cat Boy was a regular visitor to the yard around our house.

As with all tropical environments, flowers bloomed in profusion.  At our guest house, a hummingbird frequented the hibiscus.  Small lizards skittered among the foliage, and Amanda explained that those you find outside the house are called a wishwilly.  Lizards inside a structure are geckos.

Exploring the island was a simple affair since you can stroll from one side to the other in 15 minutes.  No cars are permitted on the island; the most you had to watch for were speedy golf carts!  We witnessed a wedding on one of the beaches, and were amused to see children playing soccer with a shoe on the kicking foot and a long sock on the other.  Of course, no beach vacation is complete without stunning sunsets; we liked to watch ours from the Iguana Reef Inn.

We sampled a number of restaurants on the island.  Our favorites were: the Happy Lobster due to variety on the menu; Syds, known for its superb Fry Chicken with stew beans and rice; the Bakery - piles of sticky, gooey, yum yum baked goods.
Caye Caulker main street
Fiddler crab
Christmas tree worms (Internet)
Snorkeling is a must-do on an island like Caye Caulker; we did plenty on our own and also purchased a snorkeling tour that was a good value.  A green Moray eel came out of a crevice and began free swimming when the tour guide clapped his hands under water.  Part of the tour included Shark and Stingray Alley; the tour guide would hide food in large, empty conch shells, and the animals would find it.  I was fascinated by the Christmas tree worms, the common name for Spirobranchus giganteus, a marine worm that lives on tropical coral reefs around the world.  When startled, the worms rapidly retract into their burrows.

The excitement just kept coming, as a tropical storm began to threaten the island at the end of our stay.  The last day of our visit, we left the island on the first boat, earlier than planned.  The vessel was crammed with people who all had the same idea.  We made it safely to the mainland, and stayed overnight at a Radisson.  I had a new appreciation for the term "batten down the hatches" as we watched workmen install steel shutters on the restaurant windows while we ate  our last supper brunch.  Fortunately, the storm landed south of us, without affecting our return flight.  From beginning to end, it was a memorable trip!

Welcome to Mosaic Monday, a weekly meme where we get together to share our photo mosaics and collages.
Please include at least one photo mosaic/collage in your post.
The link will be open from 1 p.m. Sunday until 11 p.m. Monday (U.S. Mountain time).
Remember to add the link to your Mosaic Monday post and not the one to your blog.
Please link back to this post so that your readers will be able to visit and enjoy more wonderful mosaics; taking the MM blog button from my sidebar is an easy way to link back.
As host I will visit every participant and leave a comment so that you know I stopped by.
Please try and visit as many other blogs as you can, especially those that join in later, so that everyone's creativity can be appreciated fully.
Thank you for joining in today and sharing your mosaics with us.

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!
Click here to enter

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Could it be April Fools' Day?

Do you feel you're living in a dream?  I keep hoping I will wake up and no-one will know what I am talking about.  

Or maybe this is the most sophisticated April Fools' joke anyone has ever pulled.  If only that were true.

We've all resorted to COVID-19 humor to pass the time and bring some levity to the otherwise horror-movie scenario.  Today I am doing my part to contribute distraction by pulling from my archives and linking up with my blogging buddies.  Please visit these linky parties, and maybe in the comments below, you can tell us about the best April Fools' joke you ever performed (or were subject to).  

March 30, 2020
LeeAnna at Not Afraid of Color hosts I Like Thursday, and don't we all need some positives right now?  Head on over there and you're sure to find something inspirational.  I just cried my heart out at her 3/29 post featuring the "For Good" duet by Kristin Chenoweth and Rachel Levy.  It's a perfect tribute to what many of us bloggers mean to each other.  This post covers many of my "likes", from Montana sights to critters to food.  Enjoy!

Amazing Crepes Restaurant - March 2019
I've said before I am motivated by food.  It just brings me bliss. I have no doubt that it springs from the delectable meals prepared by Head Chef every day.  Having said that, I am looking forward to dining out.  Being served.  Enjoying a cocktail I don't make at home.  Feeling the vibe of other people, as laughter and conversation ebbs and flows.  This longing came over me as I looked back at some of my restaurant meal photos - something we took for granted not so long ago.  Check out Friday Bliss, hosted by Riitta, to see what bliss means for some other blogging friends.
Spotted Bear Distillery - March 2019

Red Columbine - May 31, 2019
The advent of April prompted me to pull out my gardening journal, and my plans for spring planting that were developed six months ago.  With that came the sudden realization that I should be sowing Columbine seeds soon.  The official guidance recommends sowing on top of raked soil 3 to 4 weeks before the last frost.  We live in Hardiness Zone 5a, and its average date of last frost is April 15.  Yikes!  I need to get moving.  And wouldn't you know, the next day I woke up to an inch of snow?  So, this is a Columbine picture from last spring; you can find more current flower photos if you link to Floral Friday Fotos.

Last May, I was helping my Dear Neighbor Friend with some of her students, and I had some spare time before one of the sessions.  I recall that it was a glorious spring day; I was drawn to walk the neighborhood around the school, and I made a terrific discovery.  The East Side Historic District of Kalispell is in the National Register of Historic Places!  It features no less than 74 buildings, mostly homes, each one sporting its own plaque with a detailed description of the building and its history.  I photographed nine homes that day, which are worthy of their own post sometime.  For right now, I will show you my favorite and link up with Betty at My Corner of the World, who is making the world a smaller place one week at a time!
McIntosh House - Queen Anne style built in 1894
Animals are never far from my mind since we live in the woods.  I have only to look out the window and I will see some sort of wildlife, most commonly birds and deer.  A couple of weeks ago, I offered to collect the trail cam disks for one of my neighbors, and I am sharing just a few of the resulting pictures in this post.  To put some other "wild" into your life, pop on over to Saturday's Critters, hosted by Eileen.
Mr. Coyote out for a stroll

Father shows Son the ropes
Not sure if the turkeys think of the driveway as a runway or a red carpet, but they sure like to strut their stuff!
You might not be a flower person, or have access to wildlife, but everyone can see the sky.  Be it blue or gray, dotted with clouds or studded with stars, the sky has been a fascination for man through the millennia, so it is no surprise to me that Skywatch has a multitude of participants every week.  I have been saving this picture from our visit to Skipton Castle Woods back in October, and I think this is the time to let it fly!  Be sure to look heavenward over at Skywatch!

We are cat lovers in this house, so I never need an excuse to visit Brian's Home.  Dolly, Simon, Zoe, Seal and Brian are always up to something, and it is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.  (It may be a wry knowing smile, like "yep, my cat does THAT too!")  In this case, we are joining Thankful Thursday, because I am particularly happy this week to be the lucky recipient of the 2020 Little Bird Calendar from Sylvia.  Thanks again, Sylvia!
I feel better the minute I look at this charming little birdie!
Optimistic we will have a baseball season!
Tom the Backroads Traveller has been a faithful participant in Mosaic Monday, often linking up twice.  Thanks, buddy!  He also hosts entertaining linky parties such as the Barn Collective, Tuesday's Treasures and Willy Nilly Friday, which I am joining this week.  Just as the title implies, you can post anything!  If you are in a willy-nilly mood, or WANT to be spontaneous, check it out! The ideal opportunity to show you some murals that were outside the American Sign Museum, which I wrote about here

Hopefully you have found some diversion with my post today.  I will leave you with a final mural.  The future is out there waiting for us.  Have faith.  Show a little kindness to someone who needs it today.  Say a prayer for the health professionals who are putting their lives on the line.  Until next time!

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Mosaic Monday #73: Lockdown

March 2020 will be forever fixed in my brain as the month our world was turned upside down.  It began simply enough.  Head Chef concocted comfort foods; we enjoyed winter splendor; I waited for my Dear Neighbor Friend to return from a trip to visit family and friends in California/Mexico. 
Steak Pie with Roasted Potatoes and Mushy Peas
Frozen waterfall - a 20-minute drive from our house
March 15 dawned bright and crisp; the dash temperature gauge warned us to layer up as we headed to the mountain for a play day.  
We couldn't get enough of the views and the time together.
So it was that we stopped for lunch later than normal, only to hear the news that the resort would be closing THAT DAY.  The resigned dismay hung like a pall over our Ambassador locker room; each of us had our own reasons to regret losing three weeks of ski season.  Word spread quickly through Whitefish, and locals thronged to the mountain that afternoon to get in the last few runs of the season.  Later, you could see the shock on people's faces as they cleared out their lockers, toting skis, poles, helmets and all manner of other equipment to their cars.  Little did we know it was just the beginning. (Montana had 4 cases.)

Maggie says "What's all the fuss about?"
Spousal Unit and I made the tough decision to begin self-isolation right away.  We skipped the traditional Ambassador St. Patrick's Day party, and chose not to attend the Employee Ski Day on March 20.  This was particularly difficult for my social butterfly of a husband!  After that, most organizations began dropping events, thereby resolving any dilemma.  All Masses and church gatherings were cancelled until at least March 30, following the Governor's March 17 directive limiting gatherings to less than 50 people.  Email starting flowing in from every organization that has my address - craft stores (buy supplies to stay busy), pharmacies (free delivery), Expedia (recommendations for current and future travel), the dentist (my appointment might have to be re-scheduled), my congressmen (join a town hall).  

Social media exploded with humorous videos, memes and suggestions for coping with everything from isolation to home-schooling to cooking EVERY DAY.  Of course, cooking is not a problem in our house, and I have never been more grateful.  For all those cooks out there - thank you.  And hopefully, like my Head Chef, you are finding some escape in the kitchen.
Breakfast frittata
For my part, getting outside delivers tranquility and restores my faith.  Nature continues on her way, oblivious to the virus.  I walk the "back forty" most days, and with no time constraints, I observe small things that I might otherwise miss.
Otter tracks - bottom picture is a "slide" mark going into the creek
Far right: coyote tracks

On March 20, the Governor closed high-risk businesses such as bars, restaurants and workout facilities.  Spousal Unit and I began to talk about alternative activities to keep ourselves entertained.  Hikes.  Cooking together.  Movie nights.  Spring cleaning. (How did that get on the list?)  And some distractions continued unabated, such as adult beverages!  If we can't go to the bar, we'll bring the bar to us! (Montana had 27 cases.)
Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but that same day I spotted a new bird visiting our suet feeder.  It came three times that day, but I haven't seen it since.  And I have been engaged in lengthy bird-watching, let me tell you.  It was a male Varied Thrush.  The still picture is from the Web, and the video is mine (not super quality, but proof that it was here!)  Isn't it a handsome specimen?

Andouille sausage - those tiles in the
background are two we are considering
for a future backsplash
On March 23, our kids (both in Ohio) became subject to that state's shelter in place mandate.  I have been so impressed (and relieved) by how they are handling the constant change and ongoing ambiguity.  Our daughter's theatre had to cease productions, and is adapting by streaming past performances.  Our son will finish his college degree from his apartment, and is highly unlikely to "walk" in the classic graduation ceremony since it has been postponed indefinitely.  That day, I was sous chef for Head Chef as we prepared Red Beans and Rice, with cornbread on the side.  I tried to add some levity by texting the recipe to the kids, complaining that we have no bay leaves!  (Click here if you need a refresher on how I named my blog!)  (Montana had 34 cases.)
March 24 saw Governor Bullock extending school and high-risk business closures to April 10, and reducing the size of gatherings from 50 to 10.  His announcement pointed out that the previous day saw a 25% increase in cases in Montana.  In our house, we took comfort in regular routines such as yoga, cooking, listening to music, and running on the treadmill.  The isolation also presented new opportunities, such as contacting old friends and starting up a genealogy project that has been on my to-do list for eons.  Spousal Unit offered to play Scrabble - you know we are in desperate times now - and I was only too tickled to accept (and win!)

Canada Geese have returned to our lake,
leaving adorable tracks in the snow
As many have pointed out, COVID-19 has affected the entire world in a way that has not been seen since the Spanish Flu of 1918.  Not even world wars or 9-11 suspended daily life to such a great extent.  Everyone has a story.  A wedding that has been postponed.  Small businesses that have been shuttered, putting their future in jeopardy.  Cancelled vacations.  People laid off from work, who are now struggling to pay their bills.  First responders and health professionals who continue to put their lives on the line for the greater good. In the moments when I get down, I try to remember that my "problems" are miniscule compared to others.  I am grateful that I have my faith.  I continue walking outdoors, reveling in little signs of spring.

The proverbial clouds of this crisis do offer some silver linings.  We were able to view our daughter's last show - Alabaster - via on demand streaming.  Otherwise, as with most of her shows, this would be a powerful performance we would have missed.  On a day that we would have normally been working on the mountain, Spousal Unit and I went on a hike in Glacier National Park.  I retrieved the trail cam disks for my neighbor, yielding innumerable fabulous wildlife photos.  (Watch for a future post for the hike and the critters.) A fellow blogger pointed us to live streaming coverage of a Barred Owl nest.  Even when Mama Owl is just sleeping, I find the background chirping and singing birds to be soothing.  A group is organizing a Virtual Catholic Women's Conference the first weekend in April, and I hope to participate in part of it with my daughter.  Ample free time has translated to more progress on my Violet Protest square.

And then, just as I sat down to begin to compose this post (March 26), the email arrived from Governor Bullock.  7.04 PM. "Today I issued a Directive requiring Montanans to stay home and temporarily closing all nonessential businesses to stop the spread of COVID-19.  The order goes into effect at 12:01 am on March 28 and will buy us time for health care workers on the frontlines to limit long-term impacts to the state's economy."  Yes, lockdown has arrived in Montana and will last until at least April 10.  Get the hot chocolate and light the fire, darling, we are here for the long haul.  (Montana had 90 cases and its first death.)
Ants emerge from winter "hibernation" - now that's a group hug!

The next day, Glacier National Park announced its temporary closure.  This profoundly impacted me. More dismay and more unanswered questions.  Will they continue working to process back-country camping applications?  Will the park re-open in time for our earliest application (June 15), assuming it gets approved?  When is COVID-19 likely to peak in the U.S. and in Montana in particular?  Out of a desire to maintain our sanity, we have been limiting our news consumption, but at times you just want some answers.  I think it is human nature to need "the light at the end of the tunnel".  We've pretty much accepted that we are not going to Ohio as planned on May 1 (our son's graduation was scheduled for May 3), nor to Grand Cayman on May 7 for a family vacation.  But I need a glimmer of hope that life will eventually return to normal.  (A friend texted me - on the lighter side, there will be no question what my natural hair color is!)  Perhaps it was to have an event, any event, scheduled, or maybe out of sheer defiance, I booked a hotel for August 15-16 so that we can attend the 102nd Annual Crow Fair Celebration Powwow & Rodeo.  Take that, COVID-19! (March 27 - Montana had 121 cases and 1 death)

What are you anticipating post-virus?  It seems selfish and cavalier to even think of these things when people are dying from COVID-19.  But I need to look past today and have plans.  I can't wait to see my Dear Neighbor Friend, and to exchange hugs.  To go to church again.  A sloppy burger with fries at a restaurant teeming with people.  Rescheduling our trip to Cayman and seeing our kids.  Dancing to the New Wave Time Trippers at the Great Northern Bar in Whitefish.  Hosting friends at our house for a dinner party.  In the meantime, I pray that you and your families are well.  Special thoughts to all those leaders and health professionals who are working diligently to protect us.  Keep the faith!  (At the time of publication, Montana had 154 cases and 1 death.)

Welcome to Mosaic Monday, a weekly meme where we get together to share our photo mosaics and collages.
Please include at least one photo mosaic/collage in your post.
The link will be open from 1 p.m. Sunday until 11 p.m. Monday (U.S. Mountain time).
Remember to add the link to your Mosaic Monday post and not the one to your blog.
Please link back to this post so that your readers will be able to visit and enjoy more wonderful mosaics; taking the MM blog button from my sidebar is an easy way to link back.
As host I will visit every participant and leave a comment so that you know I stopped by.
Please try and visit as many other blogs as you can, especially those that join in later, so that everyone's creativity can be appreciated fully.
Thank you for joining in today and sharing your mosaics with us.

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!
Click here to enter
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