May the Forest Be With You!

2020 was a year with a lot of firsts for me:

First time quarantined

First time locked down

First time to wear a mask in public (other than Halloween)

First time to buy hand sanitizer in bulk

That’s just to name a few. 

But there was one other first – and it happened on a Zoom meeting (which early in the pandemic was another first!) sponsored by the Missouri Dept of Conservation.

I learned about “forest bathing”.

It turned out that I was a pioneer in this new concept.  It has been popular in the Ozarks for a long time, but people around here look at you funny if you call it forest bathing.

“Forest bathing” is defined as “being immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the forest.”  Not just taking a walk in the woods, which is another of my favorite things to do.  It is deeper than that.  It is taking time to breathe in the clean air, savor the smells around you.  The goal is to relax, unwind, and soak up the beauty & serenity of the forest.  Two hours is recommended, but not mandatory.

Though it may be therapeutic to talk to the trees, I find it more relaxing to listen to them

According to a study by the EPA, the average American spends 93% of their time indoors.  I love being way below average in that stat.

Some studies have shown that “forest bathing” can lower your blood pressure, strengthen your immune system, and greatly improve your mood.  The benefit of a good mood is not news.   Proverbs 17:22 wisely noted a half a millennium before Christ was born that “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength” (New Living Translation).

An article I read in the Wall Street Journal by Betsy Morris even posed the question “Is two hours outdoors the new 10,000 steps?”

Maybe.  Though I’d recommend both.

The goal is to reconnect with all five of your senses.

See the beautiful trees.

Smell the fresh air.

Hear the birds around you.

Taste is best experienced in the spring when delicious morel mushrooms pop up in obscure places.

Battered and fried morels are a delicacy in Cole County, Mo.

The sense of touch is often enhanced after you get back in the house after forest bathing and detect an itch in an obscure place.  My wife and I are used to assisting each other in checking for ticks in places that are difficult to reach and even more difficult to see. Where we grew up in the Ozarks, checking your spouse for ticks was considered foreplay. We could readily identify with Brad Paisley’s hit song “I’d like to check you for ticks.”

But that’s another blog.

Not the actual size. Thank goodness!

Word of advice:  before you go forest bathing, douse yourself liberally with insect repellent.

Otherwise, “forest dining” might accompany your “forest bathing”– with you as the main course for pesky mosquitoes and ticks.

One soft-spoken, enterprising young guy named Duncan Murdoch has created a free “Forest Bathing Life” iPhone app.  The basics are free.  There is a charge if you would like to upgrade and hire Duncan as your virtual forest bathing guide.

I’d say urban dwellers might find a personal forest bathing guide attractive. 

I guess my family is lucky. 

Forest bathing just comes natural to us. 

But I did love the line Duncan used on his “Forest Bathing Life” iPhone app:

“May the forest be with you!”

Our grandkids camping out in our woods – but still connected on my iPhone GPS.

What was I thinking!

My grandson Max following his scientific discovery

I like to take my six-year-old grandson Max with me when I run errands. I enjoy hearing things from his perspective. He likes to work me for ice cream and other goodies.

Win – Win

This afternoon we headed to the store to fill my wife’s shopping list. As we entered the store, Max inquired “Could we get a box of popsicles to take home?” Though I rarely say “no”, this was the first of several stops. Frozen treats to-go were not an option.

While Max was scanning our groceries at self check-out, I glanced at the snack bar. No long line. “How about getting an icee and drinking it here?” I asked.

Problem solved.

Icee’s in hand, we took a seat at a small table between automotive and the check-out lines. As I was engaging in people-watching, a favorite pastime of mine, I heard a noise of surprise from Max. His icee was undergoing a mini-volcanic eruption.

“I was just trying to make some bubbles” he explained. Splashes of icee lava covered the small table.

After expending a handful of napkins to clean up the icee eruption, he shared what his “What was I thinking?” moment had taught him:

NEVER BLOW INTO A ICEE!

I then shared a story from my checkered childhood that took place when I was about his age.

The year was 1954. Our family had just moved from a trailer park in the Chicago suburb of Melrose Park back to Springfield, Mo. so I could start the first grade at Tom Watkins Elementary school. We had towed our 25-foot mobile home right along with us and parked it in back of my grandparent’s home on North Broadway. To supply water, a hose was run from an outdoor faucet at my grandparents home to our compact, metal homestead.

Like a lot of things in my younger (and older) days, I am not sure what I was thinking. But for some inexplicable reason, I thought it would be a neat idea to poke a very small hole in the hose supplying our home with water with my pocket knife. “A six-year-old with a knife?” you may be asking. Remember, it was 1954. And we had just moved from a trailer park in Chicago.

It was harder than I expected to puncture that hose, but when I did, it didn’t just dribble as I expected. It shot out like a fire hose – right into the screened, open window above the kitchen sink where my Mom was standing washing dishes. I can still recall her shriek of surpise as the powerful stream of water doused her

My little experiment was a secret no more.

One new hose later, things were back to normal. I don’t recall if I got a spanking, but remember: it was 1954 when, unlike today, spanking was still considered a useful tool in the parental toolbox.

A very innocent looking and congenial me before the “hose incident”

Two generations later, my “Never poke a hole in a garden hose!” became my grandson’s “Never blow into a icee!”

Everybody makes mistakes. My goal is to avoid making the same mistake twice and to learn from other people’s mistakes. And to impart that wisdom to my grandson.

I seriously doubt Max will ever blow into an icee again. Or puncture a garden hose. Though he might try to talk some other unsuspecting kid into blowing into an icee. And he now loves to tell my garden hose story.

As Will Rogers observed, “Everything is funny, as long as it is happening to someone else.”

Note this picture of Will and compare it with my kid picture above. I may not be a great judge of what is and what is DEFINITELY NOT funny, but at least I kinda, sorta LOOKED like a great humorist when I was puncturing hoses at age 6.

Will Rogers, who was born just up the road from where I was born in Vinita, Oklahoma, died in a plane crash near Point Barrow, Alaska in 1935. That was thirteen years before I was born. His pilot was one-eyed Wiley Post, who also died in the crash. Will’s last words were rumored to be “Wiley, I think you have that patch on the wrong eye!!”

Simple Pleasures

Since I was a kid in Vinita, Oklahoma, where I was born, I have loved going out for an ice cream cone on a hot summer night.  Though that feeling has endured, the locales and the family members present have changed throughout the years.  My grandparents once took me.  Now I take my grandkids. 

The circle of life.

For the past 23 years my family has called the rural countryside just west of Jefferson City, Missouri home.  The landside is beautiful, the people are friendly, and the cost of living is 16% below the national average.

AND – it is home to the Central Dairy Ice Cream Parlor at 610 Madison in Jefferson City.  Grandparents have been taking their grandkids there since 1934.  In the 1950’s they remodeled the parlor and installed wooden booths – the same booths you would crowd into today if you were lucky enough to visit.

Three generations of my family took the short trip to Central Dairy today for a cool treat on a hot July Sunday afternoon.  People were lined out the door and along the sidewalk. 

In the rain. 

We joined them.

The line moves fast. 

A half-dozen employees behind a long counter build up their biceps by scooping dips of 50+ flavors of ice cream into cake cones, waffle cones, or cups.  With all the exotic flavors to choose from my three grandkids all chose sherbet.  The adults chose Rocky Road or (my favorite), Jamocha Almond Fudge.  Six people took their seats in the ancient (same age as me) wooden booths holding the ice cream treat of their choice for a grand total of $16. 

As we enjoyed our ice cream, we also enjoyed a double shot of people watching.  The booths in the compact parlor have big plate glass windows overlooking the sidewalk on one side and a perpetual line of ice cream connoisseurs perusing the heavenly display of ice cream tubs a few feet away on the other.

The view outside through the rain-splashed plate glass
The view inside as patrons make their selections

My nominee for “Father of the Year” and his smiling son paused as they passed by.  They each sported red dye on one side of their face and hair and green dye on the other.  “The wife is out of town, and it washes out” said the dad with a smile as we made eye contact. 

“It is supposed to wash right out.  I hope it does anyway. I have to go to work tomorrow.”

The summer shower had stopped when we walked back outside.  The sun was making another appearance.  It was a nostalgic visit to an old-fashioned ice cream parlor for my wife and me.  My grandkids have grown up going to Central Dairy and take it for granted.

Someday I hope they get to take their grandkids to Central Dairy for ice cream.

And just like I did today, I hope they pause for just a moment and think back to these “good old days” when their by then “long-gone” grandparents used to take them out for ice cream on hot Sunday afternoons in July.

The Story of Central Dairy – a Jefferson City, Mo. icon

Got Bugs? Buff Orpington to the Rescue

Early this morning as I carried my cup of coffee out the door into our screened in porch, I was surprised to discover it was already occupied.  The screens were covered with an estimated two-hundred million newborn gnats.

Lawn gnats, to be specific.  I looked it up.  According to the article I read, the population of lawn gnats soars during hot (check) rainy (check) weather.   

There are estimated to be approximately 200,000,000 insects alive on earth at any one time.  Not total. 200,000,000 for each and every person living on planet earth. I am not sure how they coordinated such a large event, but my 200,000,000 all decided to get together and surprise me this morning.

The article I read provided an easy solution – eliminate damp vegetation and standing water sources.  That may be easy in an apartment.  We live on 45 acres of damp vegetation with a small lake in the middle.

Plan B?  The article continued “Missouri Botanical Garden experts recommend just living with small populations of fungus gnats (200,000,000 or less).  Though they may do the backstroke in your coffee, they are considered “beneficial insects.” That’s because they also pollinate plants and help with the decomposition process “which releases nutrients for the grass and other plants to absorb.”

My son’s family doesn’t have this problem. Earlier this year they invested in a “ Buff Orpington natural insect control” device. 

Six of them.

Their house now has an insect shortage.

The Buff Orpington chicks shortly after arriving in our neighborhood.

In March, they were baby chicks.  Now they are only one month away from turning insects into my breakfast.  They are fun to watch patrolling the yard and interacting with each other. Some people call watching their antics “Chicken TV”. They are goodnatured and very patient with kids. They follow my grandson as he walks or runs around the yard. He is currently trying to teach them to march. Don’t bet against it.

The chickens are voracious eaters.  Last week as I paused while walking in the driveway we share with our son & his family. I suddenly found myself surrounded by the Buff Orpington gang.  I thought it was cute and reached for my phone to take a pic. In the brief interlude as I started up my phone, one chick mistook a scab on my leg for an insect, pecked it off, and ate it quicker than I could yell YEE-OWWWWW-EEEE!

I would not recommend investing in chickens to people with freckled legs.

My 6-year-old grandson rushed out to save me. 

It was just an honest mistake

This six-year-old “Chickenmaster” has already decided he wants to be a farmer. He has developed very distinctive calls for both cows and chickens.  The chickens come running when they hear his shrill, prepubescent “CHICK, CHICK, CHICK!” He learned his cow call at his other grandpa’s farm. At our home it is primarily reserved for when a neighbor’s cow gets the wanderlust and ends up in our field.

Hup, Toop, Treep, Har! Get in step!

If farming falls through, his backup plan is to be a doctor.

Depending on what part of my anatomy the chickens mistake for dinner in the future, having medical personnel close by may prove very handy.

So far, only one member of our family is not excited about the showboatin’, insect eatin’ Orpington chicks.

Dog to self “I thought once the cat finally kicked the bucket the attention would be mine, all mine!”

Our dog will eat about anything. She specializes in eating things you intended for something else. Or things so disgusting nothing else would want them. I hopeful that she may begin competing with the chickens for insects around our house.

I wouldn’t mind seeing ticks (chicks love them), horseflies (so far chicks can’t catch them), and mosquitoes on the endangered species list in central Missouri.

Ogden Nash wrote “God, in His wisdom, made the fly – and then forgot to tell us why!”

I would like to update that with the 2021 Country Living Edition: “God, in His Wisdom, made the tick, as a tasty morsel for a healthy chick. He then created mosquitoes, gnats and flies, so we would get some exercise.”

Lifestyles of the Cheap and Frugal

Our Summer Vacation – Day 7

Lady Chateau yacht rental $875 per hr
Yacht Rental Option One – $875 per hour

If you would like to sample the “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” but have a budget more suited to “Lifestyles of the Cheap & Frugal”, I have discovered just the answer when visiting Fort Lauderdale.

The Intracoastal Waterway is a great way to legally take a peek into the living rooms of multi-million dollar homes in Fort Lauderdale.  Of course, most of the inhabitants are so wealthy they are out-of-town staying at one of their other multi-million dollar homes. To tour the Intracoastal Waterway, the first thing you need is a boat.  In our case, a boat that would  hold at least 9 people.

Option 1 was to rent a fully stocked yacht for $875 per hour.

That option was quickly discarded.

Option 2 was more in our price range:  Only $28 per person, $23 for age 65+,  $14 for kids, and free for kids that could pass for under 5.  For only $172, our party of 9 received All Day Unlimited Passes for an entertaining, unlimited on-and-off privileges, round-trip cruise of the Intracoastal Waterway on the fleet of Fort Lauderdale Water Taxis.

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Yacht Rental Option Two – $172 per Day!  BINGO!!

In addition to a relaxing, entertaining cruise complete with narrated history, educational facts, and gossip, we could also get off and tour different locales on foot.

This tour will make you appreciate the cost of living in Missouri.

The property taxes on one home we passed were $50,000 per month.  If you own a yacht and want to anchor it at an Intracoastal Waterway marina, the cost, depending on season, is $5 to $15 per foot, per night.  That means the 300-foot, $250,000,000 yacht Steve Wynn bought for his wife for her birthday could cost close to $4,000 just to dock for one night.

Homes and lots on the Intracoastal Waterway come at a premium.  Per our guide, one guy bought a home for $25 mil.  He then bought the house next door, apparently a fixer-upper, for $7 mil,  He then had it demolished so his dogs would have a place to play.

Our grandkids were fascinated looking at the large iguanas sunning themselves on the sea walls along the waterway.  As we exited our taxi to visit the Galleria Mall, the guide on the taxi told us confidentially that the Iguanas love to eat the flower buds on the surrounding bushes.

As we were waiting to reboard the taxi after boosting the net sales of the Galleria Mall, my son tossed a flower bud in the direction of a large iguana eyeing us from a seawall.  Like a flash, the formerly lounging iguana devoured the bud.  At first, one lady thought we had thrown a plastic straw to the iguana. Before a fight broke out, we educated her on the culinary preferences of the large lizards, whereupon she also began throwing flower buds to the lounging lizards.

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As the Flower Bud supply depleted, it appeared this iguana might be considering sampling either my grandson’s flip flop or his toes.

After working up an appetite feeding flower buds to iguanas, we walked 2 blocks to the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

A great place to eat inspired by one of my favorite movies of all time.

Then it was back to Boca Raton for a twilight walk by the sea.

As my ten-year old grandson likes to say, “Well, this has certainly been quite a day!”

And that's all I got to say about that

One Tyke Over the Line, Sweet Jesus

Day 6 of our Summer Vacation

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The Little Man Who Wasn’t There (wink, wink) joining me on the porch for an outdoor breakfast

When I booked our accommodations for our family vacation, I limited my search to places with at least 3 bedrooms.  Making the trip would be two sets of grandparents, one set of parents, and three grandkids ages 3, 7 & 10, who on vacations past have bunked on the sofa bed in front of the TV.

One review especially caught my eye.  The title was:

Family Friendly like staying at Grandma’s beach house

That sounded like the perfect place to spend a week with grandkids.  I booked a 3 bedroom unit for a week.

When I checked in to our condo, I was given a sheet of guidelines for our stay.  The final guideline was “A maximum of 8 guests per condo REGARDLESS OF AGE”.  It has been my experience that MOST places overlook a small child when tallying the maximum guests allotment, but apparently NOT at “Grandma’s beach house”.

We were one tyke over the line.

When I listed the names of all the guests, there were only 8 spaces.

I omitted our three-year-old grandson’s name.  He would be the easiest to hide.  In one review of the property I found a picture of a cute kid hiding in the cabinet.  I now understood why the kid was in there.

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This is not our kid.  Apparently another family was one tyke over the line and found a creative solution.

Our youngest grandson’s “absence” on our vacation brought to mind a poem by American educator & poet William Hughes Mearns.  In 1899, Mr. Mearns wrote a poem that was eventually set to music titled The Little Man That Wasn’t There.

It goes like this (with a few minor revisions by me):

As I was going up the stair
I met a (little) man who wasn’t there!
He wasn’t there again today,
Oh how I wish he’d go away!” (NOT!)

When I came home last night at three,
The (little) man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall,
I couldn’t see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
Go away, go away, at least when housekeeping is at the door.

Last night I saw upon the stair,
A little man who wasn’t there,
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away…

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The Little Man Who Wasn’t There – Fortunately there was no limit on kids at the beach!

I usually mention the names of the places we stay on vacation.

Not this time.  Although we had a great time, I’m not sure when the statute of limitations runs out on “exceeding the guest limit” in Florida.

Sure would hate for the “little man who wasn’t there” to start Pre-K with a record in juvy.

Sex on the Beach

Day 6 of our Summer Vacation

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The Beach Across the Street from our Condo

Our trip to the Fort Lauderdale airport to pick up our son and his family and shuttle them back to our rental condo in Boca Raton was uneventful.  Thankfully.  We picked them up at the curb in front of the baggage claim area where, in January of 2017,  Esteban Santiago opened fire on travelers awaiting their luggage.  Santiago was recently sentenced to 5 life sentences, plus 120 years.

Welcome to Fort Lauderdale!

Safely back in Boca Raton, we headed to our condo.  Last Valentine’s Day, Nikolas Cruz opened fire inside Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida – a dozen miles from where we were staying.

As they walked from the parking lot to check out their new digs, our grandkids were apprehensive.  Not about the history of shootings in the area.  They are used to hearing gunfire back in Missouri.  The difference is that when they hear gunfire near our home in rural Cole County, Mo., it’s just the neighbors taking target practice and not a reason to get scared.

What had them alarmed in Florida was the omnipresence of curly tailed lizards scurrying ahead of us to take refuge in the abundant beautiful green foliage along our path.

curly tail lizardThough curly tail lizards may look threatening at first glance, the kids soon realized these lizards were way more scared of them than they were of the lizards.

Not so, the large iguana’s they would be introduced to later in the week.

After carry-out pizza for dinner, the kids were eager to explore.  A walk on the beach was in order.

turtle nest marked

The route I envisioned would involve a pleasant one mile walk along the Atlantic from the beach in Boca Raton to the Deerfield Beach Fishing Pier  near where we had spent the previous night. From there it was just a block to the frozen custard place for dessert.  Then we’d walk back on a well-lit sidewalk rather than the beach where flashlights are discouraged because it might disturb the turtles.

Sea turtle next warning

As we left the wooden walkway that led from the street to the sand in front of our rental, something unusual caught my eye.  Scattered along the beach were what appeared to be miniature crime scenes – small areas blocked from beach traffic by orange tape.  We soon learned that each of these “crime scenes” was actually a protected turtle nest containing eggs fertilized following courtship.

That courtship might include multiple male turtles fighting over a female.

In some cases, I learned, all the turtles ended up with a prize.

Unlike humans, female turtles may mate with multiple males.  Ok, that part is like humans. But wait – there’s more.  According to the SEA TURTLE CONSERVANCY, “Females may mate with several males just prior to nesting season and store the sperm for several months. When she finally lays her eggs, they will have been fertilized by a variety of males.

A question came to my mind:  Is this the kind of behavior to which I want my grandkids  exposed?

They could not have cared less.

As the sun disappeared  over the condos, my grandkids were far more interested in  looking for seashells along the beach en route to the custard stand rather than learning the gritty details about how we get baby sea turtles.

Ninja Turtles may get all the publicity, but, as it turns out, these sea turtles see their fair share of action, too.

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A Party of Two Becomes a Party of Nine

Our Summer Vacation – Day 5

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Deerfield Beach at dawn

I woke up before dawn on Day 5 of our vacation.  It would be a busy day and I needed a good breakfast.  While my wife dozed, I hiked two blocks to a 7-11 and procured a large, dark roast coffee and a bear claw.  From there it was a short walk to the beach to await the sunrise. On the way I passed other insomniac geezers, many accompanied by small dogs.

1300 miles away our son’s family was on a shuttle to the St. Louis airport.  We had transported most of their luggage with us so each of the five of them were only encumbered with a small carry-on.   Our grandkids were already excited about coming to the beach so I imagined the added adventure of boarding an airplane had the needle on the excitement gauge bumping the red line.

St Louis airport

It was our grandkids first time to fly.  It was also their first time to hear the phrase “flight delay”.  Before they boarded their plane in St. Louis an announcement was made that their connecting flight in Atlanta would be delayed 2 hours due to bad weather.

As soon as they were airborne a kid in the row in front of them barfed prodigiously all over himself and his mom.  An unlucky guy who had procured a window seat in the same row managed to avoid the projectile vomit stream but was treated to a full measure of the smell as it began to waft throughout the plane.

“I LOVE THE SMELL OF VOMIT IN THE MORNING!” said no one, EVER!

Meanwhile, back on Deerfield Beach, I was enjoying a glorious sunrise, along with a optimum dosage of  salt air, sugar, and caffeine

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Sunrise over the Deerfield Beach International Fishing Pier

It would be a busy day.  As soon as the sun was up, I grabbed a cup of coffee for my wife and headed back to our room.

We would need to pack up from our one-night Airbnb rental, meet up with our grandkids OTHER set of grandparents who were someplace between Orlando and Fort Lauderdale headed south, form a two-car parade to pick up our son’s family at the airport, then, proceed en masse to check into the three bedroom condo I had reserved for the next seven nights in Boca Raton, Fl.

After sleeping in a different bed each night for the past 5 nights, we would now sleep in the same bed for seven consecutive nights.

Throughout the day we received updated ETA’s on our grandkids flight.  2:20 pm eventually ended up being 4:40 pm thanks to Mother Nature’s shennanigans.  Though we were eager to see them, when it comes to air travel and flight delays, rather than getting frustrated, I always recall the wisdom once imparted to me by a hot air balloon pilot:  It’s a lot better to be down here wishing you were up there than up there wishing you were down here.

Next stop: Fort Lauderdale airport