I know you’re not going to feel sorry for me, but please let me try anyway. One morning a few weeks ago, when we woke up at 6 am, it was really cold here in Palm Beach County, Florida. It had gone down to 39 degrees!
From the weather forecast the day before, I knew that we were in for a cold spell so I took precautions for my “plant nursery” on the patio behind my house. I left the outside fan on to circulate the air just in case it went lower than 40 degrees.
My collection of orchids has survived for many years. With proper feeding and care not to over-water them, I have had many of them bloom year after year, sometimes even several times a year.
I am especially fond of orchids. What begins as a very plain-looking plant, sometimes with just a few dark green leaves, is transformed into a display of multiple identical flowers with the most meticulous details rivaling any painting.
During the shortest, chilly days of December, each plant produces one or two shoots. It brings me great joy when I see these early buds since I know that at the end of the winter, I will have a patio full of some amazing blooms. I never remember which plant will produce which color. It reminds me of when I was a child and I saw the first signs of spring poking through the snow-covered ground. I was always happy that I had planted these crocuses, daffodils, hyacinths and tulips months before during the fall.
As my orchid stalks slowly grew through the cooler days of January, I was once again reassured that warmer days were coming. By mid-February, some of the early bloomers opened with amazing examples of nature’s beauty.
By mid-March, all of my precious orchids will be in full bloom. The darker shorter days of our Florida winter will just be a memory. Once again I’ll be able to enjoy the warm weather which is the main reason that I moved down here over 40 years ago.
The gorgeous pink, purple, yellow, orange and white flowers are worth waiting for. We are grateful for the long slow growth process which ultimately rewards us with some of Mother Nature’s most beautiful creations.
Later this month, I will be happy to share with you some photos of my beloved orchids!
When our yoga instructor, Shaina, asked us last week if anyone noticed that the date was 2/2/22, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! My wife thinks that my fascination with numbers is the ultimate in nerdiness, second only to my obsessive observation of spelling mistakes.
Although Shaina told us that she thought it was “cool” for the same number to be lined up in a date, the rest of the group was unfazed except for me. I told her later that I’ve been watching another upcoming date with intense interest. On February 22, 2022, it will be the last time for over eleven years that the dates will consist of the same number. (That would be 3/3/33.)
As I told you in a previous post (“Numbers”), these numerical combinations are often what I think about when I am trying to fall asleep. Last night I decided that I would make sure to capture a photo of my computer clock when it is 2:22:22, as in 2:22 and 22 seconds on February 22, 2022!
You can see by now that it doesn’t take much to get me excited!
More than 60 years later, I often think about Mrs. Naomi Weller, my eight-grade English teacher. (That’s when we still called it “English” class.)
Mrs. Weller was a stickler for grammar. Of the many things that I can remember about her class, she taught us how to diagram sentences, a skill which I use to this day. When I have to decide whether to use “who” or “whom” or if I have to decide if it’s okay to dangle a participle, I think about those classes. Those grammar lessons have even helped me teach my wife Spanish or in my own foreign language conversations that I have on a regular basis with friends in Argentina and France.
Most of my classmates fell asleep during her lessons or were totally bored. I happen to have had a mother who until the day she died would wink at me when she heard people committing heinous grammar errors such as “between you and I” or “me and my wife.” So I have always considered myself a “grammar snob.”
This past week I was reminded about Mrs. Weller once again. Early in the last few mornings, our backyard lake was enshrouded in fog.
I have always been fascinated by the particular weather conditions which create fog. According to my internet search, it happens when the “lake water is heated by the sun and stays warmer than the air temperature during the cool night. When the cold layer of still air settles over the lake, the warm water vapor from the pond evaporates and enters the cool air above it. The cool air then traps the concentrated water vapor,” thereby forming the fog.
Now you ask, why did this make me think of Mrs. Weller? In addition to her grammar lessons, she also taught us to appreciate poetry. She posted a daily poem on the blackboard and we would analyze it for its use of different parts of speech or how new words were strung together in a novel way to convey a special thought.
Carl Sandburg’s “Fog” was one of those poems.
For some reason, I remember exactly where her class was on the second floor of the Henry B. Whitehorne Junior High School in Verona, New Jersey.
I found out recently that Mrs. Weller is no longer alive. She would probably have been happy to know what an impact she has had on me for over 60 years!
Living on a large lake in Palm Beach County, Florida, we get to experience a variety of natural and man-made sounds every morning.
Since New Year’s Day fell this year on a Saturday, we had an unusual treat early in the morning. Depending on the direction of the wind, we normally hear either the hum of the cars and trucks Florida Turnpike from a mile away to the west or the street noise to the east where cars love to drag race or show off their noisy mufflers.
Weekends are usually quieter because there are no school buses and less traffic in general. On New Year’s morning, when we went out to have our early breakfast on our second-floor balcony, we were amazed to see how still everything was. There was not even a slight breeze, so the lake beneath us was like a mirror. At around 6:30 am, the colors of the sky were just beginning to appear to the east.
Due to the lack of cars and trucks early that morning on the Turnpike, the sounds of our resident bird population were heard without any competition. The limpkins were much louder than usual. Their “crying bird” call coming from across the lake sounded like they were right in our backyard.
Next to appear were the small flocks of Muscovy ducks whose familiar quacking announced their daily morning flight back to our lake.
Once they arrive, they move around the lake by flying very close to the surface, so close in fact that you often hear and see the wings flapping against the water as they take flight. Since the lake had no movement, this sound was even more distinct than ever.
From a distance, the noisy chatter of the Egyptian geese came next. They are a relatively new arrival on our lake. They live in large groups and their early morning honking will wake up even the deepest sleeper.
By 7:30 am, the sky was ablaze with orange and pink tones. At that time, we normally see the egrets,
an occasional roseate spoonbill,
and flocks of skittish ibises. With the exception of a short call by a heron, these lake residents are relatively quiet.
But, at exactly 8 am, the man-made sounds began to infringe on our tropical splendor. First, the drone of the leaf blower from the parking lot of the recreation center down the block. Then, the roar of the lawn mowers from different points on the lake.
At that point we could see that our sanctuary had disappeared. We had to escape to our indoor quiet so that we could remember how peaceful the past hour had been.
Last summer, I wrote about one of our favorite activities during our Pandemic “staycation.” From June to September we went very frequently to our closest public beach, about 20 minutes from our home. If we arrived early in the morning before 9 am, we were guaranteed a parking space. At that hour, the air temperature was still in the mid-70s but gradually the ocean temperature rose up to 86 degrees.
It was sunny and we had the beach almost all to ourselves. We could do our morning walk along the coast with multi-million-dollar mansions set back in the grassy dunes.
There were some weeks that we went there every day of the week.
As the seasons changed, we stopped going to the beach because we resumed our normal walking routine with our neighbors within the community. It also took too long to get to the beach because of the early morning school bus activity.
When this morning I suggested to my wife that we go to the beach, we decided to make it a late-afternoon excursion. Today was a sunny day and the temperature rose into the low 80s, but early in the morning it was “only” 65 degrees, a temperature too cold for my sensitive feet. And the ocean temperature this time of year is only about 75 degrees, way too cold for my now “thin-blooded” body. I wasn’t even thinking about going swimming!
When we arrived at the beach, the parking lot was filled to capacity and we had to wait a few minutes for a space. A quick survey of the cars revealed many out of state visitors, normal for this time of year and especially during the Christmas break.
As we reached the ocean, it was so crowded that we had to find a place to put our beach chairs, something we never have to do during the summer. We could tell that there were many grandparents with their visiting children and grandchildren.
After 4 pm, we didn’t realize that the sun had already gone behind the trees and the beach was enveloped in an early sunset shade. We actually felt a little cold even though the temperature was still in the high 70s! It was fun watching the seasonal visitors playing in the surf. They were obviously not feeling the chill that we were. As soon as we finished our dinner, we decided to pack up and left the beach. We both felt comfortable getting into our nice warm car.
It reminded me of past winters here in Florida. When the temperatures occasionally go down into the 50s and even sometimes into the 40s, we bring out our winter coats, sweaters, gloves, hats and scarves! We would see some of our “snowbird” neighbors from Canada walking in their t-shirts and shorts. Just as we wondered about how they were dressed, they were probably looking at us as weirdos.
Growing up in New Jersey, I was always uncomfortable in the cold. Growing up in a poorly insulated house, I can remember complaining to my parents that I just couldn’t warm up. On cold days, I would seek refuge in the cold basement where I would lean against the oil furnace which helped me manage to get through the cold, dreary months.
At the age of 30, I jumped at the opportunity to relocate in Florida. I can still remember the day it happened. With two infants already in their car seats in the middle of a snowstorm, the oldest had a particularly leaky diaper blowout. After going back inside to change the diaper, we had one of those “What are we doing here?” moments. The next day, when I found an advertisement for a position in a newly created clinic in West Palm Beach, I knew we had to make the right decision.
The process of getting used to the tropical climate didn’t take me long at all. The summer we moved down to Florida was an exceptionally rainy one. That’s where we learned how the torrential downpours can be seen in the distance.
It can be sunny where you are, but down the road as you see the bright headlights coming towards you, you know you are heading into a storm. Sometimes the rainfall can be so heavy that your windshield wipers can’t even keep up with the volume and many people pull off to the side of the road to wait it out. It’s the Florida version of blizzard conditions.
As the “winter” approached, we began to experience the cooler mornings when the temperature actually went down into the 50s. When I realized I was complaining about the cold, I knew I had adjusted to Florida. My blood was properly “thinned,” as they say here to indicate that you had finally made the transition and you have the right to complain about feeling cold when the high temperature for the day doesn’t even reach 70 degrees.
Now that I have been living here for more than 40 years, I am considered almost a native. On the days when the morning temperatures are down into the 50s and rarely even into the 40s, we bring out our winter sweaters, coats, gloves and scarves. We laugh when look at ourselves, dressed in multiple layers of winter warmth and our Canadian neighbors pass us by jogging in their shorts. We’re freezing and they’re loving the heat wave.
There are some days that my hands and feet just don’t warm up. I wear foot warmers to sleep comfortably and socks most of the time to deal with the cold tile floors. Occasionally my hands remain cold, despite washing them repeatedly in warm water. I remember when I was working as a pediatrician, I had to apologize before examining a patient’s warm abdomen or they would jump off the exam table. I added silly phrases like “cold hands, warm heart” to my apology.
My outdoor plants at this time of year, however, are loving the cooler weather. They are going through a big growth spurt during this season, producing new leaves and flowers.
My collection of orchids that I have accumulated over the years, however, look pathetic. Their last blooms fell off at least four or five months ago, leaving the plants with non-descript nakedness. With scheduled feedings and a careful avoidance of fatal over-watering, I have managed to keep them alive year after year.
While several of my Christmas cactus plants are in full bloom,
the adjacent orchids have been biding their time until the simple looking plants start to produce new shoots. Almost every day for the past week, I have been watching for new buds on one plant after another. I get so excited when these new shoots appear.
I feel a sense of renewed optimism when I see the first sign of growth. I know that they will turn into a stalk of 15-20 delicate flowers with such amazing detail and beauty within a few months.
We often read that it nourishes your soul to express gratitude early in the morning for the simplest things in life.
When I give thanks daily for the warm December mornings and for the early signs of growth on my beloved orchids, you know that I’m thrilled to be living here in Florida.
The second in my series of “Guest Photographers” is Steve Roth, a fellow member of the Boynton Beach Camera Club. I have had the privilege of being a member in BBCC since 2015 when I retired from practicing pediatrics. Since I have learned so much from the club about improving my photographic skills, I decided to feature the amazing accomplishments of other members.
In his previous professional life, Steve was an architect in the Miami area. He grew up in New York but came down to Miami in the mid-1960s. He moved to Palm Beach County in 2007 and in addition to photography, remains active playing golf.
When Steve sent me 15 of his favorite images to choose my favorites, I found it to be a difficult task. His style displays precision editing with attention to the finest detail in his use of natural light.
“Beautiful Dahlia” shows off the details of the petals of a slightly off-white flower. It is often difficult to maintain perfect focus in a close-up of a flower, but Steve pulls it off very well.
“Mother and Child” was taken in Bali. The macaques freely roaming throughout the island are excellent subjects. I love this portrait of the mother with her baby clinging to her because both are staring straight at the photographer.
Steve’s capture of the vendor in the “Thai Floating Market” shows his ability to physically position himself to achieve the utmost photographic impact.
His image of the “Vietnamese Flower Girl” catches the warmth of a typical street scene with the brightly colored flowers offsetting the pure whiteness of her dress.
In “Mother and New Arrival,” Steve has caught the newly hatched heron chick under the careful eye of his mother.
My favorite picture from Steve’s portfolio is his portrait of a Cambodian girl in her schoolroom. This image, taken with available light through an open window, tells a beautiful story of a student’s attention to her teacher.
Steve wins many of the monthly competitions in our camera club. He consistently deserves the highest scores and is constantly showing us his full range of photographic subjects.
I want to thank Steve Roth for allowing me to interview him for my blog. My next guest photographer will be Herb Zaifert.
One of my favorite pastimes during the Pandemic has been the weekly conversations with two new friends. Through Conversation Exchange (conversationexchange.com), I have been able to practice French with Michel and Spanish with Sebastian.
Michel is a French man living in the south of France. Before he retired recently, he was a flutist in the Regional Orchestra of Montpelier, a city about 60 miles away. He is also a flight instructor. He loves learning to speak English and he and I have a good time correcting each other’s mistakes.
Sebastian is a younger man who lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He works in the financial division of a software security company. Sebastian has several other “language friends” in the U.S. because he is trying to learn to speak American-style English.
With my language partners, we are not afraid to point out the errors that each one of us makes. This often leads to some very funny discussions. With both Michel and Sebastian, the conversation is free flowing; there’s no script or pre-defined lesson.
Our three languages are full of expressions which often don’t translate well from one to another. We enjoy explaining the origins of these expressions and their correct usage. We also try to teach each other how to converse more like native speakers instead of sounding as if we are reciting vocabulary lists. For example, last week I was telling them how in normal conversation, we use words like “wanna,” “gonna” and “gotta.”
In addition to practicing a foreign language, it is interesting to notice how one’s mother tongue is so rich in vocabulary and idioms. Now when I talk in English, I am much more aware of the complexity of our language.
I have discussed with Sebastian that English must be a very difficult language to learn. Since Spanish is an almost completely phonetic language, I have often said that most English-speakers think Spanish would be an easy second language. He is quick to point out that Spanish grammar is full of complex rules with many different tenses and moods (such as the indicative and subjunctive). He complains that it takes a lot of memorization to remember how to pronounce similarly spelled words like “cough,” “rough,” “dough” and “bough.” I then remind him how hard it is to learn the genders of new words.
Last week, we had an interesting experience. The three of us arranged to have a Zoom call. We did it mostly in English, but since Michel understands Spanish, we conversed in Spanish for a few minutes too. It was a lot of fun connecting three continents while sharing our mutual passion for learning foreign languages.
Growing up in the 50s in New Jersey, I always stood out as the pale-skinned redhead. Even though I used to get compliments all the time from my mother’s friends, I hated it.
“Hey, Red!” is how people would always call me. They wouldn’t have to remember my name since the most easily identifying feature was the color of my hair.
Being so pale, I was very prone to getting sunburned. From the time I was a very little boy, I can remember the painful blisters on my back and shoulders when I didn’t follow my parents’ advice to limit my sun exposure.
Yes, I was that kid in the swimming pool wearing the white T-shirt. I hated that too, but it conditioned me to being much more of an indoor kid than an outdoor person. You can’t get sunburned very easily when you’re inside practicing for your weekly piano lesson.
Now that I’m a retired senior citizen, the red curls have faded and I don’t get called “Red” anymore.
Unfortunately, as a young adult, I was excessively cautious of the sun. I would hardly ever wear shorts and I pretty much stayed inside. As I got older, however, I realized that I enjoyed outdoor activities like kayaking and tennis. But I can still hear my mother reminding me not to forget my hat.
In Florida, where it often gets up to the mid-90s by the middle of the morning, our outdoor routine has been confined to the early mornings and early evenings. Late in the day, as the sun starts to set, the temperature drops a few degrees and we are thankful that it goes down to the mid-80s.
For the past 20 years, my wife, Meryl, has been trying to get me to go swimming in our neighborhood pool. I had every excuse under the sun (pardon the pun) for why I didn’t want to expose myself.
But finally this summer, I agreed to go early in the morning to the pool which is an easy five-minute walk along the lake. Occasionally there is another person there but most of the time we have this gorgeous pool to ourselves.
Last week, since the pool was closed for repairs, we decided to go to our favorite beach. It is only 20 minutes away and at this time of year if you arrive early enough, you’re guaranteed a parking space. Just after sunrise, there are some serious walkers and joggers, and even an occasional person doing Tai Chi.
The water temperature is in now the mid-80s. With the air temperature up in the same range, it is delightful! Sometimes there can be an overgrowth of seaweed, and other times, a mild riptide reminds you to be extra careful.
But yesterday, the conditions were absolutely perfect! The sunrise was beautiful, the cloud formations were amazing and the humidity was a bit lower than usual.
As is often the case in Florida during the summer, it suddenly started to rain. We were in the water at a depth of about three feet when the raindrops appeared to be dancing on the surface. Just beyond the trees on the shore, a double rainbow appeared, arcing over the whole western sky.
The experience of luxuriating in the warm water combined with the sound and sight of the rain was very powerful. We couldn’t remember when we had ever enjoyed ourselves as much at the beach.
My wife, who used to say that the Florida summer heat was “oppressive,” has changed her tune completely. She now gets me out of the house early enough so that we can take advantage of what Florida offers us at no cost.
And when I think that it took me this long to enjoy swimming in the pool or the ocean, I laugh at myself. I guess it’s never too late to appreciate what we have so close to home!
Have you ever desired, indeed craved, something from the bottom of your heart? Have you talked about it night and day and asked, nay beseeched, only to have your requests fall on deaf ears? Have you single-handedly done everything in your power to possess it? After having done this, have you come tantalizingly close to your object of desire, only to see it slip away or snatched away from your tenuous grasp? And suddenly, if one day, out of the blue, your object of desire just fell into your lap, how would you feel?
It was on a sunny evening in March of 2020 when we took Nikhil to the mall as well as to Costco. These are his two favorite places to visit, indeed Disneyland and Disney World for him. Little did we realize that the Covid Tsunami was bearing down on all of us. Once the restrictions were enforced, we stopped going to the mall but our pilgrimage to Costco continued. The only difference was that I went in with a mask and gloves while the rest of the family waited in the van.
The first few times we pulled into the parking lot in Costco, Nikhil clapped his hands in anticipation of a visit but to his disappointment, he would find himself strapped in his car seat for the twenty to thirty-odd minutes it took me to shop in Costco. It wasn’t just Costco, it was the same with the Indian store, Trader Joe’s, and the grocery store.
At first, Nikhil used his iPad to tell us that he wanted to go to the mall and to Costco. This was, of course, after he had told us that he wanted to go to school. We kept telling him that the mall was closed and that he could not go into Costco. Nikhil is not one to take no for an answer and he kept asking us optimistically only to be turned down. But he persisted.
Last month, Nikhil resumed in-person school. He was ecstatic! This gave him hope and his pleas to visit the mall became even more urgent. Indeed, for the last month, his conversation with me has only dwelt on two topics – mall and Costco. It’s not really a conversation, it is a barrage of hand signs and furious jabs on the iPad with just a pause to see if I would reply in the affirmative. Nikhil got his second dose of Pfizer vaccine three weeks ago and today we finally decided to surprise him with a visit to Costco as well as the mall.
We chose a Monday evening figuring Costco and the mall would be less crowded. As we pulled into Costco, Nikhil must have resigned himself to another thirty-minute wait. His surprise knew no bounds as my wife unstrapped his seat belt. His reaction was spontaneous – a whoop of joy and ecstatic clapping followed. The whoops of joy continued all the way to the entrance. Fortunately, the Caroline’s Cart (adapted cart for special needs children) was available at the entrance. After I had wiped it down, Nikhil sat and looked around with joy and amazement. But there was no time to rest and take in the moment. There were appliances to be seen!
We entered the aisle that I call the “Appliance Hall of Fame”. Nikhil pointed excitedly. There were his familiar buddies, the refrigerators, dishwashers, cooking ranges, and last but not the least, the greatest of them all – the microwave! I had carried a paper towel with me and I had to open each door with the towel in my hand so Nikhil could make sure they were doing alright! I got caught up in the moment too and I rushed Nikhil down the aisle until my wife asked me to slow down. “He has waited 15 months for this moment!” she said. Nikhil wanted to visit every aisle. Even the humble sack of potatoes was worth a “dekho” (a glance).
There were no samples but Nikhil did not seem to mind. His eyes lit up as he saw his familiar food items in the coolers. Ravioli and Taquitos. Creme Brulee and cakes. It was Christmas on a sultry New England summer evening! After a leisurely stroll through Costco, we stood in line to check out the items. Nikhil was still excited and I told the cashier that he was visiting his favorite store after fifteen months. “We could hear him from the other end of the store” she smiled “I’m glad he enjoyed his visit”.
As we pulled out of Costco, our daughter asked Nikhil if he would like to visit the mall. There was no tentative answer today. “Mall yes, yes Mall!” replied Nikhil using his iPad. He must have felt like he won the lottery when we pulled up to the food court and we entered the mall. More whoops of joy! We followed our old ritual. I took him to the restroom where he washed his hands. It was followed by a dinner of Chinese food. As he ate, Nikhil started plotting his next adventure. “mall stairs, elevator,” he said. I must admit it felt surreal sitting in a food court and eating with other people around us.
A quick visit to Target followed where Nikhil was able to ride the elevator up and after a brief reconnaissance, he and I rode the elevator down while the ladies continued with their shopping. I returned to the van with him and barely had I seated him and strapped his seat belt when I felt him tug at my sleeve and point to his shoulder. His way of saying he wanted to visit the mall. “Not again, Nikhil,” I groaned “we were just there!” But he was insistent and I guessed that he wanted a recap of our day. “So, Nikhil, did you enjoy your day at Costco today?” He grinned and looked on in anticipation. And so I recounted his glorious adventure again for him, starting from Costco to the food court and the ritual washing of hands. A grin lit his face all through and he clapped at the good parts.
He sang to himself as we drove back home. Was it a perfect evening for Nikhil? Not quite, his favorite pasta place at the mall had closed down even before Covid. The automatic paper dispenser in the restroom had run out of paper. There were no food samples at Costco. But it was not bad at all and in fact, it felt good. It was the first time all four of us were visiting Costco and the mall. Mundane chores during the best of times but it felt like a special treat to us. Indeed, it felt like a family outing to Disney World! Nikhil does not ask for much and sadly, in the last fifteen months, it was not possible to fulfill his basic wishes. But in the words of Aamir Khan from the Hindi movie “Three Idiots”, “Aal izz well”, at least for the moment.
And as I write this, I can’t stop singing to myself “In his bedroom, his cozy bedroom, Nikhil sleeps peacefully tonight!” Uyimbube! Uyimbube!
Raj Nayak is the author of “Memoirs of an Average Joe (memoirsofanaveragejoe.com). He lives with his family in Massachusetts.