Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Heroic Story in South Florida

It was a Monday morning in April and I woke up to a rooster crowing. I hobbled to the bathroom to get ready for the day. While brushing my teeth I peered out the second story window through the large oak tree shading the driveway. My mom and aunt sat together at a small table drinking coffee, checking their phones, and reading. The rooster was still crowing intermittently and looked comically small compared to the 10 or so hens that seemed to really rule the front yard. They were too busy scratching around the dirt beneath the tree looking for food to notice the little rooster strutting about.

The morning previous was nice and leisurely. I poured my coffee and joined my mom and aunt beneath the tree and walked around my aunt’s 5-acre property to see how it had changed over the years. The lake was still there; with remnants of childhood games barely overgrown with grass. I remembered bonfires and golf cart rides with my cousins. They grew up playing in the 5-acre wilderness. I grew up in the suburbs. Things they got to do everyday, like fishing, hunting, riding dirt bikes through actual dirt, making bonfires, and encountering wild animals (besides squirrels) all seemed so exotic to me. My preferred game always was playing with Barbies in the air-conditioning.

Nowadays, my eldest cousin is establishing a trapping business and honeybee farm on the property. His chickens, which provide eggs for house and for the dogs, are free range in every sense of the word, roosting at night in the oak tree over the driveway. They use the table to jump up to the branches and have no problem doing so while you sit there as well. They would rush at you also if you stood in the driveway. I couldn't decide if the chickens were territorial and saw me as a threat or if they simply had no fear of humans. I started a habit of running from the car to the house, to be on the safe side.

This morning was not leisurely. After a chaotic weekend of visiting with family and friends it was time to get to work. I was in town to assist my mother with one of her interior design jobs. It sounds glamorous but involves an exhaustive schedule. We had only a few minutes in the early morning to throw together our purses and lunches for the day along with anything we might need for a stay overnight in a hotel. I ran my things out to the car parked under the oak tree. While situating my things I realized I forgot something and ran back inside to retrieve it. This is when I made a terrible mistake. Even after many warnings from my aunt, I accidently left the car door open. Upon returning to the car with my mom, I realized my failure just as one of the chickens hopped up onto the floorboard and then onto the back seat. I started screaming, paralyzed with fear. I just stood there. What should I do? How do you get a chicken out of a car? What if it poops on the seat or on my handbag? What if it lunges at me? We were both dressed to visit with clients, not to deal with farm animals.

Just then my mom opened the other door, snatched the chicken by the tail feathers, and tossed it back onto the driveway all in one swift movement. “Get in the car and shut the door,” she said as if she didn't just touch the chicken. I couldn’t believe she just did that. No fear at all and in her nice clothes no less. I was still awestruck a few miles down the road when I finally said, “How did you do that? You saved my life!” She laughed and reminded me that she too grew up living the exotic life of my cousins. When she was a little girl it was her duty to feed the chickens before school every day. I gained a whole new respect for my mother that morning - my mother, the hero.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Exploring Wine: Boxwood Rose

Boxwood Estates, Rose, 2001, Virginia, $14.00
My rating for this bottle? I would drink a few glasses.

On average its been about 110 degrees F here in Kuwait City. In such hot temperatures either I just want to drink buckets of ice water or I have a hankering for a little rose (too bad I now live in a dry country). Although many of you reading this are getting ready for fall (oh how I'll miss thee), here's one last rose for the end of summer! This one from Boxwood Estates in VA is very light, dry, and has a little effervescence on the tongue.

In case you live in the DC, Maryland, Virginia area - don't miss the upcoming DC Wine Week! There will be great events lined up for September including winery tours (one is this weekend Sept 14) and educational activities (meaning you get to drink wine). Check out their website for more details. I'll be with you in spirit (pun intended?).

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Wardrobe: What to Wear While Visiting Roadside America

Admittedly most people on my visit to Solomon's Castle were donning their best red, purple, and white as they were mostly members of the Red Hat Society. For the rest of us, the challenge is balancing really cold AC indoors and warmer temperatures outdoors.

I wore a black sundress, but I thought it would be fun to create a look that took the standard Florida wardrobe staples - a t-shirt, shorts, and sandals - and elevate them a bit with interesting accessories. You could wear this to any of the quirky sights that make up the classic Americana roadside tourist stop.

long sleeved t-shirt, bag, shorts, sunglasses, sandals, earrings

Monday, September 9, 2013

Destination: Solomon's Castle, Ona, Florida

Solomon's Castle is one of those road-side America must do's. I first heard about it through my in-laws who insisted we go see it during one of Gman and my visits. They described it with great enthusiasm, "This man built an entire castle by hand, out of garbage. Well, out of recycled materials. He built the whole thing! You can take a tour and have lunch in the Boat in the Moat. The funny thing is the whole thing is a pun. Its a joke. Its great, we have to go!" And so finally after years of talking about it with my anticipation building, we finally went this summer.

You can only get to Solomon's Castle by car and it is recommended that you start with a full tank of gas as you exit Interstate 75. It is located pretty far into the wilderness of the middle of the state. Also bring cash with you for tour tickets and lunch. Surprisingly, its easy to spend a full day there so start your journey early in the morning. The closest large town is Sarasota, so it might be a fun day trip if you are enjoying a week at the beach. Other logistics to note, since the whole experience is run by a family who actually lives in the castle that you take a tour in, sometimes they need time off. It is closed all Mondays and the months of July, August, and September. This seems like a lot but if you have ever experienced summer in Florida, you're going to only want to be at the beach or in the AC somewhere anyways. The middle of the state gets pretty hot and every afternoon has incredible thunderstorms

Redneck Coat of Arms

"Wrong Brothers"

Editor's note: Before you make fun of me for going on a geriatric tour with the Red Hat Society, remember, they were out exploring while you were at home watching TV and surfing the internet. 

My favorite thing about Solomon's Castle is that everything there, including the building itself was crafted by hand by the owner and artist Howard Solomon. If I remember correctly (too busy enjoying myself to take notes!) he has been working on it for several decades. He created each sculpture, stained glass window, painting, or piece of architecture out of found objects. The outside of the castle, for example, is made from old printing press plates that were otherwise going to be thrown away. The tour you go on takes you through a museum of Mr. Solomon's artwork and through his home. Some of the items might seem like crudely constructed rifts on great works of art or just a wooden gun inside a box, but each piece is a visual pun. Its the epitome of everything I studied about conceptual art. I freakin' loved it! The tour guide was so dry that he barely smiled. I was laughing out loud the entire tour. For example, the image below is of Mr. Solomon's dining room window with a bunch of cameras on the ledge. Its a "picture window." GET IT?! I was dying. I could barely catch my breath as each joke rolled off the tongue of the guide. I just love that Mr. Solomon was inspired to create each concept and he had the drive and talent enough to actually follow through and make each thing. I feel like I always have these crazy ideas but then I don't take action. He didn't let other people discourage him from building his own castle in the middle of Florida. In fact his whole family, children, grand-children, all live on the property and support his fantastic dreams.

You're going to work up an appetite on the tour. Go directly to the Boat in the Moat, run by his daughter, and order some traditional Floridian cuisine. I enjoyed the classic BLT with a fruit salad and marshmallows and a sweet tea. For dessert we split a few slices of Key Lime Pie, a must! The food was simple but delicious, fresh (mostly sourced from local farms), and prepared with friendly hands.

After lunch I recommend a walk on the nature path, a stop by Mr. Solomon's workshop, and a visit to his latest piece, The Alice Shmo, a to scale replica of The Alamo. There is a gift shop too (where you purchase tour tickets) if you are in a silly mood and interested in taking a joke home with you.

If you aren't quite ready to leave, perhaps a stay at the castle is in your cards? There is a one room Bed & Breakfast located in the top of the tower. Want to bring your friends back with you? They have a beautiful room you can rent for parties of 20+ people. Getting the party out there is on you...

"Picture window"

Boat in the Moat Restaurant
"This mural is protected by fencing." 

Plant loving friends, are you impressed by this staghorn fern? I was!

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