Tidy Potpourri


This week we’ve had several early morning low tides with a wide expanse of mud.  Perfect for the birds.  One day there was a flotilla of pelicans (white ones in a ring), the usual gulls, several groups of ibis with their heads and beaks mostly in the down position, and far out in the water a dense cluster of ducks.  Other days, I’ve watched a lone great white egret or two just standing still or a great blue heron stalking the water’s edge.  This morning it was a bright pink sherbet spoonbill by itself bobbing and darting its head into the water foraging for food.



Reactions to Asolo Theater’s Morning After Grace were mixed.  Some didn’t like it much and others didn’t need to see the lead character’s “naked ass.”  Actually, said actor was nicely toned.  All that aside, I liked this play and thought it was funny and very well done.  And it had a touching theme about all of us needing to be appreciated and loved, no matter our age.

It’s a three-character play with Angus, a new widower; Abigail, a grief counselor who has also been divorced for three years; and Ollie, a retired pro baseball player who also happens to be gay.  Their ages are 70, 62, and 68, respectively, which is key to the actions of the play. It’s a bit slow at the start with a few too many racy jokes, but these are probably needed to set up the extended dialogue that follows.  Overall, I recommend it!



The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

I loved this 500+ page novel!  And my librarian and archivist friends would find it fascinating too.  It’s about being a female academic in the 21st century, about doing scholarly research using primary documents, and about the Portuguese Jews who left that country for Amsterdam in the late 17th century, some of whom then emigrated to London.  One 17th century London resident is Ester, a young woman who, contrary to all the allowed roles for women, is tasked with being a scribe for a blind rabbi.  She is very smart and begins to question the rabbi’s views of the faith.

I admired the level of detail and the elegant and nuanced portrayal of the three main characters:  unmarried professor Helen Watt, soon to be retired; Aaron Levy, the somewhat conceited, but also confused doctoral student; and the accomplished and tortured Ester, who though ruled by her intellect, still contemplates passion and love.  There is a mystery to solve about Ester and it is this which drives Helen and Aaron’s laborious journey through a newly discovered trove of letters and manuscripts.


In reading about Ms. Kadish, I discovered that she had an unusual speech impediment growing up that made it almost impossible for her to say certain letter combinations.  She learned to be very deliberate in her speech and to think ahead about different words to use other than the ones that would trip her up.  But, when she took pen to paper, she was liberated and could freely use any word she chose.  Perhaps that’s partly why this novel is very long.  I found it compelling, engrossing, and informative as I knew nothing about this aspect of Jewish history. (~JW Farrington)


Note:  Spoonbill header photo from carolinabirdclub.org

Tidy Tidbits: Art & Books


With the incentive of an evening event in St. Petersburg, the Chief Penguin and I decided to drive up early and do a bit of exploration.  We had whizzed by the city exits in the past, and once, years ago, we stayed at the famous pink palace hotel on St. Pete Beach, but had never ventured into town.  We only explored a small part of the waterfront overlooking Tampa Bay, but we were charmed!  It was a perfect day weather-wise, sunny and pleasant.  The water beyond inviting Vinoy Park sparkled, and the nearby streets were lined with small shops and restaurants, while tourists in shorts and tees sauntered along or dined at sidewalk tables.

We cased Locale Market, an upscale food emporium with restaurants, founded by celebrity chef Michael Mina (San Francisco) and another chef, for future visits and an herb foccacia to take home.  For part of the afternoon, we checked out the Museum of Fine Arts and were impressed by the eclecticism of the permanent collection.  In some ways, it was more interesting than the Ringling Museum of Art.

We dined at the Parkshore Grill in one of their event rooms and thought the appetizer grilled shrimp were excellent and the grouper entree with asparagus and mashed potatoes tasty.  The chocolate bar dessert (not a candy bar) was sumptuously rich.  St. Petersburg also boasts the Dali Museum, a Chilhuly Center and several other museums.  We need to make a return visit to see more!

Contemplation by Jacques-Emile Blanche, 1883
Still Life with Flowers by Jan Brueghel the Younger
Portrait of a Lady by Michiel Van Mierevelt, 1615




Brain on Fire:  My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

I’ve read a number of memoirs recently by individuals who knew they were going to die soon from their cancers.  This memoir has a much happier ending and is quite the adventure story.  What makes it so readable is that Cahalan is a reporter and brutally honest about what she endured from the onset of her disease through her slow recovery.  However, she doesn’t have any substantive memory of her 28 days in the hospital and so had to do lots of research as well as interview her family and friends, her doctors, and others to reconstruct how she acted during that time.

What is amazing is how close she got to dying and how fortunate she was that finally the “right” doctor was able to identify her rare disease and get her the required treatment in time.  She is incredibly candid about herself, her feelings of dependence at various points, and her divorced parents’ unfriendly relationship.  Her parents rallied enough to share in their care of her and never lost hope that she was still Susannah somewhere inside. This interview with NPR provides a brief look into her experience. (~JWFarrington)


The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

This 2016 novel was proclaimed one of the year’s best in the U.K. before being published in the U.S.  Perry’s second novel is set in 1893, mostly in the small village of Aldwinter, Essex, and concerns the villagers’ belief in the reappearance of an ancient serpent in the nearby waters.  The Essex Serpent is then thought to be responsible for the death of a young man, the disappearance of a young girl and other strange happenings.  Set against this, is the arrival of the widow Cora Seaborne and her strange child, Francis. Cora is something of a naturalist and, fascinated, thinks that the serpent may be a new species of some sort.

She makes friends with the local vicar, William Ransome, who puts little stock in the creature, and his fragile and sickly, but dazzling wife, Stella.  Cora and William become friends and, against their better selves, are attracted to each other.  How their mutual attraction and the suspicions of the townspeople regarding the serpent play out form the locus of the novel.

I found the novel’s premise intriguing (there really was news about such a serpent in the 17th century) and Cora an appealing character, but, for me, it bogged down.  I finished it out of curiosity to learn about the serpent’s true identity, but wasn’t bowled over.  (~JWFarrington)

Notes:  All photos by JW Farrington; header photo is La Lecture (Reading) by Berthe Morisot, 1888.

Florida Fling: Winter Park


Florida has been our home for more than three years, but we haven’t explored much beyond our immediate area.  Thanks to the prompting of good friends, Alice and Bill, we made a short visit to Winter Park with them. Bill is a consummate organizer and tour guide (and driver!), and we were the beneficiaries of their combined knowledge from previous visits.

Winter Park is a lovely walkable town east of Orlando.  Rollins College (founded in 1885) is a dominant force in the community and graces the town with its tasteful Spanish/Mediterranean architecture.  Surrounding the campus are quiet residential streets with elegant houses and expansive churches of all flavors.  Winter Park Avenue, the main street, offers four blocks of inviting small shops and restaurants, many with outside tables.  There are also two small art museums.  It was a charming and pleasant place and, for us, reminiscent of Palo Alto.  


The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art boasts the largest collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s work and his glass pieces are certainly a highlight of the museum.  It also has glass pieces, ceramics, and paintings by other artists.  

I particularly enjoyed seeing not only the gallery of Tiffany lamps, but also the re-created rooms from Laurelton Hall, Tiffany’s Long Island residence, as well as the elaborate chapel interior with its intricate mosaic work made for the Chicago exposition of 1893.

It’s a gem of a museum (the building itself architecturally pleasing) and was well worth visiting!





We also had a brief look around at Rollins College’s small art museum, Cornell Fine Arts Museum, on the edge of their campus. We didn’t realize that they closed at 4:00 pm and so had to hustle a bit to see “Towards Impressionism,” featuring works by Corot, Monet, and Harpignies (the latter new to me), and a bit of the permanent collection.  It’s noteworthy that contemporary works from the college’s collection are on display throughout the lobby and other public spaces in the Alfond Inn.

“The Misfits” by Rosalyn Drexler

Owned by the college, Alfond Inn is one of the loveliest hotels I’ve stayed in.  It’s been open for four years and still looks brand new.  The extensive main floor showcases paintings and sculpture by a variety of artists, including some lovely prism-like glass shapes hanging from a glass dome that I thought were fabulous.

There is also a large outdoor courtyard with seating and a sculpture called “The Hermit” by Jaume Plensa.    


I would be remiss if I didn’t say that we also ate well.  The hotel breakfast included some different fare from the usual bacon and eggs.  Lunches at the Parkview and Blu were tasty, and we sat outside watching the world go by.  Dinner was at the elegant and very contemporary Luma on Park where we sampled some creative pasta dishes, Hamachi crudo, and diver scallops.  As to shopping, we ladies bought shoes (a standalone Rieker shop) and greeting cards and browsed in Writer’s Block, a small independent bookshop, where I found Ant and Bee books for my granddaughters and succumbed to a paperback novel by an Australian writer.

All photos by JWFarrington (some rights reserved).


Tidy Tidbits: Culture & Nature


In addition to the other lectures and cultural events we regularly attend, this year we added Town Hall, the lecture series that benefits the Ringling College Library. Former CIA director John Brennan was the leadoff speaker, and his discussion of intelligence gathering, the United States’ place in the world, and what should be required of anyone holding public office was focused, pointed, and oh, so very timely!

Kotler-Coville Glass Pavilion at the Ringling Museum. My sister Sally paints in watercolor and her husband Bruce works with fused glass to make jewelry so a trip to the art museum was a perfect outing. We were all impressed with the wide range of glass pieces on display here. This new gallery just opened and is a marvelous addition. Everything from blown glass to cast glass to slumped by artists from Czechoslovakia, The Netherlands, and Japan as well as the U. S. We also visited the Asian Center (opened in 2016) and explored some of the permanent collection in the main building. If you like glass, this gallery is a must and it’s free!

Shakespeare in Love at the Asolo Rep Theatre gets off to a slow start and then becomes lively and delightful! As always, the acting is wonderful, the staging creative, and the music an essential and lovely counterpoint to the action. Full of humor and fun.



We live on a small island surrounded and bounded by mangroves, our buffer against tides and wind. The Chief Penguin and I took advantage of the opportunity to see less visible parts of the island, particularly two salt flats, each very different in character. One was dry and gray and bare except for the skeletal remains (gray limbs) of some very dead mangroves.  

The other salt flat gets covered over when it rains, but this day was just a damp stark black with scattered patches of a low ground cover with tiny red flowers and some bits of green foliage. The black surface looked soft, but it was actually about an eighth of an inch thick, and if you peeled up a piece, very leathery. Underneath was some pinkish brown earth.

Our guide and resident naturalist, Bruce, shared some of the history of the island and also showed us the three different types of mangroves we have: red, that are always in wet ground with new growth and curved shoots down to the earth; green, that often have traces of excreted salt on their leaves; and white ones on which some leaves have a small notch at the tip. Both the green and the white mangroves can tolerate a drier setting than the red ones.  You might say, “mangroves are us” here.


Note:  All photos ©JWFarrington (some rights reserved).