06. April 2011 · Comments Off on Florida Discoveries 8: Pretty Camellias · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

Today I was in downtown Fort Walton Beach to pay a visit to the local running store. Between the parking lot and the store you walk through a pretty camellia garden. These variegated ones caught my attention.

Enjoy!  Click the picture to see it in better detail.

Do we look like a bunch of pretty little azaleas to you?  Nah, didn’t think so…I still have my dress today, but can’t zip it up past my belly-button.

At first I was just going to post pictures of the all the beautiful azaleas I’ve seen on the Florida Panhandle these past couple weeks.  I’ll stick those at the end of this post.  Not since Norfolk — where I grew up — have I lived somewhere with so many azaleas gracing us.  Norfolk has always had a special affinity for azaleas, and they’re celebrated extensively.  The flowers are huge, and the pink hues are more vivid than I remember than even 20 years ago…

…and speaking of 20 years ago, while I was remembering the pretty azaleas from Norfolk, it triggered a memory.

In 1991, this geeky girl was in the royal court of one of those traditional Southern Festivals.  It was Norfolk’s “International Azalea Festival”.  Unlike other Southern festivals that mainly tap into the local attractive, smart ladies for the royal court, Norfolk’s Azalea Festival is a celebration of NATO and the royal court itself was chosen based on NATO’s member nations.

NATO has a headquarters in Norfolk (no, not THE headquarters), so there were representatives from each of the member nations and they would choose young ladies native to each of the member nations.  In 1991, there were sixteen member nations that would contribute a queen and 15 princesses.

Then each of those ladies would have an “attendant” selected from the community.  Norfolk and Virginia Beach interviewed ladies at the local high schools and would submit one from each high school.  I was my high school’s selection in 1991.  I can’t say how other high schools did it, but I had a rather intensive interview where I remember questions about my plans for the future, knowledge about the local community, and one of those “if you could change the world” kinds of questions.  It seriously reminded me of a Miss America kind of thing and I didn’t think I’d get it.

But I did, and I had to get fitted for dresses, shoes, and was provided the list of events we’d be part of, and what kinds of outfits to wear for each of them.

I wasn’t used to this…I wore jeans and sweatshirts every day, usually.  Now I had to have cocktail dresses, business casual clothing, professional clothing, and evening gowns at the ready.  Luckily, the pink dresses you see above are the evening gowns, provided by the festival itself.  Air shows, receptions, meet-n-greets, a parade where each country was to be featured on its own float, the Azalea Ball and the coronation ceremony.

The pictures I have are only from the coronation and one picture of a some “cocktail dress” event that I’ll save for another time.  I wish I had more…I cleaned up pretty nicely ūüôā

The escorts were brought in from the Virginia Military Institute.  Handsome, huh?  Too bad it’s a “free” weekend for the guys, and most of them were drunk the whole time, including my escort.  Ugh…
But…easy on the eyes ūüôā

When I sought out the Norfolk International Azalea Festival website so I could share the information with you, I was really surprised at the changes that had taken place over the years.  Starting with the name of the event: it’s now the “Norfolk NATO Festival”.  Other changes include: the Azalea Queen is no longer.  Starting in 2008, the position migrated from daughters of prominent military members to military members themselves.  There are now “Festival Ambassadors” chosen from active duty military.  Starting this year, a MALE will be serving as a Festival Ambassador.

The princesses and attendants program also fell away, being replaced by a Youth Ambassador program set up to learn more about the children of the foreign NATO personnel assigned to southeastern Virginia.

Clearly, the emphasis has come away from the flowers and has become entirely a celebration of Norfolk’s importance as an internationally significant military community.  The Virginia International Tattoo is now a focal point of the celebration, a military splendor-filled night of music and pageantry.

I don’t know what to think of this…I’ve always been a stickler for tradition.  I’m sure there’s been a movement to lessen the “exploitation” of young ladies, and perhaps a concern was raised from the military community — the princesses usually were daughters of high-ranking NATO-nation military members.  I was assigned as attendant to a Canadian girl, her father was an admiral.

As promised, here are some pictures I’ve taken this week of the pretty azaleas in the area.  Most of them were taking with my phone while on a run.

23. March 2011 · 2 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , ,

It’s a 12.3 mile drive on U.S. 98 between our neighborhood in Navarre, and Dave’s base to our east. That road is a nightmare a lot of the time; it’s the only east-west artery along the Gulf Coast connecting Pensacola with Fort Walton Beach, so the majority of businesses set up on this road, and it’s extremely congested. Dave probably has a dozen traffic lights on that 12.3 mile stretch (perhaps I’ll count it the next time I make the drive and report back to you).

As I wrote about recently, living on the Gulf Coast opens up a new world of flora and fauna. This being our first springtime here, it’s been a surprise every week seeing what does grow in this area. We’d spent time on the East Coast of Florida in Melbourne years ago, and went from there to central North Carolina. The differences in flora between the two locations was profound.

This area seems to be a blend between the two. Banana trees will grow, but so will bradford pear trees. This week brought out the wisteria.

For those familiar with this invasive species, wisteria typically spreads their vines very aggressively, and many American cultivars don’t flower until 10-15 years after first seeded.

That being said, most of the wisteria I’m seeing in this area are in undeveloped plots of land. In my neighborhood itself, there aren’t a lot of wisteria. Most of what I’m seeing is along that 12.3 mile stretch of U.S. 98. In these photos below, the wisteria vine has been allowed to grow for several years without any pruning, and it’s growing up the telephone pole and draping itself over other large trees.

I also noticed that this particular one wasn’t as purple as others I’ve seen around. I’ve seen one very pretty plant in someone’s front yard in my neighborhood, the only one that appears to have been planted in a particular spot “on purpose”. It’s clearly well-pruned every year, and it looks very attractive. I haven’t gotten a picture of that one, I don’t want to freak out the homeowners.

I wanted to also discuss a book I had read with a book club I was in when we were living in North Carolina.  But I can’t remember the title or author!  One of the “characters” in the book was the centuries-old wisteria on the family’s property.  It told the reader a history of the protagonist family…I thought it was clever and creative.  If anyone knows the name of the book I’m talking about, please remind me!

I found the name of the book!  “The Floatplane Notebooks” by Clyde Edgerton!


This is a huge sprawling wisteria vine!

I wish this blog had smell-o-vision…they smell very very nice.  Not as nice as lilacs or honeysuckle or good roses, but still nice.

I wish I had my good camera with me, but I’m impress with how these iPhone photos came out.

Extreme closeup!

Like kudzu, wisteria is an Asian-originated vine of the pea family that grows VERY fast!
11. March 2011 · Comments Off on Florida Discoveries 4: Springtime on the Panhandle…Part I · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , , , ,

I know, it’s only March 10th, and many of my readers (I get 50 new visitors per day now, by the way!) are still sitting underneath snowpacks. But here on the Florida Panhandle, the brief winter* we had has definitely given way to spring: complete with thunderstorms, tornadoes, allergies and weeds! Things were brown when I left for Nebraska, and were green and pollen-ey when I returned 5 days later!

*YES — we experienced a real winter here! It even snowed a little on Christmas Day in Pensacola!

I thought I’d share some pictures of the flora and fauna that have greeted us in the past couple weeks. Last year in Nebraska was especially fun, and I hope to get around the neighborhood more this weekend and capture some of the local redbuds.

First of all, upon my return from Nebraska on Feb. 27th, these shrubs in the front of the house had just started blooming:

From a distance, they look like azaleas, right? But that’s not what they are. After some seemingly-random Googling of “pink flowers Florida Panhandle” and things like that, the term “Chinese Fringe Flower” appeared and I chose it. And there you go. This is the loropetalum plant, also known as “Chinese witch hazel” or “Chinese fringe flower”.

I have two varieties in my front yard landscaping:

Here’s one with my oldest son next to it for scale. The shrubs aren’t very tall:

I went to my favorite resource for flora information, my friendly neighborhood Cooperative Extension Service! University of Florida’s IFAS briefing on the loropetalum.

I was also curious about how long these plants had been used as landscaping, since I’ve NEVER seen them until now! Here’s some historical information from Mississippi State’s Cooperative Extension Service. Looks like only since the early 1990s.

If only this blog had Scratch-n-Sniff! The flowers are quite fragrant!

I’m particularly intrigued with the way the flower buds open up, reminding me of a butterfly coming out of its chrysalis, with the huge antennae uncoiling.

23. August 2010 · Comments Off on Rocky Mountain National Park Flowers · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

I copied the flower pictures into a new slide show. Enjoy!

Since I won’t be in the Omaha area forever, I realized recently that my time is running out for visiting the many attractions in the area. ¬†Thanks to my boys’ field trips, Cub Scouting and birthday party invitations, they’ve already been to several area attractions. ¬†But I’ve set a new goal for myself and the family: to visit every attraction on the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau’s¬†“Pin Map”.

You probably can’t see it that well, but just click on the “Pin Map” link above and you can see the original PDF. ¬† It’s called the “Pin Map” because in front of each of these attractions is an enormous mock up of a blue-tipped pin. ¬†I’ll get a picture of one as soon as I can…
So…my goal is to visit each of the 15 attractions on the “Pin Map” before I leave the area. ¬†So far, I’ve covered 7 of the 15 attractions (numbers 3, 5, 7, 8, 11, 12, and 13)…and we have this summer to make our way through the rest. ¬†Maybe I’ll blog about these “pins” as we visit them…I hope to, but I won’t make any guarantees.
Today I’ll share with you my first visit to #8 on the list: Lauritzen Gardens.
Timmy’s preschool class took a trip here on Monday. ¬†I can’t believe I’ve lived here nearly 2 years and hadn’t been here till this week! ¬†I guess it goes with living in a house full of boys, right?
This is a beautiful place, full of pretty flowers (of course) but I also really enjoyed the gardens “repurposing” sconces, corbels and other ornamentals from throughout Omaha…the pieces were rescued and help decorate the gardens. ¬†The kids really enjoyed the flowers but the weather wasn’t very good and the walking was pretty tough on that group of 4 and 5 year olds.
So here are some pictures of the lovely visit. ¬†I won’t include everything, just some of the more summary-type pics. ¬†I STILL can’t believe I left our camera sitting on the counter as we headed out the door…so these pictures are with my iPhone camera.

This piece was repurposed from a downtown Omaha building:

17. April 2010 · Comments Off on Nebraska Discoveries 11: Flowering Trees · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

Today I went on a number of errands, including to our nearby model train store to pick up a boxcar Dave ordered, and to the local large children’s consignment sale that’s wrapping up this weekend. I decided to grab my camera and capture some of the pretty trees that are gracing eastern Nebraska right now. I’m not sure why I didn’t notice these last year — it could be that I was just coming home from my deployment at this time a year ago…and my mind was on other things, like looking at how much my little boys had grown instead of at the blooming trees.

Anyway, I’m definitely now noticing these pretty trees throughout Eastern Nebraska, and I spent several minutes this afternoon photographing assorted trees in our neighborhood, and then later today I was busy uploading the pictures and investigating what kinds of trees I photographed. ¬†I’m no professional photographer, I just wanted to capture some memories of these pretty trees, we don’t plan to be in Nebraska forever.

Really…we won’t. ¬†We really like it here, but I’m afraid we don’t LOVE it here. ¬†We LOVE Pennsylvania…we LOVE North Carolina…we really really really LIKE Florida. ¬†But that’s for another topic….

So first, we have a plum tree in my front yard. The one on the left. ¬†Pretty, isn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s chosen to bloom BEFORE the tree to its right, which is an apple tree. They’d be so pretty together, wouldn’t they? ¬†The apple tree is covered in buds right now, will probably bloom next week…

From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees
From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees
From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees

After the tree in my own yard, I drove over to the next block, where there were some pretty trees that reminded me of my college days. In front of my dorm building were similar trees, that bloomed just as we were cramming for finals! ¬†You can see the referenced tree behind these folks barbecuing in August 1991, but since this picture was taken in the summertime, it’s well beyond blooming. ¬†Pardon the confused-looking tailgaters.

From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees

I vaguely remembered that the tree in front of Irvin Hall was a member of the magnolia family (it was nice having a Forestry major for a roommate my Junior and Senior years). Upon further checking, I learned that I had captured two kinds of magnolia trees today…a Jane Magnolia¬†(pink) and a Star Magnolia¬†(lighter pink…almost white).

From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees
From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees
From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees
From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees
From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees
From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees
From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees

Next on our little trip was to the neighborhood park, where we had a great variety of flowering trees — 3 kinds: redbud, some sort of apple or pear blossom tree, and a crabapple tree. I’m having a hard time telling pear from apple blossoms so I could be wrong here with the white flowers.

From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees
From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees
From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees
From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees
From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees
From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees
From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees
From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees
From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees

Then I headed up the road towards my errands, and I knew there were some bright yellow shrubs that I wanted to photograph. ¬†For some reason I was thinking they were goldenrod, which is Nebraska’s state flower. ¬†I took these pictures all along thinking they were goldenrod, but I was wrong, they’re actually forsythia. ¬†I remember seeing forsythia everywhere in Korea in the springtime…pretty. ¬†Fascinating fact: forsythia can produce its own lactose.

From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees
From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees
From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees

Before our errands, Timmy and I had lunch at Culver’s, which is a local fast-food/frozen custard chain. I caught some pictures in the parking lot of their pretty flowering tree: I think it’s an apple tree of some sort, but I could be wrong.

From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees
From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees
From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees

Finally, I’ll post this picture nice and BIG so you can help me to identify it. I’ve no earthly clue:

From 2010 04 16 Nebraska Flowering Trees
13. August 2009 · Comments Off on Some Summer Color to Enjoy! · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

First I thought I’d share some of our new friends in the garden.

From 2009 08 11 BlackSwallowtailCaterpillars
From 2009 08 11 BlackSwallowtailCaterpillars
From 2009 08 11 BlackSwallowtailCaterpillars

Go ahead…say it….

[Blog reader gets up from computer and does a heebie-jeebie dance] “EEEEEWWWWWW!!!!! Stop! Make it go awayyyyyyyyyy!”

For my friends from Florida, not sure how many of you gals realized that I had quite the butterfly garden going in my backyard.

I had planted dill in my herb garden here, not for caterpillar food, but for people food. Dave and I enjoy lemon-dill seasoned fish throughout the summer (although I haven’t made it quite yet this summer). And now that the caterpillars have attacked my dill, not sure whether we’re going to have much dill left by the end of the week.

These are black swallowtail caterpillars, and I currently have about 20 of them, in various stages of their lives, munching away at my carrot tops, parsley and dill. I don’t mind…butterflies are a good thing, and you have to start with very hungry caterpillars to get more butterflies.

The boys are fascinated by this, and every day they’ve been checking on their progress. It’ll be interesting to see if the caterpillars form their chrysalises nearby. I propped some sticks up at the base of the dill/parsley/carrot plants.

And now for something completely different. I thought you might enjoy this slideshow of my summer flowers. I’ve never had prettier flowers, but I have to admit things are getting a bit sloppy in the front yard. I ought to trim things back, but the goldfinches are having a blast with those sunflowers and I’d have to cut it all down before they’ve eaten their fill. Enjoy!

05. September 2008 · Comments Off on Nebraska Discoveries 5: Wild Sunflowers · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

Wild sunflowers are in bloom in E. Nebraska and W. Iowa. They’re just popped up all over the place, like how Queen Anne’s Lace pops up in PA and WV, and how wild thistle grows on the sides of the highways in NC.

So I pulled a Maryann and pulled over on the side of this country road while driving back from Toys R Us in Iowa and took some pictures.

This is what a single plant looks like…

And here’s a group of them.

There’s a HUGE field near Timmy’s preschool, I should get over there and take some pics soon before they’re over with.

24. February 2008 · Comments Off on Spring Splendor! · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

“Wait just one doggone minute! It’s mid-February! Spring isn’t for another month!”

(At least, that’s what the Groundhog said!)

Well, someone needs to tell my flowers about that, since my crocuses and daffodils are opening up, just like all over the rest of central North Carolina. Seriously confused, they are.

I didn’t mind the pretty pictures I was able to take, nonetheless. These were from Monday. Click on the photos to access the entire album. Enjoy!

From 2008 02 18 Da…
From 2008 02 18 Da…