Family Friday: How Our Rescue Lab Earned a Place at the Thanksgiving Table

We’re actually three.

Me, to our waitress on Thanksgiving

Oh, let me get you another set of silverware.

Our waitress

I pointed down to where our six-year-old rescue black Lab lay quietly at my husband’s feet on the outdoor deck, his Thanksgiving napkin bandana bunched into a make-shift pillow.

Yes, we took our dog out with us to Thanksgiving Day dinner.

Florida law permits dogs in outdoor dining

Dogs were banned from Florida restaurants until 2006. A new law that year allowed local governments to let restaurants apply for a permit to welcome dogs in outside patio areas. Now, many restaurants welcome pooches sans permit more often than not.

Waiters are so used to it now, when they see a dog, they don’t bat an eye; they just bring them water.

State Attorney for Palm Beach County Dave Aronberg who sponsored the 2006 legislation when he was a state senator (as quoted in The Palm Beach Post article by Hannah Morse, November 15, 2021)
Django on Dog Beach in Jupiter FL

Dog Beach gave us our first canine restaurant experience

When we drove with our first Lab, Django, from New York State to Florida to buy our retirement property in 2009, my husband found us a dog-friendly hotel nearby at which we could leave Django when we closed on the house. At the restaurant abutting the Holiday Inn Express in Juno Beach, we learned that we’d landed minutes from Palm Beach County’s leash-free dog beach.

Dog Beach became Django’s slice of heaven that week and in the years that followed. He would run into the surf in pursuit of a tennis ball for as long as my husband had the strength to throw it.

Django and our next Lab, Pancho, were welcomed at Juno Beach’s Thirsty Turtle Seagrill outdoor deck along with lots of other sandy paws.

On the weekends, sometimes it’s like a kennel out there on the patio.

Thirsty Turtle manager Ed Lohmann (as quoted in The Palm Beach Post article by Hannah Morse, November 15, 2021)

Kumba grew into going out on the town

When we adopted our black Lab Kumba a month before the pandemic, he had learned to protect himself during his months in a Puerto Rican shelter with aggression towards other dogs. We intervened with a muzzle, training, and love, and when he was able to be his sweet self reliably in public, we took him to Dog Beach. We thought that the ocean would be a happy recollection of his puppy life in Puerto Rico, but he was sort of “meh.” He was happiest lying at our feet with a bowl of cool water on his first visit to the Thirsty Turtle.

Kumba at the Thirsty Turtle

Juno was again the setting for Kumba’s next restaurant outing when we brought him with us for my birthday weekend overnight at our “staycation” dog-friendly Holiday Inn Express. Leaving him in the room alone was a risky proposition, given his separation anxiety, so we’d factored outdoor eating into our plans. The dinner waitress at the Seminole Reef Grill (great new place!) had no idea that there was a dog under our table until I asked for a bowl of water. After an equally relaxed overnight, Kumba and I got to Dog Beach on a morning run, where I let him off leash amidst a handful of other dogs.

Kumba overlooking Dog Beach

For Birthday Breakfast that morning, my Foreign Service family tradition, we again were outside enjoying the weather and great food at another new Juno Beach find, the Garden City Cafe.

Kumba at the Garden City Cafe

We created a new Thanksgiving tradition

When our daughter and son-in-law’s work schedules made it impossible for them to travel here for Thanksgiving, my husband and I began exploring dog-friendly restaurant options. Deck 84 in Delray Beach had outdoor dining, a Thanksgiving Dinner menu, and, even better, a Doggie Dinner menu. But would the weather cooperate? After two near-misses from Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole here on South Florida’s East coast, we held our breath as Thanksgiving week arrived.

The weather dawned clear and warm. Kumba and I did our usual Thursday run. Then it was time to get dressed up for our holiday dinner. Kumba was the most festive of the three of us.

Kumba in his Thanksgiving bandana

We were valet-parked and at our table at the quiet end of the patio by 3, with Kumba attentive but calm at my husband’s feet, so quiet that the waitress didn’t understand when I said: “We are actually three here.”

Soon, there was butternut squash bisque and turkey’n-all-the-fixin’s on the table, and chicken, rice, and yogurt under the table. We gobbled happily, all three of us.

I think he liked it!

So, that’s how we’ve kicked off the holidays in South Florida. Hope yours are as merry and silly as ours, and that every meal is shared with people and other creatures of whom you are fond.

Wellness Wednesday: The Year-Round Christmas Colors of South Florida

On my morning walk with Kumba, our loyal black Lab rescue, I noticed this berry bush that reminded me of Northern climes’ holly. The coral ardesia is pretty but a problem: with no insect predators, it has displaced native plants. See more about berries in Florida in Susan Barnes’ Tallahassee Democrat article “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”.

South Florida berry bush

Spotting the berry bush, it occurred to me that there are a lot of holiday colorings to our year-round plantings. Here are some examples from our garden this week.

Crown of thorns, impossible to deter
Hibiscus, crown of thorns, and milkweed
Milkweed, foodstuff of Majestics
Caladium
Caladium, which goes underground in the summer.
Croton
Croton, a hardy ornamental bush.
Hibiscus
Hibiscus, just splendid. Pinks, too.
Cordyline
Cordyline, tall spikes of leaves.
Paddle plant
Paddle plant, a succulent.
Bleeding heart vine. Such bursts of color on our two arbors!

We have joined the neighborhood in adding even more red and green to our outdoor decor, [Along with the great doormat Levi-the-therapy-dog and Julie and Raul gave to Kumba!]

Christmas decor

This weekend, our community will enjoy all the neighbors’ holiday lights when Santa and his hayride/sleigh come to visit. And we are going to see the Lights 4 Hope display at Okeeheelee Park. Footage to follow!

In the meantime, happy holidays from our red-and-green garden!

Here are other posts about gardening that you may enjoy: Five ways that gardening is good for you; Rebecca Mead’s meditations on gardening; and Monet’s gardens in Giverny.

Family Friday: How One Person Has Helped Hundreds Protect the Sea

Waves are cylinders of storm energy that displace water.

Thad Ziolkowski, The Drop: How the Most Addictive Sport Can Help Us Understand Addiction and Recovery

This quote from Tom Bissell’s New York Times book review resonated as I took in the passion of a stormy sea at our favorite South Florida beach recently. The waves smashed onto the beach, releasing some of that pent-up energy into the air and the rest onto the sand with such force that my bare feet tingled.

We are awed by the sea

We come to the sea to be awed. To take the measure of our puny selves against the enormity of nature. To understand that, as Scott Russell Sanders writes in his preface to Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World:

…human presence is only a thin film stretched over mystery.

Scott Russell Sanders

Yet we have polluted it

And yet, thin film though we are, humans are managing to meddle with nature with irrevocable results: sea level rise floods more and more of our coastal areas; warm ocean waters gin up hurricanes with wind and deluge that rend lives and livelihoods; wildfires burn out of control across the globe.

In Florida, run-off pollution is killing off seagrass and the manatees that feed on it, writes Kimberly Miller in The Palm Beach Post. Turtles and other marinelife injest plastic, and the lucky ones are brought back to health by the Loggerhead Marinelife Center.

We are off-handed in our support of the status quo, blaming convenience as we buy what want, toss it out when we’re done, and turn a blind eye to the results. But look at the results, plastic that I collected on this very beach.

Enter The Beach Bucket Foundation

The Beach Bucket Foundation, an inspiration of Palm Beach County resident Andy Abbott, has a bucket station conveniently located in the parking lot, making it easy to help clean human debris from the sand and keep it out of the water. I collected a bucketful. Thank you, Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation!

One person’s initiative blossoms among many

By including local municipalities, businesses, and organizations and having them show their support and involvement through our buckets and encouraging them to hold multiple cleanups throughout the year, we will be creating even more awareness and cleanup events throughout our communities to get involved in. 

Andy Abbott, The Beach Bucket Foundation

Let sunlight flame in a blade of grass, let night come on, let thunder roar and tornado whirl, let the earth quake, let muscles twitch, let mind curl about the least pebble or blossom or bird, and the true wildness of this place, of all places, reveals itself.

Scott Russell Sanders, STAYING PUT: MAKING A HOME IN A RESTLESS WORLD

Family Friday: A family drama in my backyard

Fledgling bird

Like lots of families living through the pandemic, one mother had all the time she could take with her teenager and kicked him out. Or her. It’s hard to tell with a fledgling mockingbird.

When I first spotted the little bird, I thought it was one of the lizards that flash their orange neck fan for the girl lizards to see, or, more likely, to show off to the other male lizards while the girls just roll their eyes. A closer look revealed the orange body part to be a beak, which a very young bird nestled in the grass just outside our patio was opening and closing in silence.

Rescue plan

Poor thing, I thought, too weak to even chirp. Remembering rescuing a baby squirrel in Albany on another spring day years ago, I found a small paper box and ventured outside to save another life.

I bent down to scoop the wee bird up, and two unexpected things happened: the fledgling chirped and hopped a bit — teenagers are such drama queens — and the mother bird dive bombed me.

Backing off

This was not an abandoned or lost bird. This, the wildlife rescue volunteer told me, was an expected rite of passage. The mother boots the fledgling out of the nest but continues feeding the insatiable teen.All I had to do was back off and let the process unfold.

Do not put the bird in a container. That will scare off the mother.

Mary, the volunteer wildlife rescue coordinator

Nature nurture

Even so I heard these words, the mother flew in with a beakful of lunch. After carefully assessing her surroundings, she hopped over to her kid and deposited the morsel in his yawning orange mouth. He immediately chirped for more.

Kids. Ungrateful.

She was back in a few minutes with the next bit. And so on all afternoon while Junior ventured a bit of jumping and flexed his new bony wings.

Mockingbird mother feeds her fledgling in my backyard. It took her about five minutes to scan the surroundings before she hopped down to him. Nature is amazing.

Evening intervention

If the bird is there when evening comes, you can bring it indoors so it’s not killed by an owl, or a snake, or a cat. Or an alligator. But put it right back in the same place in the morning.

Mary, the volunteer wildlife rescue coordinator

The fledgling was gone when we went out to bring him in for the night. I am hoping that he was able to take wing or at least hop to safety. It’s too sad to think that, after all those hours of feeding by a devoted mother, the fledgling was taken by a predator. But, then again, there are all kinds of babies out there needing to be taken care of.

It’s just the beginning of fledgling season. Click here for Palm Beach County information on Florida wildlife.

Family Friday: My Easter Orchids

These orchids bloom once a year. They watched us leave home in 2019 to cross the Atlantic on that fateful cruise and they bloomed again last year as I marked my one-year anniversary of surviving a near-death illness in Amsterdam. As Christians commemorate Jesus’ death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday, I bow my head to the powers that made it possible for me to be here.

My husband brought these bunny-enhanced orchids home as a present on Palm Sunday, the 43rd anniversary of the day we went to a Spanish-speaking Mass in Jackson Heights — even then one of the world’s most diverse neighborhood — followed by an elegant lunch at White Castle. Ah, Queens!

The blooms on this white orchid, with tints of yellow and pink, look like fine linen haute couture Easter frock.

The blooms on this white and yellow orchid look like layers of fine linen.