Asking Amy Issue #11 -- Landscapes vs Landscaping

Flawless Florida; Fitzcarraldo; The best jar ever; A "hot mug" that's not very cool.

Last weekend I was in Florida – for a very short 48-hour-long escape from our frigid spring, into the sun. 

My husband and I happily bunked into a hotel with a pool in an area outside Orlando, which happens to lie on the very edge of what only a couple of years ago was mainly lakes, pastureland, marshland, and (I assume) patches of forest. 

Here is a description of the area where we were staying, pulled off of Google: “… a trendy planned community made up of sleek family homes, bungalows, and leafy gated communities.”

What the description does not say is that the “sleek family homes, bungalows, and leafy gated communities” are all in the future. For now, there is the beginning of what looks to be a very nicely-planned “town center” – with a hotel, some eateries, and a massive and very cool-looking parking garage.

(This is the parking garage, featuring an — honestly — weirdly lovely Three Mile Island structure at its corner)

In the mornings, I walked along a paved trail that curved alongside a six-lane highway, which was lined with palm trees. It was perfectly manicured – and complete with a beautifully planted median.

It was So Nice.

The only thing missing was another human being – or any car traffic, but I could tell that cars would zip along the parkway soon enough – because in every direction, massive cranes lifted steel onto the substructure of a hospital campus, office park, and the planned community of housing.

My walking path was beautiful. And by beautiful, I mean – not a blade of grass was out of place. The trees all looked mature and healthy, and were mulched to a fare-thee-well. 

In an area famous for its theme parks, this looked to be the makings of a lovely park, the twin themes of which would be: perfection and prosperity. I kept thinking — it must take an absolute army of gardeners and landscapers to keep the wildness at bay.

The only incongruous sight along my walk was when I spotted two longhorn cattle, grazing in pastureland in the shadow of a future high-rise. I was later told that there is a rule in this part of Florida that developments of a certain size must also have at least two longhorn cattle pasturing within its borders. I’m assuming that this is a nod to central Florida’s past as an important ranching region. And – yes, the presence of these longhorns made sense to me, because people zipping past on their way to their high-end homes might want to witness to this sort of pastoral wildness – as long as it is contained.

I completely enjoyed my time in Florida. I spent several hours visiting with family members, who splashed in the hotel’s pool in the 97-degree heat while I read “My Antonia” from a comfy lounge chair. 

It was HEAVEN.

Returning home on Sunday night was quite a lurch back to reality (or MY reality, anyway). It was 40 degrees when our plane landed (oh great, MORE RAIN!), and with a sigh we cranked up the furnace that night.

The next morning, I went for a walk along our road. I live on a paved road with no painted lines on it – it’s … just a road. The asphalt truck came through last month, filling in the ruts and potholes of winter, and laid down a fresh layer of asphalt. On either side of the road, pastureland rises and falls away; our neighbor’s sheep mainly keep the pasture from turning back into forest. When a tree falls, it – stays fallen, until it more or less melts back into the ground, turning itself into mulch.

The grass -- where we mow it to form our lawn -- is mainly a sea of dandy lions.

(A very Dandy Dandy Lion)

I wouldn’t describe my rural home as “wild” so much as a place where wildness has a chance, and often seems to be encroaching. This is a source of some frustration to me, especially during this time of year, as I try to clean up our place from our famously long and tough winters. I yank weeds, and dodge the deer, fox, and turkeys that often want to cross in front of my car.

As I trudged through the cool mist and pondered my paved and perfect experience in Florida, I spotted this little miracle, sprouting up through the asphalt. Such a delicate and leafy little thing — pushing itself up through several inches of oil and stone. It occurred to me then that this patch of gently-tamed wildness is as “perfect” a landscape as I could ever hope to inhabit.


JUNK FOOD: Railey Jane Savage dives into her massive video library and finds … treasure.

Shifting Landscapes

Railey writes:

“My list of top three movies hasn’t changed in, well, decades. I stand by the list of films that, I think, use every frame to maximum effect: Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982). My copy of Fitzcarraldo is the same one I checked out from the county library back when tapes comprised the video collection and the checkout limit was 10 per week. I bought the tape at the library’s annual sale years later when tapes were deaccessioned for 10¢apiece.

For those uninitiated, Fitzcarraldo follows an Irish immigrant living in South America around the turn of the last century as he tries to bring European opera to the Amazon. To fund this dream, he plans to provide the unjustly well-heeled rubber barons with a true delicacy: ice. But fulfilling his dreams by pandering to the wealthy is quite literally built on the backs of the native tribespeople, who become the labor force that drags Fitz’s riverboat up and over a mountain.

This is not a metaphor: watch the movie — they really do it. Watching the formerly highfalutin boat get dragged up and over a steep hill in the Amazon changed me: the clash of the ship and the surrounding environment remains, for me, the defining image for surrealism.

But as the cultural landscape claws towards accountability and awareness, I’m prompted to think and rethink what was happening on, and off screen in Fitzcarraldo. I get to keep my formative steamboat imagery and let it promulgate new ways of seeing the world and its components, but the past few years have prompted me to shift my vantage.

We see the steamship get dragged over a mountain — and then leave. Even the making-of documentary shot and released in concert with the film, Burden of Dreams, leaves the jungle… But this leaves me to wonder: what happened to the mountain?”

[Railey Jane Savage lives, writes, and watches from her home in Ludlowville, NY. You can follow her on Instagram: @cartoonsandcats]

Laura Likes: Where my friend Laura recommends great things

This week — a well-deserved ode to JARS.

Laura writes:

“A long time ago, a kid who went to my church came over to my house (my mother was very involved in being a Sunday School teacher and youth group leader and so forth) and he opened the refrigerator...I think Mom told him to get himself a lemonade or something...and he stood there, kind of stunned for a moment. He turned around and said, " folks sure do eat a lot of butter." This was the first it had ever occurred to me that maybe not everyone stored leftovers in repurposed margarine or butter containers.

I guess his family was one of those that could afford real Tupperware and keep track of the Tupperware lids. Now, of course, there are less expensive food storage options that come in lots of shapes and sizes, but I myself never manage to keep track of those lids, either, and eventually got tired of dealing with That One Cabinet where all the containers get stashed. In a burst of sustainability, I got rid of most of them (mostly by abandoning them at work, or never bothering to retrieve them after sending a dish off to a potluck) and decided that henceforth, I was going to be a glass jar person. 

(An inviting bid for total transparency)

I don't mean Mason Jars™ . Mason Jars are great, but I never feel like the biggest commonly available ones are big enough to do what I want as storage for soup or grains or leftover casserole. I don't need 8 Mason Jars full of soup in my fridge.

Enter the Le Parfait Super Jar. I got these a few years ago and have never looked back. Big, durable, sterilizable, the metal bails never ever warp or loosen, and they're great. They will also hold a very large salad, if you're the sort to take a lunch with you. All you have to do is replace the seals every now and again. Plus, they look nice on a shelf. Available in cities, usually, otherwise online is your friend and they come packed securely.  I have dropped these from a significant height and never had one break (they aren't shatterproof...they are glass...but they're made to last).

A worthwhile investment, in my experience.”

[Laura Lorson is a writer and radio personality in Lawrence, Kansas. Do yourself a favor and follow Laura on Twitter: @prairielaura

Consumer correspondant Emily Mason’s

Targeted Upsell: What the Internet Wants Me to Buy

Emily writes:

What’s New?

“This week I have been formally introduced to Ember, the smart mug!

I thought for a moment this mug might actually be smart. Alas, it cannot answer questions (a-la Siri) or do your taxes (a-la TurboTax), but it can keep your beverages at a consistent temperature!

(Cool! Or, you know, maybe hot!)

Ember comes with an app so you can monitor and control the temperature, as well as a charging station so your Ember ...stays charged I guess? Because mugs can be charged now! 

(Socks? On the counter? Seriously!? Where were you raised — in a stock photo of a high-end kitchen?!)

Ok! Sure! This is a totally normal thing to worry about when using a mug!

Why am I Seeing This?

I think this is the internet equivalent of “hurl things at the wall and see what sticks.” Not that I’m complaining, I’m having a GREAT time.

Did They Sell Me?

That’s gonna be a no.

How is it possible that the dumbest thing I've seen is a smart mug?

I LOVE mugs. My favorite mug is from the clearance shelf at Target!

Ember is available for the low-low price of $120. 

Frankly, if I’m going to drop a chunk of change like that on a mug, it better be the most captivating vessel ever created!

Ember looks...boring. It’s the mug-version of your office’s annual budget meeting.

(Ember...the mug so boring it renders coffee useless.)

What a waste of an awesome name! I mean, EMBER? It could— and should — have glowed in the dark! 

But no...there is no room for fun in smart mugs.

Plus...what happens if you can’t recharge it? Can you not use the mug anymore? Or will it then be rendered into a vessel like every other mug, and you will be left feeling foolish for dropping a hundo on a MUG?! 

Frankly, I don’t want to risk it.

[Emily Mason lives, writes, and lets the Internet try to sell her things in Chicago. Follow her on Twitter @themistakemaven]

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