A joyful morning – Sanford, Fla.

photo (48)Samba music on Pandora this morning, so things were looking good from the start.

On the back porch with a gourd of warm maté a bit after sunrise, I saw a marsh bunny contemplating hisoptions. He sniffed the darkness under the heavy plumbago, he looked across the relative vastness of the yard to the rhododendron. Instead, he chose to squeeze under the door of the shed. The shed, filled with old paint cans and the mower that won’t start. The shed, where the water softener for the pump that ran dry is home to spiders and lizards. The shed, where the wheels of long-gone cars are piled up, aging into scrap, while we decide what we should do with them. Really? Is that the refuge you choose, Mr. Bunny? He is safe in there from the prying noses of the granddogs who are visiting today.

Before the dogs arrive, I have to make a trip to the gym to make sure I don’t use their visit as an excuse to skip the much-needed workout.
A bumper sticker on a car in front of me reminds me to not “postpone the joy”. Every day, I know, is a gift, an opportunity to explore and learn and experience something new and to revel in it. I don’t ever want to miss the chance to laugh or to be silly. I’m too young to stop having fun and too old to care if people think me odd. There is joy in everything and every opportunity. I will enjoy every moment.

Despite the trash people have thrown along the path, the way is beautiful. The sun, after several days hiding behind rain clouds, is out in full force this morning, making everything greener and brighter. Even the discarded soda cans sparkled a bit more on their way to the trash can.
The granddogs are bringing our middle daughter, Amanda,  and her husband, Billy, to visit. I took the opportunity to reinstate my habit of baking fresh bread every morning. Cuban bread this morning, to go with a fine meal of chicken cordon bleu, corn and a spinach salad with scallions, candied almonds and pomegranate seeds. It’s good to be – literally – breaking bread with the kids again.
Beauty is everywhere. Take time to draw joy from it…

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Bright Friday – Sanford, Fla.

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While the rest of the world was celebrating consumerism with Black Friday shopping, I stayed closer to home. I read in the post dawn sun. I wandered around the yard, looking at some of the fascinating critters with whom I share my living space. I sipped a gourd of yerba mate. I planned carefully the things I will eat this week and spent some time carefully preparing a simple meal.
Friends and family reported back about the chaos at the mall, the hectic predawn traffic and about an employee at a box store in another state who was trampled to death by eager bargain hunters.
Welcome to the season of compassion and love for our fellow human beings.
Not only do I despise shopping as an activity, I am trying to simplify. I don’t need anything beyond the abundance I already have. In truth, I have more than I should ever want or need. My goal for the holiday season is to give away more of my things. I am, by the way, nearly done with holiday gifts…I bought a few things on line and am making the rest. Only a few items remain unfinished.
So, today’s walk took me nowhere new, though I found new things. You’d be surprised the things we miss in our own back yards when we look at them with the same eyes day after day.
Despite the dry plants that define Florida winter, the palmetto and the bromeliads were bursting with color down by the pond. The aquatic grasses, less colorful without their summer blooms, seemed drab, but still beautiful against the reflections of the puffy clouds in the nearly-still waters.
It was sad to see that the otters who sometimes come to play near the dock had eaten a small turtle, but left his shell. Of course, this is the natural order of things, but the empty shell was a sad reminder of that. When I bent to touch the shell, I felt a bump against the underside of the dock and I ran, imagining a frightening creature I suppose, not thinking until later that it was probably one of the otters engaged in some sort of silliness below me.
I may have missed out on a shirt at 70% off, but I have plenty. The big screen television at a $300 discount? I never watch the one I have.
The beauty in my own back yard is free.

An autumn walk – Lake Mary, Fla.

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My oldest daughter and I are exercising buddies, While she has transformed herself, literally, into a fitness model, I still struggle along trying to merely be not chunky. But, no matter.
When I am in town, we go to the gym, or to a yoga class or to a fitness class – or just for a walk.
After a couple of damp days, the sunshine this morning was beckoning us outdoors, The cold front that had followed the rain had already started the temperatures into a downward spiral and the morning started off at a mere 60º. The sun was gloriously bright and warmed us a little, despite the bitter wind.
We picked a spot to hop onto the Cross Seminole Trailthat is part of Florida’s rails to trails project. The trail runs between a residential neighborhood and a conservation area. Pretty red and gold leaves dotted the ground and wildflowers were in bloom. That’s Florida for you…our poor flora and fauna don’t know what season it is from one day to the next.
As we made our way along the way, we picked leaves and fallen blossoms from the ground for a Thanksgiving centerpiece.
A couple of red-tailed hawks perched on fence tops, but flew away as we approached. As beautiful as they are sitting majestically on the fence, they are fabulous in flight.
Despite the dropping temperatures, there were probably a few dozen people walking or running along the 2 mile stretch of the path that we covered.
Tomorrow morning, we’re supposedly going to wake up to 40º. For us, that is the dead of winter sort of cold. We’re going to have to bundle up to get our exercise tomorrow!

Drizzle today, cold tomorrow – Sanford, Fla.

photo (43)There’s been a pretty steady drizzle since late last night and, according to the weather folks it’s expected to continue all day. Tomorrow the winds are going to pick up and temperatures are going to drop dramatically. It’s not like we’re going to experience what the rest of the country calls winter…we haven’t even come to what they would call Fall, though one of the leaves on the maple out back has turned half red.
The rain this morning added a light, damp coating to everything this morning, splashing on the lake and dripping from the spiny orb spider’s web inside the screen porch. I especially loved the water color reflections on the pavement.
I noticed, when I squatted in the mud at the edge of the lake (sinking in just enough that my shoes made a “pfthat” noise when I moved away) that the cypress trees are starting to get knees at the edge of the water. When the knees get bigger they form magical scenes. In the wild, I love to imagine the clumps of knees are the dominion of  unseen creatures who live among magical structures. They laugh at our crude, boring architecture, I’m sure.
It is grey down by the water, but the orange, red and yellow canna lilies brighten everything up. And, while the other foliage puts on a drab coat in anticipation of the coming cold, the canna’s leaves are bright.
Steven said an otter slid off the dock and back into the lake yesterday when he was out there, but I haven’t seen any of our semi-aquatic friends this season.
For now, I’ll stay out of the rain and prepare for the cold days ahead.photo

Urban decay – Sanford, Fla.

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For generations, there were several public housing locations in Sanford. The residents were poor, under-employed, unemployed and, perhaps trapped in poverty. Most of the residents, even those who had jobs, got public assistance for food and medical care. Illegal drugs were openly available for sale on most corners.
The graduation rate for teens was under 50 percent. Nearly half the girls under the age of 16 had at least one child. One in three of the boys had been arrested. More than half the households were headed by single parents, most of them women.
Grandparents, many of them only in their 30s, were raising a second generation of children. Three, four or five generations had been on public assistance. They lived in cramped quarters, the buildings often in disrepair. Sometimes the water or the electricity had been cut off for months at a time.
It was a stereotypical scene of urban distress. A war zone. A place where non-residents were warned not to go after dark. A place where outsiders who drove through were assumed to be looking for drugs.
It was a forgotten place.
A few years back, the city briefly took notice. Sanford, with the highest level of poverty in a fairly affluent county, wanted to do something about it. Poverty was centered in this area.
Their solution?
Close the public housing. Relocate the residents.
Now empty, the buildings remain. The residents are long settled elsewhere. The windows are boarded up. The doors are padlocked or covered. (I saw someone crawl through a hole in one door. I believe she was living in that abandoned unit. I didn’t record the scene…she is, perhaps, better living in the dark building, than on the streets and I don’t want her to be evicted because I showed the location.)
With so many homeless, might it not be better to use some of these buildings as temporary safe housing? It won’t happen.
Dozens of the empty buildings are being razed. Plans for the land are unclear.

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas…sorta. – Sanford, Fla.

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I’m one of those old fogies who believes the Christmas holiday can not – shall not – begin one minute before Santa steps off his sleigh in front of Macy’s. In recent years, I’ve pushed that back 18 minutes and 33 seconds to say the season is delayed until after we have sung the final chorus of Alice’s Restaurant which is a big singalong production which begins promptly at noon each Thanksgiving Day.
Apparently, society – at the behest of the retail gods – does not agree.
Christmas decorations were being offered during Labor Day sales this year!
For the most part, I wear blinders to protect myself from the ever-increasing commercialization of Christmas. I refuse to take part. By the way, I will not be joining the 50 percent of Americans cramming into the stores on Black Friday. I encourage you, also, to stay home so employees can spend Thanksgiving with their families before the holiday rush begins!
But, with temperatures dipping below 60 and the countdown to Christmas under a month, it’s getting to feel more holidayish.
The squirrels are a bit more happy, mailboxes are stuffed with presents and the studd to make them, my workshop tools are begging to be used, veggies are ready for roasting…and the oranges are waiting for a kiss of frost to sweeten them up.
I guess I can tolerate the carts filled with toys as I make my way through the produce section for 30 more days!

A beautiful stroll – Betty Steflik Memorial Preserve Flagler Beach, Fla.

photo (42)Steven and I happened upon this park quite by accident this afternoon. Traveling a favorite route along US 1 paralleling the ocean, through Flagler Beach, we veered off the path and spotted the sign for the Betty Steflik Memorial Preserve behind a restaurant.
A crushed shell parking lot and a small gazebo didn’t seem particularly inviting, but we had a bit of time to kill and their was a curiously inviting wooden boardwalk leading off into the marsh. What the heck…why not?
A breathtakingly beautiful scene unfolded with each step. Mangroves gave way to palm trees and oaks, marsh to sandy flats. And finally the sparkling waters of the Matanzas River – the Intracoastal Water Way.
It was a lovely walk through a long ago Florida. The entrance is only a few hundred yards from the Flagler Beach Pier, the path parallels SR 100, but on the boardwalk, you can lose yourself in another time for an hour or so…