Welcome to my "Florida" blog

Being a third generation Florida native, I'm completely enamored with the diverse beauty of this gorgeous peninsula. For most of the year the weather is divine which makes exploring its unlimited nooks and crannies fun and easy.

Wherever I go I appreciate nature and the world around me. Come along with me as I share the places I visit and perhaps a few other amusements I find interesting along the way.

(FYI: Every post prior to January 1, 2009 was previously published and imported from my garden blog)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

God's Magnificent Paintbrush

Anyone who lives in Florida is blessed with so many evening skies swished and smudged with hues of every shade of oranges, pinks, and purples as the sun descends to meet the horizon. Sunsets are every ounce peaceful and glorious to observe no matter the amount of brilliance and colors. Getting to see one from a mountain top or a coastal shoreline is especially breathtaking.

We don't have mountains here but we have plenty of shoreline... on three sides of the state as a matter of fact. We happen to live on the gulf coast side where one doesn't even have to be at the beach to view spectacular illuminations at nighfall.

Even though we admittedly have many dazzling sunsets there are only those few that are spectacularly outstanding above the rest ... the ones that come along only once in a while. Yesterday was one of those times.

Mr. Meems and I were on a day long field trip. It was our plan, after a full day of exploration in Myakka City, to make sure we were heading toward the coast for dinner in time to see the sun go down. I'll post about the rest of the day another time. But for now the last hour (or so) of the daylight we witnessed deserves an entire post.

All was going according to schedule. We both commented on the beauty of the sky as we made the turn due West onto Fruitville Rd, still 45 minutes from the shoreline that was our destiny. At 5:08 I took the above photo from the passenger's seat. With the sun still high above the horizon, it was evident we had picked a very good day to drive to the Gulf of Mexico to take in the evening sky.

6:01 p.m. Longboat Key, FL, January 24

It was one of those times when one has to wonder... is there a more lovely place on earth?
Every element was like we imagine when making a plan to visit the beach. The temperature was perfect... in the low 60's. And as we drove over the first bridge in Sarasota where one gets the first glimpse of open water, palm trees, birds, and boats of every kind making the most of the last minutes of the day, it was (and is everytime) just so exhilerating.
6:02 p.m. Longboat Key, FL, January 24
It was time for dinner and we were pretty hungry. Both of us knew we absolutely wanted to be on the shoreline breathing in this radiance as an end to our day rather than watching it from a restaurant which was the other option.

6:04 p.m. a view to the south
Every surface of the earth was washed in color as far as the eye could see. The water was as still and calm as any quiet day on the Gulf coast.
6:07 p.m. Longboat Key, FL, January 24
Accompanied by Mr. Meems, the softly lapping shoreline, the shorebirds foraging for their evening meal, I snapped away applying all my effort to hopefully capture even the slightest essence of the brilliance of God's remarkable and faithful handiwork.
6:07 p.m. Longboat Key, FL, January 24

6:14 p.m. A view to the north.

6:12 p.m. Longboat Key, FL, January 24

I couldn't help but wonder was the whole earth aglow with the same sunset that made it seem as if the sky was on fire? Or was it just like this at Longboat Key?
6:15 p.m. Longboat Key, FL, January 24
Had we been staying on the beach with the whole night to ourselves, wild horses couldn't have dragged me away until every glimmer of color was faded.

6:19 p.m. Longboat Key, FL, January 24

But this particular night, reminding myself we were heading home, I did my best to walk away knowing there was dinner waiting... telling myself I could still see the sunset from the restaurant.

6:27 p.m. Longboat Key, FL, January 24
Even as we drove back south over the bridge that leaves the Key, the moment to moment changing horizon was compelling me to snap again and again not wanting to miss anything.

6:36 p.m. Longboat Key, FL, January 24

From the east side of the bridge we had just come across and the view from our table in the outdoor eating area, I'm balking at having to stop to look down at a menu.
6:44 p.m. Longboat Key, FL, January 24
When the night herons began to wake up and start their fishing the sky was still shining with deep shades of glory.
It's good to notice the beauty that nature has so generously placed around us. And, might I say, it's very inexpensive. These days of uncertainty in our nation can be overwhelming at times if we lose perspective. The TRUTH is ... the earth is the Lord's ... I'm going to keep thinking those happy thoughts. I'm going to keep taking a minute here and an hour there and sometimes even a day to stop and breathe in the graceful wonders that are at my fingertips and I'm going to be more grateful for them.
Florida is a great place to do that!
O Lord my God, how great you are!... You stretch out the starry curtain of the heavens... You made the moon to mark the seasons... and the sun knows when to set. You send the darkness, and it becomes night... There is the ocean, vast and wide, teeming with life of every kind... May the glory of the Lord continue forever! ... The Lord takes pleasure in all he has made!... I will sing to the Lord as long as I live. I will praise my God to my last breath!
Adapted from Psalm 104

Friday, January 23, 2009

Florida's Frosty Week

Wow! Central and South Florida had some really cold temperatures this week. It was colder in South Florida than it was here in the Tampa Bay Area.

I don't remember the last time my garden had this much damage. I keep thinking I should remember, but I don't, so it must have been a while back.

Typically, I don't let the media hype affect me too much when it comes to threats of freezing weather. I'm always the one saying, "I'm not buying it", when hour after hour the newscasters repeat their scary predictions of imminent freeze warnings.
Only this week the weather itself convinced me.

On Tuesday night it got very cold... almost freezing temps. Wednesday it was cold and very windy almost all day long with temperatures dropping rapidly in the afternoon as the wind died down. I knew when that wind stopped it was going to be a cold one. Typically I'm all for the cold as long as it doesn't affect my garden. HA!
Losing some of the plants in my garden is really small beans (matter of fact, I did lose some beans, too) compared to what can happen to growers in Florida who are depending on their crops for a living. And when they lose, it filters out to the rest of the country which is dependent on Florida growers in the winter.
I read reports that temps in the 20s were logged as far south as Collier, Glades and Charlotte counties.
According to a USA Today article, "Several days of the coldest temperatures South Florida has seen in years are threatening to ruin orange groves, cucumber fields and tropical fish ponds across the state."

That's frozen water in the bird bath on Thursday morning!
And the article goes on to say, "Florida supplies 70% of domestically grown fruits and vegetables during the winter months, and many of them are still in the field, including oranges, strawberries, blueberries and tomatoes, McElroy said."
The saddest part of a cold snap like this is how it only takes a night or two with a few hours of freezing temps to damage so much that all the other days of the year has grown freely.
Today was beautiful, mild, and sunny just like our tropical Florida winters usually are.
Oh, the life of a Floridian.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Sunshine Skyway Bridge

Admittedly, I'm fascinated with bridges. Bridges of all sorts. The architecture of them... the expanse of them... the massiveness of them... really, everything about them. So, I try to take photos of interesting bridges I come across... no pun intended.

It's not always that easy. Typically bridges are spanning water which means one can't necessarily get out of the car just anywhere to get a clear view for a photograph.

As part of the Interstate system the Sunshine Skyway Bridge links Pinellas County to Manatee County. If ever we are traveling south we will go out of our way to include crossing the bridge on our commute.

There's something about the approach to the bridge from the Pinellas side especially. All at once water and sunshine and palm trees and birds come into view with that salty flavor in the air that speaks of every thing having to do with the Gulf Coast. It's freedom. It's exhilerating. It's Florida!

SOOOOO, the photos viewed here so far were all taken while we were driving. Well, not me, silly. I was in the passenger seat.

NOTE: The following photos of the older bridges and the history of the bridge I adapted from a website that assisted in the demolition of the old bridge.
1954 Skyway Bridge courtesy of St. Pete Times archives

The first SUNSHINE SKYWAY bridge span opened in 1954, the 15 mile long crossing ran from St. Petersburg to Bradenton and had lengthy approach causeways on both sides, leading to a steep cantilever-truss crossing above the Tampa Bay ship channel. The vertical clearance for the channel was approximately 150 feet above the water and approximately 750 feet in width.

1971 Skyway Bridge courtesy of St. Pete Times archive
Increasing traffic across the two-lane span spurred the construction of a second parellel span which was completed in 1971, giving the bridges two lanes in each direction.
On that fateful morning of May 9th,1980 at 07:38 , during a violent rain squall producing high winds and almost zero visibility the empty phosphate freighter SUMMIT VENTURE piloted by Captain John Lerro slammed into the #2 South pier ( over 700 feet from the center of the channel ) of the southbound (1970) span , it knocked 1261 feet of center span, cantilever , approach and roadway into Tampa Bay. Thirty-five people , most of them on board a Greyhound bus bound for Miami plunged 150 feet to their deaths in what is now one of the worst bridge disasters in history. Rescue crews and divers were immediately dispatched to the scene, but of the victims who made the fall there was only one survivor , whose truck had luckily landed on the deck of the SUMMIT VENTURE After the fatal accident, traffic was rerouted onto the two-lane northbound span, until the planning and completion of the new SUNSHINE BRIDGE which opened in April of 1987.
The old part of the bridge (also taken from the passenger's seat) that remains is now used as a fishing pier and managed by the state parks department. The South Fishing Pier is the longest Fishing Pier in the world.
The new "cable-stay" bridge is a truly beautiful structure, at a cost of 245 million dollars it has a main span of 1200 feet and a vertical clearance of 193 feet. It is equipped with a bridge protection system involving 36 large concrete bumpers called dolphins that are built to withstand an impact from any errant ships in the vicinity of the bridges piers. Unlike most "cable-stay" bridges the new bridge uses a single plane of cables and the deck, made of prestressed concrete segments serves as structure as well as being the roadway surface.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Florida Citrus Bounty

My childhood memories are full with warm, sunny, winter days and picking citrus right from the tree, cutting a hole in the top and squeezing the juice right out of the orange for a quick drink. I also remember groves and groves of orange trees throughout our county. Then as I got older, one by one, they were sold and plowed down for land to build hundreds of houses in rows and rows of look alike dwellings in what we call subdivisions. Shame.

I still thrill to see a healthy grove of any kind of citrus. They are beautiful trees when branches are laden with the plump orange orbs. There are still a few large groves near my home and it's harvest time.

Citrus crops are good business for Florida. There are articles written recently of farmers finding new cash crops to diversify and increase their chances for survival. I don't know that much about it but surprisingly citrus isn't the number one cash crop. Nope. It's actually ferns.

My dad grows his own citrus. Not for profit but for his own use and, of course, for sharing with family and friends. All the photos in this post I took of some of his fruit trees. He lives in Charlotte county, two hours south of me, where the threat of freezing temps is minimal. This year, because of the abnormal drop in temperatures in November, all of the citrus is coming off the trees offering particularly sweet fruit.

When you grow up with the best of a particular food product somehow it is hard to then purchase that same food in a grocery store. For instance, we always had fresh fish when I was growing up because my dad was an avid fisherman. I just cannot buy fish in the grocery store. I wait until I find it in a fresh seafood market. It's the same for citrus. When in my favorite grocer recently I noticed huge displays of oranges and tangerines as the major focal point in the produce section. It looks pretty enough but it doesn't have the same juicy taste or even texture like the real ones picked right off a tree.

On a recent visit to my Dad's house we loaded my car up with boxes of citrus we had walked through his property picking right off of the trees. There are at least 6 different variety including pink and red grapefruit. The red is my favorite. So wonderfully plump and juicy.

Mmmm....mmmm... yummy! Needless to say I am enjoying the bounty. You can't imagine how many quarts I've sectioned for eating in a delicious mix of no-sugar-added fruit desserts. Then there are the gallons I've squeezed for drinking.

There's just nothing better or better for you.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Moon Over Hillsborough Bay

The dramatic view of downtown Tampa from Bayshore Blvd. looking toward the eastern sky at sunset.

The moon was brightly reflecting at sundown tonight.

The seven mile stretch of Bayshore's sidewalk and balustrade seawall that borders Hillsborough Bay.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Winter Sky

Ever notice that sepia hazy color it seems the whole earth gets when all the elements align? It usually happens just minutes before sunset. The foliage, the objects around us, and even the air seems like they turn together into one shade of pale, misty yellow.

Sitting on my back porch a couple of days ago with my nose in a magazine it happened. It caught my attention when I looked up and my garden looked like that... everything a sepia wash of light at days' end ... everything painted into the same hue.

Even before looking, I knew the sky would be full of color. Looking into the eastern sky... yes, the eastern sky at sunset this is what I saw.

And then only a minute later... it changes. Colors at my level are back to normal. But in the sky they are morphing from yellows to pink and purple... and of course that indescribable clear blue.

I'm convinced that our fall and winter sunsets are more outstanding than other times of the year. I don't have any science on it (I should look that up) but in my observations it seems so.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Unspoiled Paradise

This is the first official post ever on this new blog created January 1, 2009. All but the "under construction" posts previous to this one have been imported from my gardening blog, Hoe and Shovel. If you read back through some of those writings there will most likely be reference to my garden.


We had a Happy New Year much the same as every other year. Only this year our grand children were staying with us the day before and the following day. When once they were all picked up and all was quiet again Mr. Meems parked himself in a garden chair on the back patio and decided we should leave immediately to drive south.
We like to find Florida getaways that are quiet. Places that have resisted time and places where the crowds don't go.... out of the way of the ordinary hustle and bustle.
We'd been talking about checking out Manasota Key but hadn't made our way down there yet. So... on the road we went with very little notice, mind you, to get ready.
Now the whole thought of "Honey, pack your bag and be ready in two hours" might sound romantic to some and in theory I can see why. BUT, anyone who knows me, knows I'm a pragmatic sort and I like to be prepared. It wasn't as easy as all that to just pack my bag (I could only take one) on the spur of the moment and gallivant away leaving all my lists and things to do for another day.
It's good to get out of our comfy places sometimes, right? So, I went along with my man's impromptu ideas and knew I'd be glad I did.

Was I ever!
For some reason the seven miles of Manasota Key, bordered by the Gulf of Mexico on the west and the intercoastal waterway on the east, is virtually a hidden and untouched paradise.

No high rise condos. No restaurants. No traffic lights.
This quaint, magical place gives one very much an "Old Florida" feel while traveling through on its one road. It reminded me of days gone by when as a child my family spent weekends on Boca Grande Beach and there was absolutely nothing there but us and the mosquitoes. Lots of them I might add.
We found the only 12 room, recently renovated, old hotel on the entire strip of beach and snagged a room for the night. From our front door you can see the view (above) to the south. Doing a little snooping we discovered the only reason the hotel was even there was the fact that it was "grandfathered-in" to the residential area since it had been in existence before many of the current homes on the beach.

A stroll at dawn on any beach is teeming with birds and wildlife coming alive as the sun crests from the east.

There is something inside of me that comes alive when I'm at the beach. The smells, the sounds, the life, the water... all nurturing the deepest parts of my soul. It is a world a million miles away from the usual-ness of everyday life.

I wouldn't say our accomodations were the most lavish but they were right on the Gulf of Mexico. Our room was not more than 50 feet from the water's edge. A hammock was perfectly situated along the side path shaded by the tall and lush seagrapes.

Blooms from some kind of succulent. Whatever it was, they were crammed in and standing tall along with all the other naturally growing foliage that camouflaged the enormous homes facing the beach side.

Bouganvilleas are blooming everywhere right now. So many colors of them in every imaginable hue. Many like this one overflowing from high walls and billowing out into the landscape creating a tropical feast for the eyes.

An abundance of tropical foliage and live oak trees were plentiful on oversized pieces of property where the enormous homes had been built not to disturb the natural setting.

We took the long way home the next day. Choosing outdoor eateries and driving north through all the coastal towns. Feeling the warm breeze on our faces we breathed in the refreshing winter air. The beaches were crowded with tourists thrilled to be in their bathing suits and basking in the sunny Florida rays.

It was well worth being caught off guard and deciding to go along with Mr. Meems' unplanned plan. See, even after all these many (many) years, we are still surprising each other!