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, March 29, 2009

A Tea Room and A Graveyard

When one gets the inkling to look into graveyards, grave sites, and such it might actually be necessary to travel a wee bit to do some digging. Not literal digging but record digging.

With all my extra hobbies and interests taking up loads of my time it's a good thing I haven't yet been bitten by the genealogy bug. Although I do find it all very fascinating mind you. My mom, however, has decided to put some pieces of the family puzzle together on her side of the tree.

So off we went to the town of Sanford, FL. last week to do some ancestral sleuthing.

Girls have to make some fun out of hunting down ancestry. No day trip can just be about grave markers, plot numbers, and old records in museums. Those are all fine and dandy but there's more to "life" than the final resting place.
On one of our typically beautiful Florida spring days we opted to eat in the garden courtyard of the Hart Sisters Tea Room. The sweet scent of wisteria was the first thing that caught my attention as we walked toward the restaurant from the car.
Behind the pretty iron gates a fountain trickling soothing sounds of water. The calm breezes blew through the palm trees and we relaxed over a very satisfying lunch.
Mom had chicken salad, I ordered the quiche of the day. The cheese biscuits and scones were excellent - oh, how I love me some good carbs. I give the meal an 8 on a scale of 10. The service and friendliness of our server, however, rates a solid 10. It is definitely worth the visit and I would go there again if ever in the area.
Inside, the tables are all appointed in the usual tea room style of mismatched china cups and dinnerware.
The shelves in the entry way all full of the attractions girls love to oogle over.
A few of the items for sale and some just for pretty. Every one accompanied with frilly and lacy accents. Exactly what one would expect to make every guest feel welcome and warm.

We took our time eating and then it was time for digging up some bones at the museum located in the historical downtown section of town.
Mom found the historians and researchers there to be extremely helpful. She had spent quite a bit of time with them over the phone in the days previous to our arrival. We were allowed to look through some very old handwritten city records. No photos please. Darn. You know how that goes with flashes and preserving those antique pages.

We got what we needed to make our way to the cemetery. But first we walked around to the back of the museum to check out Lake Monroe which is part of the St. Johns River. It was beautiful. So refreshing to sit by the water and watch the birds.

Sanford's River Walk meanders along the lake shore on both sides of the The Monroe Harbour Marina. All of this bordering the historical part of Sanford. That flag flying in the distance is the first thing you see when coming down the main street to the historical section. I LOVE to see the American flag flying large and boldly... anywhere!
The city has done a very nice job of modernizing the river walk without losing the feel of the original area. It looked as though the town folk were making good use of the park with lots of walkers, joggers, and bikers.

It was a peaceful place that brought thoughts of an earlier time in Florida's history when things were probably a little slower and not so congested. Surprisingly, Florida is made up of many smaller towns like this one. I personally tend to forget that since I'm from the Tampa Bay Area where everything is crowded. That's one reason why I take the backroads getting around to Florida towns. Thanks for the navigation skills, Mom.

It's always a joy to see the gulls and the Caspian terns chilling out on the shoreline. Actually this was a little sand island off from the seawall but I think they thought it was a shoreline. Or maybe they would say, "no, lady we know what we're standing on -- it's you that is confused."
*** Click to enlarge***
An Osprey dove down with its talons and plucked out some unsuspecting supper. Can you see the fish he's holding? He flew over my head with the fish stuck in his grasp to the safety of a covered, high limb. No one to disturb I suppose.

He was patient about it. I'm not sure how long he was planning to stand guard before eating because I came over to him a few minutes later hoping to catch him eating. No, not yet... still holding on tight.

The old buildings in the downtown area were marvelous. There is an historical walking tour available that leads to all the buildings and teaches the history of each one.

We didn't have time for the tour but we poked around in a few of the antique stores. The mosaic in the cement wall outside of the art store was fascinating. All manor of trinkets were poking out from the wall ---even an old cell phone. That's the fun of mosaic... there really are no rules.

Now what was that we were driving 2.5 hours to see? Oh, yeah, great grandpa. Not him exactly. We wanted to see his gravestone and connect the dots to his daughter and so on.

Now that we know which section he's buried in and what lot number we should be able to walk right to him and the rest of the family hanging out there too.

There he is. After two wives and two divorces he was buried alone. Other than his daughter and her husband next to them. How sad.If only graves could talk. We might find out some why's and wherefore's, some regrets and some victories. Or we could just have filling in the blanks ourselves.
Pretty good sleuthing, Mom. I think we are getting these day trips figured out!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Florida in Flower

It wasn't our originally planned destination. When Mom and I set out for a back roads trip heading 5 counties north of us a few days ago we were on our way to a plein air "paint out" event at Dudley Farms State Park in Newberry, FL.

Only I just happened to have jotted down the name of a Florida Native Nursery that I thought per chance we might stop by on our way to the park. You know, just for a few minutes. IF it wasn't too far off the main track. IF we had time. The nursery doesn't have a website... only a phone number.
When I made the call to the owner we were approaching the little town of Dunellon, FL where it was located. The very nice owner of the nursery gave me clear directions and let me know it was only about 8 miles off the main road.
Turns out we hung around the nursery for over 3 hours and there wasn't time to get to Dudley Farms by the time we were finished gabbing and shopping there.
No problem. Rainbow Springs State Park is right up the road another 10 or so miles. They have some native plants growing there I wanted to see anyway. I haven't been to Rainbow Springs since I was a kid. That's been a long time. I forgot it was there.
You've been looking at photos of the entrance drive. Views of the banks of flowers before one ever gets to the parking lot. It cost a big fat $1 to get into the park.

This must be the absolute best time to see the park. It was full of blooms. Every flowering tree and bush was loaded with flowers.
When I got home and looked through the photos it jogged a faded memory... then I looked it up... The meaning of Florida is flowers and the word comes from the Spanish Pascua, meaning “feast of flowers or Flowering Easter”.
No wonder.
So this flower is why I wanted to go there (as a second choice to Dudley).
The native azalea, Pinxter Rhododendron canescens was growing there and the little lady at the nursery had told us we would find it at the springs.
Aren't they exquisite?
Want to see it up closer?

And how about this close?
I.Want.This. Plant. In my yard.
They like a fair amount of water. It was growing near a stream in the park.
The center attraction of the park is the swimming and picnic area with its focal point being the crystal clear, blue waters only found in natural springs.
These springs form the Rainbow River, which flows about 6 miles into the Withlacoochee River in Dunnellon and then to the Gulf of Mexico. More on the history of the attraction can be found here.

We didn't swim but we ate a packed picnic lunch on a hill overlooking the swimming area. No, the little lady with the hat isn't me or mom. I just like to take photos of strangers unbeknownst to them. Wouldn't it be funny if you saw yourself on a blog you just happened to stumbled upon. No? I didn't think so. I wouldn't be too keen on it either.

There isn't a lot to "do" if you don't canoe, kayak, swim, snorkel, fish, or camp. Ha!
The pathways through the gardens were overflowing with flowers and plant life. It was awe- inspiring. The azalea shrubs towering 8-12 feet in massive amounts of pink, lavender, white and corals were really a sight to ponder.



Refreshing sounds of waterfalls throughout the gardens flowed down the huge rocks that were moved from the river to make the falls.

Creeping fig mingled with the stone walls.

Not sure what this flower is... it was a flowering tree loaded with white. Anybody?

Is this an Eastern Redbud?
Just stunning with its lavender tiny blooms all clustered together. Chances are they probably don't flower this far south. *sigh*

... and this one? I am seeing this one along the roadside every where.
Pathways and platforms weaving throughout...

Not only do I like to walk them...

But I love to photograph them. Not just here but everywhere I go.

Florida native: needle palm
So I went here purposely to see the native pinxter azaleas blooming. That was a treat. I've never seen them for sale here.
Way back at the end of the scenic walking trail if you walked all the way around the butterfly garden that had been practically leveled due to hard freezes... was the most fragrant and delicately blossoming tree in the whole park.

The stake resting at its feet identified it as a "Southern Crabapple."

Can you smell its sweet ,wafting fragrance as delicate and subtle as the flowers appear.

I've researched it under the name Southern Crabapple and can't find the botanical name. I have a feeling it doesn't bloom this far south either. *more sighing*
Update: found the botanical name in my new Florida's Best Native Plants book.
It is Southern Crabapple; Malus angustifolia.
All that blooming and excitement caught us quite by welcomed surprise!
We're going to have to get to that "paint out" next year for sure!
No plant nurseries along the way!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Toes in the Sand

As a teenager there wasn't a weekend that went by that I didn't get to the beach if I possibly could. Oh my. I'd stay in the brilliant sunshine for hours on end. Getting as much sun for THE BEST TAN was the end game. Now that I think about it, I spent time in the sun like that until just a few years ago. *sigh about the skin*

It NEVER occurred to me to be on the beach just to walk or sit or read or eat. Imagine. I live 35 miles from some of the nation's most beautiful Gulf Coast beaches. Only in the last few years have I learned how to breathe in every nuance of every aspect of the beach every chance I get. It doesn't matter to me now what kind of day it is or what time of year it is. And the thrill of it begins as soon as I get a glimpse of the open water.

I admit the winter is fast becoming my favorite time for the beach. Well, it's right up there anyway with spring and autumn, too. Summer... only early and late. Okay, so I do have my limitations.

Sunday Drive
You might be thinking about now that you've already seen these photos. Not so. I just like to take photos of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. That's right. Every single time I go over it. And in case you don't know from my last post about the Sunshine Skyway Bridge ... I really LOVE to drive over it.

Here we go...

... to the top.

On the descent...

And we're almost there!

Mr. Meems got the big idea to drive over to the beach for dinner. How about that? He still knows how to get the most points with me.

No, that's not us. I don't even know those people. But I figure if you have the guts to plop some chairs down on the public beach and say your vows in front of the whole world then you probably don't mind if you end up on a random blog. They picked a really nice day to seal the deal! (If anyone from this wedding happens to read this- I got some really nice shots of the bride and groom - I'll e-mail them if you want them. )

So much for economic downturn.

Snow birds.

We waited over an hour to be seated. To tell you the truth it didn't matter. It gave me a chance for a nice long walk on the beach to clear my head. To smell the salt.To watch the birds.To hear children playing.To feel the water.To observe the changing sky. To be thankful.

How about this for a dinner table! In the sand. On the beach. At sunset. Perfect.

In case you're wondering that was another wedding party (with the arch) at the other end of the restaurant from the first one.

The view from our table...