Sunset Tide

Following early evening summer showers, the twilight coaxed me from a messy kitchen and air conditioning. I grabbed the Canon Rebel and two of the kids and we walked over to the beach.

Light changes so quickly after the sun sets. The afterglow from the sunset cast a pastel hue over the incoming tide. The air was misty from rain.
My house is a mere 1,300 feet from this beach. This is my tenth summer on this beach and my heart still does a flip-di-dip when I come across the boardwalk and it comes into full view.
Although we had to leave precious family behind when we relocated, I knew from the first that if we were coming to Jacksonville, we would live here.

No planned, gated communities for me but an organic one. One with a past, and a soul. A place where neighbors can leave their popsicle-colored beach cruisers propped against a tree while they scamper out onto the sand.
Or a place where you can take that bike for a spin on the sand, if that’s what you prefer.
A place where the public beach access is clearly marked at every block. Some with parking. Others with rinsing showers.
How I ended up here is a stroke of luck, or maybe, God’s way of showing me that my dreams did come true – one by one by one.
In Atlantic Beach’s gift shops you’ll often find signs that people buy for their homes: “If You’re Lucky Enough to Live at the Beach, You’re Lucky Enough.” And although such a sign doesn’t suit my own personal style, I do take that motto to heart.

Skype: Where Have You Been All My Life?

I finally downloaded Skype, video version, and visited with the family in Michigan.  No doubt it’s the coolest, most awesome application on the MacBook Pro with one tiny drawback:  now I’ve got to do hair and makeup just for a telephone call.

But that’s just me.  Let it be known henceforth that my hair and makeup sensitivities are mine alone and in no way extend to the sistahood.  It’s just the way that I am.  And you know, it’s even just for me as the MacBook’s killer videocam is so sharp that I really don’t care to see my face in the raw.  I’ve got a drawer full of MAC (that’s cosmetics, not 
Apple, though I’m an Apple lover too) and I won’t Skype without it.

I saw a roomful of inlaws I hadn’t seen in two years via the miracle of the MacBook Pro and Skype.  I saw my sweet father-in-law in his hospital bed, the reason for the gathering of his children and grandchildren  in Michigan.  And they all were able to see my three kids, the real thrill for those on the other end, who don’t care a whit whether Jeannie’s wearing mascara or lipgloss.    They panned the hospital room, as my kids saw aunts, uncles, cousins, and their beloved grandparents; one supine, in his hospital bed, the other, standing next to him.  This couple, so close in marriage for 57 years, are on the precipice of a very big change.

I love this family, and I love the technology that enables those of us separated by geographical divides to come together in real time, to be virtually in the same room, and able to say, “hello,” and “I love you,” while looking into each other’s faces. 

For Kristin, in Michigan

To Kristin, a lovely, on her graduation:

You grew from a girl to a woman
while we were away.
We were not with you on your special day.
We’ve missed many birthdays and holidays, too.
But that does not mean we’ve forgotten about you.
I still remember the girl that you were
when you came into the family, but the rest was a blur.
You grew up in pictures and now you are grown,
You’re smart and you’re lovely and your future’s your own.
No matter what happens, or wherever you go,
You’ve got a Florida family who loves you, you know.

Ichetucknee Springs

Tubing on the Ichetucknee River. A fun day or overnight trip that’s close to home for beachlifers, and something anyone who calls herself a Floridian needs to do at least once in her life. Me, I’ve done it three times now, so I consider myself a pro.

I’m not the camping sort of girl, so this little trip is enough of an outdoorsy excursion that gives me a taste of the deep woods, crystal clear water and, if your fellow tubers are in it for the visceral experience, it can be a peaceful and relaxing way to pass a few hours. A rowdier bunch could change all that but I’ve found that being there in mid-week is probably your best bet in avoiding the louder tubers and all their yuks. Sure, I know they’re just having a good time, but since I don’t get to enjoy a pristine river deep in the woods very often, I  prefer when it’s quiet; when most of the others on the river are just happy campers both literally, or figuratively. Like, people who smile without yelping as they float pass. People who want to just soak in the experience of draping one’s self over an inner tube and letting the slow current carry them while they gaze at the flora and fauna both beneath the water and lining the river banks.

When it comes to renting tubes, just pick from any of the rental places that dot the approach to the park. Every one I’ve rented from has always retrieved their tubes from the park, where you leave them when you’re done. They tie the tubes or rafts to the top of your car. And if you’re like me and you don’t like to walk barefoot in the woods, you’ll want to hang on to a good-sized length of that twine so you can tie your flip flops to the handle of your tube during your float. The shuttle will take you from the park’s main area out to the river launch site…but I’m not a barefoot girl; I prefer to wear shoes or flip-flops on the trudge through the woods to the river’s edge. Yes, I know, plenty of people have no problem going barefoot but it’s just not for me. Those “water shoes” would work, I suppose; you could wear them through the woods and into the water, but really, they look so geeky that I couldn’t bring myself to wear them. Besides, I don’t wear flats, anyway. I prefer my own flip-flops, (which I do want to kick off once I’m in the water) so lesson learned: keep the twine! You can also use it to tie your waterproof camera to the other handle, because as someone who takes pictures of just about everything, you’re going to want to photograph the beauty of the river. The conflict therein, though, is that you’re working with the limitations of a disposable camera (well, I was, anyway, as I cannot afford a waterproof enclosure for the D-SLR) and truthfully, I think, I had to make a choice: was I going to photograph the experience, or just enjoy it? In the end I decided to just enjoy it, which was a great relief because I’m one of those who feels compelled to photograph everything.  In my situation, the camera was nothing but a hassle but with the proper planning (and a second length of twine) you can have your flip-flops and camera too.

A word about tubes. When you’re out at Buffalo Joe’s (or wherever) choosing your tube, may I suggest you strongly consider the “two-man” tube as a viable option if you’ve got elementary-aged kids. It’s probably true that these kids will want “my own tube” but you have to remember that once they actually get to the river and there’s no turning back, at least half of them will be a little freaked out by the idea of floating alone and will be grasping at yours for security anyway, so you may as well get the double tube just to see how they like the river if it’s their first time. We’d always gotten a raft in the past which meant they stayed dry, but part of the fun, I think, is to get as close to the water, if not in it, as you can. One could actually snorkel their way down the river if one wanted to.

Once you arrive at the park and get yourselves ready – bathing suits and sunscreen and everyone uses the bathroom, now you have to decide what to do about your car keys because the park’s lockers are broken. You see the Sharpie-scrawled sign at the concession stand offering to HOLD CARS KEYS FOR $1. You wonder: should you really hand over your keys to a guy behind the concession counter at a remote state park? You debate this with yourself for a while. You know you can’t risk losing the keys in the river or getting the electronic keys wet. You also know that you cannot risk losing your credit cards, cash, camera equipment whatever else is jammed into your car, not to mention the car itself. You doubt the car would actually be stolen, rather, you worry that given a two-hour window of opportunity, a concession guy would have plenty of time to paw through your things. But you seem to remember that you did this the last time – – and finally you decide to do it again, take the risk, what the hell. You can’t help but tell that guy to keep outta your car at which point he laughs at you, having heard it all before. When you return later to retrieve your keys he laughs again, tells you the car handled really well and that he thinks he parked it in the same spot you had it in and ha, ha, ha. You are reassured to see everything as it was and no strange charges have posted to your credit card account…yet.

So finally: the river. You’re taken by shuttle to the drop off point deep in the woods. You walk down that dirt path, carrying your tubes, to the river’s edge. Here you launch and away people float, some in clusters of two or three tubes, some in pairs, a few, alone. It’s a quiet day on the river. There is the usual uneasiness about getting into unfamiliar waters but we’ve done it before and everyone there was all smiles. As you float along you realize your middle child, who happily chose her own tube back at Buffalo Joe’s, is now in fact clutching the handle of your tube, and won’t let go. Suddenly she’s not so sure she wants to be in her own tube, not so sure she even wants her feet to touch the water, which is not such a good thing considering you’ve just begun and there’s a ninety minute float ahead of you. Otherwise level headed middle school girls have been known to become a little high strung out there on the river, freaked out by the lovely, undulating ribbon-like plants that will sometimes tickle your feet as you pass overtop them. Or by the fish they see as clearly as if they were gazing into a well-maintained aquarium. The water is clear and the bottom isn’t mucky (not that you’d ever have to touch the bottom) but you’re certainly out in the middle of the woods, with mangroves growing on the riverbank, and turtles sunning themselves on exposed fallen trees…it’s a different environment altogether for a girl who’s growing up in a beach town and doesn’t have parents who like camping and therefore has had minimal exposure to venues like rivers to tube upon. Whatever it was, this girl was not going to let go of my tube, nor would she be convinced to dangle her legs in the water which was a great change of pace from riding with your backside over the opening.

And so for those next ninety minutes, you enjoy the heck out of the experience, your middle girl is latched on to your double tube and is enjoying herself, tentatively, and the three of you float on down the Ichetucknee River. Your son’s ahead of you all, floating peacefully and enjoying the time to himself. Note to self, you think, bring more of the twine next time, so any anxious tuber can rope herself to someone else’s tube if necessary.

(Following photos are all of the headsprings)

Our favorite park of the Ichetucknee day is swimming in the headspring of the Ichetucknee River after tubing. This cold, clear swimming hole was such a lovely shade of green/blue and perfect for snorkeling.  The water in the headspring is cold, but you tell them all to take the plunge, and if you keep moving your body acclimates quickly (becomes numb!). It’s totally refreshing on a 96 degree Florida afternoon.

The middle child had no problem swimming like a little dolphin here. You watch through your mask as this person who only an hour earlier was so skittish about her feet touching the water is now diving clear to the bottom of the spring and touching it (with her bare hands). You are glad that your kids love to swim and snorkel and you all drove home at the end of the day in the dark – hoping you can get another visit to the Springs in before the summer ends.

DVD Marathon This Week: Need Ideas!

Our neighborhood Blockbuster is running a week long promotion.  You fork over $15 and can rent unlimited DVDs, two checked out at a time, for one week.  

This, then, is the perfect opportunity to settle in for a movie marathon.  Or, better yet, to watch a good television series start to finish, one after the next.  Have you ever done that?  Just sat down and started watching from the very beginning and didn’t stop til it was over?
I watched The Wire in a marathon session last summer. Having never seen a single episode of the “highly acclaimed HBO drama”, I started with Season One, Episode One and was hooked.  I had to join Netflix to ensure that I could get the discs in consecutive order and in a timely fashion.  I was steeped in that program and deeply affected by it.  55 television hours later,  it was over and I mourned its finale.  I missed those characters for a good few weeks afterwards.  The episodes were so compelling, the acting so good.  Quality televsion drama is so hard to come by but this was good TV.  Well, actually, it’s not TV, it’s HBO.  (It’s TV, but anyway…)
I’m yearning for another viewing experience like that one.
Any suggestions for must-see films, or television episodes I should watch during my ‘free for all’ week which started today?  I’m watching Weeds Season Four to start with.  I’ll probably finish that tomorrow.
I just need to make sure I still have time to do some work, and read Infinite Jest.
So:  I’d love some ideas!  The Blockbuster girl recommended the series Dexter and another one, House.
I’m not interested in Lost or 24 or Heroes or True Blood.  Sopranos I’ve done and loved it but I’ve already watched those episodes all more than once.  Same with Sex and The City.
Maybe I should stick with films.
Or, I should just let the kids rent the movies and I’ll lay on the couch and read and read…

Now For My Shallow Side…

What a hilarious group of grown up women masquerading as middle-schoolers.
Goils, I’m gonna miss you and your bubbies, too.
You’re unbelievable. 
Seriously.  Are you proud of yourselves?  
Well, I know you don’t care; you like being on TV and it makes passing my time while folding laundry and sweeping the kitchen floor quite entertaining.  But what’s the most fun of all is reading the episode recaps posted online by various sources.
Truly hilarious reading!
See ya next time Joisey goils.

The Rock

We found this rock in the low tide this evening.  

It makes you wonder about the story behind it.

I’m guessing that someone wrote all their negative feelings and attributes onto the rock.  To symbolically dissociate themselves from the negativity they hurled the rock into the ocean.  Not a bad exercise if you think about it.

I wonder if it worked.

Hermit the Crab

This adorable and captivating hermit crab was our very own for several minutes yesterday.  The young snorkelers at Huguenot Park found Hermit and brought him to me where I caressed him with my lens and got this  one perfect shot to remember him by.  All efforts to entice him to perform for a short video  failed as he remained retracted and immobile within his shell while the camera above him whirred away, waiting… 

Marine life outsmarts the humans once again.  

After a few minutes of admiring Hermit and not yet ready to give up on capturing the hermit crab scamper on video,  a gentle wave washed over us and Hermit was gone.

Goodbye Hermit. You were an exquisite little fellow.  Be well.

Daycation Diverted…

(intentional black & white shots of Big Talbot Island Park beach) a certain someone who came to her senses at the last minute and decided that an 11:00 a.m. departure for a 113 mile (one way) trip to a river where the number of daily riders are restricted and the suggested latest arrival time is 2:00pm – not to mention the prevalence of afternoon thunderstorms which can ruin a tubing day in a hurry – might not be prudent.  Yes, the group was disappointed but she doubted that any of them had ever driven two hours (one way) only to miss a cut off time by a matter of moments, and she wasn’t keen to repeat that experience.  The departure time had migrated a bit throughout the morning,  and by 11:00 she suddenly got the feeling that it was entirely possible they’d drive all the way to Ichetucknee and be turned away at the gate. 

The eleven children involved pulled long faces when a daycation detour was proposed.  But (in my world) the adults prevail, and so it was that two very accommodating mothers – and me –  drove the kids up to Big Talbot Island instead. It’s a short ride across the St. John’s River on the charmingly down-home Mayport Ferry, and across a bridge to the lovely Big Talbot Island. 

It took a while for the eleven to give over to the change of venue, and there was residual crabbiness even while they romped on the ‘trees beach’ at Big Talbot Island.  So they passed a few hours playing and complaining amidst the trees on this very picturesque beach. 

They were fed sandwiches and sodas and Cheetos and watermelon and Red Velvet cupcakes. And while they did smile and play for a short time, there was was an undercurrent of discontent amongst them all.  Someone cut their foot.  Another one missed his video games and wanted air conditioning.  There was no euphoria.  I guess I’d deflated that when I pulled the plug on Ichetucknee earlier and they weren’t so eager to get over it.

So when the eleven pretty much decided they’d be happier at Huguenot Park beach, I conceded defeat and we backtracked to Huguenot, which is the first park just off the Mayport Ferry.

I hadn’t loved that first visit to Huguenot last week but this time we chose a different place to park the car on the beach, and what a difference the location made!

The eleven insisted we park the cars at  the spot just before the intracoastal waterway melds into the Atlantic.  We arrived at exactly  low tide, so there was an enormous beach with a wonderfully large tidal pool. The girls of eleven excitedly grabbed their masks and snorkels (intended for the clear waters of the Ichetucknee River) and spent the next few hours face down as incoming tide swelled the shallows with marine life.  The boys immediately set off for a different locale.  The intracoastal’s small lake (a/k/a the “mucky bottom” lake) at low tide had a small island in the middle and they zeroed in on that.  They swam back forth from “island” to beach until the island was once again subsumed with water a few hours later.

And I finally relaxed because now  everyone  seemed happy.

Even the gulls were talkative in a musical sort of way.  The flock was chattering in such a chorus in the distance and it was unlike anything I’d ever heard before.  Today I felt magnanimous toward them.  On other days, I admit to being totally annoyed with people who toss food into the air to “feed the birds” on the beach.  The swarming mass, flapping and cawing for those few bits of bread, fly low overhead and are known to let loose without regard for those of us who just want to read or snooze  without the threat of being shat upon. I’m not above asking people who insist on food-throwing to take it on down the beach, if they would, and I might not even say please.

But not today.  The light on the Huguenot beach in late afternoon was shimmering, lustrous.   The eleven were now lighthearted and happy with their respective Huguenot adventures.  We’d added a couple of kids (and a third mom) to the mix; the two post-script children met up with us after the Ichetucknee letdown so they weren’t holding a grudge to begin with.

The treasures the snorkelers found was a magical way to end the diverted daycation.


(look closely and you’ll see the little hermit crab’s legs peeking out of the shell.)
Soon, the tide reclaimed our borrowed treasures, and then the day was done.  We made it in the nick of time for the ferry’s last crossing with our bodies sunburned, a car full of beach sand and several sea gull souvenirs dotting the van. 

I think the eleven would agree that it was a good day after all.

Getting Ready for This Week’s Daycation

A majestic hardwood, uprooted in a long-past storm, continues growing ever upward among the lush ferns in a floodplain next to the Blue Hole Trail.

Tomorrow some of the neighborhood beachlifers are taking a day trip to Ichetucknee River.

Sounds like a real southern thang, doesn’t it?

It’s a float down the Ichetucknee River on rafts or tubes – your choice.  It’s a real, spring fed, lazy river rife with fauna and mangroves and your float can take anywhere from one and a half hours, to half a day, depending on where you put in.  It will take us about two hours to drive there; it’s located in North Central Florida.

Afterward it’s always fun to drive around to the head spring, a very chilly, clear large pond that’s fun to swim in.  Those of us who can handle cold water, that is.  Those of us who are (wo)man enough for it.  We’re bringing our snorkel gear.  It’s no coral reef, to be sure, but there are plenty of fish darting about to look at.  I’ll take my snorkeling where I can get it, this summer.

(this is the head spring-fun!)

The cold head spring’s got nothing on Lake Michigan, though.  I grew up swimming her cold waters in the summer, a treat I’m looking forward to later this summer.  I love swimming in the ocean but I do prefer a freshwater lake with a nice sandy bottom and no scary creatures lurking beneath the surface…

Whenever I’ve been there, the head spring has never been as crowded as is shown in the picture.  But it sure feels cold; it maintains a constant temperature of 72 degrees year round.

I’ll be back on Wednesday with a report on this week’s daycation.  The real reason I’m writing so late is to leave you with this delectable picture of the treats we’ll we sharing with our friends:  luscious Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese frosting, created from scratch by my very own pastry chef, Lily, age 11.

I found a good recipe online and printed it for her.  I watched her whip these up from behind my laptop.  I tested only one cupcake but I could have devoured them all.  Then, I photographed them.

Aren’t they pretty?