She was ours, for twenty minutes of our lives. Soft, cuddly, curious, playful, affectionate.

We knew before going into the ‘hugging room’ that we couldn’t take her home; I knew it would be hard to hold her, and leave without her.

I’d never thought of an Alaskan Siberian Husky before playing with her…now, I’d have one in a minute.
If I was ready for a dog in our lives. Which I’m not.

But, oh. How we loved on her for twenty minutes. We did her a favor, I told my daughter. The puppy was desperate to play with the pups in the adjoining kennel. They were tussling about together, having a good old time, and the Husky pup was barking excitedly, trying to get to them through the glass separator to join in the fun. I wondered if she’d be a barker, but when she came into the room with us it was clear that her temperament was quite perfect. Part playful and inquisitive, and also eager for a snuggle, nuzzling my daughter’s neck. It was quite touching. We returned her to her space, tuckered out. No longer straining to get to the puppies next to her, she drank some water, while lying down. She is just a baby, after all.

It was a good thing we are in California still. Had we met this precious pup at home in Florida, it’s possible I’d have thrown caution to the wind, run the Visa for $1,300, and brought this Husky home for Easter.

Someone will find this puppy as enchanting as we did. I hope that someone treats her well.

West Coastlife: Mountains and Horses

A definite must on this trip was a trail ride in the mountains where we might could see the ocean, too.  (Might could…I’d never heard anyone say that until a couple of years ago, and since then, I’ve heard it more than once.  Couldn’t resist.)

Googled ‘horseback riding’ for the area and found the perfect spot for us.  Park Place Stable in Malibu.  A short drive from home, nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains at Malibu, the website pictured exactly what I was looking for and it didn’t disappoint.  The owner, Joy, was friendly and chatted it up with me as we got settled with the signing of forms, trying on of helmets, and getting the horses ready for us.

I watched a horse being groomed; mane  had been given a snappy trim, and was getting his hooves cleaned, so I commented about him getting a pedicure.  That’s when Joy told us that this horse, Cornelius, would be filmed for a Millionaire Matchmaker (a horseback riding date for the couple) episode the following day, along with Fjona, another of their horses.  So we had a fun time talking about that for a bit. I probably knew more about this (vapid) show than she did, which made me like her even more.

Our guide, Chantal, a lovely and natural horsewoman, handled the four of us with practiced ease.  Soon we were saddled and off we went, me bringing up the rear (a kind of important position,  *ahem*) of the group. She wore black and white riding clothes, casually melding the English and Western styles, long-legged and lithe. She spoke with a charming French-sounding accent, and led us to the most lovely spots for viewing and picture-taking.

My daughter who loves horses was the impetus for the ride, and I’m glad of it.  It was a beautiful way to connect with the outdoors, being on horseback in the hills, and yes, we did see the Pacific from one vantage point.  Ah, gorgeous. The mountains were verdant and blooming, the air was breezy, and the sun was shining.  At about 68 degrees there, it was perfect.

And our horses!  Wonderful temperaments, each of them; we all petted and cuddled them afterwards. My daughter rode Cornelius and my sister, Fiona – the two horses tapped for ‘Millionaire’ program, while my nephew took Buddy and I rode Lauren.  I loved Lauren by the end of that ride, and we all posed with the horses once they’d had their water and were resting. I guess horses can sleep standing up. Fiona couldn’t keep her eyes open, darling girl.

It was great, being outside, with the horses, and exploring new places. Next time, we’ll go for the three hour ride. Goodbye, Lauren. I’ll watch for the others on TV and remember, you were ours, if only for an hour.

West Coastlife

Atlantic Beachlife is on the road this week, kicking it Pacific-style.

On the Pacific Coast Highway, watching the surfers line up in the water, wearing wetsuits and catching waves, inhaling that sweet salty air, pungent, and redolent of Atlantic beachlife, we ascended from the beach to the hills overlooking the water. You can’t do that at home. Drive up from the coast; and I do love the mountains. Every place has its charms.

The Getty Villa in Malibu was our first stop, the gorgeous educational center and museum dedicated to the study of the arts and cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria.  Since I took my daughter out of school for two days to visit California, we had to add some culture to itinerary!

It was worth it; a place one can visit for a day, or a couple of hours; some students we ran into later in the day said they always get extra credit from teachers when they visit The Getty, so I’ll have to make sure her teachers at St. Paul’s  know this!  (Do you think they read my blog?)

Afterwards, we made way to the shops at the Third Street Promenade.  It’s a fun place to shop and stroll about; really just a mall, but it has a good vibe going, on the street.

It was my daughter’s first time, and she had a little money in her wallet for vacation shopping. We had to compensate for the “field trip” at The Getty and Third Street is always a reliable shopping venue that feels different than home.

What was even better about shopping the Third Street Promenade was realizing that I really do have all I need from my hometown, local shops.  The shops and boutiques that are situated in charming storefronts in my neighborhood, and owned by my friends and neighbors; not corporate retail conglomerates.  It was totally fun poking in and out of shops I’d only ever read about in magazines, like H & M and Kitson.  But at the end of it all, I knew: I have everything I need and want right at home.

And if I really did care to buy this book,  our local, independent bookseller could order it for me  at the same cost.

If you live in a town with locally owned and operated shops, support them.  They make your community special.  Malls have their place, but you can’t beat the hometown storefront way of life.  Ours are every bit as cutting edge as the big name stores in L.A.

Springs Season 2011 Officially Open!

The spring run at Blue Spring, in Volusia County.


The big day was Sunday, April 10!  By officially open that means when I go underwater in a spring.  As it happened, I was passing by Blue Spring State Park, and was determined not to miss my chance to see it, photograph it,  and have a full body immersion.  It was a 93 degree April scorcher, after all.

So far, my heart belongs to Blue Springs in Gilchrist County, near the town of High Springs, and so my springs-lovin’ friend refers to other springs also named Blue Springs as ‘Volusia Blue’ or ‘Lafayette Blue’ or ‘Madison Blue’ . There’s a small spring in Levy County also called Blue Springs, and I’ve actually visited that one.  Nice, but… it’s not my Blue Springs.  I’ve heard great things about the other Blues, so I’m keeping an open mind. Blue Spring State Park in Volusia County is well known for being the manatee migration site, when the winter waters of the St. John’s River become too cold for their liking.  They’ll leave the chilly river, and come into the spring, where the water temps are 72 degrees year round.  They hang out here for a couple of months, until the river warms again, and off they go.

(Photo courtesy of Florida State Park website – Blue Spring Park)

Schools send busloads of children on field trips during the winter months for manatee viewing. It’s April, so  the manatees have departed and now the humans  flock to Blue Spring.  There’s nothing like a cool spring on a 93 degree day. Last Sunday, there was already a line of cars waiting to enter the park by the time we arrived, later in the afternoon.  Note to self: avoid weekends if possible, and arrive early in the day. Still, this park can handle a crowd, without it feeling too crowded.  That’s a plus!  Because we’d arrived later, and I hadn’t brought along my usual snorkeling gear, it was a limited experience.  You don’t have to be a snorkeler to enjoy the springs.  Most people – kids and adults – are content to splash and swim about the water, perhaps renting (or bringing their own) tubes for a short float from the ‘put in’ point to the ‘exit’ point of the spring run.

(Photo courtesy of Florida State Park website – Blue Spring Park)

We rented a tube and enjoyed a nice float along the spring run; about a 15 minute ride.  After that we swam in the spring run, going with the current, to the ending point.  The spring run is shallow; adults can stop and stand up in the water.  Swimming against the current is doable but fins are definitely recommended.  Even with fins, it’s a good swim to reach the spring head.  I love swimming against the current in other spring runs, but not so, this day.  I’d come woefully unprepared; it was a spontaneous visit, but very fun. I never pass up a chance to see a new spring!  Still, I’d have wanted my mask or at least, goggles, so I could view the spectacle of the spring vent and other tiny fissures where the water bubbles forth from the aquifer. So, I didn’t make it to the spring head from the water.

Instead, I walked along the lovely, shaded boardwalk; a 1/3 mile through the shaded hammock of hardwood trees, from the  St. John’s River, along the spring run, and ending at the viewing platform of Blue Spring itself. Oh, how I’d have have loved to be in that water, where fewer people were swimming.

(photo courtesy of Florida State Parks website – Blue Spring State Park)

It’s a large spring surrounded by trees, naturally maintained.  I’m not so fond of retaining walls built by  state or county parks that create a pool-like effect around a spring, but I can appreciate its purpose.  This enables visitors to perch along the edge and dangle their feet in the cooling waters. (Not everyone wants the full immersion experience!)  Or, they may sit, partially in the water,  on the shelf that’s built below the rim. Just like a nice swimming pool.  They’re lovely,  but it’s the rustic springs I’m drawn to…where the aquatic life flourishes and fish are plentiful. Retaining walls tend to restrict the growth of flora, and therefore, there’s fewer fish swimming about.  I’d prefer to look at fish and plant life underwater, rather than people jostling about!  Still,  there are springs for everyone’s preferences here in Florida.

So, no, I did not have the camera on hand to photograph this place.  Due to time constraints I had to make a choice, so  I left it in the car, and dove into the water.  Later, I took a few macro shots while my daughter waited in the car for me to finish, so that curtailed my photography fun. I snapped a few macro shots of the Spanish moss, and continued on the long drive home.  It had been a busy weekend already.

Macro Monday, Spanish Moss on Sunday

Yesterday I was in Volusia County where I finally visited the famed Blue Spring State Park. More about the spring itself in my next post.  Today, it’s all about the Spanish moss.

When you read such phrases as, “The trees were dripping with Spanish moss,”  well, today, that was all I could think of when I first saw the grand, old live oak that stood with the three-story home of Louis Thursby behind it, in this picture.  The home was constructed, truly, back in the day, and that day was in 1872.  Now it’s open to park visitors who may tromp through its wooden plank floors and imagine what it might’ve been like to live in such a beautiful location in what was surely a beautiful home…even if it didn’t have air conditioning.

On the bank where the St. John's River meets the Blue Spring run.

A 93 degree day in April 2011 kind of makes me think I probably wouldn’t be loving Florida quite so much, before God created air conditioning.

This tree is so mighty and I love how it contrasts with the house from this angle.

Moving underneath the grand live oak looking up…it’s raining Spanish moss!

Walk a few yards over the lawn and you’re on the 1/3 mile boardwalk that follows the St. John’s River into the spring run and ends at Blue Spring itself.  It takes you through a shady hammock of hardwood trees, the Spanish moss like textured veils, framing the view of the river and spring.

Come along with me as I get closer to this moss, so evocative of Southern trees; a delight to this transplant from the North for the first several years.  I still appreciate its character even while I’m accustomed to the landscape now.

Framed by Spanish moss

Spiders and other bugs work their delicate magic amidst the fluff of the moss.

Somewhere I read that back in the day, mattresses were stuffed with Spanish moss. Which sounds nice, until the historian said that bedbugs were a problem, too.  I guess it’s to be expected, after all; it’s obvious there’s plenty of insect activity going on here!

Delicate strands of Spanish moss wrap themselves around thin branches.

Spanish moss dancing in the breeze (above) and in the sunlight (below).

Beachlife Springtime

The weather’s been fantastic these past several weeks, and my beach season 2011 opened officially the day I put on my black bathing suit a couple of weeks ago,   and spent a glorious afternoon on the white sands of my beach.

Yes, it still fits.

No, I won’t be posting any pictures of me in it.  Well, all right.  Here’s me, waving goodbye to the weekend last Sunday.

It was a perfect day; a bit on the cool side, but we know that summer’s heat and humidity is on its way.  That’s when we give thanks for Florida’s springs;  many are located within ‘day tripping’ distance and we’re already talking about our first trip there.  I say we go in May.  Last year, we went to my favorite, Blue Springs Park, to kick off my birthday weekend and had a heck of a great time. I recall that I captured my experience here, and that it was a sort of ‘life list’ moment for me.  When I first discovered the tiny  Naked Spring on grounds at Blue Springs, I was enchanted.

There is so much to do and discover in this region.  The kids in the carpool were discussing our summer day-trippin’ plans just this afternoon.  We have a sort of  travel posse: a gaggle of kids and various hangers-on,  together with three or four other cars full of moms, their kids, friends, coolers, fins, masks,  towels, sandwiches, sunscreen, snacks, a watermelon, cash, and whatever else we need to make our longish journey there and back in a day. We leave early and come home late.  There are about four of us adults, and we’ve all touched base recently and signed on for another summer of exploring and fun!  I can’t wait.

Stay tuned for reports of our adventures.

And I may have some special destination reports here soon.  Plans are afoot to take Atlantic Beachlife on the road…

Riverside Arts Market

After a few months’ hiatus, the Riverside Arts Market is back. The farmer’s market carried on without interruption; the Arts Market debuted its 2011 season on March 5 under the Fuller Warren Bridge, with a great view of downtown Jacksonville, on the St. John’s River.

It was great.  I watched people watching art and was on an inspiration mission.  The street is inspiring.

This girl wandered from textile booth to textile booth, sporting a handmade bag of her own.

I stopped at every photographer’s booth to see how my work  holds up to theirs.  It was fun to see that yes, if I wanted, I think I could have an exhibition too.  While I’m not at the top of my game yet  ( neither are many of them), who cares?  Aren’t we always striving? It was fun to talk shop with a few photographers there.

There was the requisite street performer, whose  act I’ve witnessed before.   This man gets himself tied into a straightjacket and wound up with chains by random audience members. Then he’s hauled to the top of a pole, upside down, and sets a time limit for himself to break free, adding to the suspense of his performance.  He’s got the crowd-banter down pat.  I’ve watched him do this three times.  He always gets out, of course, and the crowd loves it.   He always says something like, “This is what happens when a guy loses his job at Goldman Sachs,” meaning, now he earns tip money from doing his act at RAM.  I’m a sucker for the backstory; next time I’m going to ask him. I also wonder what he does make in tips, too.  What do you think?  Too personal a question?

This enthralled child watches him as he’s tied, chained,  and strung up, seemingly helpless.  But this dude is anything but helpless.  He manages by sheer force of core strength and practiced skill, to wriggle his way free.

Then there was the food.  Arts market fare ranges from meat-on-a-stick, which had the longest line, to the juiciest turkey burger I’ve ever tasted.  Ever.  I guess you know what I ate; this is what I photographed:

This musician stood alone and played beautifully.  I took several pictures of him.  I grabbed a card from the table nearby, thinking it was his, and that I’d email the photos to him.  Regrettably it wasn’t;  now he’ll never see them.   All these performers really make the ambiance; without them, the outdoor art and farmer’s market just wouldn’t be complete.

Then there were the people with the large snakes.  Curling around the neck of this girl, who quite loved her pet.  She encouraged everyone to approach him, and touch him, which freaked out some of the kids but I figured if she let the thing wind itself around her body, touching him would be no problem.  I realize this seems absurd to snake lovers, but I don’t know snakes.  They are enigmas to me. I’m not fond of  long limbless reptile that have no eyelids, a short tail, and jaws that are  capable of considerable extension.  Still, this snake seemed friendly enough and its handler, a serene young woman.

I touched him.  Many of the kids were tentative but intrigued.

The snake’s body was warm and smooth.  His skin was beautiful.  The next morning in church,  I saw a woman wearing shoes that could have been made from this snake’s twin brother!   Yikes.  Snakeskin shoes. That gave me a start.

The Riverside Arts Market is really great for people of all ages.  Whether your interest is produce or art; oddities or music,  wandering about under the bridge with the local community in a weekly gathering of artists and farmers and performers is something special.  It’s just right: neither too small, nor overwhelming in size.

It’s all about the community-minded people, their creativity, their local farm-to-you produce, and fun.

One of my very favorite parts of the Riverside Arts Market is the Imagination Squared art project.  The link will take you to its Facebook Page but basically, here’s the deal:  for $36 you get two wooden squares and the chance to have your artwork displayed (and maybe, sold!) at RAM.  The squares are the canvas for your imagination and creativity. Get your artist on and go for it.  I’ve seen many squares on display and the coolest part is that anyone can get involved.  Some of the square are obviously made by seasoned artists, others by those with a love for art.  Either way, your work will get four weeks on display and whether it sells or not (heck, maybe you’ll just create one for yourself and another to give as a gift…), isn’t so much the point of the project. It’s the community involvement, and giving a platform for the artist in everyone a chance to be showcased.

Don’t even ask me why I didn’t take a few pics of  my favorite display!  I’m captivated by the concept and inspired to try something myself. It might come out looking like kindergarten artwork but who knows?  I feel a collage brewing…

See? Even the beachlifer loves life on the street.  I definitely give the Riverside Arts Market a ‘must do’ on your list of activities close to home.  Diversity is the catalyst to inspiration. Get out and come explore next weekend – at RAM.

Wandering Winter Park

I recently spent a really lovely afternoon in Winter Park, Florida. January, 70 degrees.   How I do love winter in Florida. I far prefer hanging out in Winter Park on a mild January Sunday afternoon to jostling crowds in the Magic Kingdom.   How I do really not like  Disney World. Did you know you can hop the Amtrack in Jacksonville and two and half hours and $23 later you can get off here? You’ll debark into Central Park, a beautiful city park, spacious, with trees, a sidewalk that runs the perimeter, some sculptures, and a fountain. People step out , alone, or with friends or family, and what  a fabulous space they have, to enjoy  Winter Park life.  Even if you’re not going round the shops or dining in one of their restaurants or cafes, this town is pretty much another epitome of local, and it’s no wonder I’m drawn to it. The fabricated happiness of Disney versus a slow wander in a place like Winter Park? Do you really have to ask? I know that Disney has its charms and is pretty much amazing and delights millions of people. I’m just not drawn to it. And the planned community, adjacent to Disney…known, at least in its earlier years as Disney’s town, called Celebration? Pardon me if you live there or have loved ones who do. But I could personally never buy a home in planned development that named itself Celebration, which was a co-branding move on the part of the developers. It’s a planned urban development with a manufactured  town at its center. It’s certainly not the first planned development with town, but because it was at least initially marketed as Disney’s town, it particularly grates on me. It’s the opposite of a place like Winter Park, and so many of the neighborhoods of Jacksonville; places that have their own,  distinctive flair. A vibe that doesn’t ride the coattails of Mickey. It’s just that I’d rather spend my time in places that are authentic, rather than standing in line to go on rides and spend money on their brand of this and that. Yes, I’ve been there. Taken the kids there a couple of times. And truthfully, they’d have rather been screaming on a Disney ride than being dragged along while I rhapsodize about the charm of this central Florida town, and taking photos of train tracks and sculptures and park benches and street signs and people walking.  Yeah, I get it: boring.  But if you fancy yourself a documentarist, it’s kind of a fun way to pass the time. Particularly when it’s January, and 70 degrees, and a lazy Sunday, with no responsibilities but to return to my luxury hotel to watch the Golden Globes on the flat screen from a big bed with clean, white sheets. So, nice.

Below is a fountain, obviously; in the center was a sculpture of a woman playing the harp.

Oh dear.  Have I become my mother?  An afternoon like this would have been unbearable as a kid.  My own would have found the entire afternoon as excruciating as I find standing in line at Disney.  Fortunately for us both, they weren’t along for my ride, on this day.

With only iPhone to record the day, I happily wandered the park,  and watched Winter Park do Sunday afternoon. Some shopped and dined. Others spent some leisurely time in the park; alone, reading on the grass; or with the family, little kids skating or waddling about the grass (not complaining! still too young to think that train tracks and a fountain’s spray are not thrilling), lured by the spray of the water fountain. The sculpture, a small trailer, constructed of a transparent mesh wire, featured a compact domestic interior. It’s a curious thing for first-timers to see; a trailer? In the park? So you walk over and peer inside and see this charming rendition of a vacation trailer one would pull on the back of a car, except it’s not really meant for use – it’s art. I loved it.  I was enchanted.  Here are some pictures:

I know you can see how much I loved this park, this town.

For My Friends in San Marco

San Marco is a lovely neighborhood in Jacksonville, not coastal. Its claim is the magnificent St. John’s River and old neighborhoods with traditional homes, large lawns and splendid trees. If you’re from Michigan, like me, think of it as Birmingham meets the Grosse Pointes. What gives San Marco its community vibe is the Square…the in town pedestrian shopping area filled with entrepreneurial spirit and unique offerings from boutiques to the all-important bookstore to several renown restaurants and a cadre of merchants and residents who care about keeping this neighborhood thriving and lovely. And that it is.

I enjoy driving from the beach to San Marco. I plug in to the iPod (well, the iPhone, but you know…) and listen to my curated content and when I arrive, and debark, camera and tripod in hand, I enjoy wandering their streets, feeling as though I’m in a different world than the beach. Which it is. The vibes are totally different but their similarity is an important one: they are invested in the local community just as the beach is invested in its. When we support the local it enhances our lifestyle, frees us from the “mall-if-i-cation” of America, and lets the free spirit reign where it’s planted. You might not find a San Marco style shop at the beach (but why not?) and you’d more likely not find certain beach style shops in San Marco … but it’s totally cool to hopscotch about the neighborhoods of the greater Jacksonville area because these communities are diverse and have a flavor all their own.

Today, here’s a slideshow of the Holidays in San Marco:

Holidays in San Marco from Jeannie Greenwald on Vimeo.

(The audio accompanying the video is Carol of the Bells, purchased by me via iTunes. If you like it, it’s a great addition to your holiday music library and I’d encourage you to get it too. It’s from the Barenaked Ladies’ Barenaked for the Holidays CD which our whole family loves, year after year.)

I have a favorite park in San Marco already, too, but that will be an ‘Off the Island’ post for another day.