Community will provide

Living in one place for many years, a small southern town in particular, can have drawbacks that have been featured for years at the heart of many classic novels and short stories: racism, small-mindedness, constricting bonds of family, responsibility, loyalties, friendships, reputations established and lost. For someone who leaves – who escapes these ties – one may only see the negatives small town ties present. If, rather than pack up and leave, one remains, the investment begins to pay dividends.  Gradually, the constancy  provides the rewards of community – what was entangling and demanding becomes empowering and supporting.

When I was a graduate student of little means, I used to say Gainesville Will Provide. If I needed something – bookshelves, lamps, pots and pans, what-have you, more often that not I could find it at a thrift store, garage sale, or, often, even waiting on the curb just for me to pick up. A gift from the town. Recently, I got this cool chair:


A few days later on a walk in my neighborhood I found some hardwood discarded kitchen cabinets just when I needed some nesting boxes for my growing flock of chickens (complete with undermount lighting).



One day not long ago a friend called to tell me about an entire chicken coop on the curb! My husband enlisted a friend, picked it up and brought it home for me the next day – my actual birthday. Thanks for the gift, town!








With a little additional investment, it looks a bit better (fence under construction):




More dramatically, our community ties gave us the opportunity to invest in a new house. A little yellow house full of memories and love that we can restore and rent to others who may go on to establish themselves in this community.


Urban hiking in LA

Time to get publishing the blog again, after a too long hiatus! The motivation came as the unplanned side effect of a quick mid-January visit to Diane (aka NerdHaven West) in LA.

For the first time in quite a while, I hopped on a plane without my child and husband. What a strange feeling! I had no one to care for other than myself. Sounds silly, really, but it was two days of quality time, quality eats, and a refresher of traveling as an independent adult.

Before the main purpose of my visit began – helping an elderly aunt transition to her downsized home – Diane whisked me away from the airport to lunch at a hip lunch counter, Sqirl, with a friend.

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The friend let me know she was a fan of the site, and her comments encouraged me to reconsider my approach to the site and get blogging again. I’m sure NerdHaven West won’t be able to resist joining the process, despite her status as a full-time employee.

After our first meal, I felt any other cultural experiences I would have in LA would be gravy.

One my goals in LA was to take a hike. I was envisioning a hillside climb, perhaps with a reward of ocean views. The next day, as we lingered over our morning tea, Diane hatched the plan to do an urban hike down a stretch of Ventura Blvd. in the valley. Zero drive, lots of walking, interesting view of the evolution of a shopping district. Perfect!

The famous road has gastro pubs popping up from its economically fertile earth like mushrooms after a soaking rain. Around noon, we began pounding the pavement between them, garden shops, dance studios and bakeries; demonstrating an impressive range of locally owned businesses.

I started the day with a Bloody Mary (in my sensible urban hiking outfit).


We passed landmark eateries:








And newcomers:


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The One Up

The One Up

Stir Resturant & Lounge

Stir Restaurant & Lounge





We found religion:



















Plants and garden accents:









and sunsets with those classic palm trees:



So maybe it took us more than four hours to walk four miles, but we shared a sense of  accomplishment and a beverage at trail’s end. Oh, and we also hatched a plan to walk more rugged miles together in the future. More on that later!

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The Storm Before the Calm

Tomorrow we leave for the UK. We will be there for a nice long visit and doing some things we only dreamed we would ever do; like attending a live (mostly) Monty Python performance, walking the Welsh coast, and seeing our son perform Shakespeare in Oxford. I am beyond excited.

But tomorrow is another day. Today is last minute stuff: trips to the bank, looong holds waiting to deal with impenetrable insurance bureaucracy, wrapping one last batch of caramels, cleaning the chicken coop, putting up some elderberry honey vinegar. You know, stuff like that. And of course there was a break for pastrami sandwiches at Wexler’s Deli downtown.BBQUm . . . . the sandwich didn’t hang around long enough to snap a picture. So the photo above is actually from the nearby Smoke City Market (woot for the San Fernando Valley) which also does a serious pastrami.

So now I’ve decided to populate this post with photos, such as the one above, that I like but haven’t found a home anywhere yet, like on Facebook or on my Instagram feed.apple_rosemary_jellyHere is some apple rosemary jelly I made with apples and rosemary from my garden. I was really happy to put some of our summer garden in jar so I could revisit this season at another time . . . The past month has been a whirlwind of jam making: white peach basil, plum rose, strawberry pinot noir, aprium, etc. But now, I am happy to put a lid on all the jam-making and get out and about in the world.

I love the finality of leaving on a plane. Once those doors close, that’s it. No more errands to run or things to get ready – you’re done. Stressing done. Make do with what you’ve got at that point and/or improvise from there. It’s a kind of new start. Liberating.pippi_playingAt this point I’m looking forward to those flying feelings, but I’m not there yet. Miles to go before I hit the road, really. So no more sitting at a computer for me – these feets were made for hiking in Wales. But first maybe I should put some lotion on them . . .feetinjeansBest wishes for a happy and safe summer from NerdHaven West! And special thanks to Jesse and Kerry (and their loveable rottweiler, “Tony”) who will be manning the homestead while we are gone. I’ll be posting from the road.



Spring at the springs

Recently, my brother and his wife visited Florida, and not for the first time. They have been to Paynes Prairie State Park. They have paddled down the Ichetucknee Springs river run, visited the town of St. Augustine, its beaches and old Spanish Forts, and even Conga-lined through some seafood joints in Cedar Key. Definitely the responsibility fell on my shoulders to find something new and exciting to do with them in my fair state.

For long 20 years friends told me about a great place south of Gainesville where you can see wild manatees AND cook pancakes on a skillet built into your table at a Spanish sugar mill turned restaurant. Why hadn’t I visited sooner? Deciding it was perfect for the kiddo, the siblings, and the parents alike, we loaded into my parents’ mini-van and took the scenic route to DeLeon Springs State Park.

Sunny but chilly weather greeted us when our nearly two-hour drive ended at our destination. We didn’t suit up, but many other visitors did brave the low-60s temps swim. After all, spring water emerges from the ground at a balmy 72 degrees.

DeLeon_SpringsThis is not my photo. I borrowed it from Astor Bridge Marina. I had one of those days when I sort of forgot I had a camera. I was living in the happy moments spent with visiting family. Because it was Sunday, we had a long wait for the pancake house. So we cruised the spring run in a pontoon boat for an hour. Among other creatures, we spotted alligators, bald eagles, turtles, herons and manatee tracks. (You didn’t know manatees make tracks? Neither did I, never having given it much thought. Under the right conditions, when the water is fairly shallow and the river bottom fairly sandy, manatees leave a clear trail of kicked up silt that hovers in the river for a time.)

But I didn’t think to break out the camera and take any pictures of the tracks, either. Here is one river boating sight I did get snap-happy about:

Family_at_DeLeon_SpringsThe peaceful trip went a long way to restoring my faith in the strength of nature. DeLeon Springs is by no means in its natural state, but it supports wildlife and a threatened wetlands ecosystem. Named after Ponce De Leon, the Spanish explorer from the 1500s who searched Florida for the fountain of youth, the springs became part of the state park system in the 1980s. The region’s fascinating history began long before. For at least 6,000 years before the Spanish arrived, the Mayaca Indians populated the area. The conquistadors started messing with the area about 500 years ago and manipulation has continued pretty much uninterrupted since. Today the springhead has been hemmed in with a stone and cement retaining wall to create constantly refreshed swimming pool of crystal clear water. But the overflow tumbles over rocks into the spring run, which still provides a home for wildlife, and flows into the 18,000-acre Lake Woodruff Wildlife Refuge. Wetlands stretch for miles on either side of the river.

The Old Spanish Mill has new life, too, as a pancake house. We made it back from our boat ride just in time to get the best seat at a table overlooking the river. Definitely photo worthy! However, we were too busy pouring batter onto our skillet for me to get a good shot. So check out some of these photos and pretend those diners are us. Maybe on my next visit I’ll have more time for photography, for I will be back.



Caution: Bacon Making in Progress

stuffed_bacon I don’t know how I became the bacon advocate. It just happened. I’m not even that crazy for bacon. I’m more in the chocolate camp, really. And what’s more, I especially don’t like smoked things. To me, smokiness tastes like burned dirt, but in this lingering, cloying, way. There: my secret is out. I feel so free now. Smoky flavors and black licorice: my culinary kryptonites.

And yet I became a bacon person. I signed up to make bacon for my Master Food Preserver class way back when and made a metric ton of it to prepare . . . and I loved it because I didn’t smoke it. I slow roasted it. I cured it with salt, obviously, but added in herbs and spices and other flavors, like juniper berries and thyme and rosemary and maple syrup. It was so fun to try all these other flavors with the meat. And then once or twice I kicked it up a notch and roasted some sliced bacon a second time in brown sugar and chili, and made pig candy, which gave me a bit of a reputation, but that’s a story for another time. Continue reading