The awesomeness of living in the Florida ~ semi-tropics

St John's River-Cove
St. John’s River after a glorious day

Floridians learn to live with hurricanes and tropical storms, as well as alligators, turtles,  lizards, and snakes. We also get foxes, hawks, possums and deer encroaching on our territory. or are we encroaching on theirs? There is even the occasional black bear in someone’s back yard. It’s all part of the exotic beauty and mystery of Florida living…and I love the mystery and adventure of it.

It’s not all palm trees, manicured lawns, swimming pools,  and beaches, though it’s that too. I’m very proud of the swimming pools we have in the condo complex I live in. We also have a natural pond with wild ducks who claimed it as their habitat long before the units were built. They stayed after people bought units and to this day walk around like they own the place. We have Watch For Ducks signs posted, and we brake our vehicles to a stop when a line of ducks waddle-marches across the asphalt. I walk my dog to the pond several times a week. It’s peaceful and lovely, but don’t take away my swimming pools.

Flower, my backyard
Flower from my backyard

Floridians braced for mega-Hurricane Dorian, and wisely, I might add. It was a monster storm that thankfully veered to the east a few miles into the Atlantic as it went up the Florida coast. It’s 110 mph winds churned over the seas as it traveled north. We truly dodged a bullet.

Now tropical storm Humberto is doing it’s thing out in the Atlantic and it’s brought cooler weather to northeastern coastal Florida. The morning was breezy when I walked my little dog Sophie. I met a neighbor walking her dog and she smiled, waved, and said, “Wonderful, a break from heat.” As the day progresses, the sun is breaking through fluffy, marshmallow clouds and it’s glorious. This is what I love about Florida. It’s a mix of wild and tame…fierce and luxurious.

Flower, elephan ear
Elephant ear from my backyard

 

 

 

Graffiti Junktion ~ a restaurant review

 

Graffiti Burger Bar

Graffiti Burger Bar, Sports Bar, burger joint

I had business in Jacksonville Beach today, so I drove from my home in Jacksonville to the beach (two different municipalities). After my business was concluded, I drove around a bit…all the way to Atlantic Beach on Third Street and then back to Jacksonville Beach. The day was gorgeous.

I was starving. I hadn’t eaten anything except a couple of pieces of toast with margarine and marmalade for breakfast. So, I pulled into the parking lot of Graffiti Junktion for a burger and fries. The fries were phenomenal. Can’t beat them.

I’d ordered a double cheeseburger which comes with cheddar and I love cheddar. I wanted it grilled medium, and it came exactly medium. I also ordered grilled onion on the burger. It was delish. Needless to say, when I was finished, I was stuffed to the max.

It’s a sports bar and they have a full bar. I sat in the dining room, but some other patrons ate at the bar. There are screens with different games on all over the place but no sound. They’ve got really great classic country-rock and rock playing softly that brought me back to a different time.

I ordered Diet Coke with lemon. My waitress brought me a fresh one when mine was about two-thirds finished. Later she asked me if I wanted one to go. This is the south and that’s hospitality.

Address: 265 5th Ave. N., Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250
Phone: (904) 372-9985
Hours: EVERYDAY: 11 a.m. – 2 a.m.

A Micro-Duckling ~ fights through with a teensy bit of help

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My condo complex is built next to a natural pond with a creek running into and out of it. So, we have ducks. As you approach my building, there is a sign: Slow: Duck Crossing.

So, one of the female ducks had a brood of six, and one of them was teeny, itsy-bitsy. The mom seemed to pick on it. This seems to be so brutal, but these are wild creatures, not tame…and she is a small new mom and may have been very anxious. So, this little one would sorta hide beneath one of his siblings. He touched my heart with such an huge impact that I began seriously praying for his survival. I mean fervently throughout the day. I didn’t see the gaggle for over a week. When I saw next them, this little one had survived the 8 or 9 days or so, and had grown, but was still the micro-duckling of the group. The mom seemed not to be picking on him so much, but he was still attached to the side of his sibling. Wherever the other duckling went, he went. I began think of this little one as he, a generic kind of he. I’ll find out in another month or so what sex he is by his markings.

We also have a colony of stray cats. A vet tech lived in the condo complex before I moved in and she trapped them and had them neutered. Thus, we don’t have kittens…so far. A few of the residents feed the cats and the ducks cat food. Since I knew they were eating cat food, I’d approach the group of ducklings and toss cat food to them, making sure the itsy one got a good portion of the food, but not overly so. Didn’t want him to gorge and become ill. This goes along with my decision to live more intentionally. To do things with purpose and to stick to it. To be mindful.

Well, he’s grown some and I don’t feed them any more because it’s better that they forage for food in the reeds around the pond and in the grass instead of beg for human food or cat food. Actually, the cat food is better for them than the white bread some people feed them. Commercial white bread has no food value for humans or for ducks…but that’s another blog article.

I do chase the males away from this small mom and her brood ~ yeah, intentionally and with purpose on my part. At this time of year the males tussle and it seems to frighten this new mom. We have traffic at the condo complex and it’s best if things are calm when she’s leading her ducklings to and from the pond. Once, after a rainfall, I caught mom and her younguns splashing in a puddle in the middle of the parking lot. Looked like a lot of fun. Still, I took on the role of killjoy and chased them onto the grass and kept chasing them till they were well away from the asphalt. At any rate, I’m happy to report the little guy is growing and doing well.

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Meanwhile, at my client’s house on another Florida pond (where because I’m semi-retired but too energetic not to work, I do part-time in-home care) we have another duck scenario going on.

There is a grouping for four ducks at one end of the pond. It seems to be one male and three females. A lone female from the other side of the pond is trying to bring herself and and her fairly large duckling (he’s still got the grayish brown duckling feathers, but he’s about to get his adult feathers) into the group. The adult male in the group of four doesn’t want the large duckling. That’s why I’m thinking this duckling is a male. The mother keeps swimming up to the group and without fail, the large male duck viciously (but with no physical contact) chases the duckling away.

At one point, after one of these chases, the duckling wound up on one side of the pond and his mom was on the other. The duckling frantically rushed back and forth along the bank calling for her. She’s a small, new mom with only one duckling and is no match for the male. So, she made her way slowly around the pond while the duckling cried for her. When she got to him, she led him away to the far end. This went on in duckdom for three days. And each time the male rejected the duckling.

On the fourth day, the mom stopped trying to introduce herself and her duckling into the larger group of ducks. I was so proud of her, she chose her duckling. She set up camp for the two of them at the far end of the pond where they stayed all day. They foraged for food together and they nestled together. At one point she gave me a scare. She began pushing the duckling’s head under water and I thought she was trying to drown him. No, she was showing him how to take a bath in the pond. After pushing his head under a few times, she ducked hers under and when she came up, shook her head and flapped her wings. He immediately imitated her.

Life in the wild can be brutal and scary. I guess that’s why it’s called the wild. Many days when I enter my house, I just have to hug my cats and my little doggie and tell them I love them and that I will protect them. Like that small duck mom who chose her baby over the protection for herself of the group, I choose them. It’s stewardship, yes, and love for all creatures large and small.

 

Mrs. Turtle ~ a day in a life

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Every life has value, and God pronounced them all “good.”

While walking my dog, I came upon her one morning. She sat on the sidewalk that surrounded a group of apartment buildings in my condo complex. My neighbor thought she’d walked across our wide asphalt parking lot to lay her eggs in one of the areas our landscapers had planted with all kinds of tropical foliage.IMG_2968

When I approached her, she became afraid, ducked her head in.

The problem was, in the time it had taken to lay her eggs, the sun had risen and this is Florida. We’ve been having record highs. It was very hot and she’d have to get across hot asphalt to get back to the creek…where she had no doubt come from. Not to mention, landscapers were driving their trucks in and residents were going out.IMG_2971

I was born in the wilds of rural New York State, so touching a turtle is no problem for me. I picked her up, carried her across the parking lot, and placed her on bank of the creek at the other side of our condo complex.

A simple thing really. It took no more than five minutes out of my day. An intentional and truly good moment, one that I count as joy. I hope God considers this an act of good stewardship in terms of His creation and a small creature who could not navigate modern existence.

No Florida Fare During a Polar Vortex ~ beet soup (Winter Borscht)

Winter Borscht

With temps in Jacksonville dipping to 32 degrees at night (not good for the orange groves), I wanted something warm and comforting to eat. Shrimp ceviche, chicken salad with white grapes,  or Caesar salad with roasted chicken pieces  wasn’t as appealing as it was a week ago.

So, I fell back on the Slavic food of my heritage and a couple of days ago whipped up a pot of vegetarian winter borscht. I didn’t eat it vegetarian. I sprinkled a healthy dose of uncured real bacon bits on top and added the dollop of light sour cream you see in the photo. I never use fat-free sour cream. It’s got imitation everything. But I often has as a staple in my fridg uncured bacon or light (reduced fat) sour cream.

I don’t give recipes any more because I don’t use them. I chopped up two stalks of organic celery and threw it in because I had it on hand, wanted to use it, and celery is healthy eating. My mother and grandmother didn’t use celery in their borscht, but I’ve found it in some recipes. Of course, to me, these are simply guidelines. I like cooking without a net.

Speaking of cooking without a net…as it hadn’t gotten any warmer, yesterday I made a pot of brats with cabbage, canned tomatoes and tomato paste, carrots, onion, celery…totally without a net. I use little to no oil and the Johnsonville beef brats were lean. So, I threw in some organic apple cider vinegar to add flavor. It was only partially successful. During the next Polar Vortex, when I make it again, I’ll also add cubed Granny Smith apples. I think that would make it absolutely yummy.

I cook without a net, however, I don’t recommend living without one. If my recipe is only semi-successful, I can improve on it the next time. In life, sometimes there is no next time. When we make a mistake, we might have to live with the consequences for years. Jesus is my net. I believe in intentional living based on biblical principals without being legalistic, and it works for me.

For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. ~ Jeremiah 29: 11 [New American Standard Bible, NASB]

There are many excellent winter borscht recipes. Here’s a simple one from Eating Well Recipes that looked really good to me and doesn’t have exotic ingredients my Ukrainian grandmother never heard of and doesn’t require a culinary degree to prepare it.

Eating Well Borscht

 

 

Christmas Day ~ in northeast coastal Florida

IMG_2863After my daughter Vicky made a 117 course Christmas breakfast oozing with cream cheese, butter, and powdered sugar, as well as homemade sweetbread and fresh blueberries, we had to walk some of it off before dinner. Yes, we had seriously over indulged, thus we we had to intentionally burn some calories off. My body is the temple of the Living God, and I have to treat it as if it is.

We headed for the public boat slip on a cove of the St. John’s River located at our local city park. Duval County is gorgeous in December. Here I’m with Sophie the Wonder Dog.

IMG_2872We sat on the dock and watched the sailboats, deep sea fishing boats, kayaks, paddle-boats, and jet skiers go by. Those jet skiers are hearty folk. Even though it’s Florida, the water is cold. I want to encourage those over 50, as well as “seasoned citizens” to get out and do. Go for it. Live life.

IMG_2869A nearby boat-slip…just beyond the dock.

Merry Christmas to all. The Savior was born over 2000 years ago in Bethlehem and He dwells with us. Emanuel, God with us.

May you all be blessed in the new year.

 

 

Cream of Brocolli Soup ~ on a cold Florida day

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I’ve attempted posting recipes with moderate success. That’s because I don’t cook with a recipe. I’ve tried measuring a 1/2 C of such and so and typing that in the blog article next to the photo, but then as it cooks, I say to myself, “Self, that doesn’t look right,” and I throw in some more. So, how much of that ingredient did I use? I don’t know!!! Just enough to taste good. I taste as I cook, look at the colors of the ingredients, and smell the aromas to know. Do I make mistakes? YES, but all cooks make them, and you can make a mistake following a recipe to the letter. Trust me on that one.

So, It was in the low 40s last night in northeastern coastal Florida. I had to bundle Sophie the Wonder Dog up when I took her for her morning walk. Not to mention, I actually put on a pair of socks, and I never wear socks. May I digress…I was without socks yesterday at the Post Office to mail a Christmas gift. I noticed roughly half the women were in jeans, a sweat shirt and a hoodie or jeans and a heavy cable knit sweater, and over-sized clunky sandals (not the dainty, pretty kind you see all summer) with socks on. This is Florida in winter.

Sophie Winter Coat 2011

Well then, after Sophie, the cats, and I had breakfast, I realized I had a small container of half ‘n half in the refrigerator I had to use. Now, my doctor just reminded me I’d put on weight since my last visit three months ago (Thanksgiving will do that) and my blood pressure had gone up. No alarm siren, but it had gone up. So, I wanted to use the half ‘n half, but not in a super high-cal way

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Light bulb moment…cream of broccoli soup. So, I cut my broccoli florets up into soup-spoon size pieces and covered them with water in the pot and started them simmering on a medium heat? How much water? Enough to cover them. I had red onion (I always do), carrots, and two white potatoes. So, I chopped those up and threw them in. Added parsley flakes, garlic powder, a couple of bay leaves, some jarred seasoned vegetable base, and pepper. (I put some base in, tasted and put some more in…so don’t even think about asking me how much.) No salt. Remember my blood pressure had just gone up. Besides, the veggie base has salt.

I tasted it as it simmered and added more pepper and lowered the heat to low-medium. If I’m cooking only for myself, I taste with the same teaspoon. If I’m cooking for others, I go through all my teaspoons. After about twenty minutes, I tasted again and wanted to thicken it. I often have some Campbell’s turkey gravy on hand and did this time. I added some by eye, stirred and tasted, and added some more. I let it simmer again on low to have the gravy kind of amalgamate with the other flavors. Then I tasted and turned it off. When it cooled off substantially, I added the entire container of half ‘n half, stirred, and tasted. Very good, but it had to cook with the half ‘n half just a bit. Besides it had cooled too much, so I turned on the heat to low and got it to an edible temp. Then I scooped it into a bowl, sprinkled on mozzarella cheese I had on hand and some Parm/Romano… and then I sat down to eat lunch. Good, very good.

I cook by the seat of the pants, and I write by the seat of the pants.