Monday, December 31, 2012

Books that bridge the miles

Tim Boas crossing a bridge during his solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail  in 2003

In last week's column, I shared four books that took me on virtual trips across the ocean. Today's column explores four domestic locales, places I visited in 2012 courtesy of the printed word.

When she was 22, former waitress and novice backpacker Cheryl Strayed (an invented surname chosen because it epitomized her disconnected life) began a solo trek along the rugged Pacific Crest Trail. Distraught by the recent death of her mother, racked by failed relationships and poor personal choices, Strayed hoped the 1,100-mile journey would help her regain perspective, purpose and a new direction in life.
To say she accomplished those goals is an understatement.
Partly adventure story, partly memoir, Strayed's riveting tale, "Wild," takes the reader up and down snowy mountains, across arid deserts and through remote countryside where few people live and fewer venture.

I felt a special connection to this story because my own son took a similar trip 10 years ago. When he was 18, Tim hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. The following year he headed west to tackle the Pacific Crest Trail, choosing a route nearly identical to the one Strayed describes in her book. Like the author, Tim also chose to go alone.

A signpost in one of the many desolate sections of the PCT photographed by Tim in 2003

I found Strayed's story to be both enlightening and frightening. I knew few details about my son's trips when he was hiking, and after reading her story I have to admit I'm glad I was so poorly informed. Some things are best learned after the fact, including some of the crazy and (from a mother's perspective) scary solo experiences such as those described in the book. Wild indeed. Check it out at

While her mother's death from cancer inspired Strayed's journey of discovery, surviving a life-threatening illness motivated Kate, the main character in Erica Bauermeister's 2012 novel "Joy for Beginners," to take on a life-altering adventure of her own.

Thus begin multiple voyages of personal transformations. As a reader, I traveled along with the seven main characters, with special attention focused on Kate's riveting ride down the river. Like Kate, I too have always found such an adventure intriguing yet peppered by a generous helping of fear. As I watched this fictional character overcome both mental and physical obstacles, I felt my own objections loosen. My strengths and joy expanded. Maybe someday I'll have the courage to take a similar trip in real time instead of vicariously experiencing it through the pages of a book. For more, go to

A vicarious experience was the only option in Jean Kwok's 2010 novel "Girl in Translation." I loved this book because it offered insight into a world I would otherwise have known nothing about — that of Chinese emigrants to Brooklyn in the mid-20th century, when working in sweatshops was commonplace and acclimating to a new culture was fraught with obstacles.
As a person who enjoys historical fiction, I found Kwok's artfully drawn characters and situations offered lessons in both cultural nuances and historical facts. I was drawn into the characters' personal struggles and aspirations. As with all good reads, I couldn't wait to find out what happens next while simultaneously not wanting the book's ending to come. When it finally did, I was satisfied with the result. I like novels that don't disappoint, that serve up a hearty helping of edification along with entertainment wrapped up neatly with a positive conclusion. Interested? Go to

In the search for contemporary novels of a light, upbeat nature, author Claire Cooke never disappoints. I discovered Cooke in May and proceeded to devour five of her 10 books. My favorite so far, and the one that took me on my most memorable travel adventure, was "The Wildwater Walking Club," which combined several of my interests — gardening, walking, travel and friendship.
The story, which takes place in 32 days, follows the lives of three women living in the same Massachusetts seaside neighborhood. Through their daily walks together, Tess, Noreen and Rosie rack up much more than miles. As their pedometers click off more and more steps, their friendships grow. Deeper understandings of individual problems develop, solutions to problems are found, and new directions chosen.
For me, one of the story's highlights was the trip the women took to the West Coast to attend a lavender festival. At that point, my virtual involvement with the story became so intense that I had no choice but to go out and buy a lavender plant to add to my garden. Look into it at

I can't think of any book I've read cover to cover that hasn't taken me on some sort of journey. Although I may not physically traverse narrow mountain paths, navigate raging rapids, experience the stifling environment of a sweatshop or inhale the fragrant air at a lavender festival, I can always depend on books to take me on memorable adventures. Books are my ticket to different times and places. They introduce me to unfamiliar cultures and perspectives and make me aware of myriad new ideas.
Travel is indeed grand.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Travel the world by reading books

Books have taken me on many a journey...

Simply Living
December 24, 2012

I didn’t do much traveling in 2012.  Aside from a few trips to Northampton, Mass. to visit Jenny, Brett and our grandchildren, I never left the state, let alone the country.  However, my lack of physical travel doesn’t mean I didn’t take some incredible journeys.

Thanks to the world of literature, books took me across the ocean, throughout the United States and even back in time to bygone eras.  In this week’s column, I’ll share four of my favorite international adventures, exploring books that took me on virtual trips to Afghanistan, Japan, France and Italy.

One of my first on-the-page journeys of 2012 was to far away Afghanistan.  While most news stories about war torn countries are unbearably depressing, we occasionally hear about one with a positive theme.  Such is the case in The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.  Lemmon, a former ABC news reporter provides an intimate in-depth study into the world of Kamila Sidiqi, a young woman whose entrepreneurial efforts helped thousands of Afghani woman overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  With little more than a bit of thread and fabric and an abundance of hope and sisterhood support, Sidiqi’s extraordinary efforts changed the lives of her community forever.  The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is a humanitarian story that reads like a novel, uplifting as well as culturally enriching.


While also based in contemporary times, Wendy Nelson Tokunaga’s 2009 novel, Love inTranslation took me to an entirely different country and culture – modern day Japan.  This cross-cultural look at Tokyo society is viewed through the eyes of an aspiring young American singer who ventures overseas in hope of learning the whereabouts of her absent father.  While the story is rich with humor and tenderness, it was the artfully crafted characters and intriguing glimpses into Asian culture that drew me in and kept me turning pages long after I should have shut off the light and pulled up the covers.  When I finally closed the book late one night after a marathon read, I felt like I had returned home from a long and rewarding trip to Toyko, eager for a return visit.


I’ve never been to France but after reading Pamela Druckerman’s 2012 memoir, Bringing UpBébé : One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting I felt like getting on a plane to cross the ocean.  Not that Druckerman’s book is a travel journal.  It isn’t.  It is an exploration of French parenting techniques written by an American journalist living and raising her own young children with her British husband in modern-day Paris.  However, in the process of exploring the ways French parenting differs from American child-rearing, Druckerman takes the reader along on her daily travels in and about that most romantic of cities.  While telling her tale, the author skillfully exposes a multitude of intriguing cultural differences between the two countries. 

Since my own daughters were struggling with similar childrearing issues as the author, I hoped to find a few helpful tips within the pages.  I couldn’t have been more pleased.  Not only was the information helpful, I found the entire book to be a fascinating and insightful read.  

Although categorized as non-fiction, Bringing Up Bébé reads like a novel with a homespun, somewhat self-deprecating and totally entertaining style.  After finishing the book, I passed it on to my husband and then ordered copies for each of my daughters.  It was thoroughly enjoyed by all.

Adriana Trigiani’s 2012 novel, The Shoemaker’s Daughter, is one of those stories that span time as well as continents.  As the story followed the lives of Ciro and Enza through their travels from the Italian Alps to small town Minnesota to bustling Manhattan and back to Italy, I once again found myself caught up in a cultural adventure.  New insights, points of view and perspectives were artful presented in a spellbinding story of love, loss, resilience and hope.  

How fortunate it is to have access to broadening adventures.  Thanks to libraries, bookstores, online resources and word-of-mouth recommendations, a stay-at-home reader like me can travel the world through the magic of words.  

In next week’s column, I’ll share a few of my more domestic adventures; books that have helped me explore the cities, small towns and wilderness areas of our own treasured country. 

Isn’t travel grand!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fallen leaves give rise to playfulness

Atom Fischler paying in the leaves.

Simply Living
December 17, 2012

The lawn between the house and the lake is brown.   Even though it hasn’t rained much, the brown color isn’t due to lack of precipitation.  
Brown leaves blanket the grass, specifically sycamore leaves. 

In 2006, we planted one sycamore tree in our front lawn about halfway between the lake and the house.  We must have picked a good spot because in the past six years that tiny sprig has grown into a towering behemoth.  My guess is that it is now about 45-feet tall and almost as broad. 

Sycamores have an attractive, symmetrical shape usually with a single trunk that sports evenly spaced branches extending parallel to the ground.  A full-grown sycamore looks like one of those crayoned drawings of trees children do in kindergarten – a triangular form, wide at the bottom, narrow at the top.   

In Florida, sycamores are one of the earliest trees to change color in autumn.  Beginning in late August the leaves go from green to amber to brown.  However, even after they’ve turned brown, they often stay attached to the limbs, falling down gradually over the next few months.  By the middle of December, only about half of our sycamore tree leaves have landed on the ground.  The ones that have fallen are as broad as a man’s hand with a tough, leathery texture. 

Because they are so large and heavy, sycamore leaves tend to stay in place instead of blowing around.  That’s also true for those that land in gutters instead of on the ground.  As our gutters so aptly prove, fallen sycamore leaves do a great job of creating clogs and preventing rainwater from flowing through downspouts.  If I knew six years ago what I know now about a sycamore tree’s characteristics, I wouldn’t have planted one where we did.

However, now that it’s here, it’s here to stay.  Ralph likes the shade it provides and as much as I dislike the way its leaves create chores, I have to agree.  Its broad canopy does an excellent job of filtering sunlight.  Its limbs provide perches for a wide range of birds as well as a source of food for hungry sapsuckers.  And when the leaves do fall to the ground, they are pretty in an autumnal, reminds-me-of-my-northern-roots kind of way. 

At some point, we’ll probably take the rake out of the garage and put some energy into creating leafy mounds.  Last year, our then 2-year-old grandson had great fun jumping into rounded piles of sycamore leaves.  Now that he’s three with a 1-year-old little sister, I expect it to be twice as much fun. 

Holiday season is just around the corner and the gifts many children receive will be in the form of electronic gadgets and plastic toys in bright primary colors.  When I think of such presents as I’m looking out the window at the muted tones of the brown, leaf-littered ground, I can’t help but contrast the fun that store-bought toys provide with the pleasures derived from one of nature’s own playthings – crisp, crunchy, brown leaves begging to be jumped in, tossed through the air and turned into forts.  Although I received many toys when I was a child, no board game, doll, building block or puzzle yielded the sensory-rich memories I still have of playing in the leaves.

Sycamore leaves might blanket the lawn, clog up gutters, drift into flowerpots and wedge themselves tightly into the corners of buildings but they also beseech me to cast off the armor of adulthood. 

“Be playful,” they beckon. 

“Go outside,” they implore. 

“Kick us in the air!  Crunch us beneath your feet!” 

They are a visual reminder of nature’s late-season message:  You’re never too old to be young and have fun. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

A pretty little weed

Oxalis debilis is an attractive weed with pretty pink flowers, shamrock-shaped leaves and a compact mounded form

Simply Living
December 10, 2012

There are certain non-native plants (aka escaped exotics/weeds) that I’m rather fond of despite their purported invasiveness.  Among them, pink sorrel (Oxalis debilis) stands out, literally as well as figuratively. 

Without any assist from us, this low-growing, no-fuss perennial appears in our flowerbeds.  All year round – except during winter freezes - clusters of pretty, pink flowers top the green, shamrock-shaped leaves.

Little pink flowers bloom practically year-round

Although the plant spreads through underground rhizomes, I haven’t found pink sorrel to be particularly invasive.  That’s probably because it seems to have a decided preference for the enriched soil of garden beds and container plants.  I’ve walked all over our property but have never seen pink sorrel growing anywhere except areas where the soil has previously been augmented.  In such settings however, especially if they are sunny, I usually find multiple mounds of unplanted beauty.

Oxalis debilis is one of 900 members of Oxilidaceae, the wood sorrel family.  Although native to South America, wood sorrel plants exist in all but the coldest locations around the world.  There are some 30 varieties in the United States with six in Florida. 

All wood sorrels are edible, but they do contain oxalic acid, a chemical compound present in spinach, kale, beets, parsley and a number of other foods.  If eaten to excess, oxalic acid is toxic and can lead to kidney problems but it would be highly unlikely for that to happen with pink sorrel.  The leaves of this perennial plant are small and have a sour lemony flavor.  A few added to a salad might result in an interesting flavor but eating an entire bowlful would provide more tartness than most people would find palatable.

While I appreciate pink sorrel’s edible quality, that’s not the reason I’m so fond of the plant.  I like this self-propagating wildflower because it’s so pretty.  The green foliage forms rounded mounds that can reach up to eight inches tall with a foot-wide diameter and the small five-petal flowers that grow in clusters atop thin stems look like small pink stars.  In the evening and during periods of drought, the blooms close up.  The leaves do too.  When closed, the shamrock-shaped leaves look like tiny versions of those fortuneteller games I used to make out of folded paper when I was a kid.

Although pink sorrel grows wild in temperate garden beds, I like the plant best as a container plant in individual pots or mixed groupings.  I keep a couple containers of sorrel on the porch-side patio but people who live in colder climates often grow it indoors solely as a houseplant.  That’s what my daughter does.  Whenever I visit Jenny in her Massachusetts home, I admire the lush mound of Oxalis triangularis that sits on a table by a window in her living room.  Triangularis is a purple-leafed relative to Oxalis debilis that also produces pink blooms.

Oxalis triangularis has large purple leaves and pink-white flowers.  In this picture, it is growing in a container alongside a variegated spider plant

The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council ( does not include pink sorrel as either a Category I or a Category II invasive plant but because it is a non-native plant with the ability to aggressively self-propagate, native plant advocates don’t encourage its use in the landscape.  The Florida Native Plant Society ( lists only one variety of wood sorrel, Oxalis comiculate (better known as common yellow wood sorrel) as a Florida native.  However, from my experience, I’ve found the native oxalis tends to pop up in lawns, sidewalk cracks and between steppingstones.  Common yellow wood sorrel is also less showy and more difficult to eradicate than non-native pink sorrel.

Oxalis comiculate is a native plant with tiny yellow flowers and small leaves.  

Deciding what plants to incorporate into your landscape and which ones to discourage can be confusing, especially if one of your objectives is to work in harmony with the environment.  For me, the decision often comes down to which plants offer the most advantages to the home gardener for the least amount of time, effort and resources.  Pink sorrel fulfills those guidelines by being a disease-and-pest-resistant, drought-tolerant plant that doesn’t require irrigation or toxic sprays in order to thrive.  Its small flowers bloom practically year-round and it has lovely foliage to boot.  Even better, I don’t even have to plant it because this low-growing wildflower plants itself! 

Pink sorrel is an escaped exotic but that doesn’t make it a bad plant.  It’s a weed, albeit a pretty one, and while I’m not about to fill my garden with it, a few judiciously selected plants can add a bit of landscape beauty with minimal work.   

Monday, December 3, 2012


Simply Living
December 3, 2012

I was never one of those women who dreamed about getting married.  As a child, I didn’t practice marching down the aisle with Barbie dolls, and during my teens I doubt if I ever picked up, let alone browsed through a copy of Bride magazine. 

In December 1972, when Ralph and I decided to get married, it was no surprise that elaborate wedding plans were not on the table. 

We were living on Cape Cod at the time and having a justice of the peace formalize our union – at that point, we’d already been living together for two years - seemed good enough for us.  In addition to everything else we had in common, my future husband and I shared a similar distaste for ceremonial displays.  The mere thought of engaging in pomp and circumstance made both of us extremely uncomfortable.

A ring was required for the wedding so we went to a little store in Chatham that sold Native American jewelry and purchased a simple silver band for the modest sum of five dollars.  Ralph chose to go commando – no ring on his finger – and I wished I could have too.  I had said no to a white wedding dress, fancy ceremony, tiered cake and other traditional trappings but a ring was one marital accouterment I felt forced to accept, at least temporarily.  After hearing the words, “I now pronounce you man and wife,” I knew the ring could come off.

And it did.

Ralph and I have been married 40 years this month (42 years including the years we lived together) and for most of that time, my ring finger has been bare.  My reasons for not wearing a wedding band are in line with the reasons I chose not to partake in the other traditional matrimonial regalia.  I wasn’t comfortable with it and it seemed unnecessary.

Marriage is about commitment and love.  It embodies the willingness of two people to work together for mutual goals and pleasures, to endure difficulties and to support each other when times are tough.  For the past four decades plus two, my husband and I have done just that.  No band of gold or silver could have bound us together more tightly than have the trials and tribulations of daily life. 

We’ve raised four children during our marriage.  The two of the four who are married have forged their own path down the matrimonial aisle.  Both opted to have informal outdoor wedding parties at their parents’ homes attended by intimate gatherings of friends and family.  A friend performed the ceremony for one of our daughters and our son-in-law’s father presented nuptials for the other.  Although neither daughter wore a traditional gown, both embraced the idea of wedding cakes.  And as far as rings go, on their hands, each daughter proudly wears a wedding band as well as a modest but lovely engagement stone.

I’ve never regretted our long-ago decision to forgo a traditional wedding.  As Ralph and I celebrate yet another anniversary, I don’t need a ring to remind me how much love and attachment I feel for the one special person with whom I’ve chosen to spend my life.  A silver or gold band might represents heartfelt commitment to others but the only thing my hand needs to remind me of our devotion to one another is my husband’s fingers interlaced with mine. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

200 baby spiders...

A juvenile huntsman spider waits for prey atop a bar of Kiss My Face soap.

Simply Living
November 26, 2012

The huntsman spider that lives in our bathroom just had babies.  About 200 tiny brown spiderlings hatched out of the silky white, quarter-sized egg sac that their mother had carried on her belly for weeks. 

In our house, we hold huntsman spiders in high esteem.  As their name implies, these large, long-legged arachnids are excellent hunters but instead of spinning a web to capture prey, Heteropoda venatoria stalk their victims with patient vigilance.  After establishing a territorial claim, in this case the bathroom, the spider waits for its meal ticket to appear.  When prey is sighted, the stealthy spider springs into action with a speedy attack and fatal injection of venom.  Cockroaches are a favorite food and the huntsman’s effectiveness in capturing these pests is the main reason we welcome the spiders into our house. 

Our family has been coexisting with huntsman spiders for over 20 years.  
Over that time, we’ve seen many adult females carry around an egg sac and, on a few other occasions, have been around when the newly hatched babies leave the sac to live on their own.  While the thought of welcoming 200 new spiders into the house may strike some as daunting if not completely insane, the reality is, most of the young will not survive.  Like other creatures that bear multiple offspring, the majority falls prey to other predators or fails to thrive for one reason or another. 

That seems to be what happened with this latest population.  A few days after my husband noticed the mass of small, brown babies clustered around the mother spider and her abandoned egg sac, I can only find two spiderlings in the bathroom.  One seems to have taken a fancy to the sink while another has gravitated toward the shower.  Both choices make sense since many bugs (including cockroaches and mosquitoes) are attracted to moist environments.  Now that I’ve noticed the young spiders, I’m careful to check before turning on the water so I won’t inadvertently flush one of our latest little bug-eaters down the drain.  

Although baby huntsman spiders begin life at about the size of freckle, they grow quickly.  Mama spider watches out over her babies for their first few weeks, during which time they progress through several molts while consuming minuscule insects.  The spiderlings in our bathroom are now each about the size of thumbtack, still on the small side but definitely larger than they were initially. 

The leg span of a mature huntsman spider has always reminded me of a toddler’s splayed hand.  Its brownish-grey body is about two inches long but is closer to five inches wide if the spread of its eight legs are included.  Large spiders like the huntsman can be intimidating to the uninitiated and downright terrifying to people who suffer from arachnophobia.  Because of their size, and often simply because they are spiders, many are killed.  That’s unfortunate because despite their tarantula-like appearance, huntsman spiders pose no danger to people. Quite the opposite.  These beneficial creatures provide an invaluable service by devouring pesky bugs.  Welcoming huntsman spiders into your home is like having a team of round-the-clock in-house pest-control professionals working for free.

A huntsman "hides" on a roll of paper towels
Although commonly found throughout Florida, Huntsman spiders are native to warm-weather Australia.  Their inability to survive outdoors in the cold prompts many of these large-bodied, shy spiders to seek indoor habitats.  Numerous huntsman spiders live in our house, barn and sheds but because they are mainly nocturnal hunters, I see them infrequently.  When I do, I’m always awed, not just by their size (substantial) but by their obvious unwillingness to be observed. 

If I chance upon a huntsman at night by turning on a light, the previously mobile spider stops moving.  It freezes in place while telepathically telling me, ‘Look away.’  When I do look away, it scurries out of sight, behind a picture frame or a piece of furniture.  Huntsmans are shy spiders that do their best to stay away from human interaction.

It has been interesting watching this latest batch of young spiders develop, stake out territories and integrate themselves into our household.  Since a huntman’s lifespan is about two years, I like to think we’re just beginning a long and mutually satisfying relationship.   

Monday, November 19, 2012

Talking turkey

As viewed from the kitchen window, a flock of female turkeys meanders close to the house.

Simply Living
November 19, 2012

I may not be eating turkey this Thursday but there’s a good chance I’ll be devouring the sight of several gawky gobblers ambling around our property.  

A flock of wild turkeys seems to appear every year just before Thanksgiving.  The ladies – no male has yet made an entry - have a regular route.  They emerge from the pinewoods to a broad clearing between the lake and fig orchard.  From my seat at the kitchen table, I have a perfect view of them meandering along, pecking at seeds, bugs and low-hanging fruit.  They seem especially fond of the figs.

I’ve come to associate the arrival of wild turkeys with the onset of cool weather.  While their whereabouts the rest of the year remains a mystery, I know in autumn there’s a good chance their daily rambles with take them close to our house.

The Florida wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo Osceola) is one of five subspecies of wild turkeys in North America and the only one to live exclusively in the Sunshine State.  Slightly smaller and darker colored than the eastern wild turkey, Osceola, as it is commonly called, has plumage that blends well with its ranges in marshy lowlands as well as in palmetto, pine and oak woods.

From my experience watching and attempting to follow the small flock that frequents our property, I’ve found turkeys to be quite adept at avoiding observation.  When feeding (which is most of the time), one hen acts as watch guard, surveying the surroundings for signs of danger.  

Apparently, they consider me dangerous because whenever I try to get close – no matter how ably I practice my best silent stalk – I inevitably trigger awareness, which then causes the group to retreat quickly into the underbrush.  Though I’ve tried to follow them into the woods to see where they go, I’ve never been successful.  Their plumage blends so well with their habitat and they move so swiftly, they vanish in a flash.

I have so many unanswered questions about ‘my’ wild turkeys.  Where do they go at night?  Why haven’t I ever seen a male?  Or babies?  And how come they seem to only appear in autumn? 

I know that at nighttime, wild turkeys perch in the low branches of trees and with that knowledge in mind, I’ve walked through the forest at dusk with an eye to seeking out potential roosts.  Much to my disappointment, I have yet to find one.

I know that males (toms) and females (hens) live in separate groups, coming together in the spring to mate before rejoining single-sex flocks.  Young males (jakes) form a third flock until they reach maturity and are ready to mate.  I have no idea why in all the time I’ve been observing the birds I’ve only seen females.  It could be because they only come together during springtime and at that time of year they frequent other foraging grounds.  It remains a mystery.

Frequenting different foraging ground might also be the reason I have never seen baby turkeys (poults).  After mating, the hen scratches out a rough nest amongst the fallen leaves and twigs in the woods under or near a log.  Over a period of about two weeks, she lays 10-12 eggs, covering them with leaves until she is ready to sit upon the entire clutch.  Once incubation starts, it takes 27 days for the brown-speckled eggs to hatch.  The young birds are able to fly less than two weeks later.  At that point, their chance of survival increases because they can fly up onto a branch to roost with their mother instead of remaining in the nest where predators are more likely to find them.

I realize I’m lucky to see all the wildlife I do but that good fortune doesn’t stop me from wanting more.  Someday I hope I’ll look out my kitchen window and see not only a flock of hens but also a tom in all his male turkey glory.  Someday perhaps I’ll walk through the woods at dusk and actually discover the tree in which the birds are perched.  And someday - maybe best of all – I’ll catch a glimpse of tiny poults trailing behind their mother as she teaches them how to forage, fly and beware of dangers.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I’ll not only be thankful for the amazing wildlife encounters I’ve already experienced but for the many wonders yet to come. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Awesome Autumn

A sign of autumn in Florida: A pair of wild turkeys meandering through the woods on a cool November morning

Simply Living
November 12, 2012

Autumn has come to Central Florida.  Windows sealed shut for months are finally open to the breeze.  It’s extra-blankets-at-night, long-sleeve-shirts-during-daytime weather.  After a long, hot summer, there’s a welcome crispness to the air. 

Autumn is my favorite season.  When I lived in Pennsylvania and later in Massachusetts, the transition from summer to fall was always dramatic.  Bright red, orange and yellow leaves dazzled the eye, vying for attention.  Puffs of smoke from fireplaces and wood-burning stoves filled the air with clouds and even a few minutes of outdoor time caused noses and cheeks to take on a ruddy hue.

Florida autumns are far more subtle and not nearly as chilly.  Not only do they begin when northern autumns are winding down, they do so in such a muted fashion they’re easy to miss unless you’re paying attention. 

Instead of brilliant colored leaves, amber and umber tones predominate with a scattering of deep scarlet and mottled greens.  Florida autumn is the sunny yellow of cassia blooms and Mexican sunflowers growing alongside the coral-colored pods of golden rain trees.   

When I walk outside, my ungloved fingers don’t go numb like they would if I were back on Cape Cod.  I can still be barefoot and even take a quick dip in the lake, although at 68-degrees, the water is no longer easy to get into.

Autumn in Florida is the season when native grasses go to seed.  As I look out across the lake, I see the shimmery glow of broom sedge, wiregrass and dog fennel.  Nearby, groundsel bushes boast fluffy white blooms while the plumes of goldenrod sway in the breeze.

Subtle colors of a Floridian autumn

I like to be outdoors in November.  It’s the perfect weather for taking long walks, working in the garden or going for a row.  Throughout the summer, my aluminum rowboat sat on the shore but as soon as the weather cooled down, I found myself eager to be on the water.  These days, as I stroke along from one end of the lake to the other, I absorb the view as if it were food and in a way, it is…the ultimate soul food.

Speaking of food, autumn is harvest time.  In our garden sweet red peppers, leafy kale and green beans are ready to pick and we look forward to the day (soon!) when the broccoli and tomatoes will be ready to eat. We season many of our meals with fresh-cut parsley, chives, basil and hot peppers.  In the fruit department, we’ve been enjoying an autumn flush of figs and the oranges from our son’s Minneola tangelo tree.  One hand of bananas is hanging in the pantry with a few more still on the trees.  

Unfortunately, our carambola and papaya trees are late in fruiting.  Since it’s doubtful they’ll make it through winter, I spent time seeking out other sources.  In older parts of town, I discovered a couple trees covered with fruit that no one seemed to be picking.  After receiving permission, Ralph and I returned to pick starfruit and papayas.  It was almost as good as growing our own. 

Other fruits are also in season but rather than attract people, the ripening elderberries, fox grapes, holly berries and sumac seeds fulfill the needs of wildlife.  Flocks of American goldfinch have made their annual autumnal appearance as have the wild turkeys that meander by on most days.  A pair of grebes has adopted our lake.  Like the turkeys, the little grebes waited until the temperatures cooled down to show up.  I didn’t see them all summer but since the beginning of November, they’ve become a regular freshwater fixture.

A solitary grebe was soon joined by a partner

Autumn has come to Central Florida.  I don’t care if it is two months later than most northern autumns and I don’t mind if it puts on an entirely different kind of show than the traditional northern fall.  I love autumn and I always will.  Fall in Florida is every bit as welcome and appreciated as any autumn of my youth.  It might even be more so because its many differences make it special.  

Monday, November 5, 2012

Electing to reflect

An early morning row provides a much-needed retreat from the intense political posturing preceding Election Day

Simply Living
November 5, 2012

With tomorrow being Election Day, it would be fitting if today’s column focused on voting. 

It doesn’t.

While others are swirling in the pool of political rivalry, I find myself retreating into the more stable grounds of nature.  I feel a need to refresh myself with wildlife, to gaze at the reflection of the moon in the lake and absorb the beauty of a butterfly sipping nectar from a bloom. 

Who isn’t tired of watching – or even of fast-forwarding through – political ads?  Who hasn’t seen enough lawn signs proclaiming one candidate’s prowess over another?  Who isn’t weary of listening to endless promises that we know will be broken?   

Nature provides a welcome break from the rhetoric, the campaigning, the championing of causes.  Instead of tuning into the annoying chatter of pundits, we can turn to the bellows of sandhill cranes flying overhead and the proclamations of an Eastern phoebe announcing its territorial bounds.  

Lately, I’ve been taking early morning rows.  While motivated by the cooler weather, I also row because of the water’s soothing qualities.  It’s hard to feel anxious or upset when your focus is in stroking smoothly from one end of the lake to the other. 

Elections bring problems to the forefront.  Politicians play upon our fears while simultaneously trumpeting solutions.  For far longer than is healthy, we find ourselves inundated with critical issues that demand our attention.  The issues are important but there are so many.  It’s easy to be overwhelmed, to need a retreat.

I find sanctuary in nature.  I go for walks.  I take early morning rows.  I weed the vegetable garden, pot up some flowers and water the plants.  I watch for butterflies, birds and wildlife and take delight in each sighting.  I step outside when it’s dark – even if only for a moment – to look up at the stars and to smile at the moon. 

Nature reminds me that like a hurricane that rips through a region, even the wildest of elections eventually ends.  Sure, there will be cleanup to do but normality – or at least a semblance of it – will eventually return.  Like all creatures, humans adapt.  We make do.  We adjust to the changes. 

Being President of the United States is an awesome responsibility.  I suppose we should feel fortunate that there are any candidates at all willing to subject themselves to the personal attacks and weighty decisions that political leaders face on a daily basis.  While it’s too early to tell which candidates will win the presidential election, we can be sure of one thing:  Whoever holds that office will age more quickly in the next four years than he would if he’d lost. 

I said this column wouldn’t be about voting but in a way, it is.  In this time of elections, I cast my ballot for a world in which nature can still provide solace, for a country where individual freedoms will always rein paramount and where diversity of all species is celebrated instead of disdained. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Persimmons, an autumn treat

Ripe persimmons ready to dry

Simply Living
October 29, 2012

Our food dehydrator has been running non-stop lately.  Autumn is persimmon-picking season and we have been busy peeling, slicing and drying trays full of the popular Asian fruit.

Native to China but extensively cultivated in Japan, persimmons are an essential part of Japanese diet with over 1,000 different varieties cultivated for use in everything from wines and vinegars to baked goods and candy.  Although they were introduced to North America in the late 1800s by Admiral Perry and have been cultivated in Florida for over 100 years, persimmons failed to win over the palates of American consumers.

Perhaps their lack of popularity is due to the fruit’s astringency factor.  Most persimmon varieties are high in a soluble group of phenol compounds found in plants called tannins.  Other fruits that contain tannins include cranberries, pomegranates and strawberries.  When unripe, these fruits taste bitter and cause the mouth to pucker up and feel dry.  That changes as the fruit ripens and the tannin compounds decrease

The small plum-sized Florida native persimmons that grow wild in Central and Northern Florida are especially astringent.  Rather than being the type of fruit picked to eat fresh, wild persimmons are best cooked, fermented or made into jelly or jam.  However, certain varieties of Asian persimmons (Diospyros kaki) are good to eat right off the tree.  In addition to being the same color as tomatoes, these non-astringent tree fruits also share a tomato’s round, slightly squat shape.

Picking Hachiya (astringent) persimmons off the tree
Fuyu is one of most commonly grown varieties of non-astringent Asian persimmons.  When they are hard, I like to eat them like an apple, skin and all.  When soft and a little riper, I prefer to peel the skin (which toughens as it ripens) and eat the sweet flesh with a fork.

Instead of being round, astringent Asian persimmons are heart-shaped.  Hachiya is the most frequently planted variety of this high-tannin-count fruit.  In order to avoid the unpleasant dry mouth sensation, heart-shaped persimmons must be fully ripe and soft to the touch before eating.  When ripe, the flesh is very sweet with a pudding-like consistency.  I like to scoop out the flesh with a spoon to eat fresh or use in baking.

This year, we discovered that instead of waiting for Hachiya persimmons to ripen, we can peel, slice and dry the unripe fruit when it is still hard and otherwise inedible.  It turns out that heat from the dehydrator removes the astringency by accelerating the tannin removal process.  As the tannin cells decrease, the fruit’s natural sugars move to the surface resulting in a somewhat sticky, exceedingly sweet and quite tasty candy-like product.

When dehydrated, the trays full of persimmons will taste as sweet as candy

This new discovery adds to the many ways our family enjoys eating this underappreciated, nutritious fruit.  We eat a great many persimmons fresh either whole, cut up in slices or in fruit salad.  Occasionally, I bake with it, making persimmon bread or muffins but the main thing we do with persimmons is dehydrate them.  We then pack the dried fruit into small tightly sealed bags and place them in the freezer to enjoy as a sweet treat all year long.

If you have never eaten a fresh persimmon, now is a good time to try.  While Florida’s persimmon season has ended, California-grown persimmons will soon appear in produce departments for the November and December holidays.  And if you are one of the people who once sampled a persimmon but had an unpleasant experience, consider trying them again. 

Remember, if it is a round, slightly squat cultivated (non-wild) persimmon, it doesn’t matter if it is hard or soft.  At any stage of ripeness, most round persimmons are good to eat.  However, if it is a heart-shaped fruit, make sure to wait until the bright orange-red skin feels soft when squeezed before scooping out the flesh and taking a bite.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Plant a flower...get a butterfly

Simply Living
October 22, 2012

The lifecycle of the lowly milkweed plant is a wondrous thing. 
Asclepias curassavica, commonly known as scarlet milkweed, tropical milkweed, blood flower and Mexican milkweed, starts life attached to a bit of fluff floating through air on a parachute of feathery whiteness.  Winged seeds that land in suitable spots (which, in the case of this naturalized weed, are just about anywhere) waste no time developing. 

Roots go down.  Sprouts grow up. 

Before long, elliptical leaves emerge followed by 2 to 3-inch wide clusters of reddish-orange-yellow star-shaped flowers.  When the flowers finish blooming, they transform into soft-sided, green seedpods that harden and turn grey-black as they mature.  Each pod contains hundreds of small round dark seeds attached to lightweight fluff.  Eventually, the pods crack open allowing the seeds to drift off to repeat the cycle of self-propagation. 

While scarlet milkweed progresses through its multi-staged development, an entirely different lifecycle is also underway. 

Monarch and queen butterflies use scarlet milkweed as a host plant.  Intrinsically interlinked with the nectar-producing wildflower, the butterflies deposit eggs on the plant’s leaves and stalks.  Less than a week later, the eggs hatch and miniscule emerging caterpillars immediately begin chomping away on the plant’s greenery.  After 9 to 14 days of voracious eating, the caterpillars have grown huge on their leafy diet and the once-pretty plants are devoid of verdant accoutrements.

By the time the tiny caterpillar on the underside of the milkweed leaf is ready to pupate, it will be over two inches long and will have completely defoliated the milkweed leaves

Caterpillars raised on milkweed leave the plants when ready to pupate.  They crawl a few feet away in search of a secure spot to form a jewel-like green chrysalis.  It takes another 9 to 14 days to complete the metamorphosis.  When the lovely butterfly emerges, it quickly flutters off toward the milkweed plant to begin the cycle again.

A few weeks ago, I looked out at the three milkweed plants in my front garden wondering what I should do with them.  The flowers had stopped blooming, the finger-length leaves were gone and the butterfly metamorphosis had progressed into the chrysalis stage.  All that remained of the previously cheery plants were a few 3- to 4-foot tall spindly stalks.  

These two mature caterpillars are almost finished eating up all the milkweed leaves and will soon be ready for the next stage in their amazing metamorphosis

In a surge of tidiness, I considered clipping them off but I got distracted and went off to do other things.  It’s a good thing I did because a few days later new leaves began emerging from the previously bare stalks.  

Today, about a month after noticing how bare the milkweeds had become, the plants boast a flush of greenery.  Once again, clusters of bright reddish-orange-yellow blooms are attracting a parade of nectar-seeking fliers.

A fluttery-winged monarch sips nectar from milkweed flowers

Scarlet milkweed is a fast-growing evergreen perennial native to South America, naturalized across the southern United States but also grown in northern locales as an annual from seed.  This no-fuss plant isn’t particular about soil or water conditions growing equally as well in dry, sunny spots as it does in more sheltered moist locations.  It also doesn’t mind growing in confined spaces, which makes scarlet milkweed a fine addition to a patio or container garden. 

At my house, burgeoning sprouts often pop up in the cracks between paving stones and among other potted plants.  I usually pull out the ones rooting through the cracks but leave alone those that have settled in previously planted containers.  Since scarlet milkweed is tall and slender, it coexists nicely with other tall blooms.  When it self-seeds among shorter plants, I’ve found that topping the leggy stalks encourages broad instead of vertically growth.

I like having plants in my garden that do so much while demanding so little. 

Scarlet milkweed provides pretty flowers from spring through late autumn, attracts bees, hummingbirds and an abundance of beautiful butterflies to the garden.  Its seedpods make attractive additions to dried flower arrangements and children enjoy playing with the fluff inside the pods.  Butterflies put on their own show as they use the plant to transform from egg-laying flutterers to leaf-gobbling caterpillars to emerging beauties.  

In return for all it gives, this lowly wildflower asks nothing from the gardener but a bit of space to grow and the chance to recover when its beauty seems all but lost - two requests I am more than willing to fulfill.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

A millipede invasion

Although harmless to people, the many-legged millipede can be intimidating if you are scared of creatures that resemble worms and snakes.

Simply Living
October 15, 2012

On Orchard Way, the dead-end street where I grew up in Yardley, PA, my mother’s fear of worms and snakes was common knowledge.  The neighbors all knew the sight of any slithering or slimy looking creature would send my normally composed parent into wild banshee mode, screaming uncontrollably.

It would have been a stretch to call my mother popular with the kids on our street.  Her no-nonsense nature and quick-to-criticize manner earned few points among adolescent boys, who responded to her complaints about their behavior by taking advantage of her fears.  

Their most memorable prank involved placing a knot of squiggly worms into our mailbox knowing full well my mother was the one who usually got the mail.  Mom’s reaction to their squirmy surprise far exceeded the expectations of all involved, earning its own page in Orchard Way history.

The other day as I hand-picked millipedes off the tiled floor, I thought of my mother who died in August 2010.  As I picked up one millipede after another, I wondered how my mother would have reacted.  If she saw as many cylindrical crawlers inside the house as I did, her level of hysteria might have surpassed the infamous mailbox incident. 

Although millipedes are not reptiles, they look enough like small snakes to trigger terror among ophidiophobiacs like my mother, people who are scared of snakes.  Belonging to a class of animals known as diplopoda, millipedes are multi-segmented arthropods with two pair of legs per segment.  These harmless-to-people invertebrates are often confused with centipedes, which have one pair of legs per segment.  While both have dozens of short appendages, the legs on centipedes are quite visible, protruding sideways from their bodies while less obvious millipede legs extend downward. 

Other differences include the color (centipedes are blackish-red while millipedes are grayish-brown), body shape (centipedes are flat, millipedes round) and speed of movement (centipedes are fast, millipedes slow).  Centipedes and millipedes also have dietary differences.  Centipedes are carnivores, which makes them beneficial to gardeners because they eat bugs that eat plants.  Millipedes, on the other hand, are vegetarians dining on decomposing organic matter as well as tender young leaves.  Centipedes are good for the garden because they consume bugs.  Millipedes… not so much.  Millipedes are beneficial in that they help break down organic material but not welcome when they nibble on newly sprouted broccoli leaves. 

At some point every year, millipedes seem to wander indoors.  They could be venturing inside to escape the heat or in search of dry ground during rainy periods.  For whatever reason, their move into interior spaces is an unfortunate choice.  Even the messiest home is not usually a depository for either decaying matter or tasty green sprouts so millipedes that seek indoor refuge rarely live long. 

The simplest way to deal with multi-legged millipedes that find their way through cracks into home is to pick them up and throw them outside.  Since they don’t bite or sting, handling them holds no danger.  For a more permanent solution, millipedes can be dropped into a pail of soapy water or doused by any number of home-defense type sprays.  Be forewarned that when touched, millipedes curl into a spiral in the hope that their pursuer will think they are already dead and leave them alone.  Centipedes won’t do that, which is another way to tell them apart.

When it feels threatened, a millipede curls into a spiral and stays still.

I don’t mind millipedes.  I don’t even get upset if they meander into my house.  I do regret, however, that I never took the time to ask my mother what made her so terrified of any creature that bore even the slightest resembled to a snake or worm.  There are some questions, I suppose, that can never be answered and there are some questions too late to ask.  

Monday, October 8, 2012

A plant that responds to touch

A newly planted Mimosa strigillosa

Simply Living
October 8, 2012

My Massachusetts-residing daughter is responsible for the acquisition of my most recent Florida native plant.

“Do you have any of those plants with the leaves that curl up when you touch them?” Jenny asked during a phone conversation. 

“You mean sensitive plant?  No, I don’t have any but I really like them,” I admitted.  “Maybe I’ll get some.”

It took several months but I finally did. 

During the last weekend in September, vendors were selling native wildflowers at Hickory Point Recreational Park during Lake County’s Wings and Wildlife Festival.  As I wandered from one display to another, I recalled Jenny’s question and honed in on the small pots of Mimosa strigillosa for sale. 

Also known as sensitive plant, powderpuff, sunshine mimosa, touch-me-not or sleeping grass, Mimosa strigillosa is a low-growing perennial in the legume family known for its touch-sensitive leaves and its sticky-looking pom-pom flower heads that are the size and shape of pink lollypops. 

Mimosa strigillosa is an entertaining plant to own, especially if you have young children.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Jenny asked me about them because she remembered stroking sensitive plants when she was little.  Much to a toddler’s delight, the tiniest touch immediately causes the leaves to fold inward.  You don’t even have to put a finger on Mimosa strigillosa to elicit a reaction.  A strong puff of air or a sprinkling of water accomplishes the same thing.  To a young child (or a young-at-heart adult) the fast transition can seem magical.

Like most magic, however, a trick or physiological explanation is often involved.  In the case of Mimosa strigillosa, it’s a little bit of both. 

The plant’s instant response to tactile stimulation is a defense mechanism employed to ward off potential threats.  Insects or animals that might bite into fresh leaves are less likely to nibble on greens that look wilted.  By changing its appearance when stimulated, Mimosa strigillosa fools predators into thinking it’s an unhealthy specimen.  However, the same characteristic has the opposite effect on people, especially little kids who thrill with the discovery of a plant that all but purrs when stroked.      

If children are drawn to Mimosa strigillosa for entertainment, butterflies come for a different reason.  They hover about because of the plant’s value as a food source.  Nectar in the pink pom-pom-shaped inflorescences draws a variety of butterflies to partake of the blossom’s sweetness before flying off to another source of botanical sustenance.  One yellow-winged beauty, however, does more than just sip and fly.  Little Sulphur butterfly (Pyrisitia lisa) uses Mimosa strigillosa as a host plant.  It stays long enough to lay eggs.

Little sulphur butterfly on firespike
Thanks to a reminder by my Massachusetts-based offspring, I have reacquainted myself with this fun-to-grow Florida native plant.  Over the next few months, I hope the three starts I planted will spread their roots to establish a mat of leaf-curling, pom-pom-studded flora to fill in the space beneath one section of our raised container garden.  If they do, they’ll provide me with many opportunities to introduce my grandchildren to the wonders of nature when they come to visit. 

And when Jenny comes to visit at the end of October, I’ll have something for her too.  I’ve put one plant aside just for Jenny because in addition to all its other attributes (ease of care, drought tolerance, pest-resistance, pretty flowers, folding leaves…) Mimosa stigillosa also makes a wonderful houseplant.  Jenny may not live in Florida, but that doesn’t mean she can’t take back with her a little bit of Florida’s sunshine mimosa.

Monday, October 1, 2012

A birthday month begins...

Simply Living
October 1, 2012

October is my birthday month but this year instead of waiting until the actual date to celebrate, I’ve decided to do something special every day.  The gifts – small gestures and kindnesses - won’t be for me alone.  My raison d’etre is to reach out to others – family, friends and even people I don’t know – to share my gratitude and appreciation of life.

I begin today, the first day of the month, by sending a thank you to you, my readers. 

Working as I do from home, my craft is, by choice, a solitary affair.  Rather than be in a crowded office surrounded by colleagues, I sit alone at the kitchen table tapping upon a keyboard while birds and butterflies flit by outside.  Aside from my husband and editor, I have no way of knowing who reads my printed words.  Unless contacted by email or phone, I’m unaware of reader feedback. 

Fortunately, people do contact me.  I offer a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has taken the time to write, call or post a comment online.  Whether you agree with my perspectives or not, I appreciate your input and find your responses reassuring.  Your messages, anecdotes and impassioned comments tell me my words have meaning and perhaps even depth.  To me, any indication of your support is a gift sublime.  I thank you for reading my introspective rambles.

To those of you who read my column but who have not been in touch, I offer gratitude too.  I don’t write Simply Living pieces expecting comment.  I do it because it’s my passion.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to observe my surroundings and express those observations in a public way.  Additional input is like frosting on a birthday cake – a sweet and special treat.

Over the next 30 days, I’ll be on a mission to give and receive sweet expressions of a life appreciated.  Despite our diversity, different circumstances and perspectives, each of us came into this world with one thing in common – the opportunity to experience life itself.  How we go about doing that is an individual’s choice.  I choose to take notice of the world I inhabit and to try my best to focus on the positive.

Every day we encounter others who make our lives richer.  Small kindnesses and considerations happen constantly at home, in the checkout line at the store, when we’re pumping gas or driving through town.  Simple gestures of friendliness and care can be the difference between a day regretted and one enjoyed.  What better time to pay attention to the little things in life that give us pleasure than during the month of our birth.

After six decades of traditional birthday celebrations, for my 61st year, I’m ready for something different.  Instead of receiving presents, I want to be present to the beauty of my surroundings and to the people who make my world a better place to live.  

Monday, September 24, 2012

A new way to enjoy lakeside living

Tim and Ralph swim through the still water

Simply Living
September 24, 2012

Throughout September, my husband, son and I have been taking long swims in the lake.  The water this time of year is warm and silky.  A 30- to 40-minute swim produces a feeling of exhilaration and accomplishment without any chill involved.  It’s very refreshing.

We’ve enjoyed freshwater ever since we moved to the property in 1992 but until now, our watery excursions had been more like short dips than mini-marathon endeavors.  Most of the time what I called a "swim" was really a brief immersion.  When hot, I’d jump in to cool off, getting out soon after.

Occasionally, Ralph and I would swim out to the middle of the lake and back.  Sometimes we’d even venture the entire way across.  But even those swims of approximately 200 to 400 feet were nothing compared to what we’ve been doing of late.  Stroking along half of the lake’s perimeter follows a course about 10 times longer than across the lake and back.

At first, I was reluctant and admittedly scared.  What if one of us got tired, I worried?  And what about alligators?  Although I keep a close watch on wildlife and haven’t seen a gator in months, I’d be a fool to believe they aren’t there.  Waterside living in Florida means accepting and respecting the presence of aquatic critters, alligators included.  It also means becoming educated about alligator behavior and I knew enough to realize my fears were irrational.  To minimize danger we never swim without a partner, make a concerted effort to stay close to the shore and choose a time to swim when gators are less active. 

Once I overcame my concerns, I enjoyed the experience.  Long distance swimming in open water is different from anything I’d done before.  The buoyancy of the water takes much of the effort out of an exercise that strengthens every muscle group, improves cardio-vascular health and increases endurance. 

When swimming, even though I’m working hard, I’m also relaxing.  The silky smoothness of the water is soothing.  My mind drifts along with the clouds as I float on my back.  Ralph suggested I wear earplugs so I wouldn’t worry about getting water in my ears and I’m glad he did.  Swimming with earplugs is great.  Not only do they prevent me from getting water in my ears, they enable me to submerge my head, which amplifies the sound of my breathing.  As I do various modifications of the backstroke, I listen to my breath while looking skyward.  It feels very much like meditation.

When I’m not looking up at clouds, I’m watching the shore while doing the sidestroke or breaststroke.  Things look different when in the water instead of on it.  As I gently propel myself forward with steady strokes, I compare the view to what I would see if I were paddling along in my rowboat.  I notice things when I’m swimming that I might miss if I were rowing.  A dragonfly lands on a reed.  A school of minnows leaps out of water in front of me.  Up ahead two turtles appear then disappear just as quickly when they become aware of my presence.  In the water, I’ve become that alligator, the large predator moving swiftly through a liquid medium.

One day when we were on the return leg of our lengthy swim, it began to rain - no lightning and thunder, just a steady warm downpour.  How amazing it was to be in the water with giant bubbles erupting all around us!  When we arrived at the shore, it was too special to get out so we stayed in a little longer simply savoring the moment.

I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to continue our new exercise routine.  Right now, it’s easy because the air and water are warm but as the weather changes, getting wet will become more difficult.  I’ve never been a big fan of cold-water swimming.  Then again, until recently, I’d never been one to swim in the lake for more than a few minutes either. 

I’ve lived next to lakes for most of my life but it took me 60 years to realize the pleasure and freedom that comes from taking long swims in open water.  Rather than dwell on what I missed, I’d rather focus on what I’ve gained – new perspectives, improved health and a relaxing way to augment the joy of lakeside living.