Back to School

It’s that time of year again. The lazy days of lounging at the pool are replaced with harried schedules. Today, August fourteenth, is opening  day for many Florida schools. I retired from teaching third grade four years ago. I still think about and pray for teachers often, especially since I know so many who are still on the front lines, including my daughter.

Life in school is a subculture. It always amazed me how so few adults could be so out numbered by children and maintain control of a community. My years as a teacher were blessed by good administrators and parents who supported the staff. When children came to school they knew what kind of behavior was expected and they usually conformed. Just think about how hard it can be for practically anyone to stay in their seat, and raise their hand to speak. But they did.

I always thought the best teachers are those who can inspire students to learn. My favorite teacher as a child was my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Masters. Back then, sixth grade was still part of elementary school and we had one teacher the entire day. Mrs. Masters plastered her classroom walls with inspirational writing. Messages like “you can do it if you try” and “never give up” worked with me. Whenever I thought something was hard I would keep trying to do better.

I’ll admit, I didn’t always have an easy life as a teacher. It’s a challenging profession. Teachers have to think on their feet. They carry a huge responsibility of maintaining discipline and teaching at the same time. One year I had a group of rough boys in my class. I went to the assistant principal for help. He had a sign in his office, “Tough times never last, tough people do.” I asked him if I could make a copy of it to hang near my desk. That sign kept me from quitting that year.

At night I still have dreams about teaching.  In my reoccurring dream kids are usually running around the classroom, and I can’t find my math book to begin the lesson. I suppose it’s typical. That was always one of my biggest fears. Not being prepared. Organization is the key to everything for teachers.

Each day began with over the top multi-tasking. Taking attendance on my computer, listening to announcements, collecting homework, and reading notes from parents. If this wasn’t enough, some students required prodding to begin their morning board work. After all, idle minds make for a devil’s playground!

Reading was always the first subject taught to third graders. Afterwards depending on the day of the week, the students participated in art music, or P.E.  That was my planning time, often spent in meetings with other staff or making copies.  Math was usually after lunch. Somewhere in the six hour day we squeezed in writing, science, and social studies. It was hard to plan for and teach five subjects. It became harder when special reading intervention groups were instituted at the end of the day.

When the dismissal bell rang there was teacher “duty” to make sure every student left the campus safely. Then I could relax with a diet coke and read my emails before I gathered up all the papers to grade at home.

But I loved school. I loved the kids and they kept me coming back year after year. Teachers have a huge impact on students. Some children spend more time with their teachers than they do with their parents. I doubt if many teachers have time to read this, but I commend you for the work you do. If you can keep a child interested in learning, you are a success.

 

 

 

Camping with the Long Key Crabs

Almost one year ago I wrote a post entitled Being.  I shared the value of doing nothing during a trip to the Florida Keys.  Last week my husband and I revisited Long Key State Park with our Viking  trailer for five nights of camping and relaxation on the shores of the Atlantic.

Sure it’s August. Sure it’s hot. It’s hot everywhere in Florida, so folks might as well camp near the water where they can get wet. The word must have gotten out about the constant sea breeze which cools the campground like a giant fan, because the park was full most nights. In fact we felt fortunate to reserve a site.

As in the past, our first day was blessed with a refreshing tropical breeze. We were surprised the second day when the tropical breeze turned into a tropical storm. The rain bands lasted eight hours.  We hunkered down in the trailer, read our books, and played numerous rounds of the card game, Lost Cities. Whenever the rain let up a little, we ventured out to walk our dog…one of the joys of traveling with a pet.

The remainder of the week was dry with a light wind. We enjoyed swimming, kayaking, and a couple of short hikes. With the exception of a day trip to Bahai Honda, we spent most of our time in our camp chairs, just being still and soaking up the beauty of the place.  What is it about the sea that refreshes a person’s spirit?

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One night  when I was preparing dinner our dog Buddy, barked at something. I stepped out of the trailer to see a large crab scurry into its burrow at the edge of our campsite. The crab was at least six inches across. It was grey in color and one claw was larger than the other.

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After that happened I paid closer attention whenever I walked to the campground trash bin with a bag of garbage. I noticed several crabs along the side of the road and dozens of burrows in between each campsite. Later I learned these shy creatures are called blue land crabs, and rank the largest in size of Florida’s semi-terrestrial crabs.  They spend most of their adult lives on or near the beach, but return to the sea to breed.  Blue land crabs burrow several feet underground to allow moisture to seep inside their tunnels.

I found the crabs were more active in the cooler parts of the day, around dusk and dawn.  Primarily vegetarians, blue land crabs eat tender leaves, fruits, and berries.  I felt like I’d really accomplished something when I managed to snap a photo of one with a blue shell before it skittered sideways into its underground home.

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I researched some additional interesting facts about these animals. Their reproductive activity occurs during the full moon of summer. Uh-oh, there might have been some hanky-panky going on at Long Key because the moon was practically full!

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A female blue land crab produces anywhere from 300,000 to 700,000 eggs in one spawning season.  She carries them under her body to release them into the sea. However, most crab larva are eaten by fish and very few survive. It’s unlawful to harvest any blue land crabs in Florida between July 1 and October 31. And of course hunting or capturing wildlife is against the rules in state parks. I have no idea what blue land crabs taste like, but some people consider them a delicacy.

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Female blue land crabs can vary in color from blue to white.

For the record, in mid-October Long Key State Park campground will be closed due to beach renovation for one year.  On our day trip to Bahai Honda we saw some beachside campsites.

Maybe we’ll move our “do nothing” location further south until Long Key reopens.

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The High Sierra Wilderness of Yosemite

What comes to mind when you think of wilderness? Wide open spaces? Pristine lakes? Miles and miles of forests? Maybe something more scary including wild animals, or worse yet, no internet?

For most people wilderness is a place without roads, vehicles, or permanent structures. In 1964 the U. S. government created the National Wilderness Preservation System for the protection of American wilderness. Today 110 million acres of undeveloped land exists for our enjoyment. However, these places of solitude and renewal must be accessed by foot, horseback, or boat.

In 2013 my husband and I visited the High Sierra region of Yosemite National Park. Herb and I left our car at the trailhead on Tioga Road, and walked up the May Lake Trail, a distance of 2.4 miles. In our backpacks we carried a few basic necessities for an overnight stay at May Lake Camp.

Contrary to the overpopulated valley of Yosemite, the High Sierra region is a rugged, solitary wilderness. Upon our arrival at the lake we rested and soaked up the view while we munched on trail mix and granola bars.

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The water was calm and clear. Across the lake, the salt and pepper colored granite of  Mt. Hoffman rose up to meet the cloudless sky.  The 5.6 mile trail to the summit was listed as moderate in our guidebook.  We were determined to hike up as far as our legs could carry us.  I’m a flatlander from Florida. For me the hike was extremely rocky and rough. As we continued to climb above the tree line the trail seemed to disappear. We could only find our way because of the rock cairns left by previous hikers.

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I pushed myself to keep plodding along, stopping to rest every twenty yards or so. Each time I looked out at the surrounding spectacular peaks I felt refreshed and energized. From Mt. Hoffman at 10,000 feet, May Lake looked like a pond.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were completely alone. Eventually I reached an impasse, unable to continue because of loose rocks under my feet. I was fearful of falling. We took a photo of our stopping point.

IMG_0226On the way back down My husband suddenly froze and pointed nearby. “Mountian lion,” Herb whispered, “Follow me.”  I was silent and followed his lead. We walked a different direction away from the outcropping of rock the mountain lion was sleeping under.  When we felt it was safe, we began our descent.  I must say we walked a lot faster going down the mountain, than up!

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My legs were weak by the time we made it back to May Lake Camp. The tantalizing aroma of roast pork made us realize how hungry we were. All of the guests in the camp eat together family style. As we enjoyed a delicious meal, everyone shared their adventures. Five camps are located in the High Sierras, all a day’s hike from each other.  Some folks had walked ten miles to May Lake and planned to move on in the morning.  Hikers can spend a week or more in the High Sierras. It’s a great vacation, hiking all day and spending the night at a camp where someone else prepares your meals.  Food is carried into the camp by mules the same way Phantom Ranch receives supplies in the Grand Canyon, (Click on the link to read my previous post about that experience.)

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After dinner we retired to our tents, which we shared with other travelers, bunkhouse style.  I couldn’t get to sleep.  I tossed and turned, wondering about the mountain lion we encountered on our hike. What was it doing now? Could it be on the prowl nearby? And what about bears, everyone knows they frequent this area.  In the wee hours of the morning I finally drifted off to sleep.

Without my knowledge, my husband rose early and walked down by the lake to see the sunrise. He captured my feature image of the beautiful reflective waters of May Lake and another of Half Dome from the backside. (A sight unseen by visitors who stay in the valley.)

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Wilderness intrigues me. Its rugged beauty captivates and terrifies me at the same time.  In the wilderness anything can happen.  It has a spirit of its own, powerful, and untamed by man.

 

The Many Faces of Marineland

“Science couldn’t explain it… but there it was, alive in the deep waters of the Amazon. A throwback to a creature that existed one hundred million years ago.” So begins the opening remarks from the trailer, The Creature of the Black Lagoon.

When My husband was growing up he loved to watch the horror movies of the 1950’s.  Even today his eyes seem to light up whenever he talks about the time his parents brought him to Florida for a vacation. They visited Marineland in 1962. Back then two of his favorites movies were The Creature of the Black Lagoon (1954) and it’s sequel, Revenge of the Creature (1955). He couldn’t believe he was seeing the studios where scenes from both of his favorite movies were filmed. It’s something he will never forget.

This summer we made a return trip to Marineland.  We learned the attraction first opened as Marine Studios in 1938. It was designed to be a location for Hollywood filmmakers to shoot underwater footage for movies and TV shows, including Sea Hunt (1958)

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A concrete prop used in the filming of underwater film scenes.

Naturally underwater movies call for animal actors. In addition to making films, Marine Studios wanted to give the public an opportunity to see and learn about bottlenose dolphins. During the 1940’s public dolphin feedings evolved into dolphin performances. Keepers discovered how high a dolphin can jump.

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Flippy, the world’s first trained dolphin.

During the 1950’s and 60’s the dolphin performances drew crowds of adoring fans. A favorite celebrity, Nelly, starred in TV shows. Nelly was born at Marine Studios in 1953 and lived under human care for sixty-one years. As dolphin performances continued to grow in popularity during the decades of the fifties and sixties, the focus of Marine Studios changed. It became more of an animal theme park with a new name, Marineland.

As we strolled through the present day facility I was taken by its beautiful location. The dolphin pool is located in close proximity to the beach. Over the years Marineland staff have rescued hundreds of stranded whales and injured marine animals.

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Today’s view of the dolphin pool with the Atlantic in the background.

However, Marineland’s location also contributed to its demise.  As the decades passed, salty air eroded the buildings. Destruction from two hurricanes made it necessary to close the park in 2004. In addition, Marineland experienced a decline in admissions after Sea World of Orlando opened in the late seventies.

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A bottlenose dolphin looking for a playmate.

During the next two years Marineland constructed a new facility dedicated to education and human/animal interaction instead of animal performance. In 2011 Marineland was acquired by the Georgia Aquarium and renamed Marine and Dolphin Adventure. The attraction offers dolphin encounters, summer camps, and field trips for school groups. The Behind the Stage Tour takes visitors below deck where they can view historical exhibits from their years as a film studio. We were surprised to discover the attraction sells a wedding package for avid dolphin loving couples.

We concluded our visit with this snapshot taken at a photo spot, a memento of our return to the hallowed ground of childhood memories.

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My previous blog about the Florida Citrus Tower shares another piece of Florida history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida’s Lonely Attractions

Roadside stands like the one pictured above are fairly common along freeway exits in Florida.  This outdoor display invites travelers to pick up a bag of oranges for loved ones up north who may be digging out from a snowstorm.  Today people can buy citrus at any grocery store year round, so purchasing oranges may no longer be a novelty.  This business expanded it’s inventory by selling Georgia pecans, citrus wine, gator jerky, and fireworks. I admire the creativity of Florida entrepreneurs who work hard to keep their businesses alive.

Tourism has a long history in Florida. I’m amazed so many of the older attractions are still open. Today most tourists spend their entire vacations at Disney or Universal Studios. They miss out on the unique attractions which preserve Florida’s past.

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The Citrus Tower in Clermont opened in 1956 as a tribute to Central Florida’s citrus industry. Did you know Central Florida once had a booming citrus industry? No one would know it today. Neighborhoods and roads have replaced miles of fragrant orange groves.

The tower is located on one of the highest hills in central Florida, a whopping 128 feet above sea level.  The structure rises 226 feet and was constructed of concrete and reinforced steel to withstand hurricane force winds. I entered the elevator for the scary ride up twenty-two stories in total darkness with no air conditioning. Who needs the Tower of Terror?

When the door opened I stepped out onto a glass enclosed observation deck and walked around. I could see the rolling hills, spring-fed lakes, roads, and parking lots, but no orange groves.

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I wish I could have been here in the old days when citrus was king.

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This is an artist’s view of the land surrounding the Citrus Tower during the 1950’s. The hard freezes of the 1980’s killed the orange trees. Growers sold their land in the Clermont area to real estate developers. I enjoyed reading the historical information outside the gift shop located in the base of the tower. Back in the day, the attraction included a restaurant. A menu from the past was posted in a display case. I couldn’t believe the price of a sizzling T-bone steak with onion rings was $3.50.

The Citrus Tower offers a  light show during the Christmas season and is open evenings in December. The view from the observation tower is reported to be spectacular at night. Click on the above link for more information and reviews.

IMG_7753 (1)If you visit the Citrus Tower be sure to see the President’s Hall of Fame next door. Ronald Reagan described this museum as a national treasure for over forty years. The Hall of Fame features one of a kind presidential memorabilia.

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Here’s an interesting photo spot. Where did they get that idea?

Stay tuned for more lonely Florida attractions next week.  A side of Florida few people see, and more should.

 

Nature’s Classroom at Faver-Dykes State Park

Camping during the Florida summer is not for wimps. Our trip to Faver-Dykes State Park challenged us in ways we have never been challenged before. Located in a remote area fifteen miles outside Saint Augustine, the park is known for being “off the beaten track.” We pulled our Viking trailer over the bumpy dirt road to the entrance of a small campground. As the campsite was not level, my husband, Herb made several attempts before he successfully parked our trailer in the soft sand. Soon a park vehicle stopped nearby and a ranger stepped out to welcome us. The ranger took an interest in our dog, Buddy, the best beagle ever.

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Early the next morning we decided to hike the 2.6 mile Hiram-Faver Trail. Guess what? The trail was named in honor of Hiram Faver, who donated the land to the state for a park. Go figure!  On our way to the trailhead we walked by the park office. The friendly ranger who  welcomed us yesterday came out of the office to say hello. He asked where we were headed. I told him the Hiram-Faver trail. “Oh,” he said, “you better watch out for ticks out there.”

“We’re prepared, ” I boasted. I wore long sleeves and long pants and tucked my pantlegs into my socks. I also sprayed my legs with bug spray. The ranger focused his attention on Buddy. “I always put a tick collar on my dog. Then the ticks never bother him.” Suddenly I realized that Mr. Ranger was more concerned about Buddy than we were.

“Buddy is on special medication to prevent ticks from harming him,” Herb responded. At the time I wondered, how bad can it be out there?

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We began hiking with Buddy in the lead. July is hot in Florida. Herb and I kid each other that real Floridians can handle the heat. But we forget that we aren’t real Floridians. We’re actually transplanted Buckeyes from Ohio, and Buddy hails from North Carolina.

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As we approached Pellicer Creek, we felt a delightful cool breeze off the water. We saw a bench and sat down to enjoy our granola bars and bottled water. Buddy had a drink, too, and relaxed in the grassy area at our feet.

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I took out my cell phone to take pictures.  I noticed I had phone service. (Something not always available at the campsite.)  Herb looked across the river and spotted a cell tower. What luck! We had a great time sitting on the bench, texting pictures and checking our email. I even posted a couple of photos on Facebook.

After about twenty minutes, I noticed something crawling on the front of my shirt. “A tick!” I yelled. Herb rushed over and brushed it off. Then I spotted a tick on his pants. I brushed it off him. “Let’s get out of here.”

We hiked back toward the campsite. I still wasn’t very worried. So we saw two ticks. Big deal. We’re only a mile from the campsite. All will be well.

When we reached the campsite, we sat on the ground with Buddy and examined his belly. I lost count of the numerous ticks attached to his legs and stomach. I felt terrible. What did I do to my dog?

I grabbed the tweezers from the first aid kit and Herb and I combed through his fur with our fingers. It wasn’t easy to remove the ticks from Buddy’s skin. They were small, brown, shiny, and wanted to stay put. When I pulled the first tick out I didn’t know what to do with it. It latched on to the tweezers and wouldn’t let go. Then it started to crawl onto my hand. Yikes!

Finally I got the idea of dropping the live tick in a cup of water. It worked. I removed at least thirty ticks from Buddy. We covered the cup with a second smaller inverted cup to keep the ticks from crawling out. If possible, we wanted to keep them out of our campsite. We wrapped the tick filled cup in a plastic bag and dropped it in the nearest garbage can. Hopefully they didn’t escape.

Buddy was a trooper. He didn’t complain, and relished all the attention. Ticks are strange. Unlike other pests, you don’t feel it when they dig in to your skin. No sting, no itch. Unless you check yourself and your family from front to back and head to toe, you don’t know you have them.  I know, I removed three from my ankles.

Hikers beware! July is peak season for ticks in Florida. Nature has many lessons to teach, but we will not attend the July session of the school of ticks again.

 

The Attack of the Killer Snails

Recently I planted twenty pretty pink vincas.  Since the summer rains returned to Orlando, I thought my new flowers would do well. Little did I know the rain activated a hungry army of garden snails. When my trowel scraped through the soft soil it was like a dinner bell announcing, “Come and get it. Dinner is served.”

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Snails like to feast on plants during the dark of night. When morning arrives they take cover under the soil. The day after I planted the flowers I noticed some sawed off leaves lying near the base of several stems.  Oh no, I thought.  How can I stop the snails from destroying my garden?

I remember the snail war of 2015. That year I introduced a successful tactical weapon.  SNAIL BAIT!  I don’t like to use snail bait because of our beagle. Although the label on the package explained the product was safe for pets, Buddy nibbled on some of the pellets and became ill. At the time I was so scared I made an appointment for Buddy to be examined by our vet.  Upon receiving the results of his blood test, the doctor informed me Buddy was alright. However, he suggested I discontinue the use of snail bait in my garden.

Back to the battle at hand. My mom suggested I put broken eggshells around each plant. The snails hate walking on the sharp edges, and leave. I ate two eggs for lunch to build up my artillery.  Still, two eggshells couldn’t begin to defend twenty plants.  An avid gardener herself, Mom sympathized and donated a few more eggshells to the war cause.

My brother offered another idea. “How about fireplace ashes? I heard they keep slugs away, maybe they’ll work for snails.” I liked his idea because I still had some ashes in our patio fireplace that we burned last winter.   Besides, I didn’t really want to eat more eggs. I carefully ringed each plant with ashes to build up my fortifications before another nighttime attack would ensue.

The next morning I rushed out to the patio to check on my plants. Let’s put it this way. If I was keeping score it would be Snails: three / Debra: seventeen. (Remember, I started with twenty.) Sadly, I carried three vinca casualties off the battlefield.

Desperate, I sought advice from the internet. When I searched “snails” a number of links came up. I watched a YouTube video which explained how to harvest garden snails and eat them. Yuck! In the video a man gathered the snails and boiled them in beer. Then he removed the shells and sautéed them in garlic butter. I want to kill my enemies, but I don’t want to eat them.

During my research I learned snails breathe air. If sealed in a zip lock bag the snails will suffocate. That’s a good plan as long as a person can get up early enough to pick the slimy pests off the plants before they retreat into their underground tunnels for the day.

I’d also heard of setting out little saucers of beer to drown the snails. That idea seemed hit or miss. With my luck the snails would feast on the flowers before they belly up to the bar! All of these methods took too much time.  I wanted a solution now.

Yep, you guessed it. I chose the nuclear option. I drove to Home Depot for a box of snail bait and quickly placed the pellets around each suffering vinca before nightfall. The box was labeled non toxic and safe for wildlife. The snails eat the bait, stop feeding on the plants, and crawl away to die.

But what about Buddy?  Suddenly  I realized  I could keep our dog away by fencing the area.  I used our patio furniture to build a fence around the bed and filled in the openings with pots. Someone once said, “necessity is the mother of invention.”

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This morning I surveyed my brave vinca troops. Snails: zero /  Debra: seventeen.