Lake Louisa: Florida’s Secret State Park

Did you know there’s a wonderful state park less than an hour drive west of downtown Orlando? Most Orlando residents have never heard of Lake Louisa State Park.  I just discovered it and I’ve lived here for almost thirty years.

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Lake Louisa is the southernmost lake in the Clermont Chain of Lakes.  These waters comprise one of the most recreational lake systems in Florida, providing a haven for water sports and fishing.

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Lake Louisa offers guided kayak trips. Visitors can rent kayaks or canoes at the Camper Canteen located near the campground.

The Lake Louisa campground is one of the best we’ve visited. We parked our trailer in the Dixie Loop, nestled between Lake Hammond and Dixie Lake. From our site we could easily walk to either lake for spectacular views.

 

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Sunset on Dixie Lake

 

The weather forecast was accurate for this trip. It rained often. Unlike many places we’ve camped, our site had terrific drainage. The site was paved with a gravel top and bordered with concrete. Even after a night of heavy rain the ground outside our trailer was dry. Another advantage, many of the campsites are pull-through and contain full hookups including sewer.   IMG_3615

Fortunately, it didn’t rain all the time. People often ask me what we do when we go camping.  We usually spend our mornings hiking with Buddy.  His beagle nose takes in all the smells and direct his little feet forward. Most of the time he’s tracking some critter beyond our limited human awareness.

IMG_7639Once in a while, Buddy will encounter something that warrants further investigation, like this little turtle. A few extra sniffs and we’re on our way again.

 

 

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Trail rides are offered at Lake Louisa. Buddy tracked a horse on one of our hikes. But when we followed it to the corral, he became more interested in whatever trash he could grab with his mouth.  Sum it up to life with a beagle.

After a morning hike, our family of three relaxes in the shade. Herb and I both enjoy reading.  I write, or think about writing. Buddy dozes.

After dinner, we like to sit around the campfire and talk.  All three nights of this trip it rained. No chance for a fire, so we sheltered in place inside our one hundred square foot trailer. Good thing we get along.  Avid board gamers, our favorite game at the moment is Splendor.  For details follow the link.

Our last morning at the campground we met a couple of neighbors. The camp host, Kevin, invited everyone for coffee.  We love meeting other campers and sharing stories of our experiences in various Florida state parks.

 

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Pictured left to right, Kevin, Bob, Suzie Q, Herb, and Buddy.

 

Campground hosts volunteer to help maintain the campground and give information to campers if needed. They are also called upon to offer assistance in case of late night emergencies.  In return, they camp for free. Most live in their RV’s fulltime and move within the Florida park system as needed.  I don’t think Herb and I are interested in the position yet. Not until we upgrade beyond our one hundred square feet of living space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Redefining Age with Valerie Ramsey

There are many phrases which try to describe anyone past the age of sixty. Phrases like, “over the hill,” “past my prime,” and “slowing down” come to mind.  None of these describe Valerie Ramsey.

I heard Valerie Ramsey speak at a luncheon for seniors last week. Now 78, she defies every concept I previously believed about aging. Valerie’s story is amazing. A mother of six, and stay at home mom,  she entered the work force at age 53. Valerie began her career selling golf balls at Pebble Beach Resorts and worked her way up to the position of  Public Relations Media Director.

Soon after she accepted her dream job at Pebble Beach, Valerie was diagnosed with cancer and heart disease. She made a decision to not let adversity stop her from doing the work she enjoyed. Valerie overcame her health issues and continued her position as PR director for fifteen years.

End of story? No way.  At age 63, Valerie was discovered by the Wilhelmina Modeling Agency of San Francisco. Tall and slender, Valerie fit the perfect image of a beautiful mature woman. It’s hard to believe she kept her fulltime position at Pebble Beach while working modeling assignments part time.

If that wasn’t enough, Valerie is an author. Her book, “Creating What’s Next Gracefully” (Pathfinder, 2013) inspires readers to do great things, no matter what their age. At 78 she is a popular motivational speaker on the national and international circuits and has no intention of slowing down. Valerie has appeared on many TV shows, including the Today Show, Fox News, and Extra. Oh and by the way, she still models.

Back to the luncheon… During her presentation Valerie encouraged listeners to create what’s next in their lives by keeping their eyes and ears open for new opportunities to pursue their dreams. ” One way to power past fear is to imagine a positive outcome,” shared Valerie. “Above all, don’t let who you were define who you are.”

I have to say I’m inspired by Valerie’s message. So many people, women especially, look at their advancing years with a feeling of dread. Valerie sees her age as a positive. After all how many people succeed in new careers in their sixties and seventies?  At age 64, I’m not considering a modeling career, but I am looking forward to more adventure.  Are you thinking about your next chapter? Leave a comment and tell me about it. Let’s encourage one another.

 

 

Cardinal Virtues

This spring a cardinal family visited our enclosed patio. The parents were fussing because their baby couldn’t fly above the fence to make an exit. The baby would flap its wings, rise a bit, then fall back to the ground. For a few minutes I debated whether or not to intervene. Should I pick the baby up and carry it somewhere?

I knew the nest wasn’t in our courtyard. I sought out my Facebook friends, who responded with a number of ideas. “Cover it with a towel and take it back to a grassy area.” Another person told me, “Don’t move the baby without a clothes basket on your head because the father cardinal will attack you.” My husband told me to wait and see what happens. (That’s usually his advice about most things.)

I watched the cardinal family for an hour through the back door window.  Finally the baby cardinal made it to the top of the table. Encouraged by his mother, he managed to fly from the table to the top of the fence.  My husband got a terrific photo of him preparing for final take off.

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This event sparked my curiosity. I wanted to know more about cardinals. I discovered they were named after the red robes of the cardinals of the Catholic Church. Immediately the term “cardinal virtues” came to mind.  I applied the seven virtues to a cardinal’s behavior.

Faith: Believing the promises of God. Cardinals stay in the same general vicinity twelve months out of the year.  God provides for them through the cold, grey winter months. The male cardinal’s red color reminds us to “keep the faith” during bleak times.

Prudence: The ability to use foresight, knowing when it’s the right time to take action. Since cardinals do not migrate, they grow extra feathers and eat more to prepare for winter.

 Hope: Cardinals sing cheery songs which lift our spirits and encourage us to persevere through trials.

Love: Male and female cardinals mate for life and share the duties of child raising. The female cardinal calls to the male who responds by bringing her food when she’s nesting.

Justice: Male and female cardinals sing together. Both compliment one other. Each gender has a “voice” in cardinal matters.

Temperance: Both male and female cardinal parents restrain themselves from exploring other interests when they are raising their young. Cardinal babies hop around on the ground for a few days until they learn to fly. The parents stay close by to feed and protect their young.

Courage: A male cardinal is a fierce defender of the nest. He will attack other birds, cats, dogs, and snakes who intrude upon his territory. Males are know to even attack their reflection in a window (side-note: Intelligence isn’t one of the seven virtues).

I’m impressed. After I shared the extensive list of cardinal virtues, my husband asked, “What about the seven cardinal sins?”

I guess that’s one cardinal matter I’ll never know.

 

 

 

The Majestic Marigold

Welcome to my garden. Like other city dwellers, I have a very small space to work. Consequently when plants die, it’s a great loss. Last fall I planted marigolds. My mom is a terrific gardener and told me they are easy to grow. I agree. However, the stems become woody and their fresh green leaves fade after awhile.

Since Florida experiences a year round growing season, I replace my flowers every few months. But something different happened this spring. During March we had a few cold snaps. I didn’t want to replant my garden, so I let it go. By the time I took a closer look, I noticed the weeds were taking over. “Wait a minute,” I thought. “Those aren’t weeds. The leaves look like marigold plants.” The dead blooms from the parent plants fell to the ground and new marigold seedlings were starting to grow. I ran in the house to tell my husband, “Honey, we have a second generation of flowers out here!”

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Check out these interesting facts about marigolds:

Marigolds are versatile.  They like full sun and hot days. They need little care. Water them twice a week and they’ll do great. Dead head the spent blossoms and the plant will produce more blooms. You can save the spent blossoms and replant your next crop. They are perfect for Florida gardeners who replant often.

Marigolds are good companion plants.  I don’t mean for people, I mean for other plants. They actually repel pests like beetles and snails. (And I’ve fought many battles with snails.) If planted as a border for your garden, their aroma discourages rabbits and deer from eating vegetables.

Marigolds are edible.  This was new information for me. Hybrid varieties can be added to salads, teas, stir fries, soups, and any dish that needs color.  If you have ever tasted one, let me know. I’m a little hesitant.

Marigolds can be used to make dye for cloth.

Marigolds were named after the Virgin Mary. Native to the Americas, the plant was treasured by Aztecs for its medicinal value. Spanish explorers brought them back to Europe and referred to them as “Mary’s Gold.”

I didn’t know marigolds were so valuable. Long live marigolds! I spread more of the seeds from the parent plants on the soil in my garden and they took root. As they grew I removed some of the parents and replaced them with seedlings.  Now there are only three parent plants. They rest of the bed is new growth. Have you ever stumbled onto an exciting discovery by accident? Leave a comment and let me know.

Unhappy Campers at Anastasia State Park

Florida’s weather changes right along with whatever storms affect the Atlantic seaboard. This was evident at Anastasia State Park last week. While camping at the park I met a couple who were almost ready to literally throw in the (wet) towel and go home.

Donna and Geren set up camp on Monday with plans to stay for the rest of the week. At that time the sun was shining. By nightfall a steady rain began pelting against their tent. They huddled under their blankets, hoping it might let up. It didn’t. In the middle of the night they were disturbed by the sound of wild animals rummaging through their camp. When they peeked outside they saw fat furry bodies scampering into the underbrush.  Sleeping was impossible. Both the tent and air mattress leaked. By morning, they were laying on the hard ground under wet blankets, and it was still raining.

Desperate for coffee, Donna opened the tent and looked around. Through the pouring rain, she noticed the ground was littered with wrappers. During the night raccoons invaded their camp. These masked bandits were so experienced they opened sealed Tupperware containers and gorged themselves on the contents. They ate a brand new box of Granola Bites which had never been opened.

Donna and Geren worked together to clean up the mess left by the raccoons. To add insult to injury their coffee maker didn’t work. No hot coffee. Geren stumbled off to the shower house where he learned (a little too late) that there was no hot water in the men’s shower and he forgot to bring a towel.

Upon Geren’s return the couple got in their car and drove to the nearest McDonald’s in St. Augustine. Over breakfast they assessed their present situation, and made plans for what to do next. They made a trip to Walmart where they purchased cots, a new coffee maker, and another awning. By the time they returned to Anastasia to reestablish their territory, the rain was letting up some.  That afternoon they dried their bedding at the campground laundry, and put their food in the car, except for their cooler. After visiting some friends for dinner, (who by the way camp in a trailer), Donna and Geren returned to their tent just after dark.

They were shocked to discover the raccoons had struck again! This time the little rascals opened the cooler. Once inside they got their paws on an egg carton and opened it, too. The thieves sucked out the liquid and threw the shells on the ground. The raccoons made off with a whole package of ham and a loaf of bread. For some unknown reason they weren’t interested in the gluten free English muffins. At this point Donna and Geren were so tired they could have slept standing up. They managed to put the dirty cooler in the car before collapsing on their new cots. The raccoons must have finally filled their bellies because they didn’t return.

For the rest of the week the couple experienced restful sleep and beautiful weather. They enjoyed all the natural beauty Anastasia has to offer. Donna and Geren haven’t given upon tent camping. In the future they’ll be upgrading to a new waterproof tent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going Dark at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve

There are times when everyone needs to escape the hustle and bustle of life. For nature enthusiasts who long to get away, I recommend camping for a few nights at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. Located outside of Yeehaw Junction, the park is five miles from the middle of nowhere. Since the phone signal is weak,  you have a really good excuse to not return any texts, calls, or emails. It’s the perfect opportunity to “go dark.”

IMG_3295The preserve protects 54,000 acres of Florida’s dry prairie. Looking out over the sweeping vistas of grassland, I’m reminded of the great plains of the Midwest. In the late 1800’s Florida cowboys, known as crackers, drove herds of cattle through here to markets on the  coast. This rare prairie ecosystem hosts an abundance of wildflowers, birds, and animals.  During our stay, my husband, Herb took some amazing wildlife photos.

 

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Whitetail Deer

 

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Migrating Meadowlark
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Crested Caracara
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Herb, the photographer, posing with the prairie buggy.

Few roads exist in the preserve, but there are one hundred miles of multi-use trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.  Visitors can access remote areas of the park on the prairie buggy tour. These tours are conducted during the fall and winter seasons, when the park is more populated. We took the last tour offered on March 31.  Our guide explained that in Florida an extra inch or two of elevation creates the right environment to establish a hammock of palms or oak trees.

IMG_3193And of course, lower, marshy land makes a great home for Great Blue Herons and everyday alligators.

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When we parked our trailer at campsite five, we noticed a familiar RV at site four. We were surprised to discover our neighbor was someone we camped next to at Highlands Hammock in January. John is a snowbird from Traverse City, Michigan. This winter he camped at numerous parks throughout Florida to escape the ice and snow of the frigid north. His wife Vicki recently joined him for a few weeks. She spent the winter at their home in Michigan. As a quilter, Vicki finds it difficult to work in a trailer. Kissimmee Prairie Preserve is their favorite place to camp. They love it because it’s quiet. With no interstates or airports nearby, one doesn’t hear any traffic.

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John and Vicki Keeling relaxing outside their RV.

We met another interesting camper during this trip. Amanda Kincaid pitched her tent before nightfall at site one.

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Amanda Kincaid with all of her gear.

A long distance hiker, Amanda started her trek on March 10. She’s walking from Gainesville to Big Cypress, near the Everglades. By the time she arrived at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve she hiked three hundred fifty miles. She has two hundred miles to go on the Florida Trail to reach her goal. I offered Amanda a cup of coffee which she gladly accepted. She shared that she began backpacking with her dad about five years ago. Her experiences on the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail were cut short at four hundred miles due to injuries. This time she has high hopes of reaching her goal.

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Amanda Kincaid loves the special moments hiking offers.

Amanda is a member of Trail Angels, an organization that offers advice and provisions to hikers along the trail. She must plan carefully to have access to safe drinking water. Amanda averages between fifteen to twenty miles a day. With spring temperatures climbing, hydration is an issue. The Trail Angels place bottled water at locations she will pass  through.  Even with all of the hardships, Amanda loves backpacking and meeting people.

When the sun goes down, the stars come out at the preserve which is known for it’s “dark skies.” A section of the park is designated as the “red light district.” Here only red lights are used by campers, and no campfires are permitted. There is little or no light pollution at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve and stargazing is superb.

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Of course no one can douse the moonlight.

 

 

 

One Beagle’s Battle with Degenerative Disk Disease

If you’ve followed my blog during the past year, you know I like to travel.  This month my main trips have been to the veterinarian’s office.  The four-footed furry member of our team, experienced a set back in his health, forcing him to be on medical leave.

On our most recent camping trip, Buddy, our beagle, couldn’t seem to get comfortable. He paced, shivered, and whined. Buddy suffers with degenerative disk disease. On occasion he struggles with pain in his back. We phoned our vet, who advised us how to handle the present emergency. Fortunately, we brought along some medication to relieve his pain. Can you believe we actually carry a first aid kit for our dog? We administered the medication, but decided to come home early in case his condition worsened.

The next day Buddy improved. The combination of pain medication and steroids halted what might have been another terrible event.  In 2013, one of Buddy’s disks ruptured, resulting in paralysis of his hind legs. Click on the “buddy’s world” tab above for details.

We scheduled a follow-up appointment for Buddy with Dr. Enrique Duprey of the Corrine Drive Animal Hospital. The two of them have an understanding. Buddy strikes a cute pose and stares at Dr. Duprey. Few can resist Buddy’s beguiling brown eyes. Buddy knows his cuteness pays off in treats. On this visit Dr. Duprey offered more than treats. He offered laser treatments.

Low-level laser therapy is a relatively new concept being used to treat dogs with arthritis and degenerative disk disease. This illness is fairly common in long-bodied dogs. The treatments use light to stimulate cell regeneration, reduce inflamation, and increase blood circulation. For almost four years after his surgery and recovery, Buddy got along very well. His recent pain episode indicates the disease is still present.

A typical treatment session lasts ten to fifteen minutes. Buddy wears special dark goggles to protect his eyes. I’ve been told the laser feels good to the dogs. Buddy hasn’t complained. If laser therapy reduces his need for medication and prevents another ruptured back disk, we’re all for it. Right now he’s receiving two treatments a week. If he continues to do well, the treatments will be decreased to once a month. He’s had eight treatments so far. Buddy enjoys all the special attention he receives from the technicians at the animal hospital. He’s the coolest beagle in Orlando.

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Looking back, we’re not sorry we share our home and our lives with Buddy. Beagles give more than they take. Buddy is charming and congenial.  He’s a great companion. Relatively calm, Buddy’s not a nuisance barker, but he’ll let us know if cats or other visitors are near. Then he omits a loud baying sound heard for blocks. Out on a hike Buddy is attuned to the smells and sounds of the woods, a part of his hunting heritage.

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If you’ve experienced medical issues with a pet, or if you are simply crazy about beagles, leave a comment. I’d like to hear your story.