A Writer’s Grave, Turtle ICU and the Year that Was

December 28, 2011

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I can’t believe another year has come and gone! One of the fun things about blogging is you can look back on the year and see what you’ve accomplished, where you’ve been, and what you’ve learned. Although I didn’t travel as much this year, I still had amazing experiences.  Here are a few of my favorites:

No. 1:  Cross Creek, home of Pulitzer Prize winning author, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings…

with a visit to her gravesite.


No. 2:  Turtle ICU at the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet

No. 3:  Gander Mountain Firearms Academy, in Lake Mary

No. 4:  Dinner at the top-notch Blue restaurant in Flagler Beach.

No. 5:  Deep Sea Fishing out of New Smyrna Beach

I finally tried a Florida avocado, made a Clove Orange, devoured a champagne truffle and tasted the best Muffaleta sandwich ever.  I learned about armadillos, LandLubber grasshoppers, and Herculean trees.

And I’m not through with Florida yet.


Fishing for Dinner

November 16, 2011

Groupons are great for getting you out of your comfort zone and into something you know nothing about. Back in April we bought a Groupon for a 7-hour fishing trip out of New Smyrna Beach. With only a few weeks left to use it or lose it, we finally signed up.

The Pastime Princess is 100-feet long and can accommodate 150 passengers. On Saturday though there were only 73 of us, including many last-minute Groupon users like ourselves. We arrived at the dock early and picked out our spots on the back rail.  

After a fun, yet cool, cruise out, we lined up like little soldiers all around the boat and waited for the Captain to give the order. When he did, I let my hook down, careful not to  cause a backlash in my reel. Then I waited. It wasn’t long before everyone around me started pulling up Sea Bass after Sea Bass. Although they had to throw every one of those back, at least they were catching something.

I have been fishing maybe 2-3 times in my life, all here in Florida, all off of Matt’s boat.  If I recall correctly, I caught three pinfish at a mooring buoy on something called a sabeki line. Here, however, I wasn’t having much luck. I resigned myself to admitting that I am indeed my father’s daughter and my brother’s sister. When we were young and visiting Florida, my Dad and brother would go out on a boat like this one with my Uncle Jim and cousin Jimmy.  My uncle and cousin always caught fish, but my Dad and brother never seemed to have much luck. I guess it’s in the genes.

At the third fishing site people continued to catch fish right and left of me, starting with a high schooler named Brenda who brought in the first keepable fish of the day– a Trigger fish. Others brought in cobias the size of  small children.

Finally I felt the nibble and reeled my line in as fast as I could (which wasn’t very fast but was unbelievably clumsy). My first catch of the day was a small grunt.  We threw it back in. After that I caught a few Sea Bass, and another grunt. My only claim to fame on the boat was being the only person to catch a Lizard Fish, which no one wants to catch, much less eat. 

By now everyone was catching huge Red Snappers but these too, unfortunately, had to be returned to the sea. Then Matt landed not one, but two, Lane Snappers. Finally fish we could keep.


Once back at the dock, the crew swiftly and expertly cleaned everyone’s catches.  We felt lucky to have something to take home for dinner when so many others didn’t.

I think we’ll be doing this again.

Sweating for Sweetness

July 27, 2011

I’ve never equated Florida with agriculture, but as I’ve learned on several occasions now, I’m dead wrong about that.  And one crop in particular — sugar cane — has a dramatic history in this state.

A Sweet History: Sugar Mills in Florida

In the early 1800s people moved into Florida to try their hand at running sugar mills.  Florida was no cooler back then than it is now, so sweating away in a sugar mill wasn’t exactly pleasant.  And with all the effort they put into this endeavour, the end result for most of them climaxed with brutal attacks by Indians, leaving the mills, and the owners’ fortunes, in ruins.

New Smyrna Beach Ruins

Sugar Mill Ruins in New Smyrna Beach, also know as the Curger and DePeyster Sugar Mill,  is one such reminder of sugar cane’s history in Florida. Its final fate was decided during the Seminole Wars and only crumbling coquina walls remain today.

Sugar Mill Ruins in New Smyrna Beach, FL

Ruins, including a rusted sugar cane boiling vat

What remains...

Rusted boiling vats

How to Make Sugar

According to information panels placed at the site, the three-step process included:

Step 1:  Crush the sugar cane (by a motorized cane crusher).

Step 2:  Stir in vats and then transfer to cooling troughs.
(illustration on information display board at the New Smyrna Beach ruins)
Step 3: Store extracted cane sugar in barrels.
(illustration on information display board at the New Smyrna Beach ruins)
Sounds simple, but I’m sure it was anything but. 
I’ve wandered around three such ruins within 25 miles of my home now — each one bringing with it its own tale, but each one meeting its cruel demise in the same way.  A tragedy any way you look at it.