Orlando, in words, pictures, art, and numbers – Part III

And now, we return to Orlando. Welcome back, for Part III.

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When I woke up that Friday morning, my fourth day in Orlando, I knew I had one main choice to make for the day: whether to go back to Wekiwa Springs State Park and go kayaking for most of the day (as I originally thought I would do – Part 1) or stay in the city and relax.

I wanted to do both, but thinking of all I’d done on Thursday (Part II) and what I most wanted out of Friday, I chose the latter.

The decision was actually easier than I thought, and my feeling that it was the right decision was confirmed during my morning run, an easy 35-minutes around town.

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Yes, this is what I want to be doing, I thought as I jogged – taking it easy, not rushing, and letting come what may. What if I didn’t worry and just did that? Yes, let’s go.

About ten minutes into the run, I got to the Orlando Urban Trail, a paved running and biking trail similar to the Cady Way Trail that I’d been on two days earlier.

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I couldn’t believe it, but there it was, in Orlando – the Dinky Line!

This was remarkable because in Princeton we have the Dinky too! Technically it’s the Princeton Shuttle, a 2.9-mile NJ Transit commuter rail line that connects Princeton and Princeton Junction (where you can then go north to New York, or south to Trenton and Philly). To anyone who’s local, it’s the Dinky. I promised myself I’d come back later and get a picture (which I did the next day).

With a Dinky-inspired smile, I continued on my run, passing through Lake Eola Park, Thornton Park, and then Mills 50 on my way back to my Airbnb. Along the way, I found myself smiling again when I happened upon another reminder of home.

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Yes, in the Mills 50 neighborhood in Orlando, at the intersection of art and utility boxes, there’s an orange Einstein.

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It’s good to get away and leave home for a fresh perspective. And it’s also good, when you’re away and relaxed, to be reminded of home. I was running at the pace of Dave, feeling a greater sense of self and doing what I wanted. And then, without trying, I found the Dinky and Einstein. I was away from home, yet I was at home at the same time. What if I brought some of this home back with me?

Part of my run also went down Shine Avenue. Yes, Orlando, full of great signs 🙂

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One of my reasons for dedicating the day, Friday, to relaxing and local exploring was that I was doing the Best Damn Race Orlando Half Marathon the next day. I didn’t want to rush when picking up my race packet, and staying local meant I could also take advantage of the kitchen in the Airbnb to cook my favorite pre-long-race meal.

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For a while, this pre-race meal (whenever possible) has been homemade tomato sauce and pasta. And that’s what I made. Crushed tomatoes, garlic, onions (the ones that I’d picked the day before at the farm!), olive oil, salt, and pepper. The leftovers were also good the next day after the race, and on the plane ride home on Sunday.

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I also sauteed some spinach and cut some carrots, because that’s what I do

After dinner, I wrapped up my Friday by going to an improv show at SAK Comedy Lab in downtown Orlando. I’d heard about SAK from someone at Tasty Tuesdays, and having done improv myself recently with some friends at home and knowing how hard/easy/stressful/freeing/awesome it can be to do – you should try it! if you want to – I was looking forward to seeing a live show.

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The show was great, and on top of that there was also the wall-art with the improv of life reminders.

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I had initially stopped by SAK in the afternoon to buy a ticket. Seeing no one at front desk, I continued on in and headed up the stairs. While looking at the Improv is Life wisdom-inspiration murals, I ran into the person, Dale, who would be hosting the show that night. He gave me the details on the tickets (can reserve them online) and the art (one of the performers, who is also a visual artist, designed everything).

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Sometimes at work in the morning, I’ll write daily intention reminders to myself on a yellow post-it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but taking these pictures at SAK was like doing the same thing, on a larger scale.

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I invite you to click, expand, and pan through the murals and see what thoughts and ideas resonate with you. And to see an improv show, and to try it too.

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The words in these pictures
And my words and pictures
Are for everyone,
Friends old and new and not yet known.
They’re there for me
And there for you,
Feelings felt and
Feelings shown

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For my last day in Orlando, part one was doing the half marathon. When I had originally signed up for it, I thought it would be my weekly long run as part of training for a spring marathon. I never found the right marathon motivation though, so I never signed up for one. This is also to say that had there been any doubt, my goal for the Best Damn Race Orlando Half Marathon was at this point definitely to have it mirror my goal for the trip as a whole – to move myself in the direction I wanted to go in, relax and enjoy it, and welcome the outcome and whatever comes.

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I found and welcomed the sunrise on my way to the start.

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I also found my lucky numbers, 313.
No better a birthday, or combination of primes, has the world known. I may be biased though.

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The route took us through some familiar neighborhoods and streets, including Shine Ave. There might have been delays for the cars that morning, but I wasn’t feeling any because, me, I wasn’t in a rush. I’ll race a race once in a while, but more often lately what I’ve been doing is appreciating the beauty of running at the pace that feels right for the day. I didn’t want to run as hard as possible and injure myself, so I didn’t. And I wanted to run at a more relaxed pace and enjoy it, so I did. It felt great, and I ran a few fun, faster miles towards the end. And I finished and lived to run another day.

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Repping PRC in ORD

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The wings, they spin

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I only had one of these recovery drinks. You saw all the sweat in that picture of me running, right?

A few days later when I looked at the results again, I was like, Wait a second, wow!
My gun time was 1:36:36.9, which meant that If I had kept running and were able to keep the same pace for a full marathon (that is, if I kept training and were then able to keep running the same pace), my final time would be 3:13:13! I’d found my numbers again, and again without trying.

Back to my last day in Orlando, post-half marathon, I had one final decision to make: to DRIP or not to DRIP.

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At the bar a few days earlier, I had heard about what sounded like an awesome performing-arts show, DRIP. Imagine dancers moving, choreographed paint and water and sand flying, colored lights moving, a live rock band playing music, everything happening in a dark and intimate warehouse bar setting, and the audience standing and watching on the edges of the performance space and becoming an increasingly painted and wet participant. And picture the audience coming early to get a drink and paint each other and hang out, and then doing more of the same afterwards.

It sounded great, and I thought, “I should go to that. I want to do that.” Adding to the awesomeness was that I only learned about the show because I happened to visit a particular bar (recommended by my hosts) and happen to sit in the one spot at the bar that I could have sat, at the right time, to happen to have a conversation with the woman, Mariko, who happened to be the creator of DRIP!

My plan was to check it out my last night in Orlando. Drip with sweat while running in the morning, and then drip with paint while seeing DRIP in the evening. That afternoon, though, I started dragging. Whether it was the good running-feeling subsiding, the growing thoughts of my pending return to regular life at home, or something else, I started feeling the stress and worry that I had been doing good at managing.

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So I took a beat and let myself be.

After getting my Dinky picture, I crossed the street and found a warm spot on the grass near Lake Highland. And then I laid down on my back, resting, breathing, looking up, not looking at anything, now with eyes closed, and I let my thoughts come and go, and along the way came the understanding that I would do whatever felt right and that that would be alright. If a more low-key evening is what was moving me, then that’s what I would do. If DRIP became the stronger part of my compass, I’d move in that direction.

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The first sign in favor of DRIP was the beet juice, which I’d gotten in my race goody bag. Beet Performer is 100% beet juice, and well, one sip confirmed for me that it’s not my cup of beet juice tea.

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This also explains why I had an open, nearly full can of beet juice in my rental car’s cup-holder, which was fine until I unexpectedly backed into a curb while parking, leading to the beet juice spilling and leaving a large maroon mark on my arm. How about that, I thought, I just painted myself.

Then next came the thrift store, which is what I was parking for. If I went to DRIP, I wanted to get a pair of flip flops, as Mariko had mentioned how most people wear old clothes and sandals that they don’t mind getting paint on. And what would you know: the thrift store had my exact size.

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I also got The Muppet Movie (a classic, for my nieces) and some reading for the plane.

The final push to DRIP was a therapy-like conversation I had with a bartender a short while later while eating dinner. The thoughts and talk on my end went something like this: Yes, I want to go, but I have a voice telling me I shouldn’t go because I would be going by myself and would feel like I’d have to talk to new people, and I don’t always feel like doing that, and then I would be self-conscious and not enjoy it, and so on. But I want to go. And, I’d already painted myself and found flip flips! And oh yeah, I met the person who created the show, and this is an opportunity to see it and see something awesome. Tonight. And, I can go and do whatever I want, talk to or not talk to people, and have a good time. I can just go and be.

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So that’s what I did.

Once upon a time, I wrote about a Two T-Shirt Day. After entering the DRIP bar area and collecting my t-shirt before the show started, I was treated to a zombie-cutting and sleeves-ripping.

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And that, when combined with my half marathon attire and with the rest of my day, perspective seen and perspective shown, turned it into a Two Tank Top Day.

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Afterwards, with a few of the performers in front, and with a blond Mariko photo-bomb in back

The show was amazing, and after it was over, I sat with myself for a few minutes in the bar area, continuing to be. Among the thoughts that came were, Yes, I’m okay, I’m doing okay, I’m me, I’m ready, Let’s go home, Let’s go.

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And up next: Orlando, in song – for the special encore

Orlando, in words, pictures, and art – Part II

There was walking and exploring and food trucks on Day 1.
And running, hiking, singing, and swimming on Day 2.
And there was going to be yoga, the beach, and art on Day 3.

Those were my general Day 3 Thursday plans at least, which came together while hiking and swimming during the day on Wednesday and also while getting a drink back at a bar in Orlando Wednesday night.

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Wall art, seen while walking back to my car, after leaving the bar, Wednesday night

As it turned out, Thursday would also include a visit to a farm and a second art event. Which is to say: there was a lot going on, and at some points too much as I tried to follow my interests and do too much. But in the end, it was all good. The story continues.

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From my hosts, I’d heard about East End Market, a neighborhood market a mile and half away that serves as a food hub, merchant space, and community center. Inside there was a variety of local food businesses (bread, cheese, produce, juice, beer), a coffee shop, a small book store, a plants store, a restaurant, and more. And outside there was a patio courtyard and a community garden project. And: everything Thursday morning, in partnership with Lululemon, there was a free yoga class!

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Shop, Learn, Live – the other side of the East End Market card above

So I got up early, jogged to the market, and started the day with yoga. I hadn’t done yoga in a while – the last time was several months prior, coincidentally at a free Lululemon class in Princeton – and I was also planning on doing a half marathon in two days (yes, the Best Damn Race Orlando), so I took it easy. And I was able to relax and it felt good. And with an intention set for the day – love and kindness all around, for myself and others – I got a sourdough loaf from the bakery and ambled around the market, inside and out, at my own pace.

Most of the shops weren’t open yet, but it made me smile to learn that the offices of Edible Orlando were housed there (I picked up the latest copy). And I found a local farms guide! Before jogging home, I sat for a few minutes, relaxing and being.

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Where I got into a little trouble that day, back at the house and at other points, was when I started thinking that I needed to do certain things and to fit a lot of things in.

I had the beach in mind, but now I also saw the possibility of visiting some local farms, and Google maps was telling me that logistically it would be possible to visit them on the way back from the beach, and then if I got back in time I could also go to this additional art thing that I’d learned about the night before at the bar. The timing would be tight though, and I couldn’t stay in any one place for too long. But it could work. But I’d be rushing. But it was possible. But I’d be thinking of next place and not relaxing in the moment. What should I do, what should I do… Wait, does this sound familiar?? Yes, to hike or to kayak, that is the question:)

In the end, I did them all and I had some stress about it. Who’s not perfect though? This guy.
And who feels better having said that, and having lived and learned through it? Also this guy.

But to move on from this guy,
Let’s talk about this sky.

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I brought my lunch with me to beach, and sat with this view.
There were just a few others, enjoying it too.

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The admission was free, the opposite of Jersey,
But if you wanted to drive, there was a $10 fee.

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There were also many palms,
At the beach and in the street.

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And also at the farm,
You can see them behind,

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With the strawberries in front,
Growing in lines.

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In the end I picked five quarts,
Some peppers and onions too,

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Because when the opportunity comes,
That’s what you do.

Yes, stopping at the farm added something to the trip. And strawberries in March, who knew! I didn’t get to also visit an orange grove, but in talking with the farmer while paying, I did learn a little about the orange industry. She told me how a disease, citrus greening, was threatening the entire industry and how her family had successfully transitioned from oranges to vegetables.

Back in Orlando, the first art event I went to that evening was 1st Thursdays at the art museum (good, but with everything else that day and the timing of it, it became part of my day’s too much). And then I went to Mystery Sketch Theater at the Falcon (better, because that’s what I really wanted to do).

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When my hosts had mentioned Mystery Sketch Theater – a monthly figure drawing session held at a local bar, where a live model dresses up as a superhero and other unique characters – I was like, “That sounds awesome, I would do that.” I like drawing, I thought, and it sounded like a fun social thing to do with like-minded people. Drawing, drinking, and hanging out, perhaps too with some new friends. I also happened to have brought with me from NJ a set drawing pencils, a sharpener, and a eraser (holiday gifts from one of my brothers that I hadn’t used yet). I’d packed them thinking that maybe I’d use them, and now here was an opportunity!

So I bought a sketchpad and showed up.

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The model started with one-minute poses, as a warm up for us as well as for her. This progressed into 5-minute and then 10-minute poses. And then about half-way in, near the hour mark, she took a break for a costume change. From 8 to 9 pm we were drawing a leather-bound Cat-woman type, and from 9 to 10 pm it was Ariel from The Little Mermaid.

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First costume

I liked the shortest poses the best – less time to worry about making mistakes. You have to dive in, draw, and be decisive with your lines.

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I found that the more time I had, the longer I often hesitated. With some of the longer poses, I’d have very little done until I found out there was a minute left, and then there’d be a flurry of lines and parts in the last 30-60 seconds. Sometimes it would look okay, sometimes not. At a certain point, I could feel myself getting self-critical: “There are so many mistakes in my drawings. They’re not perfect! I’m not perfect! Other people’s drawings look better than mine.” And then it passed.

The truth is, there were some talented artists that night at Mystery Sketch Theater. And while my drawings didn’t always have the right proportions or features (heads, hands, my undoing), that’s okay. I reminded myself, too, that to be good or great at something right away is unrealistic. As in, something that’s not real. And me? Yes, I’m real. And to get better at drawing, and anything in life – meeting new people, enjoying the present moment, seeing the beauty around you everyday – it takes time and practice. And with that in mind, I’m happy to say the following: Enjoy the rest of the art show!

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All the drawings, from top to bottom, appear in the order in which they were drawn.

The more I look at them, the more I realize there’s something about every one that I like. A line, a leg, a look, a gesture, a smile, a something. Every one, just like everyone, has something special. I like each one on its own, and all of them as a group.

Do you have a favorite?

Looking at them also makes me want to do more drawing. For context too, the one drawing with the words was the product of that night’s contest: Prior to everyone starting that one, which was the final drawing before the model’s costume change, the suggestion of “Stealing Easter” was selected as the concept for us to transform our drawings into while the model changed.

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Some of the Stealing Easter entries

I didn’t win the contest, but I won the day by drawing in a bar on vacation. It was a good Thursday decision. And after it ended, I got a bite to eat with two of the other artists.

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Up next: Part III for the Orlando conclusion – relaxing, running, and performing-arts seeing and being

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Orlando, in words and pictures – Part I

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to loosen the bands of everyday thought and push forward your best progressive parts and perspective, it’s time to take a trip.

So I did.

A month and a week ago, with a minimal amount of planning, I got on a plane and headed to Orlando for five days. 

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It was an early morning flight, and not being able to sleep, I found myself reading through the Florida guidebook that I’d borrowed from the library but hadn’t really looked at yet. More than half of the pages in the Orlando section were about Disney and the theme parks and how to navigate that world.

“Oh, that’s why people come to Orlando,” was my first coalescing thought, which was soon followed by, “I’m not going to do any of this,” and then, “Maybe I should have done a little research first,” and finally, “No, it’s going to be good. I’m going to do whatever I want and it’s going to be a good trip.”

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Carrying with me those concluding thoughts and my one personal item, a mostly full Sierra Club book bag (thank you Frontier Airlines for the low fares, and thank you also for the carry-on bag fees that encouraged my light packing), I made my way through Orlando International Airport and to the rental car shuttle area. Along the way, I stopped to take a few pictures of a three-dimensional Mickey mural and a two-dimensional portrait (above and below), not only so I could joke that I checked off the Orlando Disney requirement before having left the airport, but also because they made for interesting, artful pictures.

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After collecting the rental car, my first stop for exploring that day was Thornton Park and Lake Eola, with the general plan being to walk around, get lunch, and take in the new scene before heading to my Airbnb place in the afternoon. Greeting me when I stepped out of the car and looked up was a tree dripping with Spanish moss.

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It struck me at the time, and then even more the next day while hiking and also on the days after, that there’s something special about trees and looking up at them, about seeing the shapes and lines that they silhouette against a bright blue backdrop of sky. There’s strength and beauty in the view. It’s solid and magical at the same time.

Walking around further that morning with open eyes, it was easy to find more things of interest and beauty. A short walk away, there was the lake.

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Venturing further into downtown, there was the library.

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Seeing the library’s name also prompted the following chain of thoughts: Orange County… Florida oranges… Local food… Oranges usually aren’t local… I need to find some local Florida oranges!… I wonder how they taste.

On the other side of the library, which I passed later in my walk, the palm trees provided another good sense-of-place reminder. It was also 75-80 degrees, and I was wearing shorts in March.

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Downtown, I also found shadows on a green house.

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And back in Thornton Park, I walked past a smoothie place with a sign that made me think, I wonder if every morning they kale-i-brate their signboard in a new way.

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At this point, I have another confession to make: prior to this trip, I’d never done Airbnb before. I almost did one time three years ago on a trip in Seattle, but then it worked out I could stay with my cousin. This is simply to say, Orlando was going to be my first time, and as with anything new and with my nature, I had a few (mostly irrational) worries. What if the people were weird? What if I wanted to be myself? What if we didn’t get along? What if it all worked out great and turned out to be a great decision??

The truth is, the messages that my hosts sent me through the Airbnb website leading up to my arrival were all welcoming, friendly, and helpful. And during my stay, my hosts were exactly the same: nothing but welcoming, friendly, and helpful. If anyone’s travelling to Orlando and would like a good Airbnb recommendation, let me know. I have one.

Their house was also only a few miles from downtown and centrally located between 4-5 local neighborhoods. As long-time residents (not much older than me) who loved the city and were plugged into the local food, drink, and activity scene, they also had great recommendations for neighborhoods and places to check out. My general plan for the trip was to explore a new city and the local neighborhoods, see nature at nearby parks, and as much as possible just do whatever I felt like doing and trust, relax, and enjoy my decisions in all those directions. It felt like a good home base.

If I hadn’t stayed there, one thing I wouldn’t have known about was Tasty Tuesdays, a weekly food truck event in the Milk District that became my dinner-destination that first night and that was also a good solo-traveler-who-doesn’t-mind-his-own-company-but-who-would-like-to-be-better-at-meeting-people training ground for talking to people he’s never met before. The food was good – my selections: plantain empanadas, FIlipino noodles, and a huge open-faced vegetarian tamale (a meal in itself) – and the other practice was good as well – my experiences: difficult, easy, and in between, with a later reflection-reminder that what’s there to worry about, really.

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Among the things I loved about the next day, Wednesday, was how it turned out to be a double meditation-in-motion day. After waking up with closer to the right amount of sleep, I had toast and went for a run. Running in and of itself helps you relax (it does for me at least), and when you do it on vacation, with your regular worries out of mind (jobs, relationships, friends, obligations, etc.), it’s like an even greater sense of freedom. My plan was to do an out and back on the Cady Way Trail, a paved running and biking trail that wouldn’t you know it was a block away from where I was staying (thank you again host couple for the heads up). I stopped a few times during the run to ask for directions, and one time the exchange went like this:

Me: “Hi, I’m not sure if this is the trail or not. I didn’t see a sign back there at the intersection.”

Friendly, middle-aged woman in fitness clothes (who was walking the other way and stopped to help me): “Yeah I know, the signs can be really confusing. I think the trail might be back there but I’m not sure. I wish I knew, I’m sorry…”

Me: “Oh that’s okay… I was just going to do another 15 minutes and then turn around, to finish up with an hour.”

Friendly woman: “You know, I just walked around this lake right here [gesturing behind her/in front of me]. You could do the lake. Trust me, it’s beautiful.”

After the briefest of pauses, I thought and said aloud at the same time: “How can you say no to that??”

So I did the lake.

And it was beautiful, and it became a part of the day’s running thoughts of remembering to have fun while exploring, asking for help when you need it and engaging with people, trusting yourself, and taking care of yourself.

Part two of my Wednesday took me to Wekiwa Springs State Park, a 7,000-acre park just 30 minutes north of Orlando that has hiking trails, canoe and kayak rentals, and a natural springs swimming area (72 degrees, year-round). On the drive there, the debate in my head was, “Should I go hiking or rent a canoe/kayak?” I wanted to do both, and I knew that doing one would mean I couldn’t do the other. After I got there and got more information on the timing of the rentals, the imperfection of my desires was confirmed. It was either one or the other. In the big picture of life, this bit of adversity wasn’t really an adversity, but it did produce some minutes of fear of missing out and self-criticism for not having planned better. I’m happy to say this thinking was short-lived though, and sooner rather than later, I gave myself permission to continue enjoying being exactly where I was at. It would be a hiking afternoon. And, I could come back two days later, on Friday, to kayak down the Wekiva River, which I learned was one of only two rivers in Florida recognized as a National Wild and Scenic River.

So I went walking.

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It wasn’t long after starting down this sandy path that 1) I stopped to ask for directions (I had a map, but the signs weren’t completely clear, and the more opinions the better), 2) the path moved towards a more surer underfoot feel and took a more tropical-feeling turn, and 3) I started feeling within me that friend that goes by the name of peace, ease, and relaxation.

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Part of it was the trees above, the path below, and the immersion all around.

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Part of it was seeing the Wekiva River, flowing slowly and steadily nearby and looking peaceful. (I imagined how I’d be flowing with it too in a few days, in a kayak.)

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And part of it was the singing.

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I mentioned once about a year and a half ago that I was taking a guitar class. Since then, I’ve continued to practice a little on my own and also write some songs. There are few family members and friends that have heard a few of them, and I’m hoping to stretch and share more in the future. Over time as they’ve become a small collection, I’ve also realized some common themes in them, such as love, hope, process, and progress. And so, the songs I was singing were my songs, and their familiar stories were ones that I’d heard and relaxed with many times.

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On the road and I’m a
Coming home and I’m a
Thinking how I’m gonna
Rock and roll again and
When the stars turn in and
Wake the sun again I’m
Gonna see the light in
Your eyes

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That’s the first part of one of the songs I was singing, as I was walking down this road.

I didn’t see too many other people walking that day, and I had this stretch of openness all to myself. The reason for this, at this point on the road, might have been that a little ways back at a junction, there was a plastic A-frame barricade blocking the way, which I decided to walk around.

I had a feeling I knew why the the barricade was there, as half an hour earlier I had come across the following sign in the trail, which I had honored by turning left and going down a different path.

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The new path lead me to the road, which led me to the junction. And not seeing a similar sign on the barricade or any visual signs of a fire beyond, I continued on. I was curious to see what would come next. I also knew I was only planning to walk for another 20 minutes or so before turning around, as going further would have meant doing a longer loop than I wanted.

This of course led to the following: me walking along in mid-song, and then a golf cart coming down the road towards me, driven by a guy dressed in full firefighter gear.

He stopped, and even as I started explaining how I came to be where I was at, I could tell it was okay. He said, “Yeah, you can keep walking. You’ll see where the fire was and smell some smoke… Just don’t walk through the burned area, and however far you go, make sure to always keep it on your right.” He also asked if I had enough water and if I knew how to get back, and he noted that I could also take the closed trail by the river back since it wasn’t part of the burned area.

So I continued on.

And soon enough, I was at the edge of the burn. If I had a small amount of curiosity within me to walk further, it was well-tempered by the charcoal understory and the remnant heat and smoke. This is how the path looked, looking into the burn.

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There was also the trail marker.

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Sometimes you don’t a need a written sign to tell you the trail is closed.

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Before turning back, I snapped a picture for Instagram:

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“Prescribed burn #lochnessmonster sightings today, immobile and jumping”

On the flip-side, turning myself 180 degrees around, while standing in the same spot, the path had a greener look.

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Having satisfied my fire curiosity and feeling the natural springs calling for a post-hike swim, I took this greener path (aka the closed trail by the river) and headed back. Not surprisingly, I didn’t see anyone on this short stretch of trail, and soon I found myself back at the spot where earlier I had turned because of the sign.

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How a “Hiking Trail Closed” sign looks when approaching from the other side

So I went under the ribbon, turned and followed the same path towards the road, and found a new, final path that led me back to the start.

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Driving back to the springs from the trailhead, I also stopped when I saw this sign on the side of the road. It was another reminder of how fire and burning help contribute to the beauty of nature, and to restoration.

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As far the swimming went, I will say the following: moving around in 72 degree water, at 4:00 p.m. on an 80 degree day, after two and a half hours of walking, was amazing. I went in for half an hour, and it was like a getting a one-minute cold wake-up call followed by a 29-minute water massage, refreshing and relaxing.

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It was also while hiking and swimming that day, and later while getting a drink at a local bar back in Orlando that night, that I came up with my general plans for the next day, Thursday. But more on that soon, in Part II.

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Today we answer the question: The watermelon in my kitchen: Death Star, or Let gone too far?

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This is actually an easy one.

Yes. And Yes.

Sorry little guy.

A better question is: How far is too far, to make a melon a death star?

The great thing about friends, and archived Facebook events, is that it makes this one an easy one too. Would you believe that it only takes six months?

Back in September last year, I went to a pair of friends’ housewarming party. And my contribution? A watermelon and a house plant. The former I selected from Stults Farm in Cranbury (I also got one for myself, pictured above), and the latter I plucked from my kitchen counter collection.

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This is how the counter looks today. Time for a little plant plug tidying and planting, I believe.

Currently in stock are spider plants, purple hearts, and philodendrons (lots, some, and a few, respectively). Ready also, with some foreplanning, could be Tradescantia zebrina and a few others.

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Anyone want a spider plant or purple heart???

I have plenty of pots waiting for new houseplants too (thank you periodic rummage sale attendance). I’ll make bringing the plants and pots together a weekend or coming week activity. This may also mean creating some more shelf space in my apartment, but as with something good to eat, with plants, we can always find more room.

As for the watermelon, I can say that two weeks does not a death star make. My friends ate theirs two weeks after the party, and it was still good. I’m not sure why I didn’t eat mine right away – maybe I had another melon at the same time from another farm – but at some point, maybe four weeks in, I did become interested in seeing how long it could last. Yes, the dark side of food curiosity.

The next Star Wars movie will be out in December, says the internet. But for a fresh, juicy, local watermelon, the wait is not so long. In Jersey and similar climes, we can start searching in mid-July: it’s coming soon to a farm stand, for you and me.

Tofu Cacciatore

Hi, my name is Dave, and I have something to say.

Tofu Cacciatore.

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Tofu cacciatore, in a pita pocket

Actually that’s only part of what what I have to say. As is often the case, there’s the food, the story, and the more of the story.

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The food and the story began a little over two weeks ago. I was trying to figure out what to make for the day-before-Valentine’s-Day potluck party that my friends were having. I wanted to make something new and different, but lacking full inspiration, I decided to go with Tofurky Sloppy Joes (in pitas with mozzarella). The night before the potluck, I got everything together and made it. When I tasted it, it was good, but it didn’t seem like anything special. It seemed like…Tofurky with homemade tomato sauce. It was done though, and ready to go.

I still had about an hour before I was going to go to sleep, so I started up another cooking project. Having just baked some tofu, I decided to try making tofu cacciatore, i.e., to try making something from the list I keep of new things to try, test out, refine, perfect, and then, after several tests, write about and finally share in their beautiful, glittering, and ‘Let’s make this right away because it’s ridiculously good’ final perfect form. That was the plan. But you know how plans can be – it’s not bad to have them (in fact it’s often good have them), but sometimes they don’t go…as planned. The key is to be open to adapting to change along the way.

The tofu cacciatore, on attempt #1, was actually pretty good. I wasn’t about to bring it to the party though because I’d made it only once. I didn’t even take notes or pictures along the way, as I figured I’d make it several more times before sharing it.

But come the next day, and the approach of the potluck hour, I was starting to feel a familiar struggle rising up, of, What should I do… Should I bring the Sloppy Joes, as already prepared and as planned? Or should I bring this other thing I happened to have, Tofu Cacciatore, which admittedly tastes better but isn’t perfect (isn’t what I imagined perfect would be, and not what I planned)? I stood there for 5-10 minutes, knowing that I had to choose and start heating one of them up. And then, without thinking too much, came a moment of clarity:

Bring the one you like more, the one you think other people will like more, the one that’s a little different, the one that’s more unique, the one that’s more you, the one that well it doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect because right now, in the moment, it’s pretty good, good enough, and more than good enough. It’s Tofu Cacciatore. What more is there to say?

So I brought the TC. 🙂

It’s great when a decision feels right. And people liked it too.

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Tofu Cacciatore

Ingredients

  • 1 lb firm tofu, cut into smaller pieces (about 1″ x 1/2″ x 1/2″)
  • 1 Tbsp each: olive oil, soy sauce, maple syrup, white wine vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil (in addition to the above)
  • 2 onions, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 Tbsp dried rosemary, diced
  • 1 Tbsp dried sage, diced
  • 2 peppers (any color), chopped roughly
  • 3 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 1/4 cups crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

Steps

  1. Prepare and bake the tofu
    • Mix the olive oil, soy sauce, maple syrup, and white wine vinegar (1 Tbsp each) in a bowl
    • Add the tofu pieces, and mix to coat them in the marinade
    • Arrange the tofu pieces on a baking sheet
    • Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees, flip the pieces, and then bake for another 15 minutes (30 minutes total)
    • Let the baked tofu cool for 5 minutes, and then chop roughly into smaller pieces
  2. Saute the onions and the herbs (rosemary and sage) in the olive oil (3 Tbsp) over medium heat until the onions are soft, about 20 minutes
  3. Add the peppers and garlic, and saute for another 10 minutes
  4. Add the broth and wine, and simmer for 10 minutes
  5. Add the baked tofu
  6. Add the crushed tomatoes, and simmer for 10 minutes
  7. Add whatever is left of the tofu marinade
  8. Add the salt and pepper

The first thing I love about this recipe is the baked tofu. Over the past few months, I’ve made a lot of it, and the above marinade/time/temp combo is a keeper. The way I’ve been making the tofu is quick too – cut it, coat it, place it, bake it. You can also use this baked tofu for stir fry or as a hot or cold snack by itself. If you want, you can also leave out the 1 Tbsp of white wine vinegar (to make it mildly sweet rather than mildly sweet-tart).

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In the marinade

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Out of the oven

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On the cutting board

A second part of the recipe that makes me smile is how, near the end, I add the extra marinade to the Tofu Cacciatore mix.

You might be saying, Uhh, soy sauce and maple syrup, in cacciatore???

The answer is, Yup! It’s only a small bit, and really, what else are you going to do with it 🙂

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If you have fresh herbs, they’re always good to use. I still have a lot of dried sage leaves from my garden (if anyone wants some, let me know!), so that’s what I used for the sage. Chopping the sage also came with a satisfying crunch-sound of the dried leaves folding under the knife and an equally satisfying, ever-so-slightly-delayed punch of potent sage aroma.

Since I hadn’t taken any pictures and didn’t remember all the quantities from the first time, I did end up making the recipe two more times a few days later.

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Peppers and garlic – Take 2

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Take 3

I didn’t bring any leftovers home from the potluck, but I did learn today that this version of Tofu Cacciatore also keeps for at least 12 days. (I may have, um, had the last of the Take 2 and 3 leftovers today. Shortly before taking the first photo above, the TC in a PP.)

Overall, it was a good recipe and experience. I modeled the Tofu Cacciatore recipe on the Chicken Cacciatore recipe that I used to make before I stopped cooking meat a few years ago, and that recipe was modeled in turn on the Joy of Cooking one. If there’s a TC 2.0 to in future, it might include the addition of more herbs (basil, oregano, and/or rosemary), flour (a browning and thickening ingredient from the past version), capers (also from the past), and mushrooms (maybe, maybe not; they’re not my favorite, but they are found in many a cacciatore recipe).

Admittedly, without the mushrooms, there’s no morel to the story 🙂 But, it does remain a story with food and more.

I’ve written before about letting go of trying to be and wanting things to be perfect – for instance, the reminder of how The reason is in the risotto – and there’s a bit of that reminder here too, with my new friend TC. Every reminder leads to a further shift in thinking, just like every day comes with something new to see, feel, think, and learn from. That was one of my thoughts as I was waking up today, along with the thought that it’s amazing that this post, what I’d be writing here, would be slightly different if I’d written it two weeks ago, one week ago, or even two days ago. Something new happens, is seen, and is felt all the time, and it’s a kitchen ripple. And I feel it. And just like the TC may change and evolve in the future, so too may I. Where we’re at now is good and right, and where we’ll be at later will be good too.

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In some ways, it feels like a repost.

And with food, it’s also a repast.

Knowing that everything builds over time, we can say too: every day that goes by is a new past.

And as we move forward, every day that we live in, and are a part of, is a new present.

New Potatoes

It’s a new year, and it’s time for some new potatoes.

For a new recipe, that is,
With potatoes.
And apples.
And onions.

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Food pyramid

According to my notes, I actually made it for the first time in late December. I’ve been playing with it in January though, and let me tell you, it’s a good one to play with since it tastes really good. Sweet, salty, rich, and tart. Sometimes together, and sometimes one after the other. What’s the secret? The three title ingredients, and the white wine and all the rest.

Potato, Apple, and Onion Sauté and Bake

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion – sliced
  • 3 potatoes – peeled, cut in half, and sliced
  • 2 apples – peeled, cored, and chopped and sliced
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 Tbsp thyme
  • 2 Tbsp butter (optional)

Steps

  1. Sauté the onion in oil over medium heat until soft and slightly browned, about 15 minutes
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients – the potatoes, apples, wine, water, salt, thyme, and butter
  3. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep it from sticking to the frying pan
  4. Transfer to a 13″ x 9″ x 2″ baking dish
  5. Bake covered at 400 degrees for 20 minutes
  6. Bake uncovered for another 5-10 minutes, to slightly crisp the potatoes (optional)

I took some pictures and made a drawing along the way, too.

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Three potatoes, peeled and cut in half

Aka, Potato pinwheel.
Or, Spud-sun.

Or perhaps, Tater, Turtle?

Say what you may, but sometimes potatoes just gotta speak for themselves.

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Can you tell I just took a cartooning class?

But back to the recipe – yes, this is a good one, and easy. I sliced the potatoes and apples into relatively thin pieces (white potatoes and macouns, but you could use other ones) and used the wine that I had on hand (Pinot Grigio). You could skip the butter if you want to make it vegan – it tastes good with or without it – and you could also scale it up if you want to make more. The first two times I made it, I also used more olive oil (2 Tbsp one time, and 1 1/2 Tbsp the other time), but I found that 1 Tbsp also worked, so that’s what I included here with the recipe.

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Yes, that’s a baking sheet on top of a baking dish.

Poor man’s tin foil.
Rich man’s lid.

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The last step, after letting it cool for few minutes, is to summon the foundations of self-restraint and not eat it all right away.

Or, just go ahead and keep eating.

I’m practiced in both.

Tomato Photo Shoot: Going Behind the Scenes

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Tomato time continues!

Yes, that’s right.

One good tomato post deserves another 🙂

At first when creating Today we answer the question: Tomatoes: Salad PARTer or Conversation stARTer?, which later also took the twitter title, Tomato story-time with @SnoopDogg and other featured word players, I was thinking I would provide some tomato context as part of it: Garden tomatoes picked before the last frost. Left to sit on the table as they ripened. Two months pass. Two thirds remain. Wrinkled prunes on fire. Ready. Waiting. To tell their story. One word, next word, next word, Go!

The story and art were good on their own though, so to this next post the artist’s statement did go. Plus, there’s a selection of tomato photo shoot outtakes. Yes, here we are now, behind the scenes.

Some of you may remember how my table looked two months ago after the final garden harvest.

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Then from October to December, we went from green to red, and six plates to four.

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The amazing thing is how all the tomatoes turned red! I did have to toss a few along the way, but that was to be expected, and beside the point. Per past farmer advice and personal experience, a tomato, picked green, does not ripen. “As long as it has a little color, even the tiniest bit, it’ll turn red, but if it’s all green, it’ll stay green.” Apparently my table, the air in my kitchen, the soil in my garden, and/or the tomatoes’ latent lycopene desire to talk and tell stories won out. Some type of tomato magic you might say. Some internet research now also tells me that green tomatoes, particularly those of a more mature size, do have the potential to ripen. But nonetheless, little green grape and paste tomatoes, turning red!

Perhaps they were waiting for the big stage.

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Or hoping to impress some raisins.

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Or looking to take a ridic rhyme time pic.

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Wassup Catsup.

In any case, the tomato party continues. Initially I had been thinking that once the story was over, I’d come up with a good tomato recipe and use the tomatoes in it. Now I think they’ll keep me company for a while longer.

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What happens when you use every single remaining tomato.

Hey, how’s it going? Good to see you.