Tag Archives: food

Odds and Ends and Pots and Pans

Odds and ends
And pots and pans,
Champagne pops
And starts and stops,
Plants and things
And in between,
Tabletops with
Art and feeling.

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And art on my brother’s driveway.

Oh, assonance… And consonance…  And rhyme…  And half-rhyme… Happy new year, and new post, to you too.

Yes, a new year has begun (plus a few weeks now), and I’m happy to be starting it here with words and art, and to be sharing them with you. Words and art, yes, sounds like a good start. That’s one of several thoughts, or odds and ends, that I’ve been collecting. And here are a few more. They follow below, shared as always as a gift for me and you, to peruse and read and at your own pace go through.

1) Pots and Pans: I usually make a few resolutions at the start of each year (any time is good though), and this year was no different. On the afternoon of January 1st, I found myself creating a new note on my phone, a five-minute exercise that left me with some old favorites and general reminders.

Among the highlights was the perennial, “Learn how to juggle five” :), written more actionably and meditatively this time though as, “Juggle five – practice every day for five minutes, relax, and have fun.” (I’ve practiced a few days so far, but not quite yet…every day.) A few general feel-good reminders included, “Be kind every day” and “Be grateful every day.” And then there were some healthy environment ones like, “Do the dishes at least every other day.”

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They can really stack up after a while, right??? This was a week’s worth, and actually the first week of the year’s worth. To be fair though, I was sick and wasn’t doing much of anything that week. How about that After picture though?? Yes, thank you very much. (Two weeks later, I’m still kind of working on the ‘at least every other day’ part of this one…but details.)

2) Planting Plant Plans: I have a lot of starter houseplants and a lot of pots waiting for them, so one of my goals over the next few weeks is to bring them together. I have a vision for a garden apartment, with the garden on the inside.

Meanwhile on the outside, I planted some garlic.

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Planting garlic and growing and harvesting it is one of the easiest, and most satisfying, garden things you can do. It practically grows itself. It’s like magic – each clove that you plant turns into a full head of garlic.

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If you’re interested, and I hope you are :), here’s what to do. First get some garlic bulbs at the farmer’s market (the bulbs at the supermarket might have been treated to prevent sprouting). Then pull the cloves apart, leaving the papery husks on, and plant the cloves right side up about 2″ deep and 8″ apart. Usually, you plant them in late fall, but I’ve planted them as late as December…or also now, well, January 8th according to my notes. We’ll see how it goes! I also planted them in pots for the first time.

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The outer five, they got the garlic

It’s okay if the ground freezes after you plant the cloves too. The new plants should come up in the spring if not sooner. Then in April/May/June you snap off the garlic scapes (the green stems that start curling around themselves) to force more energy into the new bulb, and in June/July you harvest (dig up) the new bulbs when the leaves start to brown.

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Future houseplants, modeling

3) Freezer Files 

The fridge in my apartment came with a freezer (I know, pretty cool, right?), and over the past three years I’ve been doing my best to fill it.

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This was the actual view as of two weeks ago. The thing is, this was also essentially the actual view as of five months ago.

I’d filled it over time, and then I got leftover and other-frozen-food usage paralysis. I knew what I wanted to do, which was to go through everything, use it all, and write about it at the same time. It seemed so daunting though, so I never got started. What would the rules be? Would I have to eat only from the freezer until it was all gone? (Meaning no cooking, i.e., not doing something I like?) How long would it take? Would I write a single post at the end about the process, or also one at the beginning? Or should I write several along the way? What if I started and it didn’t go like I thought it would? What if it didn’t work out? What if I messed it up??

Okay, brain, let’s hold the phone for a second there.

What if I just started and saw how it went?

So that’s what I did (and recalled that, yes, that has worked many times in the past (ex. 1, ex. 2)). The beauty and the truth is that of course it’ll work, and that’s what it’s doing now, working out. Now a few weeks in, I’ve eaten or combined into new dishes several freezer items. I’ve also tossed a few items, a temporary affront to my ‘never waste anything’ ideal, but otherwise it’s going great. And it feels great. Item by frozen item, I’m cleaning up the freezer. I’m putting things to use, and I’m simplifying and letting go. Less is more.

Mmmmmmm, no longer frozen and so tasty again eggplant rollatini

Food is meant to be eaten. And you have to start somewhere, so start where you’re at. Get going.

The rules are There are no rules. I’ll use as many things as I can, cook and combine them whenever possible, and take notes along the way, leading to probably a final post but perhaps some interim ones too. I’ll figure it out as I go.

4) Marathon Miles

I signed up for the New Jersey Marathon! Yay!

That decision, made two months ago, was followed by me starting to increase my miles and do some speed workouts. Also yay, except that my doctor had advised against doing the latter workouts so as not to aggravate a minor hip injury. After about three weeks, I realized I should have followed his advice. Boo.

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So I bought myself a foam roller (thank you, Princeton Running Company) and have been doing some eggplant side-rollatini-ing. And doing way fewer miles. And going slower. I also starting some physical therapy (diagnosis: gluteus medius strain (yup…weak cheeks)).

The calendar reality is that I don’t think I’ll be doing the marathon now. Maybe I could still do the half, but we’ll see. My freezer file mind is reminding that it’ll all work out, and that once again, as always, I should start where I’m at.

If you can’t run 10 miles, run 3.
If you’re injured, do PT.
If you have an itch in the middle of your leg, scratch your knee.

Okay, that last one was just for the rhymes 🙂

5) March Saneness

This one deserves to go in the opposite direction of alliteration.

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There was nothing mad about the Women’s March on Washington this past Saturday. It was solidarity, love, inspiration, and the opposite of hate and madness. I can’t think of a more right place to have been that day than right there with a number of friends, and with everyone else who marched there in Washington and also around the county and the world. We all have our own steps, and for me there was no decision to make but to step out of my own quiet kitchen and start going. The following is what I shared on Facebook that evening:

“We will not go from being a nation of immigrants to a nation of ignorance” – America Ferrera
“Courage will not skip this generation” – Roslyn Brock
“Sometimes we must put our bodies where our beliefs are.” – Gloria Steinem

– Words heard and felt today in Washington, D.C.

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6) The Art of Food and Life

How lucky are we, how lucky am I, really.

I have friends I can march with. I can take care of my body, and my mind. I have a freezer full of food. I have plants. I have a kitchen. I have words, and I have art.

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There is art on driveways (thank you, artist sister-in-law). And there is art on my kitchen table, a rotating temporary art installation. The current view includes tomatoes from the community garden at work, grapefruit from my mom, and odds and ends from myself and friends.

The view, the backdrop, also includes one of my grandfather’s watercolors, a gift a few years ago from my great aunt. There was a time I thought I would hang it up one day, but I’ve realized I like where it’s at. Along with everything else, it helps make for a full table. And it feels good.

Applesauce Brownies

Thank you Trenton Farmers’ Market.

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Where else can you buy a bag of apples for $6 the day before Thanksgiving?

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There were also 55 apples in the bag, but who’s counting.

It took me exactly 30 minutes to peel the 55 apples, which means I peeled about 1.8 apples/minute, but again, numbers.

What is important is that with this many apples, you can make a fair amount of applesauce.

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How much applesauce, you might ask? Ah yes, another number!

Several numbers actually. By the time I had finished making the applesauce, it was time to eat Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house. So I borrowed a tape measure from my mom and made a few quick measurements. And then a week later, I did the calculations, and made some new art math.

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Yes, that’s right. I made a gallon and a half of applesauce.

The great thing about applesauce, though, is that you don’t have to make 194 ounces to enjoy it. You can make as much or as little as you like, it’s really easy to make (one ingredient!), and it tastes so good and naturally sweet. If you’ve never made it, give it a try – here’s the recipe.

Applesauce

  • 10 apples (or more)
  • (Optional) 1/4 cup apple cider or water
  • (Optional) Cinnamon
  1. Peel the apples
  2. Chop the apples into pieces (discard the cores)
  3. (Optional) Add the apple cider or water to a pot
  4. Add the chopped apples to the pot and cook over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally
  5. Cook until the applesauce is the desired consistency (smooth, chunky, or in between)
  6. (Optional) Add a little cinnamon

As the apples heat up, they become soft and release some of their juices. Then they do all the work  themselves and cook themselves into applesauce. If you want to speed things up, you could add a little apple cider or water at the beginning, and you could also cook them covered for a bit. Towards the end, you could use a potato masher too, if what you want is smoother applesauce more quickly.

Whatever you do, make sure to stir the apples occasionally so they don’t stick to the bottom of the pot and burn. There’s nothing like having to use a second or third pot on a single batch of applesauce, and then having to do a multiple-pot-cleaning (scrubbing) afterwards. I mean, hypothetically speaking of course 🙂 My last note is that all types of apples are good to use. For the sweetest, richest applesauce flavor, I’ll use several different types of apples together.

But what about the brownies? I thought there were going to be brownies! Applesauce Brownies!! And while we’re on the topic, what is an Applesauce Brownie???

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Yes, exactly! I was wondering what an Applesauce Brownie is too, so I made some.

I’d actually been wondering this for a while, as I remember having eaten them once as a kid and having been amazed that they tasted like brownies despite having applesauce in them. Lucky for me, I now had one of the main ingredients on hand, and in abundance. So into the kitchen I went: Curiosity plus surplus equals creation.

I looked up a brownie recipe in a printed cookbook, searched for applesauce brownie recipes online, and then on the advice that applesauce is a big ingredient in vegan baking, I searched for vegan applesauce brownies too.

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Applesauce brownie batter, Version one

The vegan suggestion, combined with my further searching, got me thinking. What is the fewest number of ingredients I could use and still end up with brownies? The Google auto-fill in the search bar was pointing me in this direction too, listing among other things the following:

  • Baking substitute applesauce for eggs
  • Baking substitute applesauce for butter
  • Baking substitute applesauce for oil

Could applesauce be that versatile? And in the same recipe??

I thought, Let’s find out! The short answer to both questions is yes. The long answer is it took me two tries to come up with a recipe that I liked. For the first version, I used the following: applesauce, cocoa powder, salt, sugar, vanilla, and flour. It turned out alright, but it also came out a little flat, literally, and had an interesting chocolately, apple tangy flavor.

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Version one (with b/g apples from a different purchase)

When making version two, I included the three ingredients I figured had been missing in version one: baking powder, baking soda, and chocolate. And the result?

So good.
So rich.
So chocolatey.

Here’s the recipe 🙂

Applesauce Brownies

  • 1 1/2 cups applesauce
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 4 oz bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  1. Mix the applesauce, sugar, and vanilla
  2. Melt the chocolate, and add it to the applesauce mixture
  3. In another bowl, mix the flour, salt, cocoa powder, baking powder, and baking soda
  4. Add the flour mixture to the applesauce mixture, and mix
  5. Lightly oil an 8″ x 8″ baking dish
  6. Add the batter to the baking dish
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40-45 minutes
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Love that chocolate melting

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And love that final chocolate brownie product

It’s not easy to predict the future, but I do believe mine will include the following: additional apple purchases, more applesauce making, and now also vegan applesauce brownie baking.

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And if you want, you can even have them side by side.

Thank you applesauce.

Espresso Lemon Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

Espresso Lemon Chocolate Chip Banana Bread!

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Or as I like to call it lately, my housewarming gift. In the past month or so, I’ve made it three times, each time for a party. I’m not a big drinker, but I do like making and bringing food. And that food being dessert. And eating it 🙂

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I’m actually eating a few chocolate chips right now as my dessert. (Thanks, Dad.) The chocolate chips above and the ones that I’m having now are also leftovers from last spring when I made chocolate covered matzoh (also good). The chips were on sale, and I, well, may have bought several bags. They still taste good though.

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It also wouldn’t be Espresso Lemon Chocolate Chip Banana Bread without the lemon! We need the zest!! Plus, saying four rather than five words before getting to “Bread” would also not be as fun.

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And finally there’s the espresso powder. I’m currently working on a 11-ounce bag that still has the majority of its ounces despite a printed ‘best by’ date that’s best gone by. But hey, I’m not a big (coffee) drinker. I do like dessert though. And eating it 🙂

And with that, here’s the recipe!

Espresso Lemon Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 stick of butter
  • Zest from one lemon
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 Tbsp espresso powder

Steps

  1. Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt in one bowl
  2. Mix the sugar, butter, lemon zest, eggs, and bananas in another bowl (I used a handheld electronic mixer for this step; I also softened and cut the butter into pieces and cut the banana into pieces first)
  3. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture, and mix until smooth
  4. Add the chocolate chips and espresso powder, and mix them in
  5. Pour the mixture into a greased loaf pan
  6. Bake for about an hour at 375 degrees

(Adapted from the Banana Bread Cockaigne recipe in The Joy of Cooking. I changed a few measurements and also made the coffee and chocolate additions :))

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So far the feedback’s been very positive, as it also was a few months ago when an espresso powder and frozen blueberry brainstorm resulted in the similarly titled, Espresso Lemon Blueberry Pound Cake, which itself followed from the equally if not more awesome, Lemon Chocolate Chip Pound Cake.

The espresso powder definitely gives it something extra. It’s hard to place – sort of like a hearty, dense smoky sensation that doesn’t at the same time give it a smoky flavor. If you have two pans, make a double recipe with the espresso powder in one, and see what you think!

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And there it is, Espresso Lemon Chocolate Chip Banana Bread!

Yum!

Now to eat a few more chocolate chips 🙂

Kitchen tips and kitchen blips

From my kitchen lips
To your kitchen ears,
I share with you a list
From the past year:
Kitchen tips and kitchen blips.

Good things come in threes,
Melt and melt and sauce,
Take the heat a piece,
And cut your losses:
The truth is in the reading.

Which brings me to the following,
One and two and three,
Each with a tip, and
Each with a blip:
Now for all to see.

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The hot air vent: yes, located just below the “FRIGIDAIRE”

1) Did you know: You can use the hot air that comes out of the oven vent for more than just passively heating your kitchen??

Kitchen tip: When making pumpkin bread (or zucchini bread or lemon pound cake or the like) and waiting for the oven to preheat, you can put your 9″ x 5″ x 3″ loaf pan under the vent, and the hot air will melt a small tab of butter for you, for easy greasing and flouring of the pan.

Kitchen blip: You could also put your salad spinner under the hot air vent as a way to speed the drying process and save time, but then you might, well, happen to melt the plastic such that the the spinner no longer spins.

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My replacement Oxo Good Grips salad spinner that a friend gave me, same model as the original

2) Did you know: You can use the stove-top’s flat surface for more than just cooking food??

Kitchen tip: When doing the dishes, and when the dish-drying rack is full (and when the rest of the counter is covered with starter houseplants growing in pots), you can set the extra dishes on the stove-top as another place to let them dry.

Kitchen blip: This might seem like a good idea, and it is, most of the time. When it is not a good idea is when you might, well, mean to turn on the front burner but instead turn on the back one, which is fine until you realize you have a glass dish with a plastic lid sitting on the burner in the back.

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He’s not much, but he’s my plastic horseshoe crab

3) Did you know: Vodka sauce isn’t too difficult to make??

Kitchen tip: All you need is vodka, tomato sauce, heavy cream, and some other ingredients. And a little practice, to figure out the right amount of vodka, when to add it, and how long to simmer it off for.

Kitchen blip: Vodka sauce can help make a meal feel higher class – and penne vodka would go great with a big Italian-themed dinner, like the big fundraising dinner I did two weeks ago for the Anchor House. Vodka sauce can only help in this regard when it makes an appearance though, rather than remaining in the fridge because you might have, well, added too much vodka at the beginning or not let it simmer long enough.

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The vodka sauce, adjusted later for personal consumption

When I tasted the sauce while it was in progress, I thought, “Hmmm, it’s got a little too much vodka taste…I know, I’ll add some more crushed tomatoes!” I didn’t want to throw it away and start over, so rather than doing that and cutting my losses, I…cut my losses by adding more tomatoes. And then I added some more tomatoes. And some more after that. But it wasn’t working.

So into the fridge it went to stay,
Until I had more time another day.

When I came back to it a few days later, I found myself rewriting the script. This time rather than cutting my losses, I cut my gains. I started with some new crushed tomatoes, and then I added a smaller amount of the not-quite-right-yet vodka sauce to it. With some trial and error, I figured out that in this case, I needed 2 parts new tomatoes to 1 part old vodka sauce. Which is to say: I found my gains by starting a-gain, and the result wasn’t perfect, but it was perfectly post-party edible. And now, in the freezer at work (the one at home is full), I’ve got approximately 64 ounces of new vodka sauce, ready to go.

Which is also to say, bonus tip! Aka kitchen tip reiteration:

With practice, play, and iteration,
The over-taste, it comes and goes,
Have faith in trials and taste-sensations,
And tomatoes placed with some knowing.

And okay, what the heck, one more 🙂

Bonus: Kitchen tip and kitchen blip: There are many places in the kitchen you could place the plastic wrap. On top of the stove’s back panel works, but a little down below? Not so much.

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I mentioned that hot air vent thing, right???

Yes, a final kitchen tip,
And also kitchen blip,
As shared and told,
In words and pics.

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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