Food Reviews: Invasion of the Pumpkin Spice Breakfast Cereal

My name is Leona, and I am a pumpkin-o-holic.

I happily admit to ticking off the calendar days until the pumpkin spice latte makes its fall debut at Starbucks. And don’t get me started on pumpkin flavored beer. I know I am one of “those” people, and I just don’t care.

So, imagine my elation when I heard that the major cereal companies were going to be rolling out several pumpkin spice cold breakfast cereals this year. I literally got up from my computer and did the dance of joy.

I stalked Publix and Target waiting to find the first one. I was praying it would be Cheerios. I love Cheerios.

IT WAS CHEERIOS!!

img_8888I read the ingredients list before I even left the store. I had seen the announcements online that the Cheerios version would be made with real pumpkin puree, and there it was, listed right at the top of the ingredients. Thrilled! But what would it taste like?

You’ll be happy to know I was able to contain myself until breakfast the next morning. The crunchy circles that tinkled merrily into my bowl were a little darker than most of the Cheerio flavors (barring the chocolate.) I poured on the milk and savored the first bite. Unlike so many foods riding the pumpkin spice craze wave, these were actually…well…pumpkiny. Instead of being overwhelmed by cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, I could taste the pumpkin puree. It was rich and yummy, kind of like eating crunchy little pumpkin tarts. If you don’t like the flavor of actual pumpkin, you won’t like the Pumpkin Spice Cheerios.

The following week, my cereal aisle stalking led to the bounty of two more pumpkin spice cereals:  Quaker’s Pumpkin Spice Life and Kellogg’s Pumpkin Spice Frosted Mini Wheats.

The Life cereal was good, but none of the ingredients listed on the box included pumpkin spices much less pumpkin puree. Honestly, it just tasted like a watered-down version of Cinnamon Life. Meh.

The Frosted Mini Wheats definitely delivered the pumpkin spices listed in the ingredients on the box: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice. The flavor was satisfying and the cereal, as usual, was filling. I am bummed that Kellogg didn’t add the real pumpkin puree. I think that would have pushed this cereal over the top.

So here is the final tally:

Pumpkin Spice Cheerios — Two enthusiastic thumbs up. Real pumpkin puree made the difference. Delicious if you love the flavor of pumpkin.

Pumpkin Spice Frosted Mini Wheats — One and a half thumbs. This cereal rocked the spice, but missed on the pumpkin flavor.

Pumpkin Spice Life — Sideways thumb. Edible, but meh. Not enough pumpkin spice to set it apart from Cinnamon Life.

I understand there is a pumpkin spice version of Special K out there somewhere, but I haven’t been able to find it. If you know stores that are selling it, let me know. I’ll taste it and add it to this blog.

Do you like all things pumpkin spice? Hate it? What are your favorite pumpkin foods? Share your thoughts in the comments.

(Photos by Leona Perry)

 

 

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Words Southerners Say: Bless Your Heart

Well, bless your heart!

This is a phrase used [mostly] by Southern women that can have a plethora of meanings based on:

  • To whom it is said
  • Who it is referencing
  • The tone in which it’s said
  • The person saying it
  • The facial expression and body language of the person saying it
  • The setting in which the conversation is taking place

If you’re born in the South, you just inherently know the difference between a heartfelt expression of grief “Bless her heart!”and a nudge, nudge, wink, wink version like, “Poor Sally. I hear her husband goes on a bender every weekend. Bless her heart!”

True concern needs no translation.

If the baby falls down and skins her knee, Granny will pick her up, dust her off and say, “Bless your little heart. Let Granny make it better.”

“Cousin Glenda just found out she’s been diagnosed with arthritis. Bless her heart!”

“Bucky’s best hunting dog passed away. Bless his heart!”

But, when the gossip bug bites, it’s all about the subtle sarcasm.

“Trudy must have spine problems carrying all that weight on her backside. Bless her heart.”

Translation: Trudy has a big butt and should lose some weight.

“Judy told me that Will’s mother had to go on antidepressants. Bless her heart!”

Translation: Will’s mother is just a hair’s breath away from starring in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

“That son of Bo and Lucy’s is in trouble again. He’s a little hooligan. I don’t know how they put up with him! Bless their hearts.”

Translation: Bo and Lucy need to jerk a knot in their son and get him back on the straight and narrow.

Now, just because the “Bless your heart” is a tad sarcastic doesn’t mean there isn’t some love there. For the most part, it’s a kind of passive-aggressive way of gently pointing out a problem that needs fixing. I mean, do you REALLY want to just walk up to Trudy and tell her she’s fat? That might hurt her feelings. But, if you mention it to Ida and Betty and THEY tell Trudy that you’re concerned about her spine…well, maybe she’ll get the hint and lay off the chicken and dumplings for a while.

That said, there are definitely some who are truly mean-spirited with their “Bless your hearts.”  To which the rest of us might say, “She sure does need Jesus. Bless her heart!”

[Translation: She’s probably going to hell, but I still hold out a little hope for her salvation.]

Bless your hearts for reading my blog!

Vandalism in U.S. National Parks

 

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On August 29, David Kalas (@DavidKalas) posted a chilling video on Twitter as he captured a group of young people knocking down one of the most famous landmarks on the Oregon coast, a natural sandstone formation known far and wide as “the duckbill.

This is just the latest in a rash of vandalization of our U.S. National Parks and landmarks. For some reason, some people have always liked to trash things so that others can’t continue to enjoy them. But, in recent years, this trend has begun to escalate and the idiocy and entitlement age seems to be taking its toll on our country’s treasured national beauty.

In 2014, “artist” Casey Nocket was so “inspired” by the beauty she saw in the parks she visited that she decided to start leaving her own calling card behind. Ms. Nocket would paint on rock formations inside the parks, and other people began photographing her “art” and sharing it on social media. Thanks to the diligent work of ModernHiker.com, her crime became national news, and Nocket was finally charged with and pled guilty to vandalism. I somehow doubt she’s learned her lesson, but we’ll see what happens at her hearing in December. She could face stiff fines and jail time.

In case you’re thinking, “what’s the big deal?” Removing the acrylic paint Nocket used to make her mark isn’t easy, especially when park workers are trying to preserve the rock. Here’s an excerpt from a story on Mashable.com:

In some cases, workers use plastic kitchen spatulas to painstakingly scrape off paint. Workers test different strippers to figure out which will loosen the material without damaging rock, then rinse it off with lots of low-pressure hot water, gently scraping each layer away with the spatula, said National Parks spokesman Jason Olson.

Yep, not only is she ruining our national treasures, she’s costing more taxpayer dollars to fix the problem.

Back in April of this year, graffiti was discovered CARVED into one of the famous red rock arches at Utah’s Arches National Park. The vandals included their names and messages gashed so deep into the rock that park officials suspect they will not be able to remove it without more unwanted damage to the formation.

And then there are the living landmarks that can’t be replaced or recovered. In 2012, a woman and her friends sat inside The Senator, a 3500-year-old cypress tree in Big Tree Park, Longwood, Fla., doing drugs. They decided it would be a good idea to light a fire so they could see better. The tree caught fire and burned from the inside out. It was the fourth oldest tree in the world and the largest and oldest bald cypress in the United States. Gone. The woman, Sara Barnes, reported that she frequently used the hollow base of the tree as a place to party.

I am an avid weekend hiker and kayaker. My choice of vacation is always going to be visiting someplace beautiful and trekking around enjoying the scenery with my camera around my neck.

Last year, my husband and I were fortunate enough to spend a day exploring the Grand Canyon. The vistas were breathtaking. But, even there we came across signs of human disrespect:

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The TreeHugger article speculates that social media is the cause of the escalation in vandalism in our national parks. If that is true, this is a sad world we’re living in. When human beings are more interested in elevating their social media status than preserving our landmarks, it’s time to address how we’re teaching our children to behave and the values we’re instilling in them.

Start with the little things. It’s wrong to write your name on a bathroom wall or paint on the side of a building without permission. Egging someone’s house or car is NOT a fun thing to do. Don’t throw your trash out the car window. Pick up after yourself when you’re visiting a park. Don’t remove anything from a park. I am sure we’ve all seen the signs: Take only pictures, leave only footprints. Live it and teach your kids to live it.

One sure way to immediately combat the continued defacing of these monuments is to slam the vandals with the maximum penalty. Stop slapping their hands with a ruler and letting them get away with it.

Think of the thousands of years it took the wind and water to build the duckbill rock formation in Oregon. The Senator cypress tree was a seedling before the birth of Jesus Christ. A bunch of self-centered criminals destroyed them in mere minutes. And for what?

Perhaps the next generation will have more respect for nature if we start now. Here’s hoping there’s something left to hold in wonder by the time they’re grown up.

(Photo credit: Leona Perry 2016) 

Southern Comfort Foods: Key Lime Pie (Recipe)

You almost can’t consider yourself a true Floridian unless you like Key Lime Pie.

This delicious, tart citrus confection has generated many a debate over who makes the BEST in the state. Food writers often go on quest to try and discover for themselves where the most authentic, most decadent or most unique key lime pies can be found.

IMG_7821In its purest form, the key lime pie is very simple. The crust is made with graham cracker crumbs and the filling some combination of lime juice, eggs and sweetened condensed milk. There are literally thousands of recipes out there on the web if you want to try your hand at it.

(I’m sharing my own recipe below, which is based on trial and error using several other recipes I found online. I hope you like it. )

I can’t recommend any of the frozen versions of key lime pie. However, Publix, a Florida-based grocery chain well-loved by us Floridians, makes a yummy version that is consistently good. The only thing that I would give the Publix pie a thumbs down on is the sliced almonds around the edge of the pie crust tend to get a little stale in the refrigerated case.

In early August, I am heading down to the Florida Keys for vacation, and I will be on my own quest for the best key lime pies. In invite you to take part by sending me suggestions for places to visit, pies to eat.

If you’ve been to the Keys and feasted on key lime pie while you were there, send me the name of the establishment. I’ll give it a try and when I get back I’ll write up my review of those restaurants and their sweet, tangy booty and share it on the blog. (And give you credit, of course!)

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Leona’s Pucker Face Key Lime Pie Recipe

Ingredients for Crust:

  • 1-1/4 cups boxed graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/8 cup chopped almonds, pecans or walnuts
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter

Ingredients for Filling:

  • 1 can of sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
  • 4 eggs yolks (save the whites if you want meringue topping)
  • 3/4 cup bottled key lime juice (can use fresh if you have it) 
  • 1/4 teaspoon of lime zest

Directions: 

Mix the dry ingredients for the crust, then pour in the melted butter and mix. Press crust mix onto the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan. Bake crust at 350 degrees for approximately 8 – 10 minutes. Be sure you check it frequently as you don’t want the crust to burn.

Remove the crust from the oven and set aside to cool.

Then, mix together the sweetened condensed milk and eggs yolks with either a whisk or spoon (whisk works better for me), making sure it’s thoroughly combined. Stir in the lime juice until smooth. Add the lime zest and mix thoroughly.

Pour the filling into the cooled pie shell and bake at 350 degrees on the middle oven rack for about 15 minutes. Again, be sure to check the pie a few times to reduce the chance of burning.

Remove the pie from the oven and cool at room temperature. Once the pie is cool you can cover and refrigerate it.

Topping (only if you want it): 

Traditionally, the topping for key lime pie is whipped cream. This is what I prefer, but if you like you can whip the whites leftover from the four eggs and make a meringue.

Lime Whipped Cream

  • 1-1/2 cups of heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon key lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Whip until small peaks form and then serve over chilled pie.

For plain whipped cream, just leave out the lime juice.

Travel: The Crane Resort, Barbados

Want to get away from the hustle and bustle and truly relax on your vacation? Welcome to The Crane Resort in Barbados, where stunningly lovely old-world charm meets utter tranquility.

Unlike many other Caribbean resorts that boast pulsing nightlife, daily excursions and pressure to fill every moment with planned activities, The Crane offers an old-fashioned family vacation atmosphere where you set your own pace. Whether you are a couple looking for one-on-one time or hosting a family reunion, you can find what you’re looking for at the resort. No hurries, no worries.

The Blue Atlantic 

Enjoy world-famous Crane Beach and the sparkling blue Atlantic ocean your way, on your own time. Lounge on the pristine white sand beach and sip exotic drinks from coconut shells. Read a book, take a nap or just enjoy watching and listening to the calming rhythm of the waves.

DSCN1316The courteous Crane staff will set up chairs and umbrellas and deliver your favorite beverages to make your relaxation complete.

Build sandcastles with the kids, collect shells, play frisbee or beach volleyball.

Want to enjoy the ocean? Bring your gear, and snorkle the reef out past the breakers. Swim, surf and boogie board to your heart’s content. And, if you’re really adventurous, climb up the cliffs and dive into the swirling crystal waters below.

Explore

DSCN1367Stroll and explore the craggy cliffs overlooking the azure sea. If you’re brave enough to venture down Crane Beach and climb the rocky shoreline you will find all sorts of fascinating sea life lurking in hidden pools and secret holes.

Stand on the rocks and let the waves crash around you in their watery fury. Discover lost coves and mysterious caves carved from the cliff walls.

History

The Crane was Barbados’ first resort.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t named for the sandhill cranes that are featured in the statuary around the resort grounds. The site was first a commercial shipping port where cargo was brought on and off the island. A crane was built to hoist that cargo up the cliffs, and the resort and beach retained the name.

The original hotel opened in 1898, and the carriage house that was part of the complex still stands on the property. It has since been renovated and houses a restaurant adjacent to the resort’s infinity pool.

Over the years, Crane Beach has been named one of the top beaches in the world by several publications and travel sites.

Lap of Luxury

The Crane may be easy going, but it’s all accomplished with pampered luxury. The rooms and suites have every amenity, including your own personal pool. Some suites have sunny larger pools located off the back. And others offer covered plunge pools for a quick dip on a hot day. If you want to spend some alone time with your sweetie or just have a family-only swim, your own little pool allows you to cool off without joining the crowd.

Bathrooms feature large showers and jacuzzi jet tubs to work out the kinks after a long day on the beach. Each suite has a full kitchen with all the appliances you need to prepare your own meals. Regular hotel rooms don’t include a kitchen, but do have a mini-fridge. And, all the rooms are beautifully appointed with elegant dark wood and stone to match the historical design of the entire resort.

Don’t worry about cleaning. The staff comes in daily to take care of that for you. Just show your appreciation at the end of your stay with a generous tip!

Wired!

The resort does offer wireless internet. However, it’s better in some places than in others. But, you came to Crane Beach to UNplug, right?

Dining and Shopping

The Crane Resort offers several dining options on site, including:

  • Zen
  • L’Azure
  • D’Onofrio’s Trattoria
  • The Carriage House
  • The Grove Bar and Grill
  • Bar 1887

The resort is tucked away on the southeast side of the island, but there are a few local establishments that are within walking distance. I’d recommend Cutters. Their food is top-notch and the prices are reasonable. But the real reason to visit Cutters is the out-of-this-world rum punch!

There are also several small shops located within the resort. Cave Shepherd sells the average beach fare, like bathing suits, towels, beachwear, hats, sunscreen and souvenirs. It also has a small duty-free shop where you can purchase spirits for your frosty beverages.

You also may purchase high-end jewelry in Columbian Emeralds. And local merchants often showcase their wares in The Village Fare.

The tiny General Store features some local fare with fresh fruits, vegetables and spices. Grab all the staples you need to stock your kitchen. It’s adequate but limited and a bit expensive, so if you want a better selection and the experience of shopping like the Bajans do, the resort can order a car to drive you to a local supermarket.

Other Amenities and Information

Pools are plentiful at The Crane. Not only do you have your personal pool, but there are DSCN1429five large outdoor pool facilities on the grounds where you can swim, hang out with friends or just soak in the sun. Each pool comes with its own breathtaking view of the Atlantic.

Island wildlife is also abundant on the grounds. You will see a wide variety of birds, including the unique-looking scaly-neck pigeon. And, if you’re lucky you’ll catch a glimpse of a green monkey.

Your kids can enjoy the Kids Club while you spend some adult time in the spa or fitness center. The resort also boasts zumba and yoga classes and other special events, and you can check with the front desk to find out when those are offered.

The resort has very few cons, but some might consider the air conditioning situation to be a downside. Your stay does not include air conditioning unless you pay for it. However, the rooms are built so that the air flows through, keeping you cool and comfortable most of the time.

While The Crane is a secluded oasis, you may find that you want a little more adventure off the grounds. You have some options. You may rent a car (at the airport) and explore the island on your own, or you can hire a service to drive you to various destinations or provide you with a tour. The resort staff can help you find a car or tour service that works for your budget.

Here are some Barbados sights and events that you might find interesting:

Harrison’s Cave

Scotland District

Oistin’s Friday Night Fish Fry

Carlisle Bay — Bridgetown

Bathsheba Beach

 

If you like to keep up with celebrities, you can also get a tour guide to show you where Rihanna used to live before she was famous and her current residence when she visits her home country.

Overall, The Crane Resort is a delightful destination if you are looking for a quiet, secluded vacation spot. If you’re looking for nightlife and unending parties, it’s not the resort for you.

— Photos by Leona Perry

 

 

Words Southerners Say: Drop Cord

My daughter’s boyfriend is from Wisconsin. He’s staying with us this summer while looking for a job. This morning, I was trying to plug all my electronic devices in and realized that my computer cord wasn’t long enough to reach, so I said, “I need to go buy more drop cords.”

Tanner thought he must have misheard me, so he asked me to repeat what I said.

“Drop cords,” I said, enunciating more clearly. He looked at me with a bemused expression. The lightbulb went off in my head. “Oh,” I laughed. “Sorry, ‘drop cord’ is what we Southerners call an extension cord.”

Merriam Webster dictionary defines “drop cord” as:

  1. an electric-light cord used to suspend a lamp usually from an overhead outlet

Urban Dictionary has a slightly different definition:

Redneck for Extension Cord; a length of cord that allows you to plug something in further away from the outlet

For me, it’s a long electric cord that you drop onto the floor and plug a bunch of stuff into. If you plug in too much, your granny says, “Young lady, don’t you overload that drop cord or you’re gonna start a fire.”

I’m very careful not to overload my drop cords.

 

Southern Comfort Foods: Grits

Grits are one of those foods that define Southern cooking.

It’s often hard to explain to our Yankee friends why we love them so much. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been raised on them. Grits are a staple of the Southern breakfast, right up there with homemade biscuits, eggs, bacon and creamy sausage gravy.

When I look into a pot of bubbling grits, my mouth starts to water and I can’t wait to dish them out into a bowl, drop in a pat of butter (or three) and eat in pure ecstasy.

But what are grits? 

FullSizeRender (6)Grits are ground hominy, which are corn kernels that have been soaked in a lye solution to strip off the outer hull. There are several types of grits, which I could explain, but why should I when Emeril does such a great job in this video.

What I use most here at home are Jim Dandy’s quick grits. It doesn’t take them long to cook since they are already pre-cooked and re-dried. My family loves them for breakfast, but their favorite type are my super cheesy grits. They are delicious as a side to compliment almost any dish, but they are outstanding with fried fish or fried seafood.

Leona’s Super Cheesy Grits Recipe

Ingredients:

  • Jim Dandy or other brand of quick grits
  • Stick of Salted Butter
  • 8-oz package of finely shredded sharp cheddar
  • 1/4 cup half and half

Cooking Directions: 

  • Follow the cooking instructions on the grits package for 4 servings.
  • When the grits are bubbling, drop in the stick of butter.
  • Gradually stir in the package of sharp cheddar.
  • Stir in the half and half.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste. (You can also spice them up with a little Creole seasoning!)

You can substitute grits as a starchy side in place of mashed potatoes or rice. They also can be used as a base for your entre, such as Shrimp and Grits. Stews are equally yummy served over a hill of fluffy grits.

Just use your imagination. Cheese grits with chopped jalapenos can add a little zip to your dinner. Add sour cream and chives for a different flavor. You can even go a bit more frou-frou and dress up the taste with a little truffle oil or truffle salt.

We Southerners also are very individual about the consistency of our grits. I like mine creamy. Some folks like them so thick you can almost slice them. And, others like theirs soupy.

The key, as Emeril mentioned in his video, is to make sure they are cooked thoroughly. You DO NOT want a gritty bowl of grits. I know that sounds kind of silly. Shouldn’t grits be gritty? If properly prepared, they should be soft with no crunch at all when you eat them.

If you haven’t tasted grits, I encourage you to give them a try.

If you love them, what if your favorite grits dish?

 

 

Real Men Read Books…So Hurry and get Dad these on Sale!

Just reviewed Farside yesterday, and looks like both the books will be on sale starting today and going through next Monday, June 20th. It’s a great deal to load up dad’s Kindle or eReader for Father’s Day or just to add to your summer reading stack. Two great reads for less than $5. Woot! Enjoy. And, pass it along if you know someone who loves Sci-Fi.

The Chiles Files

My publisher (the wonderful Baen Books) is running a sale this week, just in time for Father’s Day. Starting Wednesday, Farside will be $3.99 and Perigee will be available through all your favorite ebook outlets for the obscenely low price of 99 cents. (Hint: Read Perigee first. It’s a SERIES.) This is a limited-time, don’t-miss chance to get Dad a couple of kick-ass hard Sci-Fi adventure novels to load up that new Kindle or iPad he so richly deserves.
Does Dad like to read the old-fashioned way? Amazon or Barnes & Noble can also get you the paperback version in just a few days.
So you heard it here first, kiddies. Go on, do it – it’ll change your life. Or his. Either way everybody’s happy, including my publisher. Seriously y’all, there’s some real crap out there so here’s your chance for something that’s, well, not crap.*
And don’t wait…

View original post 79 more words

Southern Writers Book Review: “Farside” by Patrick Chiles

Have I mentioned that I love science fiction?

If there’s a book or a movie about space, space travel, aliens, time travel, or lab-created mutants you can bet I’m interested in reading or watching. In today’s self-published world there is no end to the choices, but some of it isn’t worth the cyberspace it takes up.

Fortunately, that isn’t true of Farside, the latest space fiction thriller by author Patrick Chiles. Farside Cover

Farside is the sequel to Chiles’ well-received first novel, Perigee. Both stories center around the adventures of the employees and flight crews of a company that has pioneered commercial space flight, soaring paying passengers up and out of Earth’s atmosphere to experience the thrill of being in outer space. Then, whoops, something goes wrong. If it didn’t we wouldn’t have a story, right?

While in Perigee the company, Polaris Aerospace Lines, is just taking a brief jaunt out of the atmosphere, in Farside better spacecraft now allow customers to take a longer ride for an upclose view of the moon. The lunar trips have been going on without a hitch for a year. The manifest for the most recent flight included two scientists on a survey mission to map potential lunar resources. Everything is smooth sailing until the S.S. Alan Shepherd goes dark on its path around the far side of the moon…and disappears.

The story is an intriguing rollercoaster ride of twists and turns, and features characters that are real enough to invite to your next barbeque. I love that the female characters, Penny Stratton and Audrey Wilkes, are smart, capable and integral to the plotline. The male heroes aren’t plastic Ken dolls, either. And there’s even a little romance in there, ladies!

Chiles does incorporate quite a bit of technical jargon, but it’s not overwhelming for those of us who aren’t savvy about the way space flight works. Frankly, it’s just enough to immerse us completely in this world of space travel, making the story even more compelling.

I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll stop there. I highly recommend both Farside and Perigee. You can read them independently, but reading Perigee first will give you more of a background on the characters and a basis for the storyline in Farside. And, a little bird tells me that Chiles is working on a third in the series. Here’s hoping he won’t take as long as George R.R. Martin has with the next installment of Game of Thrones.

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About the Author

Patrick (Pat) Chiles is a good old Southern boy, hailing from Rock Hill, South Carolina. He’s a 1986 graduate of The Citadel and a Marine Corps veteran. Since he was a little kid, Pat always loved airplanes, rockets and spaceflight. He’s a licensed pilot, and over the Pat Chiles 2016years has managed to work with companies in the airline industry, most recently as an airline safety manager. He always dreamed of writing as a career, and now he has incorporated his love of spaceflight into his first two novels. In addition to his novels, Pat has also written for Smithsonian’s Air and Space.

Pat lives in Ohio with his wife and two teenage sons. He hopes to return to the South someday, so we’ll forgive him for being an adopted Midwesterner for 20+ years.

Oh, and I’ve known him since 10th grade, when we were giant nerds who played Dungeons and Dragons with our other nerdy friends in his parents’ creepy attic.

(Farside image courtesy of Patrick Chiles.)

Places to Hike: Sweetwater Wetlands Park, Gainesville, FL

Okay, “hike” might be a strong word for the type of walking you’ll do at Sweetwater Wetlands. You can choose to enjoy a brisk walk to get your heart rate up or meander at your own pace while birdwatching. IMG_6869

Built by the city of Gainesville, FL, Sweetwater Wetlands Park covers more than 125 acres and showcases the flora and fauna of this diverse area of North Central Florida. The park was a restoration project, reclaiming the natural flow of water from these formerly-drained wetlands back into Paynes Prairie Preserve.

The city boasts that the park is shaped like the head of an alligator. I am unsure whether this was an intentional design, but I wouldn’t doubt it since Gainesville is home to the University of Florida — The Gators.

Speaking of gators, you are bound to spot at least one on your trek around the park. Each time I have visited, I’ve seen them sunning on the banks or gliding gracefully through the water of the many ponds. For this reason, you have to leave your pooch at home. Sweetwater is a people-only destination. Sunning Gator

And a warning for folks who aren’t familiar with alligators: they are fast and unpredictable. According to research from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), adult alligators can run approximately nine miles per hour on land. Your best bet is to watch them from a safe distance and respect their boundaries.

Another reason Fido is not welcome at Sweetwater is to protect the amazing bird population. Be sure to bring your camera and/or binoculars, because the view is stunning. If you have a long lens, I’d recommend having it on hand. While it’s easy to get

IMG_5717

Wood Storks in Flight

close to many of the bird species, some are more timid.

Here is a list of some of the birds I have personally encountered at Sweetwater Wetlands Park:

Great Blue Heron

Snowy Egret

Great Egret

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Osprey

Red-tailed Hawk

Sandhill Crane

Wood Stork

Mallard Duck

Ring-necked Duck

Ruddy Duck

Moorhen (Marsh Hen)

American Coot

Glossy Ibis

White Ibis

Wood Duck

Double-crested Cormorant

Swallow-tailed Kite

You can find a list of all the birds (including recordings of their calls) that you might see in the park on the eBird website.

In addition to alligators and birds, you might observe frogs of all sorts, lizards, snakes, IMG_5721butterflies, a plethora of insects, horses, and a variety of other Florida wildlife. You’ll also
see copious numbers of  Florida’s huge Apple Snails and their shells. If you look closely you’ll also see their egg clutches attached to some of the aquatic vegetation.

When you exit the park, there’s a whiteboard guests can use to write down the animal species they observed during their hike. If you check it before you enter you can keep an eye out IMG_6862for those animals, too. And, when you leave be sure to write down your own sightings.

I’ll end with a few tips to make your trip to Sweetwater Wetlands Park more enjoyable:

 

  • Wear comfortable walking shoes.
  • Bring water. There are water fountains at the entrance to the park, but the heat can get you if you’re not careful. Stay hydrated!
  • Bring your camera or binoculars.
  • Wear a hat. While there are a couple of covered areas, most of the park is wide open space and there IS NO SHADE.
  • Take your time. It’s not a huge park, but there is quite a bit to see if you don’t rush through.
  • Bring a friend. Nature only gets better if you can share it with someone you care about.

Park hours are 7 a.m. until sunset, Monday through Sunday. But, I have enjoyed the walk the most in the early morning and late afternoon/evening (the golden hour.) It’s cooler during those times, but you also have amazing light for photography and the birds seem to be more active.

If you visit the park, come back and comment to this post and let me know what you saw and how you liked it!

(Photo credit: Leona Perry 2016)