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Two plants!

My first succulent arrived, along with some potting soil.

I repotted my umbrella tree, and planted my succulent, which is an Echeveria. I think the pot I have for the Echeveria is wrong – it needs one with a wider opening. Whoops!

My plant window is looking good!

I’ve never liked getting my hands into dirt, which is funny because my mother is an avid and very successful gardener. But I enjoyed sitting on my porch and playing with these plants. I think I’m going to buy more and really get into apartment gardening. I mean, why not? I’m home!

Suggestions for cute plants are welcome!

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The Return of Coffee

Well, I never really stopped drinking coffee.

But for the longest time, I wasn’t making it.

I love cold brew. When I lived in Brooklyn, I became an ardent supporter of “iced coffee season.” Basically, on the first warmish day in April, you order an iced coffee, and then that’s it: it’s iced coffee season, even if the next two weeks are cold enough that a warm coffee would feel good on your hands. Iced coffee season is an absolute once you’ve made your commitment.

(I have a theory about coffee and New York City, by the way, which is that the city’s tumult and close quarters are simply easier to take with something in your hands to occupy you. I think having a cup of coffee in your hands is similar to having a cigarette: it’s something to fiddle with, something to do that isn’t meeting people’s eyes or accepting that you are a tiny ant in a vast swarm, something to stop you from having a constant series of existential crises.)

Anyway, it’s hard to imagine a season in Florida which isn’t iced coffee season; plus cold brew is easier on your insides (did you know that? it’s less acidic) and I have always had a tendency towards ulcers and nervous tum. The downside is that it is generally higher in caffeine. I have to drink less of it, or my hands shake. A few years ago I started buying Chameleon Cold Brew’s concentrate and having one every day, usually in the afternoon to keep the after-lunch snoozes away. When I started working late nights at Disney Springs, I’d have a cold brew around five or six PM to keep me going until two AM.

Now I’m home all day, working on my computer, and one day I remembered a pleasure from my old days before I took up iced coffee: the all-day pot of coffee. Back when I had the farm, was writing Retired Racehorse Blog every day, working on The Head and Not The Heart, raising a toddler, and also working at Disney a couple nights per week, I worked my way through a pot of coffee from morning until late. I decided a constant cup of coffee at hand was exactly what my lockdown days needed!

black coffee with dog in background
I like my coffee black.

Of course, in those days I was happy with whatever the seasonal roast from Starbucks was. Now I decided it would be fun to get more adventurous. I wanted to try small roasters. It would be great to support small businesses during this economic downturn, for one thing, and for another when it comes to hot coffee I have developed a much more demanding and pretentious palate. (My husband and I used to go around Brooklyn tasting small-batch roasts like other people taste wines. I’m not ashamed.)

I did a lot of research and ended up with a coffee subscription from Trade. There are a lot of coffee subscriptions; Trade was the one that worked out for me. They pull from small roasters all around the country, they match up your flavor profiles and tell you ahead of time what’s coming, and they give you the option to change it out ahead of time if you’re particularly into a certain roast of coffee. Also they don’t charge for shipping. And I have to tell you, when you’re ordering two bags a month, shipping can add up.

The first bag that came was the fabulously named “Darkness” from Gimme Coffee, based in Ithaca, NY. I know there are a couple of Gimme Coffee cafes in NYC but I’ve never been to them, so this was a totally new blend for me. Trade sent me an email when it was roasting and then a few days later my coffee arrived. I ground up some beans and HELLO! Absolutely fantastic. Dark chocolate with a little cherry to finish. Marry me, Darkness.

gimme coffee
Darkness by Gimme Coffee. Yum, y’all.

I have something new coming next week, but I know that Darkness will feature in my coffeemaker again really soon. Another reason to like Trade: some subscriptions are always surprises or curator’s choice, but they let you sub in whatever you want.

Having an all-day pot of coffee has been great and I’m so happy to have gone back to it. I don’t tend to finish it in an afternoon, but that just means there’s some cold coffee leftover for the morning! Since I’m a born napper, it’s helping me work through the whole day so that I can actually fall asleep before midnight and get up early enough to go run… basically, rewiring my night owl rhythm to fit in with Florida weather and the realities of lockdown sidewalk traffic.

Well, this was supposed to be a microblog but it’s a solid 800 words. I guess that’s what happens when I write about coffee!

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April Storms

Hey, it’s day two of microblogging!

Today was actually really interesting. A big cold front moved through early this morning. This is about as late as cold fronts manage to push through Central Florida – by May, they’re pretty much too weak to make it this far south. This was a particularly strong storm system, creating tornadoes and hail damage throughout the southeast.

For some reason cold fronts love to hit the Orlando area overnight or first thing in the morning. I knew this one was due around dawn, and at 2 AM our NWS weather alarm woke us all up to tell us there was a Tornado Watch for the area. At 6 AM, I woke up suddenly. Nothing seemed to have caused it, but I got up and roamed around the apartment, looked through all of the blinds, glanced around the kitchen. I just had a funny feeling.

I went back into the bedroom and looked at my phone, and saw an extremely strong line of thunderstorms just about thirty miles west. I tried to close my eyes again, reasoning that the weather radio would wake me up if there was a tornado warning, but I noticed lightning flashes coming from behind my closed blinds and thought, no, this is silly. 

So I took the dog out.

I know, that sounds crazy, but actually it made perfect sense: the storm front was still an hour away, and the lightning I was seeing was from a secondary line which had set up ahead of the front and was moving away from me. Plus, the dog was going to need to go out right when it would be storming. I was a problemsolver.

storm clouds approaching
The storm front approaches from the northwest. This was after the dogwalk!

It had been a while since I’d gone out and been surrounded by clouds that are just lighting themselves up with lightning. It was still very dark and very still, with just a few sleepy frogs croaking, and I enjoyed that walk very much. By the time I went back upstairs, fed Sally, and went onto the porch to observe the clouds, the storm front was much closer, while the secondary cluster of storms was in full swing to my south.

storm clouds april 2020
Half and half, looking east

It didn’t end up being a terribly bad storm front in my neighborhood – cold front-induced storms have an interesting habit of hitting their weakest point from when they first cross over land near Tampa just as they reach my town, and then they tend to pulse back upwards as they move a little farther inland. For me as an observer of clouds and lightning, this actually isn’t a bad thing. It lets me get great shots before and after the storm.

storm clouds 2020
Still before any rain has fallen, the roll cloud pushes through and cuts off the dawn. Looking southeast.

The all-day rain with occasional thunder that has followed is a very rare treat in Florida. We’ve been dealing with a drought since the beginning of the year, and I think all the animals and plants are very grateful for today’s cool temperatures and constant rainfall. I know I am.

Just six more weeks to rainy season!

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I got a tree!

Hi friends! I thought microblogging might be a fun experiment to play around with. I’m a solid five and a half weeks into stay-at-home life, and my only record of this weird period of human history is my insane tweets. Why not do some insane blogs, too?

Today I am excited about my tree, which arrived by post yesterday from the idyllic-sounding Hacienda Heights, California. I know it’s in Los Angeles County and probably isn’t idyllic, but what a name, right? I love the breezy romanticism of early southern California Americans. The citrus trees, the terra-cotta tiles, the boundless optimism. Early 20th century Los Angeles is a beehive for me.

Anyway, my tree arrived and she was looking a little worse for wear at first, but now her leaves are uncurling and she seems quite spritely. I haven’t named her — I kind of got out of the habit of naming inanimate objects and I’m not sure if that’s going to come back or not — but I have already initiated pep talks so that she knows I am rooting for her (that’s a plant pun!) and want her to grow up big and strong.

umbrella tree in pot
My new tree and her horse friends

She’s an umbrella tree, by the way. I ordered this one from Amazon because the reviews were half-decent, the tree described was a good size, and I liked that it came with a pot, so I didn’t have to buy soil and a pot as well. I’m on a budget here!

I grew up with an umbrella tree in the house. When I was in elementary school we moved to Florida from Maryland, and the umbrella tree was eventually planted outside, by the front door. This happened to be where water poured down from the eaves during Florida rainstorms. Was this on purpose? I have no idea. But this tree grew and grew and grew into an umbrella giant during our time at this house. I was always so proud of it for doing so well outside.

So when it became clear most of my life would be working from home, not from a cafe or from the apartment complex workspace or by the pool (by the way, March and April are THE work-from-the-pool-deck months and I am sad to be missing this), a new corner of the living room was set aside for Natalie’s Office, and I declared the window sill to be Natalie’s Garden, and this is where my lovely little tree lives. There’s a succulent coming this week too, and I’ll show you that plant when it arrives!

Well, I’d better get on with the business of writing fiction now. Think of me and my tree sitting in our corner, enjoying the midday light, and know that new books are happening!

Do you have a plant? What kind, and why do you love it?

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Riding Life: Ben and the Tortoise

Ben grazing

I haven’t written about my riding in a hot minute, and since that’s where my blogging (and fiction) days began, I thought: today’s ride definitely deserves a blog post. You see, everything looked so promising. Everything started out so well.

And then, Florida happened.

THE TALE OF THE TORTOISE AND THE BEN

At my old farm out in swamp country, I had an issue with alligators. Well, one alligator. He (gender assumed but not determined for convenience’s sake) was about four and half feet long, enjoyed long swims in the pond at the back of my property, and had reflective eyes which were handy for late-night horse feeding. We just always remembered to swing a flashlight around and check for the gator’s presence before we went into the back pasture to dump grain.

Then the alligator discovered my round pen, which was only about twenty feet from the pond, was the perfect place for midday sunbathing.

Really annoying.

Nowadays I ride at a farm in hilly country. There isn’t a pond, so there isn’t an alligator. But since I ride Ben in a bright, sunny field adjacent to un-mown hay fields and half-wooded cow pastures, I have other animals I have to deal with.

Ben in a big hay field
Looking across the hay fields from the mown area where we ride. There is a lot of animal life out there.

Ben is a very alert pony. He likes to keep his eye on things — there’s very much a protect-the-herd instinct going on in between those pricked ears of his. He watches people walking around the farm while we’re riding, and he has a decent spook when something really surprises him, but he’s not as likely to run away from something as to stop and stare at it, maybe edge closer to it for a better look.

Think of a little kid poking something dead with a stick, then leaping backwards when it moves a little bit, then coming back to poke it again… that’s Ben.

At first we had an issue with grass snakes spooking him, but I kept riding him towards the little buggers and he decided that was fun, so now he just looks at snakes and doesn’t flip out about them. The tortoise problem… well, that’s been harder to solve.

If the best way to desensitize a horse is to ride them right up to whatever is alarming them and let them take a good look, it’s almost impossible to desensitize a horse to a gopher tortoise. These are big dry-land, burrowing tortoises who can move at a decent clip. They have beige-to-brown shells which aren’t shiny, but stand out against green grass. And because they have a sort of shambling, two-beat walk, they move a bit like, well, spiders?

So you have this thing that looks like a rounded rock, moves like a spider, and goes barreling across the field. If you can convince your horse to go take a look at it, the tortoise retreats into his shell. It’s just a rock. The horse forgets about it. You ride away. The rock-spider-demon comes back to life. The horse sees this in his rear-view mirror and freaks the eff out. IT IS MOVING! IT WASN’T MOVING BEFORE!

You ride back, to show the horse the moving rock. Only now it stops moving again. The horse loses interest.

Guys, you can do this ALL DAMN DAY, but the tortoise will always thwart your efforts.

It’s a problem.

So today I take Ben out to ride and I see that there is a tortoise in the very middle of the field. I sigh. I cannot chase the tortoise out of the field, for reasons previously mentioned. So I take Ben over to a hill and we do a little hill-work while I wait for the tortoise to get through the field.

This takes ages because the tortoise is not in a hurry, but finally he’s at the end of the field near his burrow and I say, fine, Ben, let’s go do some work.

Now, a lot of the work I do with Ben is concentrated on getting him to be cool and focused, because I want children to be happy to ride him (he is a large pony, after all). So we do a lot of walking work – about fifteen minutes most days – before we even begin trotwork.

Today the BLOODY TORTOISE is hovering near his burrow, which is under a bush at the end of the field, and doesn’t want to go in. And just as I want to start trotting, Ben sees the tortoise.

He does a little half-rear before I catch him, then I push him forward towards the tortoise while he watches, snorting. I let him come to a halt so he can have a good look.

The tortoise gazes at us. He is literally right outside his burrow. Two steps, and he could be underground and out of our hair. But no, he wants to stare us down.

“GET BACK IN YOUR HOLE YOU STUPID TORTOISE!” I command, with some expletives for extra emphasis, but the tortoise is unimpressed.

Ben has his head up and his ears pricked but he’s not freaking out, so I send him forward. Let’s chase the tortoise into the hole! He can’t possibly resist going into his burrow if we’re bearing down on him like a one-horse cavalry charge, right?

Right.. eventually, but that tortoise makes us get really close before he scurries underground. Ben is huffing. I am annoyed. It’s going to take me another five or ten minutes to bring him back down to earth and get a relaxed walk again. I turn Ben away and we do a circuit of the field.

As we turn at the top of the field, I realize the tortoise HAS COME BACK OUT OF THE BURROW.

“Oh, no, you don’t! Let’s get him, Ben!” I send Ben forward and we chase the tortoise back underground. Ben finds all of this tortoise-chasing exhilarating and is now looking for other scary things to chase. Maybe there is something scary in the woods! LET’S STARE AT THE WOODS! Maybe there is something scary at the house! OH GOD A PERSON HAS COME OUT OF THE HOUSE! SHIT, WHAT DO WE DO?

“Jesus Christ, Ben,” I say, again along with some other expletives for extra emphasis.

It keeps happening. Apparently the tortoise was only making a quick house-call, not retreating to safety, and now I cannot keep the stupid animal out of my field. I just want twenty minutes to do some trotting and get Ben to relax into the bridle, but the tortoise comes out and cuts across the bottom half of the field, then proceeds to start grazing. I cannot chase him now; he’s too far from the burrow and he’ll just go into his shell if we get near him. Ben is mostly unbothered; he doesn’t see him, but I’ve lost half my riding space.

Another ten minutes goes by before the tortoise has ambled with its awful spider shamble into the high grass of the hay field and I finally have my riding area back.

But Ben doesn’t know the tortoise has gone off on a nature walk. He keeps looking at the burrow at the edge of the field. IF IT COMES BACK OUT, I, BEN, WILL BE READY!

“It’s not coming back.”

THAT’S WHAT IT WANTS YOU TO THINK!

He never really got over his desire to trample the tortoise. We did some nice trotting, some lateral work and some canter circles, and even jumped a few cross-rails, but he was always keeping an eye on that burrow. There was nothing fearful about his attitude. He just didn’t want to miss his chance. He had a taste of tortoise-chasing and by god, he wanted more.

Ben grazing
“If that tortoise comes out, I will find him and I will stomp him.”

Even after I turned him out, an hour later, he was on high alert, looking all around the pasture as if tortoises were hiding in the tree branches, waiting for him to drop his guard.

I love Ben’s hilarious macho man antics, his bantam rooster approach to life. He’s fun to ride and work with for exactly that reason. There’s so much of Ben. He’s the embodiment of that old classified ad verbiage, “personality plus.”

I’m just really, really glad this farm doesn’t have a pond. because I don’t need him to start thinking he can chase away gators.

 

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Fall Comes to Florida

October is here! I love October. I’ve never liked September, not for a single moment, but October is lovely and I’m here to tell you why.

First, October is when fall comes to Florida. How can you tell it’s fall? The light, for one thing, and that’s not the bit I like–I love the bright, white light of summer. The shifting light of September makes me think of short days and long nights and school starting (I have almost no good memories of school, so anything I associate with going back to school is a negative). But the light’s an indicator that the weather is changing–the steeper sun angle means less humidity, fewer afternoon thunderstorms, and, best of all, cooler nights.

horse hiding behind a tree
Ben hides behind a tree as the golden October sunset approaches.

Oh, those cooler nights! I don’t remember summer nights in the 80s when I was a kid, but I grew up along the coast, and now I live inland, and it gets so hot here. Orlando summer nights stick in the 80s and you just want to melt. Honestly, I should not want a shower after walking my dog at ten o’clock at night. But here we are… and then October comes, and the temperature drops into the 60s at night, and it’s magical.

Then there’s the breeze. Here’s a fun thing about Florida: every season is breezy except for summer. In summer, we sit and wait for the sea breeze to make it inland… with mixed results. Sometimes in late September, the breeze picks up something fierce, and it sticks around for the most part until April.

When I was a kid, I used to ride my bike everywhere. We lived on a grid; our street went east/west and so did plenty of my friends’ streets. One night I was playing Trivial Pursuit with my parents. The question was about the equinox: when are the equinoxes, or something to that effect. I was maybe eight or nine, I didn’t know what the word equinox meant. But the months April and September stuck out to me. It was always so windy in those months!

I guessed; I was right; there was general wonderment. I explained that it was extremely hard to ride my bike in April and September because of the wind. Maybe the wind was the equinox, I reasoned.

I don’t know if the wind is directly or indirectly related to the equinox, but it’s definitely when the weather starts to shift towards or away from our summer rainy season.

And while I miss the rainy season, when I have a horse to ride, I can celebrate the beginning of riding season! It’s surprisingly pleasant to ride a horse on a 90-degree day when the humidity is only 60% instead of 85% (with that lovely breeze, of course). This part might be hard to explain to out-of-staters, but you’ll have to trust me on this.

I can bump my rides up from thirty minutes to sixty minutes. I can ride any time of day, with plenty of walking breaks, instead of only before ten a.m. or only after six p.m. I am almost never racing lightning bolts back to the barn. I don’t have to give a bath with plenty of tea tree oil mixed into the shampoo after every single ride, because when the rain goes away, so do the tiny flies and the skin bacteria issues.

Riding a horse at sunset
Riding into the fall sunset.

Oh, fall is a magical time in Florida!

Now don’t get me wrong: there are drawbacks. I miss the lightning and the thunder and the tropical downpours and the towering clouds and the singing frogs–I miss them something fierce. I have already mentioned that the slanting fall light makes me feel the opposite of nostalgic. And all that wind? Well, have you ridden a horse on a windy day? Enough said.

But all of that aside, I’m glad it’s fall. I’m ready for our first cold front, our first chilly night, the first day I get to wear jeans. I’m excited for all the riding I’m going to fit in, and the running too, because I’ve only been running once or twice a week over the summer.

When I was a kid, rainy season seemed to last half the year. Now I know it’s only four and a half months in a good year, and it was only three months this year, thanks to weird hurricane activity. It’s weird to imagine that we’re months and months away from storm season and summer, from the big glowing clouds and the sizzling sounds of cicadas in the trees and the late-night croaks of frogsong. When I think of Florida, when I’m far away, those are the pieces my mind conjures up.

But really, most of the year in Florida is just like October: golden days, blue skies, a steady breeze, and a hot, hot sun.

It’s not a bad place to call home.

But Florida doesn’t have much by way of fall leaves, so I go up north for that. I’ll be in Massachusetts next month for Equine Affaire in West Springfield! I go just about every year and hang out with my good friends at Taborton Equine Books. Come see me on either Friday or Saturday — I’d love to chat, get to know you, sign your books, or maybe help you find your next great read!

Find out more and RSVP at Facebook!