Coquina and the Castillo de San Marcos

Try to imagine what the city of St. Augustine, Florida was like in 1565. The little Spanish colony constantly suffered from Indian attacks, pirate raids, and foreign invasions. Every wooden fort they built to defend themselves either burned, collapsed in storms, or rotted away from damp conditions.

Finally, somebody discovered an amazing substance on nearby Anastasia Island. Enter, Florida’s rock of ages, coquina. Coquina is a sedimentary stone composed of tiny shell fragments cemented together with calcium carbonate. The Spanish colonists might not have known the composition of coquina, but they knew they’d found a rock. They were excited! At last they had a building material that might endure. (Maybe they heard the story of the third little pig and wanted their fort to last whenever the big bad wolf came to call. After all, bricks worked for him.) The colonists petitioned Queen Marina of Spain for funds to build a new fort. She authorized the construction of the Castillo and large scale mining began on Anastasia Island in 1671.

IMG_3333 (2) Looking at a piece of coquina, it’s hard to believe a rock comprised mostly of shells would be very strong. The Spanish learned that although coquina is soft when first quarried, the stone hardens as it dries. Construction of the Castillo began in 1672. There are over 400,000 blocks of coquina in the fort, all cut and set by hand. The people of St. Augustine weren’t playing around this time. They had one goal: survival.

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The fort was designed by Ignacio Daza using a bastion system. Four diamond-shaped bastions project out from a walled courtyard. Each bastion contains a tower where guards can see in every direction. The second floor gun deck mounted over sixty cannons. The outer walls of the fort vary from fourteen to nineteen feet thick. The coquina rock was covered with plaster to seal out rainwater.

CGGD9783 (1)A drawbridge provides the only entry. Standing on the bridge, a person might think it once crossed a moat filled with alligators. Not so, the low ground around the fort was used to graze animals. The Castillo was built  as a place of refuge for the townspeople of St. Augustine. Most Spanish soldiers lived in town and shared guard duty. In a sense, the Castillo was a castle, built to protect the community in times of war.

IMG_3389 (1)It’s amazing to think that the small courtyard housed 1,500 soldiers and civilians for fifty-one days when the English attacked St. Augustine in 1702. The rooms around the courtyard housed food and military supplies. Enemy cannonballs bounced off or got stuck in the coquina without breaking it. Their defense plan worked.

The Castillo protected St. Augustine for over two hundred years. Today the fort remains as a national monument to human determination. The monument is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Plan your visit to the Castillo de San Marco soon.

 

 

 

 

Lake Louisa: Florida’s Secret State Park

Did you know there’s a wonderful state park less than an hour drive west of downtown Orlando? Most Orlando residents have never heard of Lake Louisa State Park.  I just discovered it and I’ve lived here for almost thirty years.

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Lake Louisa is the southernmost lake in the Clermont Chain of Lakes.  These waters comprise one of the most recreational lake systems in Florida, providing a haven for water sports and fishing.

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Lake Louisa offers guided kayak trips. Visitors can rent kayaks or canoes at the Camper Canteen located near the campground.

The Lake Louisa campground is one of the best we’ve visited. We parked our trailer in the Dixie Loop, nestled between Lake Hammond and Dixie Lake. From our site we could easily walk to either lake for spectacular views.

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Sunset on Dixie Lake

The weather forecast was accurate for this trip. It rained often. Unlike many places we’ve camped, our site had terrific drainage. The site was paved with a gravel top and bordered with concrete. Even after a night of heavy rain the ground outside our trailer was dry. Another advantage, many of the campsites are pull-through and contain full hookups including sewer.   IMG_3615

Fortunately, it didn’t rain all the time. People often ask me what we do when we go camping.  We usually spend our mornings hiking with Buddy.  His beagle nose takes in all the smells and direct his little feet forward. Most of the time he’s tracking some critter beyond our limited human awareness.

IMG_7639Once in a while, Buddy will encounter something that warrants further investigation, like this little turtle. A few extra sniffs and we’re on our way again.

 

 

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Trail rides are offered at Lake Louisa. Buddy tracked a horse on one of our hikes. But when we followed it to the corral, he became more interested in whatever trash he could grab with his mouth.  Sum it up to life with a beagle.

After a morning hike, our family of three relaxes in the shade. Herb and I both enjoy reading.  I write, or think about writing. Buddy dozes.

After dinner, we like to sit around the campfire and talk.  All three nights of this trip it rained. No chance for a fire, so we sheltered in place inside our one hundred square foot trailer. Good thing we get along.  Avid board gamers, our favorite game at the moment is Splendor.  For details follow the link.

Our last morning at the campground we met a couple of neighbors. The camp host, Kevin, invited everyone for coffee.  We love meeting other campers and sharing stories of our experiences in various Florida state parks.

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Pictured left to right, Kevin, Bob, Suzie Q, Herb, and Buddy.

Campground hosts volunteer to help maintain the campground and give information to campers if needed. They are also called upon to offer assistance in case of late night emergencies.  In return, they camp for free. Most live in their RV’s fulltime and move within the Florida park system as needed.  I don’t think Herb and I are interested in the position yet. Not until we upgrade beyond our one hundred square feet of living space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Redefining Age with Valerie Ramsey

There are many phrases which try to describe anyone past the age of sixty. Phrases like, “over the hill,” “past my prime,” and “slowing down” come to mind.  None of these describe Valerie Ramsey.

I heard Valerie Ramsey speak at a luncheon for seniors last week. Now 78, she defies every concept I previously believed about aging. Valerie’s story is amazing. A mother of six, and stay at home mom,  she entered the work force at age 53. Valerie began her career selling golf balls at Pebble Beach Resorts and worked her way up to the position of  Public Relations Media Director.

Soon after she accepted her dream job at Pebble Beach, Valerie was diagnosed with cancer and heart disease. She made a decision to not let adversity stop her from doing the work she enjoyed. Valerie overcame her health issues and continued her position as PR director for fifteen years.

End of story? No way.  At age 63, Valerie was discovered by the Wilhelmina Modeling Agency of San Francisco. Tall and slender, Valerie fit the perfect image of a beautiful mature woman. It’s hard to believe she kept her fulltime position at Pebble Beach while working modeling assignments part time.

If that wasn’t enough, Valerie is an author. Her book, “Creating What’s Next Gracefully” (Pathfinder, 2013) inspires readers to do great things, no matter what their age. At 78 she is a popular motivational speaker on the national and international circuits and has no intention of slowing down. Valerie has appeared on many TV shows, including the Today Show, Fox News, and Extra. Oh and by the way, she still models.

Back to the luncheon… During her presentation Valerie encouraged listeners to create what’s next in their lives by keeping their eyes and ears open for new opportunities to pursue their dreams. ” One way to power past fear is to imagine a positive outcome,” shared Valerie. “Above all, don’t let who you were define who you are.”

I have to say I’m inspired by Valerie’s message. So many people, women especially, look at their advancing years with a feeling of dread. Valerie sees her age as a positive. After all how many people succeed in new careers in their sixties and seventies?  At age 64, I’m not considering a modeling career, but I am looking forward to more adventure.  Are you thinking about your next chapter? Leave a comment and tell me about it. Let’s encourage one another.

 

 

Cardinal Virtues

This spring a cardinal family visited our enclosed patio. The parents were fussing because their baby couldn’t fly above the fence to make an exit. The baby would flap its wings, rise a bit, then fall back to the ground. For a few minutes I debated whether or not to intervene. Should I pick the baby up and carry it somewhere?

I knew the nest wasn’t in our courtyard. I sought out my Facebook friends, who responded with a number of ideas. “Cover it with a towel and take it back to a grassy area.” Another person told me, “Don’t move the baby without a clothes basket on your head because the father cardinal will attack you.” My husband told me to wait and see what happens. (That’s usually his advice about most things.)

I watched the cardinal family for an hour through the back door window.  Finally the baby cardinal made it to the top of the table. Encouraged by his mother, he managed to fly from the table to the top of the fence.  My husband got a terrific photo of him preparing for final take off.

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This event sparked my curiosity. I wanted to know more about cardinals. I discovered they were named after the red robes of the cardinals of the Catholic Church. Immediately the term “cardinal virtues” came to mind.  I applied the seven virtues to a cardinal’s behavior.

Faith: Believing the promises of God. Cardinals stay in the same general vicinity twelve months out of the year.  God provides for them through the cold, grey winter months. The male cardinal’s red color reminds us to “keep the faith” during bleak times.

Prudence: The ability to use foresight, knowing when it’s the right time to take action. Since cardinals do not migrate, they grow extra feathers and eat more to prepare for winter.

 Hope: Cardinals sing cheery songs which lift our spirits and encourage us to persevere through trials.

Love: Male and female cardinals mate for life and share the duties of child raising. The female cardinal calls to the male who responds by bringing her food when she’s nesting.

Justice: Male and female cardinals sing together. Both compliment one other. Each gender has a “voice” in cardinal matters.

Temperance: Both male and female cardinal parents restrain themselves from exploring other interests when they are raising their young. Cardinal babies hop around on the ground for a few days until they learn to fly. The parents stay close by to feed and protect their young.

Courage: A male cardinal is a fierce defender of the nest. He will attack other birds, cats, dogs, and snakes who intrude upon his territory. Males are know to even attack their reflection in a window (side-note: Intelligence isn’t one of the seven virtues).

I’m impressed. After I shared the extensive list of cardinal virtues, my husband asked, “What about the seven cardinal sins?”

I guess that’s one cardinal matter I’ll never know.