Sailboats on Lake Hefner

Every day for the past week, while driving Elle to and from her summer camp classes in the far northwest corner the city, I have been able to catch a glimpse of Lake Hefner. It is a busier place in the afternoon filled with bicyclists, joggers, dog-walkers, and general wanderers. On my way to pick her up from camp yesterday, I saw sailboats dotting the water near the lighthouse. Elle is usually too hungry and tired by the end of her camp day to take a walk with me by the lake, but this time I insisted. This Florida girl has been missing that view for quite some time.

Elle and I walked a short while from the parking lot to the lighthouse and met an elderly couple and their dog along the way. They pointed out a snake swimming in the water and we got to talking about Florida. It turns out one of their children lives in Jacksonville, another in the suburbs of Orlando. Our conversation was interrupted by the sounds of splashing and screams. Those sailboats must have been part of a class because I can’t imagine why else there would be so many of them clustered so closely to one another. Most of the time, at least one of them was completely on it side in the water with a few submerged people patiently waiting nearby. There was hardly a breeze yesterday, not even on the lake shore. I’m not entirely sure if this did any favors for those poor people trying to learn how to maneuver a sailboat. It was pretty fun to watch, though.

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The Village of Castleton

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It tends to be very hot this time of year in Oklahoma, which is evident today as the mercury is set to climb to 91 degrees. This past weekend, on the other hand, was sunny, gorgeous, and unexpectedly comfortable. We spent most of Saturday at the Oklahoma Renaissance Festival, about a half hour from our cabin at Greenleaf, where we wandered the Castle grounds with gypsies, jesters, knights, and the occasional child butterfly fairy. I bought a colorful skirt from an adorable orange-haired pixie and an Italian peasant girl made me one of the most delicious iced caramel lattes I’ve ever had.

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Even Elle admitted to having the best weekend ever. She got to dress up as a gypsy and wear a bright-colored skirt. She played with a bow and arrows, saw her first jousting competition, and walked through a torture chamber museum. Here she is getting her first henna tattoo:

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The great thing about these Renaissance Festivals is that much of what the vendors sell is handmade, or at least produced by small companies that specialize in Renaissance pieces. There were merchants selling plague masks, leather-bound books, hand-carved walking sticks, and even giant wind chimes that sound like church bells, which we ended up coming home with. In this little shop (or should I say shoppe?), I went a little nuts over this whimsical painting and the wooden Viking ship pencil holders (but stay tuned for more Vikings!):

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It’s been decided that, shall I ever have the opportunity to travel back in time, I would like to visit this era (but only after it has been introduced to proper sanitation).

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P.S. About those bells, click here.

Nantucket on my mind

Sometimes I am rewarded with good timing instead of good karma, unless you’re one of those people who considers them to be one and the same. I am not one of those people. Karma is karma, usually in a singular event. Good timing involves a number of events. Good timing requires good karma, I believe, but they are not the same thing.

Let me explain: Have you ever been introduced to something you knew nothing about only to later find yourself coming across this “something” all the time? I consider that good timing (and good observation skills). It happens to me an awful lot with words and only occasionally with facts. This instance involves Nantucket, which I will throw into the category of facts.

I have no affiliation with the island of Nantucket at all. My New World/New England ancestors got rich in the village of Salem, Mass., pre-witch hunts, converted a bunch of people into Baptists, and then tried to settle in New Amsterdam (New York City – Throggs Neck, anyone?) until the natives slaughtered the lot of them. My man John and the Throckmorton family survived and ran off to Rhode Island to found Providence. Also, the farthest into New England I’ve ever gone was Amish Country in Pennsylvania. Does that even count?

Not too long ago, I finished reading In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick, a true story of a whaling disaster that originated in Nantucket. Needing some whimsy to decompress from the horrors of being stranded in the Pacific and the games of chance to see which of your shipmates gets cannibalized next, I took to reading Mat Johnson’s Pym. Again, there is a strong connection to the island of Nantucket. The story itself does not originate in Nantucket, but the story within the story does.

Lake Hefner lighthouse

Lake Hefner lighthouse

Last week while Matt and I were bicycling around Lake Hefner, we decided to stop for a break because, well…the wind, and benched ourselves near the Lake Hefner lighthouse. This was the first time I had ever paid attention to the plaque leading up to the structure itself. And guess what? It told me that the Lake Hefner lighthouse is an 36-foot tall replica of the Brandt Point lighthouse in Nantucket!

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You might think this is very unimportant, and maybe it is. But then you have to ask yourself: Why is there a replica of a Nantucket lighthouse in Oklahoma City? I haven’t figured this out yet. The reading of the books and the bike ride all occurred within three weeks of each other, which means this Nantucket thing keeps showing up in my life. Why? I haven’t figured this out yet, either, but I am a believer in good timing and weird little coincidences. Something is afoot.

Open Water | Open Spaces

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A few days ago I realized that I have spent my entire pre-Oklahoma life on one peninsula or another. Peninsula – it’s such a romantic word, conjuring up thoughts of being surrounded almost entirely by calming, soothing water. Yes, this Floridian is still missing the water, but I was able to quell some of that homesickness last night at a lakeside restaurant by staring out at the sailboats and windsurfers and imagining the sound of the lapping waves left in their wake.

Oklahoma has a lot of lakes and rivers and they’ve been filling up, for the most part, with plenty of water, thanks to a few good downpours recently. The air has been warm and the sun has been shining and I am almost tempted to toss out my prescription Vitamin D supplements, but no! The forecast for Thursday is calling for a high of 46 degrees with lots of clouds. Because, well…why the *$#% not, right?

It’s been officially decided that I can probably be happy living near the coast, even if the weather isn’t ideal (New England – I’m looking at you!) or someplace with an ample amount of sunshine, but preferably in a sunny and small fishing village anywhere on the Eastern Seaboard.

That’s not happening anytime soon so I am happy to call Oklahoma City home as long as I can see scenes like this more often than not:

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lake hefner lighthouse

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The little spit of land on which the Lake Hefner Lighthouse resides could very well be considered a tiny peninsula, a breakwater, or even a jetty, perhaps. There are no oceans or Great Lakes nearby so I have to find familiarity in small-scale ways. But where Oklahoma is lacking in big, open water she more than makes up for in big, open spaces. I’m hoping to get much more of that in the coming months!

Flight Between Questions

Plans for the summer are already in the works. There is no question that I’ll be returning to Florida for a few weeks, but I might try turning this 2-day drive into a less frantic rush to reach the North Florida coast. I am hoping to make some time with the kiddo to walk the Civil War battlefield in Vicksburg, Mississippi or to tour the USS Alabama battleship in Mobile Bay, which is the last thing to disappear in my rearview mirror as I cross over Escambia Bay into Florida.

I think the overdue appearance of spring here in Oklahoma has me already pining for summer in Florida. There is even a remote possibility of finally seeing Key West with my husband.

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Mississippi River and Civil War cannon in Vicksburg, MS

I like having a plan, as I’ve mentioned before. My astrological sign accuses me of being indecisive and a website I recently came across calls my Libran indecisiveness legendary. I won’t argue with either of those statements although I wish there were more emphasis on the Libran’s ability to commit to that hard-to-come-to final decision. Happily, I have made a decision for myself and it will have everything to do with what happens next year as far as deciding whether I will continue on with my education or rest for a while and enjoy life without research projects for once.

Or research projects in the academic sense, I should say, because I’ve decided to volunteer at the Oklahoma History Center. This opportunity will teach me a variety of skills such as preservation, genealogical research, and cataloguing as well as help me to become more familiar with specific exhibits and, ultimately, Oklahoma itself. As much as I get exhausted by the socializing required of me when my husband and I host weekend gatherings at our house (one Sunday after our hot tub party, I barely moved out of bed for the entire day and thought I might have caught the flu – nah, I was just tired and I’d been sober the day before!), I really do enjoy being in front of a crowd of people, even kids, and sharing knowledge. This experience will give me that knowledge to share. I’m a history nerd and I want to get others excited about it, too.

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(Case in point: I had my daughter watch the Capital Cities video for Safe & Sound and explained to her the evolution of dancing and how it corresponds to the video’s scenes of war. She immediately went off to Google the Hindenburg disaster and learn more about the A-bomb. Mission accomplished.)

It feels good to have a plan, to have some kind of direction, even if it seems vague to everyone else. Sarah Vowell even wrote in Take the Canolli: Stories From the New World, “There comes a time halfway through any halfway decent liberal arts major’s college career when she no longer has any idea what she believes. She flies violently through air polluted by conflicting ideas and theories, never stopping at one system of thought long enough to feel at home.”

Sarah (I once had a dream that I picked her up in my neighborhood where she was hitchhiking so, in my head, we’re now on a first name basis with each other) closes this thought by adding, “Until I figured out that the flight between questions is itself a workable system, I craved answers, rules.”

It hits me as rather strange that it’s taken me this long to figure that out. Thanks, Sarah.

Mountain Camping

Wichita Mountain NWR

We arrived at Wichita Mountain National Wildlife Refuge a little after noon. Immediately, Matt pointed to the top of a mountain and declared, “Guess where we’re going?!”  I was grateful for two things right away:

  1. I had already popped a Dramamine on the way to Southwest Oklahoma because car sickness can hit me on flat land anyway, especially when it’s overcast. I’m a big sissy.
  2. This isn’t like Chimney Rock in North Carolina. Out there, the canopy of trees blocks any focal point you might need to keep from getting queasy while winding up a mountainside road.

On the way to the top of Mount Scott, I was constantly surprised at every turn. Sure, Oklahoma is flat and dry, for the most part, but the number of lakes and rivers in this region of the state is impressive. Maybe only to me, as I’m still a newbie, but seeing as this was my first look at the Wichita Mountains, I found it all to be quite beautiful. Also, you can’t go wrong with being so high up that you are treated to earth curvature.

from the top of Mount Scott

from the top of Mount Scott

About an hour later, we were the first to choose from a number of campsites with a gorgeous view of Quanah Parker Lake. Elle and I helped with pitching the tent and unloading the van, but Matt is really the go-to guy when it comes to this stuff. So while my husband actually did most of the work (like setting up camp and cooking dinner and, well, everything), Elle and I headed down to the lake to take in the scenery. We all took a few more walks around the shoreline throughout the day and were pretty excited to find a beaver dam, a great blue heron, and animal tracks.

Lake Doris

Lake Doris

Our campfire was roaring away before dinnertime so Matt grabbed a book to read while relaxing in his hammock and I pulled out my copy of The Beak of the Finch to read fireside. There is something romantic about studying the evolution of Darwin’s finches while surrounded by nature. The kiddo brought her camera and props to make a new stop motion movie and keep her from being too bored out in the woods (sadly, this didn’t last long).

Matt's napping space

best campsite ever

After a delicious meal of pork chops and green beans, we feasted on s’mores and headed to bed. It was warm enough inside the tent to be cozy and I attempted to read a few more chapters on the Galapagos finches. Sleep didn’t come easily, though, and the kiddo and I had already realized hours earlier that we are just not cut out for camping.

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As we tried to drift off and catch up with my husband in the world of sleep, Elle and I were constantly reminded of the wild animals that lived outside. There was a lot of splashing coming from the lake behind us (so much that I thought the dam was releasing water!) and I’d actually fallen asleep long enough to dream a wolf was sniffing near Elle’s head and I had to punch it to save us all from certain death.  Of course, my tiny bladder was extremely uncooperative that night, too. Prior to choosing our campsite, I insisted on being close to a regularly cleaned park restroom. None of that matters, though, when you have to leave your tent twice in the middle of the night to take care of business and dozens of coyotes are howling nearby. For the record, a nearby cedar tree is just as fancy and probably safer.

After my last visit to the cedar tree, during which I scared two large animals that ran for safety into the lake, I crawled back into the tent and tried to comfort Ella who had again been woken up from a fitful sleep.

“Mom, what is making all that noise out there?”

And, with all the love in my heart and respect I could ever have for this child of mine, I lied through my teeth. “It’s just the elk and bison talking to each other. They do that at night.”

Did you really think I was going to be honest? “Oh, honey! That’s the wolves and coyotes looking for something to eat!” We would have been better off packing up our stuff and heading back home right then and there. Of course, we didn’t, and that is why we were able to enjoy the park during our hike the next day…

(En)lightened

Over a year ago, Matt, Elle, and I celebrated our first Christmas together by visiting three cities in three separate states: Orangeburg, South Carolina; Savannah, Georgia; and Saint Augustine, Florida. My photographs from that trip came out so shadowed and dark that when I uploaded them onto my computer, I was so overwhelmed by the amount of time I would have to spend to make them all somewhat presentable. I just never did it.

So this morning when I plunked myself down to finish the last four pages of a riveting (*choke*) essay on Catholic and Protestant styles of Baroque art, I decided after an hour of navigating art forums that it was the perfect moment to adjust some of the pictures. I went with Saint Augustine first since that was the biggest batch.

I’m learning that with this subject of piety there is no sure guarantee that inspiration and/or motivation will strike. But I have always been a better writer under the building pressure of a deadline. Also, I find that, for me, sometimes procrastinating isn’t necessarily a putting off or shirking of responsibilities. I am the kind of person who will allow someone to walk away from an argument and I would expect to be given the same respect from my opponent, to clear our heads and cool down, if you will. This is what my relationship has been like with Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, filled with more hate than love, actually.

So, here are my lightened photographs of Saint Augustine, Florida – one of my favorite cities in the world and aptly named after Augustine of Hippo, who many Protestants and Calvinists consider to be one of the theological fathers of the Protestant Reformation. Would you believe I had no clue of the connection between my photos, this city, and my research paper until I wrote this last paragraph? I find this a bit odd, if not entirely ironic, that even while trying to clear my mind of all things Catholic and Protestant, there never really was any chance of escape.

Nicely played, Augustine. Nicely played.

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Flagler College (the former Ponce de Leon hotel)

St. Augustine Lighthouse

looking up at the St. Augustine lighthouse

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Castillo de San Marco

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Crescent Beach

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St. Augustine Beach

Good morning!

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gorgeous hibiscus

(I do know that the Enlightenment happened after the Reformation/Counter-Reformation, but it was a huge influence on the period and really…I just couldn’t help myself with that title.)

Loud City, Quiet City

Last night, after a delicious pizza dinner at Upper Crust surrounded by Chesapeake’s holiday lights (I wish I had taken pictures of those!), we all headed downtown to watch the Oklahoma City Thunder take down the Dallas Mavericks in a very exciting overtime win. I had read the articles and heard all about the Thunder Love in this city, about how Kevin Durant is the nicest guy in the league, and that Oklahoma City puts most other NBA cities to shame with their team support, but none of that could have prepared me for the sheer energy I felt in that arena.

One of the things I miss most about home is the connection I have with my community and my neighbors, that thread that ties me to others and makes me feel like I’m a part of something bigger. The Oklahoma City Thunder has filled that gap, people. Sitting way up there in Loud City, I was cheering and hollering with tens of thousands of like-minded Thunder fans and I can’t wait to go do it again.

After the game, the three of us walked the longer, more scenic route to our parked car and enjoyed some of downtown Oklahoma City’s festive holiday lights. I have no idea where we were exactly, but I have learned to use the Devon Tower, the tallest building in Oklahoma, as a land-based North Star of sorts, as it can even be seen from miles outside of the city.

In this quiet, peaceful park at night, somewhere between the Devon Tower and the Crystal Bridge, we talked about how great the evening had been and watched a bunny scamper across the snow-covered grass as it was being chased by a small stray cat. Elle finally got to take part in her very first snowball fight.

Devon Tower

Crystal Bridge

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downtown OKC

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Crystal Bridge

A Year’s Worth of Travel Stories

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sunrise over Gascozark, Missouri

It recently dawned on me that last year, almost exactly around this same time, I was packing our suitcases and preparing for a daunting 2,200-mile driving adventure across the country so we could all be together and spend Thanksgiving at Matt’s house in Oklahoma.

We are going to spend Thanksgiving in Oklahoma this year, too, but now it’s our house.  (The three of us also have a sixteen-pound turkey for our holiday dinner, about which I’ll probably write in a separate blog post. Actually, a sixteen-pounder might even be deserving of his own blog.)

I am in no hurry to get back on the road again, as much as I miss Florida, but our suitcases have seen plenty of action since last Thanksgiving: Orangeburg, South Carolina; Saint Augustine, Florida; Jekyll Island, Georgia; and all the cities in between Jacksonville and Oklahoma City that served as home for a single night as we drove back and forth.

Jackson, Mississippi, you are certainly charming in the summertime. And I can’t wait until Vicksburg is a destination, not a halfway point, so I can go play photographer out in the battlefields with all the other history nerds.

Mississippi River in Vicksburg, MS

Mississippi River in Vicksburg, MS

Memphis, New Orleans, Mobile, and Little Rock. Dallas, Baton Rouge, Pensacola, and Atlanta. All the places that I have seen or driven through in the past twelve months. And let’s not forget Indianapolis, Springfield, St. Louis, and all my beloved Mississippi River crossings (six and counting!).

It’s been a good year.

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St. Louis Arch accompanied by some inner city graffiti.

A Partial Hometown Tour of Jacksonville (Gangnam Style)

A few comments about this video:

00:14 – That’s the Jacksonville Beach Pier. After two of its wood-built predecessors (the original and the replacement pier) were either destroyed or heavily damaged by a few different hurricanes and tropical storms (Floyd, Fay, and Bonnie), the city finally decided to build one with concrete pillars.

00:22 – Everbank Field, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

00:47 – Matt and I had our first date here at River City Brewing Company and dinner with my friends and family when we celebrated getting married. That’s the Main Street Bridge in the background where we also walked on our first date. Dawww, sentimentality.

01:11 – I have a bone to pick with this shot. Never in all my attempts to drive through the St. Johns Town Center have I seen such clearer traffic and better behaved drivers. It’s not about the cop, either. Town Center drivers are usually assholes. I’m impressed by whatever power has been yielded over these Town Center shoppers. Truly, truly impressed.

02:32 – Friendship Fountain was finally cleaned up (thanks, city tax dollars!) and it’s beautiful at night. The fountain changes colors and music plays around the park with the Main Street Bridge lit up in the background. It’s where we held an impromptu photo shoot with our aforementioned wedding celebration peeps. The photos didn’t come out very well though, because unfortunately nobody who attended our dinner was a photographer or even knew how to take photographs at night. Ooops. But here’s my best attempt at such a picture:

downtown Jacksonville, Friendship Fountain

Friendship Fountain & Main Street Bridge

02:51 & final scene – Shahid Khan, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, is the guy wearing the white shirt and that awesome ‘stache! He’s a Pakistani-born American businessman, not a terrorist as some bigots originally tried to have us all to believe. There are more Arabs in Jacksonville than most people probably realize so I think it’s time America just got the f*** over the whole “all Arabs are terrorists” thing.

I’m not sure when I’ll be going back to Jacksonville (important decisions are being made on November 6th and I’m not talking about the election, folks!), but it’ll be my first time back since July. Although it doesn’t look like much has changed, except the Jaguars are actually losing more games this NFL season, I am so eager to return! Oh, but gaaawwwd the drive…

Mayport shrimp? Fernandina Beach’s salty air? Tangerines from our backyard citrus trees? YES, PLEASE. Also, I’ve made a deal with my mother in which she will send me as much citrus as possible (grapefruits, valencias, and tangerines) in return for the pecans that are raining down from our Oklahoma backyard’s trees.