THE BIRDS

The Great Florida Birding Trail is a statewide program that winds 2,000 miles along Florida’s highway system and that connects almost 500 birding sites.  The sites are all accessible from the highways and are sometimes in very remote areas, so remote that I’d advise that a lone female might not want to venture them alone.

Closer in, Gainesville has the excellent Palm Point Park birding site that juts out into Newnan’s Lake.  Palm Point isn’t much of a park; there’s a short trail out to the water that ends in a clearing with a bench.  It’s a popular area for fishing (catfish) as well as for birding.

Any time I’ve visited, the skies and trees have been full of vultures.  Perhaps someone more familiar with birds can tell me why, for instance, Newnan’s Lake is so popular with these scavenger birds and yet Lake Lochloosa is not. I thought it had to do with people fishing, but I just spent an afternoon around Orange Lake and Lake Lochloosa and I saw none of them.

We went to Palm Point over the weekend with the idea that we might photograph some birds, a subject in which neither Mr. B. nor I has any experience.  We had some idea that it might be analogous to shooting skeet, and it turned out that this was not far off the mark.

Over two days, we spent a few hours sitting or standing along the shoreline of Newnan’s Lake, a gorgeous body of water on whose banks have been found Indian dugout canoe artifacts that may be as many as 5,000 years old.  The lake’s glassine water belies that fact that it is home–as potentially is any body of water in Florida–to alligators.  Most anywhere else, Newnan’s would be an excellent swimming lake.

It is also home to cottonmouths, something well known to the local fishermen.  One young father warned two tots to stay close, because they “didn’t want to get bit none.”  For my own part, I carefully watched where I stepped as I approached the water’s edge, mindful of cottonmouth-friendly vegetation along the banks.

Mr. B., ever more game for adventure, sat on a waterside log and balanced on a few stones that led out into the water.

We immediately noticed a blue heron posed on a clump of vegetation thirty or so feet out into the water.  Over the course of two days, we would come to see that this bird “owns” this spot; it chased other birds off and its presence deterred other birds that swooped in for a look.   A lot of our time was spent watching this bird for signals that it might fly.

Also at the lake were ibis.  These stood on a dead tree that jutted off the bank.  I was not able to identify other birds and will admit that this was out of sheer laziness and a latent fear of misidentification.

Through sheer luck, and on the advice of a professional photographer who urged me to up my ISO to 500, I got some acceptable pictures of birds in flight.  I realized that I rather liked this sport–shooting, as it were–and will attest to its difficulty.  If a bird is nearby and you can watch it, you can have your focus ready to go when it takes flight.  If it is streaking across the sky and comes out of nowhere, though, good luck getting your camera to focus on it before it is gone.  This was repeatedly frustrating, as was autofocus that did not understand that the moving brown blob was something upon which one wanted to focus.  Manual focus was worse; I am all thumbs and could not twist double rings in time to get anything acceptable.  Because of these limitations, I consider myself lucky to have gotten the following.  In each of these cases, the bird had been standing nearby and I’d been watching it prior to it flying.

Mr. B. and I had so much fun “shooting” birds that we spent the whole weekend doing it.  It was the most frustrating and rewarding thing I’ve done in a long time–Asian Festival aside–and I can’t wait to do it again.

Today and tomorrow, it’s all about the birds, except when it’s about the vista and an armadillo.

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THE PEOPLE OF ORLANDO JAPAN FESTIVAL

The Orlando Japan Festival is an annual event held in the fall at the Village at Hunter’s Creek shopping/commercial center.  Mr. B. and I visited the festival to make contact with a performer whom we have our eye on for our 2011 event and to see how another festival is organized.

It soon became clear that we do not share a type of attendee with the Japan Festival.  The crowd at the Japan Festival was–surprise!–full of Japanese.  Our festival attracts few Japanese and Gainesville in general has a small Japanese population.

The Japan Festival crowd was also full of Caucasian teens who’d like to be Japanese but are not.  This is a mirror of present-day Japanese Cosplay culture and it seemed tremendously popular and not so out of place when Disney is just down the road.

Another difference was in type and style of vendor.  At the Japan Festival, vendors tore open boxes of “cute” merchandise that appeals to the anime/manga crowds and sold it nearly straight from the box, so quickly that the boxes were hurriedly tossed to the back of the stall.  They sold dolls, comic books, tea cups, and small paper fans.  At our festival, people sometimes have to be coaxed into purchasing, however that occurs, and we wouldn’t permit empty boxes to be stacked in the back of a booth.  Our top seller this year was a fellow from Tallahassee who had clever wooden puzzles that he encouraged people to play with before purchasing.  Some work, in other words, had to go into making the sale.  I saw this repeated with other of our vendors, whether it was tea-sampling or more hands-on activity.  At the Japan Festival, people crowded booths in a rush to purchase gizmos.  I’d not taken a look a Japanese pop culture in 15 or so years and I was reminded of the Sailor Moon craze of the mid-nineties.  It would be interesting to see what would happen if we were to bring a big anime/manga vendor into our show, but I still don’t think we have the right crowd to support it.

I think it is safe to say that there was nothing like Cosplay when I was growing up.  Alienated youth–or at least youth who were not satisfied with suburban culture–hung around at the bowling alley and smoked cigarettes.  They may have listened, a few years later, to the Ramones instead of to Hall and Oates.  As young working adults, they struggled to coexist alongside Yuppies.  At no time was there an adoption of another culture, or of the customs or fashions of another culture. 

The Cosplay kids can be contrasted to the adults who just hung out in a karate jacket, baring chest hair.  There were a few of those on hand, as there were people with huge expensive cameras strung around their necks.  I always wonder what happens to the pictures these people take.  Are they all blurry and out of focus? Do they end up, as do mine, on the Internet?  I now feel part of a camera subculture, even if I have the bare minimum equipment to participate.  It’s easy to talk to these people, especially if you stick within your own group (Nikon vs. Canon).  Eyes glaze over wildly with talk of the 20K spent on the latest rig, and yet none of these people has been a professional photographer.  I met one fellow whose flash housing looked like support for someone who had broken his back in several places.  I suppose it is analogous to a car or motorcycle hobby, although there seem to be an awful lot of Maseratis out there recently.  I like that people step up to the major leagues with such speed and confidence. I like that quite a lot, even if the results leave a lot to be desired.

SCENES FROM THE ST. JOHN’S

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I had never been to Florida when I moved here in June of 2008.  I’d been to parts of the South–North and South Carolina beaches–but nowhere else.  While I didn’t expect that all of Florida would look like a scene from Miami Vice, I did expect that it would look like Orlando.  Orlando, with its big suburban sprawl, was how I pictured Florida to be.  This assumption was made with the eye of a Californian, since that is how California was for me.  California, for those who have not visited, can be one massive residential tract.  Los Angeles is like that, and the cities of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose are fast becoming one. I’d looked for Orlando rentals while still living in California and the two places looked similar.  I thought I had a good handle on Florida…until I crossed the state line.

I quickly learned that Gainesville had little for a downtown and that it served as a hub for a large rural area.  Bit by bit, it dawned on me that Gainesville was the “real” Florida and Orlando was not.  More of Florida was like Gainesville and its outlying rural or swampy tracts than was not.  This was especially true in the North Central part of the state and in the Panhandle.  The separation of “real” versus “not real” Florida became more than just “natural” versus “manmade.”  It was a cultural distinction, an intellectual distinction, a sociological distinction, and an economic distinction.  How you defined Florida depended on what you expected to get from it and whether you lived in it.  Florida sold its oranges, its sunshine, and its beaches to the tourist industry long ago; later, it sold its man-made amusements.   It did not sell its eye-popping vegetation, its fresh water, and its wildlife.  Those became part of the “real” Florida, where most tourists–or at least generic tourism–didn’t venture.

I’ve long maintained that in order to appreciate the part of the state I live in, you have to get outside.  This is especially true if you come from a large city and expect to find a similar array of diversions and ways to spend money on luxury items.  This part of Florida is full of small towns that don’t look like much and are too small for a Publix, but around the corner from that pokey little local market may be a natural paradise full of bugs, reptiles, flowers, and birds, thriving in the acid-green of a Florida summer.  Ravines, a crumbling park that is a fine example of WPA work, is enclosed on all sides by a rundown part of Palatka. Hontoon Island is another case in point:  It’s little changed from prehistoric times, although some interesting logging industry scars remain on the trees.   Hontoon Island is located near Deland, a visually unexciting place that happens to be located right by the spectacularly beautiful Blue Springs and the St. John’s River.  Again, here was the “real” Florida that tourists presumably don’t see and the “real” Florida originally developed by Indians and in some instances hardly touched since that time. 

There are amazing places all over Florida, many of them with the same type of inhospitable wildlife one would find in Australia and all the more “real” for the ability to encroach upon its territory.  We saw little of peril on the Blue Heron River Tour, but this was largely because of the cold weather. That was fine; I am in danger of falling into the “seen one, seen ’em all” Florida alligator mentality. This mentality coexists with a “mine is bigger than yours” response from people who have walked the La Chua Trail in February.

 Here are the remainder of my pictures from the St. John’s River tour.

BLUE HERON RIVER TOURS

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A few weeks ago, Mr. B. and I hiked around Hontoon Island State Park, an outing made memorable not by the park but by a park ranger who inconsiderately sped by us in Jeep as we hiked along the road, kicking up a cloud of dust that hit us full force in the face.  After we’d taken the short ferry ride back to the parking lot, we investigated nearby Hontoon Landing Resort and Marina.  The Resort has a small motel and attractive riverfront acreage.

What really caught our eye about the Resort was a pontoon boot we saw headed off on an afternoon tour.  We missed the boat that time, so we went into the office to ask about the tours.  There, we saw a flyer advertising a nature photography cruise that would take place the day before Mr. B.’s 58th birthday.

I signed us up the next day.

The pontoon boat belongs to Blue Heron River Tours, a new company that has been in business just since September.  We took the three-hour special trip on Saturday and it was nothing short of spectacular.

Readers will recognize that I have had a bit of trepidation about kayaking or canoeing, while at the same time wanting to get away from the shoreline and out onto the water.  A pontoon boat is about my speed and the large, custom-built Blue Heron boat (seating 49) was as comfortable a craft as I could have imagined.  The ride is stable and secure, and Captain Gary Randlett put me immediately at ease with his obvious concern about his passengers’ comfort and security.  Bravo! I am, after all, the person who skipped off a glass-bottomed boat at Silver Springs six months ago.

 Capt. Gary piloted us around the nine-mile perimeter of Hontoon Island on the St. John’s and Dead Rivers, pointing out the abundant wildlife with expert knowledge and attention.  The friendly Capt. knows his stuff–his main business is eco-touring–and he knows his waterways.   We learned about the history of the area, the use of the waterways, the wildlife, and the vegetation, all while we snapped away at a variety of birds that the Capt. expertly identified.  Nature photographer Nick Saum gave each of us a folder outlining some photography basics, including the types of photos not to submit to stock photo companies.  Mr. B. and I have had issues freezing motion with flying birds, and on this trip we would have ample opportunities to rectify that.

Also along for the ride was Capt. Randlett’s wife Joan and a friend who was hoping to see a manatee.  Other than this, we had the gorgeous boat to ourselves.  That’s not a good thing; it means business is slow and that Mr. B. and I were the only paying customers on this junket.

Opportunities for photography were superb. I will let my pictures attest to that.  Both Mr. B. and I finally froze a flying bird, although the hows and whys of this feat are lost to memory.  The colors on and around the river were gloriously saturated and Capt. Randlett made sure to let us know that he would take his time and heed our preferences; if we wanted to back up to see an alligator, he’d do it.  As we slowly cruised around the island, we saw American Black Vultures, Limpkins, Red-Shouldered Hawks, Black-Crowned Night Heron, Ibis, Grebes, and the American Bald Eagle.  This last bird soared above our heads before perching atop a dead tree that rose high above the landscape.  The three hours passed in a flash, although towards the end of the tour the unseasonable chill had me wishing that I’d brought along gloves and a Thermos of hot black tea.  Both Mr. B. and I felt the trip was exceptional.  It set us back a whopping $35.00 each.  I’d easily have paid double.

Blue Heron runs a daily two-hour eco-tour at 10 and at 1, with special thematic cruises and “high season” cruises in addition.  The Randletts are committed to educating guests about the “Real Florida.”  There is no finer way to see this state than by fresh water; it is the lakes, the ponds, and the rivers that give us the true Florida profile.  I left the tour impressed and eager to share my experience; for those of us who do not take to the waterways in shallow plastic craft a tour like Blue Heron provides is a real bonanza.  I felt able to appreciate and enjoy a part of Florida that had not been accessible to me before this.  I’m pretty fussy–ask Mr. B.–and I was happy with the craft and not in the least concerned when Capt. Randlett did the usual safety rundown.  I didn’t have visions of flaming engines and scuttled craft while the passengers tried to outswim monster alligators…my imagination might work overtime but it was obvious that Blue Heron is a class act.

For the month of December, Blue Heron offers a Christmas Lights Cruise on Dec.  3, 4, 10, 11, 17, and 18 from 4:30-6:30 PM.  If you go, deck the halls in your best Gore-Tex.  With a bit of advance planning, the weather isn’t an issue. 

The boat offers ADA accessibility and a “marine head.”  Everything that can be done to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable tour has been.

Blue Heron River Tours:  ***** Recommended without reservation

Today and tomorrow:  My pictures, taken with a Nikon D5000 with a 70-300 VR telephoto lens.  In a couple of instances, I show the whole photo and then crop it.


THE WICKED WIND OF THE WEST

The same wind from the west that kept the Space Shuttle Discovery from launching on Thursday kept Mr. B. and me driving around Alachua County in circles, looking for a break in the weather.  We planned to hike in O’Leno State Park, to follow a trail to where the river flows underground and then reemerges three miles later, but as soon as we set out, the skies opened up.

We had to make a preliminary stop at a feed store to buy scratch corn for Mr. B’s rooster.  The clouds were building up as we left the store, and by the time the slightly angry looking bird emerged from his hiding place under a hedge the clouds started spitting rain.  I ran off a few photos of the bird in his magnificent autumnal plumage and then Mr. B. and I spent the next few hours circling underneath the foamy, low-lying storm.

This lack of action made me realize that there isn’t much to do in Alachua County on a rainy day.  Lest this become a damning statement of ignorance, take into account that it might actually reveal a total lack of creativity on my part.  Or the truth might be that I am so used to Florida’s near-constant sunshine that an absence of it threw me into confusion and panic, not wanting to take Mr. B. to the Oaks Mall or worse, to Butler Plaza, and not wanting to sit chilled in a movie theatre in which I would inevitably fall asleep.  It’s the type of time where I wish I had a skill like drawing, or sculpting bronzes, or for building elaborate LEGO recreations of Bavarian castles.

We’d intended to drive south to get as close as we could to the shuttle launch, taking into account that this was probably a foolhardy idea.  Months ago, I signed up for the ticket lottery, but I’d not been selected to receive the chance to purchase a ticket to park on the NASA causeway.  We thought it might be fun to get a nearby motel room, but those sold out early and cost more than we wanted to pay for a slice of motel mediocrity.  This left braving Titusville by car, with the understanding that it is recommended to arrive at an ungodly hour and then to sit through the launch and the post-launch traffic tangle and standstill.  We still weren’t sure that we wanted to do this when the launch was cancelled due to the approaching storm.  When I learned of the delay, I went back to bed and ought to have stayed there.  The day ended with us at Best Buy, buying me a new printer when a cartridge exploded in my old one as I attempted to print out a return form for a camera lens, received today, that didn’t work with my camera and resulted in pictures as unfocused as the day itself had been.

SNAKEY TRAILS TO YOU

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Back in the heat of summer, Mr. B. and I took a river trail through the Silver River State Park in Ocala.  The trail was one of those easy lopes that the serious hiker would likely find laughable and that I found doable, until I ran into a yellow rat snake as I tiptoed through a grassy section.  It was the only time I’ve seen a snake on a trail, yet it made me backburner the park’s other trails until I could start wearing my heavy-duty hiking boots again.

Now that summer is just an overheated memory, I suggested to Mr. B. that we try the swamp trail in Silver River.  It’s 1.9 miles roundtrip and it ends in a boardwalk.  The river trail we’d taken earlier was really nothing more than a path to a kayak launch.  The swamp trail turned out to be a decent hike along a leaf-covered path of various widths.  Now here is where a year makes a huge difference:  I marched on ahead on Mr. B.  I marched quite a bit ahead of Mr. B., because Mr. B. was fiddling with his camera, trying to find the auto-bracketing function.  I marched so far ahead of Mr. B. that when I called out “Hello?” into the dense hardwood hammock I heard a thready little “Hello!” back.

The trail came to a boardwalk that crossed a nice little swamp, no doubt home to cheerful cottonmouth families and snap-happy alligators.  I realized as we walked deeper into the woods that my fear of reptiles had been replaced by a fear of coyotes.  This was due to a front page article in the Gainesville Sun that warned of the coyotes’ presence within Gainesville city limits; the article reawakened a dormant fear of mountain lions I’d had since the days when I used to live in California canyons.  The lions were a real threat in two of my old neighborhoods and on the trails in the hills above my house.  For whatever reason, mention of coyotes reminded me of living in the canyons and of smelling the mountain lion’s distinct whiff of civet.  I recalled how I smelled this civet one night as I walked up the hill to my home; it was a hot and feral smell that made me wonder how far away the cat was from me as I brushed past a clump of bushes.

The Silver River is a glorious waterway fed by the artesian spring at Silver Springs tourist attraction.  It is home to large alligators, a variety of birds, and wild Rhesus monkeys.  It’s a prime spot for kayaking and boats can be rented at the State Park.

At the end of the trail, we stood on the boardwalk over the edge of the river and listened to thumps from the woods–things falling, I imagine–and experimented with our cameras.  We’d arrived a beautiful and remote spot where we encountered only one other couple, and then we had the spot to ourselves.  Small fish swam in the reedy waters beneath and Great Blue Herons waded or flew by.  The Asian Festival and its stresses seemed months, not weeks, behind us, although we did get around to speculating on what to do with certain areas next year.  That’s the secret to our success:  We spend a year talking the thing out in an unhurried manner.

We walked back on a different trail, and as we neared the parking lot I spied a small sign advising that the very venomous Eastern Coral Snake inhabited the woods.  Well, no kidding.  Thanks for the gentle reminder, a far cry from the one around the corner from my house at Kanapaha Park that makes it seem almost a fait accompli to tread on a cottonmouth.  I took a picture of the sign and then we walked back to my car, admiring some rubber matting that looked like bark in a children’s play area and happy to have the leisure time to do so.

GHOSTBUSTERS

A couple of weeks ago, my pal the singer/songwriter Gregg McMillan posted an eerie photo taken in the old cemetery in Micanopy. General consensus was that there was something slightly off about the photo, even if what was off was wispy and somewhat indistinct.

If there is something haunted in Northern Florida, it’s likely in Micanopy, a historic town that dates from 1821 and that is today known as a waypost on the tourist trail.  In addition, Micanopy is full of Cracker architecture and the types of construction should please any fan of this genre.  Those with a liking for the Southern Gothic will find much to admire in the canopied streets with abundant Spanish moss decoration.  Micanopy looks like a picture-postcard rural Southern town and as a result was used as a stand-in for hinterland South Carolina in the film Doc Hollywood

I walked around town, avoiding the antiques stores that had signs admonishing eating, drinking, and picture-taking.  Instead, I focused on photographing buildings.  The annual Fall Festival had taken place the day before, yet there were no signs of that event. The liveliest thing I saw was a small terrier yapping outside one of the stores.  I circled down past the Herlong Mansion (now a bed-and-breakfast) towards the library and then I came back up to the center of town.  The day was a perfect Florida autumn day and a short gust of wind even blew a handful of dead leaves across the street.  Eventually, I headed over to the cemetery, but the most terrifying thing I saw was some thuggish-looking local youths headed for the same destination.  For all I know they might have attired themselves at the mall and were merely fashion thugs, but I didn’t suppose I’d want to try ghostbusting on their turf after dark.

Micanopy has a vibe, and if you’re not into vibes you won’t know what I mean.  It’s in the way the vines wrap around the power lines and in the way the trees block the sky.  It’s one of those places–Virginia City is another–where you can just about see the parallel plane. It’s a great place to hang out for an afternoon, although it could use a good pub.   Antiquers should note that there is a large Smiley’s just off the Micanopy exit on I-75, but be advised that Smiley’s has a militant and hostile attitude towards purses and insists that they be locked up in a stand of metal lockers before you are allowed to browse.  Since I haven’t quite gotten the hang of antiquing, I cannot offer any further observations other than to say that there appear to be procedures, practices, and protocols to the experience that are beyond my comprehension.  I’m afraid to ask if I might photograph in one of the stores, lest I have missed a sign the size of a 3 x 5 index card that prohibits the activity.  Antiquers should note that Micanopy is a major stop on the trail and that bargains/finds aren’t left hanging around for the novice.  This isn’t the place to find inexpensive Tiffany lamps or a silver-tipped walking cane belonging to Andrew Jackson.  It is a place to observe the antiquer at his avocation, his pickup truck waiting at the curb and already full of a creaky old rocking chair, a dented stove, and a set of andirons.

Micanopy:  **** (fifth star not awarded for lack of pub and for lack of obvious restroom facilities–these you must hunt down)

RANDOM ROADSIDE HALLOWEEN

It appears that I have some very creative neighbors, all of whom have fed into the “Halloween is the new Christmas” school of decoration.  Two of these have seasonal competitions, or so it appears, for top decorating honors.

The winner is the neighbor who strung the evil clown from the tree.  Would your parents have done this?  I didn’t think so.  Any child who is not already terrified of clowns will be so traumatized by encountering this one that the mere mention of candy corn or trick or treat will cause lifelong post-traumatic stress disorder.

In deciding which decorations to photograph and which houses had the very best in Halloween display, I ruled out any that used lights that were purple, pink, or blue.  Some neighbors seemed confused; one wrapped his porch in teal-colored lights and another had a doorway rimmed in purple and pink. This is not acceptable and is almost a misdemeanor in my estimation.  It is better to go without illuminations than to stubbornly use the wrong color when a string of orange lights can be had at Dollar General for $3.99.  Displaying out-of-season colors says nothing more than that you are cheap and that you are probably doling out a single stingy piece of candy per grabby little hand.  You can make up for this lack of decorating know-how by giving a dollar to every child who rings the bell.  If you think this is out of line, consider that I had a neighbor who gave every child five dollars…in 1968.

This year’s big decoration is a Wicked West of the West that comes as separate pieces that are then stuck into the ground.  I have no idea if the Witch is new this year, but several people have her half-buried in their lawns.  Where I saw the Witch, I had to take away a point for ubiquity.  There is no telling who was first to have it, so all lose.

The more, the better is the watchword for decorations in my neighborhood.  In many instances, Halloween eclipses Christmas.  The Witch shares a lawn with a ghost, with Frankenstein, with Beetlejuice, with illuminated spiderwebs, cobwebs, and with Eddie Munster.  I noticed one house that had displays both outside and in; this house also had duo strobe lights lighting up a Dracula that had been placed in a dining room window.  How many  hobgoblins and monsters to hang from gutters seemed to have been done by simple algebra:  If three feet separate each large monster and two feet separate each small one, how many assorted hobgoblins and monsters can a homeowner hang up on a house whose length measures forty-seven feet and whose display must contain at least four large monsters?

The town of Newberry went for a harvest theme, courtesy of the local 4-H club.  This was similar to the harvest scarecrow display in St. Mary’s, Georgia, but since several of the scarecrows used pumpkins for heads, I counted it as Halloween decoration.  The rag-doll scarecrows that seem to be popping up all over the place are not Halloween decoration to me and I am not including them.  They do not speak of any holiday in particular although they do a neat job of spanning the entire autumn season up until Thanksgiving, when county law requires that they must be replaced by a turkey or a fine will be issued in the amount of $468.00.

And then it is Christmas.  But for this weekend, Happy Halloween, moonbeams!

FLORIDA BOTANICA

The last time I looked up, it was August.  Now, I open my mailbox to holiday catalogues.  I have just received the Victoria’s Secret catalogue, which per tradition features a diamond-studded bra (cost, a very sparkly two million).  The “Bombshell Fantasy” bra isn’t decorating the cover of the catalogue, though.   It usually is, but this year it’s been sent back to page 13, as if it were a commonplace Miracle bra.  It must have something to do with the economy:  the annual Fantasy bra is already becoming more affordable, down from a high sticker of 6.5 million for the 2006 bra.  Removing it from the cover removes any offending holier-than-titty attitude from this most democratic of mall-borne lingerie stores. 

If you cannot afford the annual novelty bra, the catalogue suggests the cover bra, a $250.00 item that features Swarovski Elements instead of real gems.  The Elements are pink glass crystals that are dotted all over the bra, which, like the Fantasy bra, is guaranteed to add two full cup sizes to your measurements.

I think it is very responsible and, dare I say it, admirable, of Victoria’s Secret to feature a $250.00 bra on the cover of its famous Christmas catalogue when it might have thrown that two million dollar number out there to make us all feel poor and wretched this holiday season.  Is Neiman Marcus, another retailer famous for its outlandishly priced Christmas gifts, going to put a humble pair of $200.00 slippers on its Christmas book cover this year?  Of course not.  You may not know this, but sales of luxury items are somewhat strong.  While everything from snack crackers to American-made cars are taking a huge hit, women are spending fifty dollars on a French lipstick.  This is because there is still money somewhere in the world that is not America and because we are never quite able not to fall victim to the idea of exclusivity and prestige.

Since I suspect that most, if not all, of my readers are cash-conscious, I offer you some things you can get for nothing or for next-to-nothing in Florida and which may not be found in holiday catalogues. 

Never turn a blind eye in Florida.  The best things in life, and in this state, are free.