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When at the end of June Tina started a job at a boarding facility for animals I didn’t realise that as well as paying customers she’d be looking after dogs in the care of the RSPCA. It was probably inevitable then that she would eventually fall for a rescue dog. We had discussed getting a dog in the past and arrived at the conclusion that with cats and both of us potentially working, it would be unfair to introduce a dog into our family.

However a 7 months old male Whippet-Cross, named Thorn by the RSPCA, captured Tina’s heart. This was a special dog she claimed, a gentle soul perfect for our family. He’d even been taken past cats to gauge his reaction, and passed the test. He was not interested, and a hiss from one angry feline saw him cower behind his handler’s legs. She begged me to let us adopt him.

I was still unconvinced. Tina’s job allows staff to take their animals to work with them for free day care which solved one of the problems, but I was worried about Hadley’s and Molly’s reaction to sharing their house with a dog. However seeing how much it meant to Tina I agree to meet Thorn one evening when I collected her from work. I was smitten. He put on a good show, if anything more pleased to see me than Tina. Clearly affectionate, he did have a calmness about him that I didn’t expect. I agreed to return the following day for an official viewing appointment. We went on a walk together, and as a novice I was petrified, and horrified when given a bag to collect any potential poop. Thankfully it was not needed, and Thorn behaved very well, showing no signs of the issues that sadly often beset a rescue dog.

By this stage my stance was faltering. I was falling for this dog too. I agreed to a 24 hour trial, taking a day off to bring Thorn home to see how he would settle. He did well, and a week ago today we signed his adoption papers and Bevan (as he is now known) became a part of the family. It may have been Tina who wanted this dog, but he seems to prefer me. He follows me around and misses me when I leave the room. Already there is trust and unconditional love. I have enjoyed the time we spend together, walks are not a chore as I feared, but relaxing and pleasurable. I am no longer in fear of the poop scooping bag but proficient in its use! Everywhere Bevan goes he received compliments from dog walkers and passers-by alike. I think we do have a special dog, and in honour of his first week with us here are some photos.

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Last sight of Jacksonville, the airport window mural It is hard to believe but it was one year ago today that I last set foot on American soil. One of the last things I saw of Jacksonville was the graphic on the airport window shown here and so it seemed a suitable header for this post. I had been over in the USA again to break up the seven months of separation that Tina and I faced before she arrived in the UK, to take over evidence for her visa application, and to help its completion. This final visit was bitter-sweet. It was wonderful to see Tina, the boys, cats and her family again, and good to know that while still a few months away, the next time we saw each other would be over here ready to start a life together. Yet it was sad to say goodbye to an area that had provided great friendships, and had been a happy home for six months in 2009. There was the uncertainty of when I might see Jacksonville Beach again.

The “Shack”, as we called the apartment on 10th Avenue North in Jacksonville Beach, looked a forlorn shadow of its former self, many of Tina’s possessions now packed away ready to travel back with me. During this final visit I took a lot of video footage of that place and made it into a short film, a record of what was our first home together. It was a poignant moment when I set off for the airport from it for the last time. There are times when I miss it, times when I have a flashback, and I hear the breeze through the window blinds, the swish of palms trees swaying outside, and the comforting creak of the front door as it closed behind you. Having the ocean so close was something we never tired of or took for granted, and I certainly benefited from the warm climate and near guaranteed several hours of sunshine throughout the year. In the last few months I have taken up cycling to work. While the weather and environs bear no resemblance to Jacksonville Beach whatsoever, and I don’t envisage ever travelling to work in shorts, t-shirt, and flip flops, I pull up at the bike locker at my workplace and it reminds me so often of locking my bike in the rack behind the Shack having just done a grocery run. I’m transported back there.

Another important thing that six months in the Shack gave me was friendship. Living in that apartment block and having the communal garden at the front introduced me to many great people who shared the residence and became part of my life there. Life is good for Joey and Agent FangI miss them all but the two main characters of the piece were Joey and Michael, and I confess that I haven’t kept in touch as much as I’d have liked or should have done. That’s something I need to work on, and can only apologise for. Joey’s occasional emails are no substitute for the amusing notes under the door and the banter that followed, while Michael’s thoughtfulness and generosity were matched by his fine company up the Ritz bar as we supped $2 beers. I hope one day they might visit here so I can return the hospitality.

But overall I’m not sure I could have taken to life in the USA. Their concept of society is far more individualistic than here, and other than the weather and close proximity to the beach, Tina and I felt we would have a better quality of life in the UK. It was for that reason that on 15th July 2010 Tina and two of her boys arrived at Manchester Airport complete with nine suitcases and the important Fiancee Visa. Hadley and Molly cats had arrived in the UK a couple of weeks before, enduring a transatlantic trip and a near four hour drive from Heathrow. Initially frazzled by this ordeal, by the time Tina and the boys arrived the cats were settling in and seemed happy with their new home. The boys were soon settling in too and making friends in the back streets. We made some day trips to the Lake District, Wales and the east coast, and eventually got them into local schools.

The main event of 2010 though was of course at 4pm on Wednesday 8th September when Tina and I married at Temple Newsam House in Leeds, and had an exceptional reception at the Queens Hotel. I have to say that going drinking the night before with the Best Man, Maid of Honour, and Tina’s nephew Joey was not ideal preparation for the big day. I felt decidedly unwell until around 2pm, and was still writing my speech at midday. The Happy Couple - photo by S Finney Putting on the suit was an epic struggle, and the journey to Temple Newsam was a tad fraught, arriving about 15 minutes before kick off, and only a few minutes before the bride! Still it left little time for nerves, the service went perfectly, and we had such a glorious location for our photographs. We were joined too by wonderful guests; family and friends, including Tina’s Mum, Dad, Step-Dad, eldest son, nephew and best friend Paula. All who attended contributed to an amazing day, one I shall never forget. But there was no rest for the newly married couple as the following day we hired a mini-bus to take the American contingent to my parents’ house to see the area I was raised (cut short by a huge tail backs on the M6), then the next day we took a tour of the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District. We squeezed in a trip on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway and an afternoon in Howarth before the last of the American party left these shores, and I returned to work the next day completely knackered and in need of another holiday! (Alas my next decent holiday actually came almost six months later).

It’s been a year of other firsts. First family Christmas all together in Leeds. The first time the boys have seen snow. The first Valentine’s Day Tina and have actually spent together. Thankfully another stressful application form and visit to the UK Border Agency in Sheffield ended well, Tina and the boys being granted an “extended leave to remain” residency permit, allowing them another two years in the UK, and permission for Tina to work.

Away from the personal life things have got busy in my political life. Discussions started in October about forming a city wide Leeds Green Party. As someone who had the trust of both Farnley & Wortley and Headingley Green parties I was asked to be Acting Chairperson while these meetings took place. After some deliberation over the new party’s constitution, we eventually held the Inaugural Meeting of the Leeds Green Party on 24th February 2011. I had the honour of being elected to the position Coordinator & Chairperson, a member of the Executive Committee. It’s currently all hands to the pump as local elections approach, aiming to retain one the Green councillors, and add some more if possible. Once the elections are over I am looking forward to helping the Leeds Green Party progress, get involved with campaigning, and recruiting new members to the cause. Caroline Lucas Green Party Leader and IA couple of days before the Inaugural Meeting I attended a photo opportunity arranged by Cllr Ann Blackburn with Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas, as she passed through Leeds on her way to an event in Huddersfield. I was the “photographer”, but had the unexpected privilege of travelling to Huddersfield with Caroline, which included an opportunity to speak to her alone for quite a while before the train arrived. From watching TV appearances I suspected that Caroline would be approachable and without “airs and graces”, but you never know whether a party leader is gong to have a bit of an ego or attitude. I am happy to say Caroline was as friendly and genuinely interested in people as she comes across in the media, and it was a memorable and enjoyable few minutes with her discussing the situation in Leeds and the formation of the new party. I wouldn’t expect Messrs Cameron or Miliband to travel without an entourage, or to engage so comfortably with a complete stranger. The speech she delivered in Huddersfield was also a passionate and articulate piece of reasoning, and seemed to be supported by the majority of the attendees. All in all a day I won’t forget in a hurry, particularly as it was so unexpected. Now it’s back to the bread and butter, the graft of leafleting in Farnley & Wortley ward.

Family, work, and Green Party commitments make time very precious these days. Writing a blog has been pushed down the order of priorities. I don’t expect that I will be able to post with the regularity of past, or as much as I’d like, but I intend to get back into blogging. It is something I enjoy, and I hope others do too. Watch this space for any future noteworthy events and commentaries on life.

Molly curtain call

A year ago this month Molly Cat came into our lives. A lady who saves cats from the “kill list”, i.e. those that cannot be found homes by animal charities and are put to sleep, had rescued Molly and her siblings and was displaying them outside a pet supply store to try to find them new keepers. When Molly reached out and put on an act, Tina’s heart melt. She phoned me and asked if we could get another cat. I was not convinced. I feared that Hadley Cat might object to sharing her home and there was all the extra expense. But I caved in because ultimately I knew I was fighting a losing battle. There was no way Tina could walk away from that cute three months old bundle of fluff.

Now I can’t imagine not having Molly around. After seeing the photos a year ago I was anxious to meet the new addition to the family. My six months in the USA from last May onwards gave me plenty of time to be with Molly. I had no choice really, she adores me and follows me around demanding attention. I missed both cats badly when I returned to the UK. Molly has identity issues – she chirps like a bird and acts more like a dog. She will play fetch, likes constant fuss, wants her tummy tickled, and loves sweet foods. Less refined than her “sister” Hadley, Molly was happy to sleep in the litter box, a plant pot of soil (having killed the plant), and she shreds any paper that is left lying around in view of her mischievous eyes. If she is not sleeping on a cushion next to me, or playing with her toys, then Molly is usually found in the window sill watching the world go by. So here’s a recent photo of our daft as a brush Molly in honour of her first year with us.

It has been some considerable time since I added an update to this blog. Back in September 2009 in fact, then still still a couple of months away from ending my Florida adventure. Maybe with a hint of appropriate consistency I am once again sat at the table in the Jacksonville Beach apartment, this time just for a brief two weeks holiday, the very place where the last blog entry took shape.

A great deal has occurred since that last blog post. The arrival of my parents in Florida in July provided a lot of potential material to post, photos to edit, and yet limited the available time to carry out such tasks. I fell behind with the entries and apart from a couple of retrospective postings, lost the drive needed to catch up and continue a regular offering. Furthermore a restructure at work turned my attention to submitting a job application, preparing for a video conference interview via Skype, and the days in the local Beaches Library were dedicated to retaining my own job rather than the observations of Florida life. Once the interview was complete Tina and I then spent ten days in Italy, attending her brother’s wedding in Siena. Those ten days provided more items to write about but little free time, the most notable event was proposing to Tina in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican, Rome on 23rd October. She accepted by the way!

Leaving Tina and Florida in mid November and returning to the cold, bleak Leeds streets, and a workplace where staff morale was the lowest I have ever encountered, was as hard as it was painful. I had obtained a position in the restructure, a promotion in fact, but no joy could be taken from it when colleagues and friends were unsuccessful and in danger of losing their jobs. Most shocking was the tragic news that during the six months I was away two colleagues took their own lives. The mood at work was sombre at best, sometimes mutinous, motivation absent, and the feeling towards management close to outright fury. This atmosphere, the cold weather, and the returning to an empty house every night left my mood very dark, and the last thing on my mind was writing a blog.

But there are positives. Tina and I have, with her ex-husband’s co-operation and support (in fact he suggested it), decided to live in the UK. Tina came over for Christmas which was a happy time, and we looked for wedding venues, settling on Temple Newsam House in Leeds. We now are embroiled with the frustrating and complex task of sorting out the application for settlement in the UK for Tina and two of her boys, so they can be over in time for a September wedding. Having been used to having Tina, her boys, and the cats around for six months, not to mention being in a location where mid November still allowed cycling after dark in t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops, it was remarkably hard to go back to Britain to the solitary life. Furthermore the need to save money has necessitated a frugal life of simple pastimes, staying home reading, watching TV, or browsing the internet. I have so far failed to see a Stoke City match at the Britannia this season, my football fix obtained from a few trips to the now defunct Farsley Celtic FC.

One distraction I have embraced enthusiastically is a greater involvement with the Green Party as the General and local Council Elections loom. I helped during the unsuccessful campaign in the Leeds ward of Hyde Park & Woodhouse byelection in February, and have been leafleting around the Farnley & Wortley ward with the aim of getting Cllr Andy Parnham re-elected and helping Cllr David Blackburn’s Parliamentary campaign for the Leeds West Constituency. Leafleting has a rather soothing and stress-busting effect. When striding up an unknown driveway, one’s concentration is locked on folding the leaflet correctly, the potential awkward letterbox that makes insertion a chore, and the possibility of some slavering beast waiting on the other side to remove any straying fingers. All worries of the day at work, or the months ahead are gone, the mind is cleared and focused on the simple task of getting the paper through the slot without incident, and the exercise is also good for body and soul. While this blog as suffered, I have been busy updating the Farnley & Wortley Green Party website and have also assisted with the Headingley Green Party’s new site too. I have also agreed to be David Blackburn’s election agent during the General Election campaign.

While this latest holiday in Jacksonville Beach affords me the time to restart blogging, I must give credit to another source of inspiration. A contractor called David has been working in our office since my return to Leeds. Stoke born and bred, a similar age to myself, and a great fan of Stoke City during my favourite era – the Lou Macari Years in the early 1990s – so no wonder we have stuck up a rapport and shared plenty of laughs. David discovered my blog by accident, and has apparently been working his way through past entries. It was his compliments about the stories and enjoyment of them that gave me the impetus to write something new. Sometimes the thought of “what’s the point” flits across one’s mind, but if other people do appreciate the efforts made, it is flattering and galvanises the resolve to continue. I find writing fulfilling, people seem to enjoy reading my observations, and if I can provoke thought and positive action from just one person then the whole exercise is worthwhile. So thanks David, and we must keep in touch when you move to your next contract.

In the meantime I think I should make the most of the sunshine and head outside. Who knows what things are going on out there that are just asking to be written about!

Downtown Jax from Maritime Museum
After an enjoyable meeting and meal a few nights before, a trip downtown with Tina’s father and step-mother Lloyd and Rose was organised for my parents. First we visited a local thrift store as it was “seniors’ day” and many items were marked down even further! I found what appeared to be a brand new Jacksonville Jaguars cap and swooped for it to add to Dad’s birthday present collection. A proper souvenir that could be worn with pride rather than the usual tourist offering! ;-)

There’s never a dull moment with Lloyd and Rose and so it proved with the parking. A church friend of theirs had offered free use of a bay on a private car park where they had several reserved spots. Firstly there was the drama of finding the car park due to incorrect directions, next was realising all the bays we could use were full, and then finally getting in to the tightest of spots at the end of a row which was not one we were actually allowed to park in. All this to save $3, and leaving me hoping that the traffic wardens were not as vigilant as in Leeds. Meanwhile Tina was joining us on her lunch break which involved tracking us down and finding her own parking spot. Eventually the two of us settled for a nearby public car park but could not find any sort of pay and display meter or attendant. Fretting about the likelihood of a ticket we joined the others to stroll towards the river.

Main Street BridgeFirst up was a wander over the Main Street Bridge which was opened in 1941 and has a centre section which lifts up vertically to allow vessels to pass underneath it. It was a piping hot day and the 1680 feet crossing was proving hard going for Lloyd already. At the other side we made an unplanned stop in the Maritime Museum next to Friendship Park where for a small donation we hid for a while in the air-conditioning so Lloyd could sit down and so Dad could give the curator a lecture on the Titanic!

From the Maritime Museum we braved the afternoon sun once more to make a ten minutes walk over to the San Marco Skyway station. For 50 cents a ride (10c for seniors) the Skyway is reasonable value if it actually went anywhere of use. Sure it links the Rosa Parks Transit Station (Bus station to you and me) with a few downtown locations that are within walking distance, the convention center, and some parking garages over the river, but you get the impression it is more novelty ornament than actual use. skywayOn the couple of occasions I have used it most of the small group of patrons seemed to be tourists or homeless. If it could extend down towards historic Riverside in one direction and out towards the football stadium and beyond it might be more useful. It’s total length is 2.5 miles and the initial section was completed in 1989. The elevated monorail is fun to travel on, getting up to speeds of 35 mph, particularly enjoyable when it crosses the Acosta Bridge to give views down the St Johns River. We initially rode over the river to the Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center terminus because the night before I’d seen a news report about a steam loco on static display in the car park. The center was once the old Union Railroad Terminal, a fine piece of architecture and thankfully saved from demolition in the 1980s.

Just Dad, Tina, and I went to see the loco as it was a fair walk to the car park entrance, an indication of how large the station complex was and how many platforms there once were. The others waited and rested keeping out of the sun. The Atlantic Coast Line (ACL) #1504 was built by American Locomotive Co. Richmond Works in 1919, one of 81 “light pacifics”. Convention Center LocoIt saw service on the ACL for over 30 years, mostly hauling 10 to 12 car passenger trains at 70 mph. After diesel power was introduced, these engines were put into freight service, and #1504 continued to work in the Tampa area until withdrawal in 1952. Surviving in almost original condition, she was selected for preservation and put on display at the Prime Osborn Convention Center, which is the old ACL depot. The local council are to vote about making the loco a designated official historic landmark, offering it protection and possibly a new permanent and more prominent home.

Back at the Skyway we made the short trip to Central station to walk over to the Jacksonville Landing. Jacksonville LandingOpened in 1989 the Landing is shopping centre, with restaurants bars, and an open air stage for events. It is the only retail centre of note in the downtown area, most of the shopping experiences are out of town malls. No sooner as we entered the heavens opened with a torrential downpour. While Lloyd and Rose sat down to take a breather on a bench opposite a bizarre Zoltar automated fortune teller (which had the annoying habit of speaking to you), the rest of us went upstairs to the food mall to find something for Dad to “keep him going”. It was now nearly 3pm and past lunch time, the culinary delight in question turned out to be a hot dog.

The storm passed and the sun back out we wandered the few blocks back to the car parks. Thankfully neither car had earned a ticket and on departing we discovered a strange wooden honesty box where each car parking spot had its own slot to insert three dollars. We had neither the bills or coins to make that, and as far as Tina is concerned if it doesn’t take plastic it’s got no chance! My change had gone on the Skyway. We departed feeling guilty and hoping the car number plate hadn’t been noted. Back at Lloyd and Rose’s place late lunch was served and then Lloyd, after much persuasion it has to be said, treated us to a tune on his electric organ. Then rather unwisely Lloyd attempted to teach me to play. The audience and my inability to remember the notes sent the frustration levels rising but luckily I managed to refrain from turning the air blue! It was a tad Eric Morecambe – all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order!

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Modis building Jacksonville

Convention Center

Skyway boys

Skyway girls

Oi stop it!

Fourth fireworksFriday 3rd July gave me a taster of what was to come. The neighbourhood was alive with fireworks of a volume I have never experienced, and these salvos carried on into the early hours keeping me awake until at least 2am. So I was not in the best of moods when I eventually rose, which added to my general dread about the 4th July. Patriotic banners and decorations had long appeared outside houses, (someone had even spray-painted the US flag on their lawn) while cookies with red, white and blue icing adorned the “specials” displays in supermarkets. There’s normally a large number of “Stars and Stripes” flags around the neighbourhood on any normal day, in fact if I saw those many Union Flags back in the UK I’d think I’d wandered unwittingly into a BNP convention. But as the 4th July approaches even more are unfurled. America tends to be far too self-congratulatory at the best of times in my view, so I was expecting an über expression of fervent patriotism. Thankfully Tina is open-minded enough to believe that America is far from perfect, there is much room for improvement, and shares my view that the outpouring of a pride bordering on arrogance in many cases on the 4th July is fairly over the top.

So therefore you might expect that our 4th was fairly low key and you’d be right. Fourth fireworksThe day was dissected by a trip over to Tina’s employers’ to let their dog out for some exercise as they are away on holiday. There was fear that this trip towards downtown would mean crazy traffic and no parking when we returned to the beaches, the most popular gathering spot for the celebrations. But it did give some cause for some celebration of our own. During a visit to an Arlington thrift store, Tina unearthed a brand new dress with store tickets still attached (showing $140) for only $10. Meanwhile I found a shirt, again brand new with store stickers in place for just $4. Plus we found several CDs at $1 each. I was warming to the 4th July. Another bonus was that many of the shops were nearly empty of shoppers, so it was a good time to stock up on weekly food goods. (But not patriotic cookies!)

Back at the beach we had a traditional American meal of burgers and hot dogs (both vegetarian of course) in honour of the great day. But in an unpatriotic move we selected a bottle of Australian Merlot rather than a Californian red, and adjourned to the table in the apartment garden area. Fouth fireworksIt was a sultry evening with no breeze, but enjoyable out there talking to some of our neighbours, and watching the increasing number of revellers staggering by on their way to the beach for the firework display. I enjoyed proffering the opinion that America might be a better place if Britain had actually held on to it. It was all taken in good heart. Just before the fireworks were due to start at 9:30pm we wandered down to the boardwalk to watch the spectacle through the waving sea oats in the dunes. It seemed most of the apartment block residents were there, joining somewhere around 100,000 other people. I left the “oohing” and “aahing” to the natives, I’m not overly fond of fireworks. I think they are in the main a waste of money, scare the animals, and if I wanted to be kept awake all night by loud bangs and flashes I’d have holidayed in Baghdad. However they do make an interesting and challenging subject to photograph. The majority of the photos I took were disappointing but here are the acceptable wheat from the chaff. Back at the garden seat we watched the traffic jam crawl southwards until well past midnight, and I stayed out further into the early hours drinking with the neighbours. An uneasy truce? Nah, good friends and willing parties to banter.

Fourth fireworks Fourth fireworks

Cummer GardensTina’s Mum Linda is getting married in October to long term partner Shawn. At the moment the couple are investigating suitably romantic locations for the ceremony. On Tuesday, which also happened to be Linda’s birthday, we all met up at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens in Riverside. Tuesdays evening also happens to be free to the public due to a sponsorship deal, giving us the opportunity to appraise the gardens’ suitability without parting with a few dollars! The gardens were beautiful and included a 150 year old oak tree with a huge canopy. Sadly there was little time to examine the art treasures too (something to do another quiet Tuesday evening), and photography inside the building is forbidden. However here are a few photos of the gardens which overlook the St John’s River.

Cummer Gardens

Cummer Gardens

Cummer Oak

Butterfly Tree HillFinding reasonably priced and engaging entertainment for Tina’s two youngest boys can be a challenge, but a bit of internet research had turned up the option of Tree Hill Nature Center, so on Saturday we decided to try it out. Remarkably given that it is short distance from downtown Jacksonville, Tree Hill is home to 50 acres of trails through woodland, a Florida Natural History Museum, butterfly and hummingbird gardens and native animals. Furthermore, Tree Hill attempts to provide environmental and energy education to the local community, and has been doing so for over 3 decades. As a “Green” and someone who likes trails it seemed a good choice for a family outing. And the entrance fee was rather cheap ;-)

After a picnic in the company of a rooster and a few hens, we visited the butterfly enclosure, got friendly with a pen of aimiable goats, and then headed off to do one of the longer trails. Goats Tree HillIt seemed like it was going to be a fairly uneventful walk until an armadillo was spotted as it scuttled under a boardwalk leading to a small pool. Waiting quietly paid off and the armadillo eventually made a break for the undergrowth at some speed, but not quick enough to evade my camera. About ten minutes later when we paused for a rest another armadillo scurried its way behind us, too quick for me to swing round, switch on the camera Armadillo Tree Hilland snap if before it became obscured. I enjoyed the trip to Tree Hill, and I intend to return probably on my own so I can sit patiently somewhere with my camera and see what turns up. There are meant to be raccoon and the occasional bird of prey. A remarkable nature enclave amidst the busy city, and Arlington district.

The trip ended as the skies threatened rain, and sure enough the drive downtown was through heavy rain as we crossed the St John’s River. The intention was to have a ride on the monorail, and at first a lack of quarter coins and the rain made it look unlikely. But in a scene uncommon in Britain, a friendly hot dog salesman changed some money without a grumble and we were away. The photos from the ride were disappointing because of the murk so I intend to dedicate another blog post to a repeat experience some point in the future.

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Butterflies Tree Hill

Goats Tree Hill

Billy goat Tree Hill

Armadillo Tree Hill

The Southern Biscuit
…in the southern states of the USA. What the British call biscuits are known as cookies as many will know, but while I’ve had them before at the Cracker Barrel restaurant in Titusville, I got the chance to observe the southern biscuit more closely when Tina made some the other night. They remind me more of the British scone, and they are very tasty.

Biscuits are apparently a common feature of southern US cuisine and are often made with buttermilk. They are traditionally served as a side dish with a meal which is how we had them, and mighty fine they were too y’all. But they can also be had as a breakfast item, often eaten with butter and a sweet condiment such as molasses, light sugarcane syrup, sorghum syrup, honey, or fruit jam. I can vouch for them with honey. However less appealing in my view, biscuits and gravy (biscuits covered in “country gravy”*) are usually served for breakfast, sometimes as the main course. Gravy? Tsk! It’s just wrong!

I found this recipe for the southern biscuits.

*Country gravy is made from the drippings of cooked pork sausage, white flour, milk, and often bits of real sausage, bacon, ground beef, or other meat. It’s a bit like a Béchamel sauce. The gravy is also often flavored with black pepper. In some parts of the South this is also called “Sawmill Gravy”. I’m not surprised, it sounds foul!

Monday 25th May was Memorial Day here in the USA. It is to commemorate those who lost their lives fighting for their country, and is a national holiday although many stores stay open. Tina was also off work so we decided to do something with her two youngest boys. Morning near Ponte Vedra BeachBut before we picked them up we had an early morning bike ride for an hour or so before it got too hot, taking the back roads down to the start of Ponte Vedra Beach, admiring the colourful and impressive houses along the beach front. We came back along the beach for most of the way until the combined force of the sun, and the resistance of the wet sand enticed us back to the easier roads for the last stage of the journey.

The afternoon was spent at Fort Clinch State Park, home to a fine 19th century preserved fort. Although no battles were fought there, it was garrisoned during both the Civil and Spanish-American wars. We picnicked, wandered around the battlements, and then ventured out on one of the trails that runs through the park grounds. We were disappointed not to see alligators and armadillos like last visit, but nature is not like on demand movies, we dance to her tune. Here’s some more photos of the day…

Tina morning bike ride Stork Jacksonville Beach Stork Jacksonville Beach Fort Clinch Willow Pond Trail, Fort Clinch State Park

More photos from May 2009