Farmers Markets: Not All Peaches are Created Equal

farmers marketsEvery week, from April through early December, I visit the farmers market at Pepper Place. This is like a pilgrimage to a place where strawberries, peaches, cauliflower, lettuces, and flowers are competing for my attention.

Not everything is peachy, though, and it is sad to note that prices throughout farmers markets in America are anything but economical. Why is it that we have to pay more for healthy food?

Farmers Markets Connect Consumers to Local Food Growers

We all agree that nothing is better than getting fresh produce from vendors at local farmers markets. I want to be able to get the fresh produce, preferably organically grown vegetables and fruits, but, like so many other enthusiasts, I cannot afford the price tag.

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 8.16.32 PMFarmers are able sell their produce directly to the public, bypassing a lot of middlemen, and customers are willing to pay a little more. How much more are customers willing to pay, though? Affordability is an important aspect for every shopper. We should be able to get a better deal on fresh, high-quality produce as farmers are selling directly to customers, allowing them to retain every dollar.

So why is it that prices at farmers markets are more expensive than those we see at grocery stores? While I have no conclusive answer to the question, I believe that it is all about the quality. It is important to keep in mind that the produce you find at farmers markets is very fresh and lasts longer than what you can buy in a grocery store. Last but not least, freshness and quality contribute to better tasting fruits and vegetables.

Ideally, I will have my own garden one day. In the meantime, it’s all about the home-grown, and I can’t get that in the stores.

Spring Has Sprung in Birmingham

Spring in BirminghamGranted, we did not have a bad winter, but that doesn’t prevent Alabamians, and transplants like me, from welcoming spring. It is prime season for hiking, and Birmingham has great trails at Ruffner Mountain and Red Mountain Park.

It is also a great time to visit Birmingham’s Zoo and the Botanical Gardens.

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 10.31.28 PMDid you know that the Botanical Gardens are Alabama’s largest living museum with more than 12,000 different plants, 25 unique gardens, and over 30 works of original outdoor sculpture spread over 67.5 acres? My favorite is the Japanese Gardens, and I love sitting on a bench looking at the reflection of the bridge over the pond.

Another great spot to enjoy quiet time with a good book is the sculpture garden of the Museum of Fine Arts, and it is always great to celebrate the rebirth of nature in one of the many parks along Highland Avenue. If you like a little more action, be sure to be on Highland Avenue for the Do Dah Day parade. It is a riot only outdone by the October Dachshund parade.

Another Lovely Place to Celebrate Spring is Juniper Springs

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 10.27.19 PMI also got to spend a few days of absolute bliss at my favorite place: Juniper Springs, Florida. Located in the Ocala National Forest, it is one of the oldest recreation areas on the East Coast. It is a place that Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, the author of The Yearling, cherished. If you have not read her books, check them out. The Yearling won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1939. My favorite, however, is Cross Creek, published in 1942.

March is also the month when I get to go to Walt Disney World to do research for the next edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids. This year it will be a challenge, as many new attractions are announced but not open yet. But that is for another post.

 

 

Spring Has Sprung in Birmingham

“Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!” — Sitting Bull

ZachNothing could be more true, and I am embracing the results of their love. I cannot express the degree of gratitude I have to be able to welcome spring and, farther down the road, summer.

First we welcomed Zachary to the family. What more can one ask for? It is amazing how the littlest feet can make the biggest footprints in our hearts.

As I learned to cope with running outdoors during winter here in Birmingham, I realized that the joy was in the act of running and in the journey, not in the destination. So I have been running all over this city; if I ever get a car, I think I will not get lost, as I know every part of Birmingham by now.  Running has become the road to self-awareness. Being able to rely on myself and see how far I can push myself is pretty amazing.

Mercedes HalfI cannot imagine a time when I won’t be able to be outdoors and run. Encouraged by my colleague Tanya, I did sign up for the Birmingham Mercedes Half. I loved it!  The race was fun and the post-race activities so much better than any RunDisney event.

Winter in Birmingham was very different from anything I ever experienced in 25 years in New York. An inch of snow is likely to shut down the city, and Birmingham’s kids had a lot of “snow days,” even though I never saw more than an inch or two.

IHeidit was wonderful to welcome friends to the city. Heidi Hoover and I had a blast at the Ringo Starr concert. Who would have thought that Ringo and his All Star Band would play in Birmingham? At age 74 he was still going strong and his drumming simply fabulous. With only two Beatles left on this planet, we felt blessed to just be there. Stan and Sandra Phillips-Posner, the authors of “Drive I-95” made Birmingham a stop and so did Dan Benjoseph with his lovely daughter Marija.

In early March, I was fortunate to have a few days at Juniper Springs, Florida. It was so good to be back at this peaceful place. Juniper Springs is as close to nature as I probably ever get, and I cannot convey how healing nature’s powers are. It was “what the doctor prescribed” for my winter blues. And while the bugs ate me alive, I can’t wait to go back. Juniper

Next came the annual research trip to Walt Disney World with two events for Unofficial Guide authors at the Osceola Library in Celebration and miles of walking in the theme parks.

I am grateful for my new job, my home on Highland Avenue, and the kindness extended to me here in Birmingham, but, after nearly a year here in Alabama, I also know that my heart is still set on one day being able to live in Florida. It does not have to be Orlando. I am not a fool. I know that there is a big difference between Disney and a real life, but I also know that every time I land and see a palm tree, I feel at home.

Spring in BirminghamCelebrating Spring

In the meantime, I am celebrating spring here in Birmingham. I am amazed to see the flowers blossom so early. The amount of pollen blanketing everything here is quite something, so thank God I am not allergic.

In another week the popular Pepper Street Farmer’s Market will open again, and I will be there with bright eyes and a bushy tail.

Spring is all about renewal, the mystery and the creative power of nature, and the music of Igor Stravingsky (The Rite of Spring) comes to my mind. Spring is love, spring is hope, spring is happiness.

 

 

 

Running Again and Then Some

Running Again and Other Mischief

Running Again

Wine & Dine Half Marathon Bib

It is not as if I have been sitting idle since my last post; on the contrary, I have been busy.  I know it is a lame excuse and one that no New Year resolution helped alleviate. The truth is I write for a living. There are the blogs, the Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest accounts, and the avalanche of emails, press releases, pitches, and other Pulitzer Prize-winning activities.

But back to running again. My last race was in November at Walt Disney World. Together with thousands of runners I participated in the runDisney Wine & Dine Half Marathon. This year the weather god was not with us and we ran for 13.1 miles in the pouring rain.  I can think of only one thing that would have made it more miserable and that would have been if Disney had canceled the race.
Running Again

Mulan and Mushu warming my hands

So we went our merry way from the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, onward to The Studios. At Disney Hollywood Studios my iPhone rebelled against the rain as I tried taking pictures of the Osborne Family Spectacular of Dancing Lights. So much for race pictures!

By the time I reached the Boardwalk I thought that once at Epcot where the race ends I would jump on a bus and go straight to the hotel. Well, seeing Spaceship Earth and the volunteers cheering us on this cold and rainy night changed my mind. Why go home? I was soaking wet and so was everybody else, but we did it! Another half marathon and for me a Coast-to-Coast for that! I crossed the finish line and after getting my bling I headed to the Finish Line Party at the Food & Wine Festival at Epcot. And while the rain kept pouring I made a tour of World Showcase, sampling foods and meeting characters. My favorite interaction was at the Temple of Heaven at the China Pavilion where Mulan and Mushu where holding court. They didn’t mind my tired and not too sophisticated looks. They posed for a picture and took my hands in an effort to warm them.
Running Again

Wine & Dine Half Marathon Bling

My iPhone dried and decided to come back to life. The only casualty of that night was my wig, so this princess is going to be shopping for a new Merida wig.

The next day I returned to Epcot and so did the sun. Given enough time, the memory of this wet and at times miserable race will become a fun story to tell.

I have been twice to Orlando since the race and will do so again in March. I can’t wait.  In the meantime, I signed up for three more races. One here in Birmingham is coming up real soon. The Mercedes Half Marathon will be my second non-Disney race.

I’ll follow that one up running again in April by joining the Ironman 70.3 team of a friend. Her husband will do the swimming, she’ll bike, and I’ll run the half marathon.  The race takes place in New Orleans, and we aptly named our team “For Food, Booze & Bling.” Stay tuned for updates from The Big Easy.

Running Again and Then Some

May will bring a new challenge. While visiting my son in Los Angeles I am signed up for the Pixie Dust Challenge held during the Tinker Bell Half Marathon weekend in Anaheim, a 10K followed by a half marathon. I am so looking forward to be back in Los Angeles. What could be better? I’ll be spending time with my son, celebrating my birthday and Mother’s Day, and pushing my limits–just one bit further. And there is always the next Wine & Dine Half Marathon to sign up for!

Living on Highland Avenue South

Living Highland Avenue South

Running “Over The Mountain”

Not in my wildest dreams would I have sought to be living on Highland Avenue South.  Yes, “The South” was always a place I wanted to be, but Highland Avenue South in Birmingham, Alabama? I don’t think so!

Living on Highland Avenue South is wonderful. Picture a green and prosperous neighborhood and you get a good picture. Not quite “over the mountain” but just about that spot geographically. It is as beautiful a neighborhood as you could possibly wish for, and at the same time it is a huge challenge for a “flat land” runner like me.

Living Highland Avenue South

Home on Highland Ave S.

All along Highland Avenue South you can find the most wondrous vistas and experience the most excruciating training runs.

Suddenly names like Niazuma Avenue become the equivalent of Kilimanjaro. No longer do I think that I can run the upcoming Wine and Dine Half Marathon in Orlando in November. No, I think that having signed up for the Pixie Dust Challenge in May 2015 was sheer insanity!

Whenever I train for the upcoming races–and train I do–I feel exhausted and totally overwhelmed. There are muscles that hurt I did not know I even had, and, try as I may, there is simply no long distance road I can possible map that does not involve some crazy elevation.

Living Highland Avenue South

The Donnelly House

Having said all this, I would not want to live anywhere else in Birmingham but on Highland Avenue South.  I recognize that I am blessed to have found a neighborhood that is beautiful, welcoming, and historical. I have three parks to pick from, each one of them in literally 5 minutes’ walking distance from my doorstep.

At any given time and everywhere I look, there are historical homes and the buzz of Five Points South and the entertainment district. The homes on Highland Avenue South are amazing, such as the Donnelly House, a prime venue for weddings located a mere 3-minute walk from my home.

Is Living on Highland Avenue South the Dulcinea of my Dreams?

Palms at sunset in Orlando

Palms at sunset in Orlando

So what am I whining about? Nothing much really except for the physical pain of learning to run in a hilly terrain.

But wait–there is a little more. If I am honest, I admit that deep inside there is the dream of a place where palms are swaying in the wind, a place that illuminates nightly to a tune that dreams are made of. A home I never called my own, a home that family and friends feel is far- fetched for someone like me, a home that no matter what everyone else says, I still desire. Is it a realistic dream? Nope. But does it really matter?

For now, I will run like my life depends on it. I’ll be running and living on Highland Avenue South and save the dreams of Windermere for a later time. Windermere, after all, sounds like putting a name on a windmill. I just hope that–unlike in Don Quixote–Dulcinea will indeed be waiting for me.

 

 

 

Sweet Home Alabama

Wedding party at beachTwo month agos, I lost my job of over 20 years. At first there was the initial shock and the fact that I had to tell family and friends. Next I embarked on a four-night cruise to witness the wedding of cousin Sergio. It was wonderful, and being surrounded by loved ones was much needed and welcomed.

Back in New York, however, my type A personality (and what I call my single mother syndrome) kicked in, and all I could think about was finding a new job and securing my future. My son is grown and supports himself, but would I have enough resources to retire in 10 years from now? Would anybody want to hire me at age 56? So what came next felt like being on a roller coaster, except that it wouldn’t end after 60 seconds of thrills and anxiety but would keep running on a loop.Moving

Tempus Fugit and two months later, I can report that I found a new job, packed up my home, and moved to Birmingham, Alabama. I am waiting for the closing date for the sale of my home in New York, and I’ve rented an apartment that I hope to move into soon. I am living with friends and hoping my furniture makes it Down South soon. There is only so much I can control, after all.

I managed to produce five articles whenever my back needed a rest from packing boxes and, yes, I turned in–on time– the 2015 revisions for the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids. I recommended Summer Fun at Walt Disney World and gave tips for visiting Disney Hollywood Studios during Star Wars Weekends. For those who have a green thumb, I suggested the Behind the Seeds Tour at Epcot and I kept my book’s Facebook page up and running with daily tips.

NatureAt times I wonder if I could have done anything differently or simply if I did the right thing. I guess only time will tell. What I do know is that I am grateful to have found a new job, grateful for family and friends, and grateful for the kindness of the people Down South.

While I have not explored much of my new hometown, my friends took me on several beautiful outings. Hikes in Red Mountain Park and Oak Mountain State Park provided much-needed relief from anxiety and stress. There is nothing more restoring than the healing powers of Mother Nature. Onward, Sweet Home Alabama!