Florida, places

Bok Tower Gardens

bok tower gardens

The only purpose of this post is plugging Bok Tower Gardens.

bok tower gardens

I forget where I heard of them, but after doing so, drove out to Lake Wales on a whim.

bok tower gardens

I also spent my actual birthday at Bok Tower Gardens last year. Alone. I was feeling like I didn’t really want to be around people, but I still wanted to do something. I sat on a bench, meditated, wrote in a notebook, and then walked around and looked at flowers. It was lovely.

bok tower gardens

Bok Tower itself is a sight to behold. The pond around it has koi fish that you can feed, too. I like feeding them, but I also worry if they can self-regulate, or if it’s possible for them to be overfed.

bok tower gardens

The tower itself houses an instrument called a carillon, which is made up a bells. You can read more about it here. It produces a lovely sound.

bok tower gardens

I overheard someone say that Bok Tower Gardens contain the most elevated spot in Florida, which I believe is the spot pictured above, where you can overlook orange orchards. Until I stood in that spot, I hadn’t realized that I hadn’t been able to “overlook” anything since moving to Florida. It is really, really flat.

bok tower gardens

Florida, food, places, vegan

Restaurant: Kaleisia (Tampa, FL)

I want to put a spotlight on Kaleisia. Although they’re not a vegan restaurant, they have many vegan options and helped me feel like going vegan while living in Tampa wouldn’t be too hard. I asked an employee what the word “Kaleisia” means, and he said it’s a combination of “kaleidoscope” and “Asia.”

I usually order the “Vegan Set B,” shown above. It’s only $12 and comes with so much! Two spring rolls, pumpkin soup and rice, veggie straws, a cupcake, and a tea. My personal opinion is that eating one spring roll, then the soup & rice, then the other spring roll, then cracking your laptop open to write or grade or do other work is the way to go. Then over the next couple hours, sip the tea and snack on veggie straws and the cupcake. So good.

Moving forward, I don’t plan on putting much food stuff on this blog anymore. I did it because I went vegan and blogging helped give me momentum, but now I feel pretty secure about eating a plant-based diet. Instead of blogging, I’ll review restaurants in the awesome vegan and vegetarian restaurant app, Happy Cow. I’ll probably still post food photos in my Instagram story, too.

dog parks, dogs, Florida, places

Al Lopez Dog Park (Tampa, FL)

4810 N Himes Ave, Tampa, FL 33614

al lopez dog park tampa

I went to check out Al Lopez Dog Park because variety is the spice of life. It’s a pretty good one! Lots of space.

al lopez dog park tampa

There is a separate small dog area, but no one was using it except for me, so I eventually moved to the large dog area. When other people with small dogs arrived, they also used the large dog area.

al lopez dog park tampa

Although the park looks empty in my photos, several people and their dogs were there. Everyone was friendly. My only complaint is that there wasn’t enough seating for everyone. For such a big park, there should be more benches.

al lopez dog park tampa

I was dogsitting the dog sniffing Walnut’s butt in the above photo at the time. They’d been kind of iffy about each other in my apartment, but really bonded at the dog park, mostly over a shared suspicion about other dogs.

al lopez dog park tampa

The park did have a few of these fake log things and I sat on one in lieu of a bench. Not very comfortable.

al lopez dog park tampa

This last photo wasn’t taken in the larger park around the dog park. I’d never seen a bat shelter before and it caught my eye.

dog parks, dogs, Florida, places

Picnic Island Dog Beach (Tampa, FL)

7409 Picnic Island Blvd, Tampa, FL 33616

picnic island dog beach tampa

I love the dog beach! It’s so nice to sit and let my dog run around while looking at something pretty. Even though this dog beach is called Picnic Island, it’s never crossed my mind to bring a picnic there until now.

picnic island dog beach tampa

This is one of the biggest dog parks/beaches I go to, if not the biggest. There’s so much space. That’s nice because people can interact when they want, or do their own thing.

picnic island dog beach tampa

There are a few park benches and they’re pretty far apart, so it’s really easy to sit and read without having to talk with anyone.

picnic island dog beach tampa

Every time I’ve been here, I’ve seen fish jump out of the water, which is fun. Although since then someone told me that fish jump out of water when the water is polluted and they’re trying to get more oxygen…

picnic island dog beach tampa

If you’re in Tampa, I highly recommend Picnic Island Dog Beach. There aren’t big and small dog areas, but every time I’ve been there, the big dogs have been friendly. Also, it’s a waaay less busy dog beach than Davis Island Dog Beach, which is perfect for introverts like me.

Florida, places, political action, society

2017 A Day Without a Woman

I participated in A Day Without A Woman earlier this year on March 8th, International Women’s Day. I initially learned about it from the Women’s March group, then read a Facebook post arguing they were co-opting it, and the International Women’s Strike organization was the real originator of the event.

As with the Women’s March itself, there were criticisms that A Day Without A Woman was an action only women with privilege could take. The concept behind the event was to show how much women do through our absence. This excludes women without jobs, and women with jobs that would fire them if they took the day off.

Although I agreed with some of the criticisms, I decided to still participate. I believe imperfect action is usually better than no action at all. I believe it’s better to try to live in line with my beliefs and attempt to change things than to accept the status quo simply because I’m too afraid to make mistakes or be criticized.

I was on an email list from the St. Petersburg, Florida Women’s March, and from that, found out about an A Day Without A Woman event on the beach. I drove out to St. Pete and stopped at a raw vegan restaurant to have dinner alone before continuing on to the beach.

day without a woman crowd

The day felt very peaceful. I switched my hours around at work that week, which means I didn’t technically “strike,” so I know my participation in A Day Without A Woman was more for me than for any external effect. Still, I’m glad I took part in it. Like other political activities I’ve participated in, it was rejuvenating and helped me feel more optimistic that the world isn’t as dire as it can feel when I’m viewing the news from behind a screen.

The crowd was joyful. I learned that a Quaker activist group organized the event. A large group of mostly women gathered in groups to spell out “RESIST” with our bodies. It surprised me that, near my letter, at least (“T”), men were organizing by telling women where to sit or stand. I’m sure they are kind, wonderful people, but isn’t that a little ironic?

day without a woman beach

I chatted with a couple people, and everyone was so happy. As with other events, it seemed different people were there for different reasons–some to protest Trump, some because of the threat to healthcare, some for immigrants’ rights, etc. I think the common thread was a desire to feel community, kindness, goodness, and caring.

If you want to read more about this event, here’s an article in Creative Loafing that I found while writing this blog post.

As I reflect on 2017 and look to 2018, I hope to participate in more events. I realize that I often feel disconnected, like I’m not part of a community. It’s time to change that.

(All photos by me except for the drone photo, which I found on the Quaker Huddle Facebook page.)

art, Florida, places

I met Peter Max

peter max One of my highlights of 2017 was meeting pop artist Peter Max. I went on twitter one Friday night and saw that he was going to be at a gallery in Sarasota the next day, so I went for it and drove out there.

peter max

The gallery was small, and there was no cost to get in. Peter sat in a chair and had a line of about five people waiting to speak to him.

I have a large Peter Max tattoo on my upper arm, and was equal parts excited to show him and nervous that he wouldn’t like it. He’s in his 80s and a super famous artist, so I didn’t know if he’d consider a tattoo of his work a compliment or distortion.

I walked around the gallery admiring the art for a while. I couldn’t afford any of it. A guy gave out free champagne in the back of the room. I had a couple glasses.

peter max artThe other people walking around browsing the art were very friendly. A few of them noticed my tattoo and stopped me to talk about it. I was the youngest person there, save the guy giving out champagne. There were definitely hippies in the crowd, including a man with a braided beard. I overheard another person say, “He taught my yoga class this morning.” A woman came up to me, took her backpack off, then took her sweatshirt off to reveal another sweatshirt with Peter Max art on it. “This was made in the 80s!” she said.

It was a fun scene.

Before I got up my courage to stand in line to talk to Peter Max, his assistant spotted my tattoo and called me over. She was also the one who took the photos of us–I was nervous about being rude and hadn’t planned on asking for photos.

Peter said he loved my tattoo. He couldn’t stop staring at it. He asked who the tattoo artist was, and marveled at what a good job the artist had done. (Note: the tattoo artist was my high school friend Chris, who works at Maximum Tattoo in Wheeling, Illinois.)

I stuck around while Peter Max talked to a few other people. It was clear he has memory problems, but he maintained a happy, kind attitude the entire time. I kept thinking I’d like to age that way. Each new person who approached him had some sort of story of how they’d met him years ago, or how his art affected their life. My favorite was the couple celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary. They brought in a gigantic painting, asking if he could write a note on the back. The husband teared up when he explained the painting was a wedding gift they’d bought for themselves with money they’d received at the wedding.


Florida, non-profit organizations, places, political action, Public Policy, society

Volunteering for Planned Parenthood

planned parenthood

Like many people, I was motivated to get more politically involved by Trump’s election and the Women’s March. In early 2017, I decided to begin volunteering for the ACLU and Planned Parenthood.

One of the first events I volunteered for involved contributing to a physical presence on the day of an anti-Planned Parenthood protest. We weren’t supposed to think of ourselves as counter-protesters since we weren’t protesting anything. Our goal was to overshadow the protesters so anyone coming to the clinic felt welcomed and not bombarded, and so people driving past noticed us more than them.

planned parenthood

Standing in the line on the street was fun. I felt some of that same Women’s March excitement in the air. People talked more about Trump than about the protesters. It was clear that his inauguration had spurred people into action. Like me, many of the people there were volunteering for Planned Parenthood for the first time.

The event was eye-opening for me. Our show of support for Planned Parenthood in the face of the protesters was dramatic. We arrived before they did, stayed later, and outnumbered them by at least 3-to-1. Also, they were more pathetic than I had expected them to be. I figured I’d feel anger when facing the protesters, but I felt sad. There were some elderly men, and also families with children whose faces showed they had been forced to attend. Their signs were full of fear-inducing phrases in ugly colors and fonts, while ours were bright pink. The protesters looked miserable; the Planned Parenthood side was joyful.

planned parenthood

This event was meaningful for me in more ways than one–it was the first time I publicly showed support for the pro-choice movement. I’ve been pro-choice for over a decade, but it’s the one political issue I’ve shied away from posting on social media about, or discussing with family. I was raised in a fairly conservative Christian household. Abortion is a major issue for most of my family members. When they vote Democrat, they do so with a heavy heart because of this one issue. I know that they are not ignorant or insensitive zealots–they are caring and compassionate. They genuinely view abortion as murder, and want it to be illegal in order to save lives.

I began calling and thinking of myself as a liberal when I was around 17 years old, but for the first couple years, I’d mention abortion as the one issue I disagreed with–I thought it should only be allowed in special circumstances, such as rape or incest. At some point in my early twenties I began considering myself pro-choice, but if anyone asked about my beliefs, I’d say, “I’d never get an abortion, but I think other people should be able to if they want.”

planned parenthood

Now, at 36, over two decades after I first began developing my political beliefs, I feel comfortable standing in the street wearing hot pink and holding a Planned Parenthood sign. I can say I’m pro-choice without wanting to add a preface or any qualifications to the statement. The evolution of my beliefs helps me feel kindness and compassion toward people who believe differently, at least on this issue. It also shows me that political stances are fluid, not static, which gives me hope for our country overall.

Talking about politics is important. My beliefs on abortion wouldn’t have shifted if I hadn’t encountered so many people who were pro-choice, if I hadn’t been forced to evaluate my beliefs and why I held them, over and over. This is why I want to make an effort to speak up more. I’m still figuring out how to do so in a way that is kind and open rather than judgmental or forceful. Blogging posts like this is one of those ways.

dog parks, dogs, Florida, places

Gadsden Dog Park in Tampa, FL

Gadsden Dog Park          6901 S. MacDill Ave. Tampa, FL 33611

This was a nice dog park. My parents were in town when I went there. I don’t think they’ve spent much time in dog parks before. This might’ve even been their first one. They seemed to dig it.

I took this photos months ago. I don’t go to dog parks any more because I don’t have a car any more. That means I take longer, more frequent walks, but read much less.

I don’t really want to stay in Tampa another year. But, Tampa has a good job for me, so I probably shouldn’t leave until I can land something better. Is there a word for when you know you need to make a change, but you haven’t made it yet?

Also, how to be patient and satisfied during those times, instead of longing for the change or trying to rush things along? This is an issue I’ve faced in almost every area: career, health, relationships, etc.

Do you ever feel like you’re behind? I don’t mean in a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses type of way. I mean like there’s always a gap between what you’re doing and what you want to be doing.

I guess everyone feels that way, unless they’re complacent? I guess we’re designed that way. That’s what desire and motivation are about. I guess it’s a good thing, but isn’t it frustrating?

I’ve also noticed this in creative work. The project I’m excited about is rarely the one I’m actively working on. I’m finishing the drudgery of the current project while dreaming of the next project, because I want to finish things to completion rather than start and stop, dashing around without focus, without building.

I guess that points to the importance of mindfulness. If you aren’t present, you’ll never be happy, even in your “dream job,” or with your “dream guy” (or woman). There’s always an impulse to want something else. Not necessarily something different, but something deeper, more, the next level. The tricky part is honoring instead of burying that impulse without letting it overrun you.

I think the trick is to try and do both. Be loyal, be faithful, be reliable, be trustworthy, engage in the day-to-day, the work, the tedium, but bring some of that excitement for the next thing, the other thing, into the framework of now. For example, follow through and post the months-old dog park blog post that’s on your to-do list, but between the photos and your analysis of the park (friendly dogs, friendly owners, 100% recommend), write a bunch that feels real and living, inject the stale with what’s on your mind N-O-W.

Florida, food, places, vegan

Cafe Hey vegan brunch in Tampa

Cafe Hey is a cute lil cafe in Tampa that is known for good coffee, but they also sell food and treats. They have a vegan brunch one Sunday a month, and my friends decided we should go there for my birthday to celebrate.

(And yes, for those who know, my birthday was months ago, but I’m only getting around to posting this now.)

I turned 36, and although I’m not one to pay much attention to age, I didn’t feel very pumped about celebrating this year. It’s not that I’m afraid of or resistant to getting older, but more that I was a little bummed at the time and didn’t feel like my life was anything I wanted to put energy into making a big deal about. A low-key delicious vegan meal with six other people I like turned out to be perfect celebration for me.

cafe hey vegan brunch

I don’t know how often I’ll make it out to Cafe Hey because I no longer have a car, but the food was absolutely delicious. It was heartening to find more evidence that there are awesome vegan options available in Tampa Bay. I ordered tacos and my friends had shrimp jambalaya and some other things. A few of my friends are vegetarian, but we had a couple of meat-eaters in the group and everyone liked the meal. Apparently the shrimp tasted so real, they double-checked with the staff to make sure it was actually vegan.

cafe hey vegan brunch

Click image to view full size

Oh, Cafe Hey also has mimosas! :) I am drinking a grapefruit mimosa in the first photo and it was delicious. So, yes, bottom line, if you’re in Tampa, check out Cafe Hey, and if they have their vegan brunch going on, even better.

Also, while I was searching for vegan restaurant options in Tampa, I found this Tampa Vegan Guy blog. He hasn’t updated for a long time. What do you think–is he no longer vegan, does he no longer live in Tampa, or something else?

eating, fibromyalgia, Florida, food, health, migraine, places, vegan

Leafy Greens Cafe in St. Petersburg, Florida

leafy greens

One of my biggest worries about switching to a vegan diet was that I would have no meal options at restaurants. I enjoy going out to eat, and although I’m trying to make more of my own food at home, I don’t want to feel like that is my only option.

I quickly began researching local vegan restaurants and restaurants with vegan options in order to ease this worry, and was delighted to come across an app called Happy Cow.  It is excellent, and I’ve used it frequently over the past few months. It was well worth the amount I paid for it ($3.99?). They have a website, too, but I like the app because at any time I can open it and it will immediately show me restaurants with vegan options in my immediate vicinity. It also has Yelp-like features where users can upload photos and leave reviews (although so far I’ve forgotten to do this).

leafy greensA week or so after getting vegan brunch at New Leaf Elementals in Tampa, I drove out to St. Petersburg and ate dinner at the Leafy Greens Cafe. It is a raw vegan cafe I had been to once or twice before. It is on the pricier side and a bit of a trek from where I live, so I won’t be going there often, but I do it enjoy and am glad it exists. Their meals feel super healthy, and I left feeling pretty great.

I ordered carrot ginger juice, which was delicious, soup, and a bean burger that came in lettuce instead of on bread. I liked all of it and felt too full to order dessert by the end.

Leafy Greens

One thing I like about Leafy Greens Cafe is the owner’s story. I haven’t met her, but the restaurant’s website says that she has Lupus and turned to a raw vegan diet as a result, which healed her. All of the food Leafy Greens serves is non-GMO, too. Health is one of the major reasons I decided to adopt a vegan diet–I grapple with fibromyalgia, migraine, IBS-D, anxiety, and other varied symptoms that often accompany fibromyalgia. I’ve found that many people who don’t find health answers from traditional medicine turn to dietary changes, and I like supporting a business owner who has had similar struggles to my own.

From the Leafy Greens website: “After my amazing experience, I decided that I had an obligation to introduce as many people as possible to the delicious vegan food we love and, in doing so, help humanity find a way to heal itself from the life threatening diseases that effect our well being in today’s world.”