I love Florida summers. Yes, they are warm, no doubt, but like most places, Florida summers are laid-back, slower paced and relaxed. People are more inclined to take it easy while kids laugh, play and eat watermelon.
Have you ever noticed that summer has a certain scent? It’s clean, and hot - almost steamy, grassy and earthy. It has to do with the humidity and freshly cut grass and leaves, a kind of Florida "jungle smell". And let’s not forget the sweet floral smells of jasmine and magnolia flowers. Or, my personal favorite, the salty smell of low tide.
There’s also a certain color to summer. I see pastel-colored Hibiscus, Crape Myrtles and Oleanders. I see vibrant Bougainvilleas, majestic red, yellow and orange Poincianas, Frangipanis in tropical tones and delicate, bright purple Jacarandas. At sunset I see many of the same colors in the clouds and sky before it fades to lavender then gray then blue and black. And when I venture out after dark I see Night Blooming Cereus (see picture) dangling from spindly cactus crawling up Florida’s Sabal Palms.
What I love the most about summer is the daily rainstorm that quenches the flora’s thirst and cools the earth with heavy downpours. Watching a summer rain roll in from a screened-in porch is one of the greatest joys of Florida living.
Even smelling rain on its way, or feeling an incoming cool summer breeze as the rains begin is a classic authentic Florida moment. As the dark menacing clouds approach, the booming sound of thunder and fantastic displays of lightning entertain us more than any motion picture – and it’s live and free.
No matter how you spend your summer, or where, it’s your time to find yourself where the living is easy. Tell me what you love most about your summer. I’d love to hear from you.
My first recollection of spending time with my dad was in a boat. Dad used to plop me in a small wooden rowboat with a 2 1/2 horsepower motor attached to an old aluminum red gas tank. I wore a hand-me-down bathing suit (really), an old bright orange cotton life preserver and my nose was covered in zinc oxide (the 1960’s sunscreen). Dad would pack us a lunch of baloney sandwich, an orange and drinks for our day out.
We would putt around in the rowboat for hours and hours, not going anywhere in particular but always going some place. We tried to stay in the shade of the mangrove trees to get welcome relief from the sun as we looked for signs of fish feeding nearby. Dad’s fishing poles were old but reliable and he used live shrimp. I was assigned to handing him the shrimp, which thoroughly entertained me as I scooped them out for the next cast. Sometimes we would catch fish – perhaps a flounder, sheepshead, redfish or even a snapper. Sometimes we would put a hook in the water and catch a blue crab.
But the best part was swim time. Since we lived on an island, the beach wasn’t far away. So after a day of fishing we would cut the motor as we got near the shore and jumped into the water. More than the fishing, the prize for the day was a refreshing swim. We floated in the shallow water as if we hadn't a care in the world.
The time with dad was definitely special and my little mind absorbed all the nuances of Florida coastal living. I remember the pelicans, the big birds (herons), the little white birds (egrets) and all the small little shore birds. I remember the mullet jumping and the clear, clear water. I remember the dolphins, too.
It was Florida living at its best. And I loved it.
Just like I loved being with my dad.
Happy Father's Day to all dads!
I am often asked what inspired me to create Authentic Florida.
The truth of the matter is that my inspiration probably began in the womb. I think my DNA was tattooed “F-L-O-R-I-D-A” from the get-go. Born and raised on a Florida island, I spent many days as a toddler on sandy beaches at the water’s edge. The mangroves became my playground, the pine forests my getaway, the rivers, lakes and springs offered peace, serenity and beauty.
Much later, after college, I married and moved out of the Florida - planting me far away from my birthplace. Looking back, it was nice to discover a new place but I was quickly homesick. That sojourn turned into 20 years. There were many visits home but Florida never was far from my mind.
Eventually, whether it was the stars or an awakening of my Florida genes, or merely my destiny, something inside me led me back home. While living away from my birthplace, I created a deep longing to rediscover the land I so dearly loved and Authentic Florida not only became a searching, but also a soulful mission.
Florida has so many treasures, some of which are imbedded in my memory like old photographs. The sunsets, smell of orange blossoms, the quiet swaying of pine trees, an afternoon rainstorm, a pink roseatte spoonbill in flight or even the chance sight of a night-blooming cereus.
“Real” Florida is everywhere we turn. The stillness of a kayak ride through a Florida mangrove tunnel, a swim in the world’s deepest fresh water spring, a swamp walk through the Big Cypress, horse riding on a real cracker cattle ranch, scalloping on the Nature Coast, diving for lobster in the Florida Keys, or hiking through the towering pine flatwoods of Ocala National Forest.
Besides discovering Florida, I love to live “Florida” in all I do. My kitchen bustles with delightful dishes of Florida Roasted Shrimp Salad, a Tomato-Mozzarella Tart, fresh Key Lime Pie, Orange Cream Pie, freshly caught Florida fish, stone crab and clams and everything in between.
I relish my time in my garden growing and creating a yard that looks and feels like Florida. I enjoy curling up with inviting Florida books written by local writers and I love art and artists who remind me of the state’s beauty. I also love exercising in the Florida outdoors – hiking, biking, paddle boarding, kayaking or even some yoga on the beach. Add to that a curious appreciation of Florida homes that incorporate old (and new) ideas while visiting authentic communities and neighborhoods.
Authentic Florida – for me it is a way of being, a way of life, and a source of inspiration. It’s my home, maybe it’s yours too. But even if you live elsewhere, join me as we continue our journey together.
In the 1950’s, as a young woman, my mom moved from Pittsburg to Florida with a Martin guitar slung over her back, a handful of paint brushes and an invitation to work and study with a local Sarasota artist. She lived in a small room off of the artist’s studio, working as a babysitter while studying art.
She later worked as staff artist for the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus creating set designs, props for clowns, costumes for elephants and acrobats, while the circus wintered in Sarasota.
An artist in every sense, mom received many awards and accolades as one the best. Her work, often reflective of Florida, adorns the walls of airports, malls, and galleries. She taught classes at local schools, the Ringling School of Art, and the John Ringling museum and also decorated storefront windows for area establishments.
But that wasn’t all. Mom taught yoga, did facials and collected Indian jewelry. I should add that she was a world traveler and an amateur archeologist. Yep, Jane Fonda meets Margaret Mead. That's my mom.
After meeting and marrying dad, she moved to Siesta Key, a barrier island of Sarasota, separated from the mainland by a drawbridge. The Key was then a small community of motels, families, fishermen and beachcombers. They rented beach cottages and walked the beach for sunset each evening.
Mom embraced Florida living - loving the beach, the beauty of the area - and Lipton iced tea with a wedge of lemon.
Most every day, she visited the local Siesta fish market to buy the fresh catch. At the time, fish was much cheaper than meat, and she knew how to make the most of a limited budget.
Mom is now 89. She has given me, her daughter, so much, but especially she gave me the courage to follow my dreams. She followed her pathway by moving to Florida, a woman with a dream starting out in a new and exotic place without knowing a soul. She possessed the conviction to live where she would be inspired personally and professionally. She also chose to live her life dedicated to her passion.
And she still drinks iced tea, morning, noon and night.
We’re celebrating moms. No matter where your mom grew up, tell me about your mom in the comment section below. I'd love to hear from you.
I always try to keep things simple. Why complicate life? I have learned that by keeping ideas, concepts and routines simple, my life doesn’t get sidetracked with unnecessary clutter that makes me feel overwhelmed. Simplicity helps me feel grounded. And that's good.
So that’s why Authentic Florida is dedicated to sharing simple and delightful pleasures for Florida living. Through it, I celebrate and share simple joys for enjoying Florida, and the result is that everything becomes so much more meaningful - at least for me. And another thing I have found is that the simple joys can be really affordable.
As a Florida native, I love to discover the “hidden gems” of my home state. I also like to share basic ideas and “tips” for authentic Florida living. The following are some of my favorite ideas to help you find more ways to love life in our wonderful state.
Tip #1: Travel Florida
I believe Florida’s state parks are some of the best bargains anywhere. Just recently, I was visiting Central Florida’s Rainbow Springs State Park. We kayaked, swam, saw waterfalls, luscious gardens and learned Florida history – all for $2. Now that’s a deal.
Do yourself a favor. Google your nearest state park and go. Take a lunch. Take a friend or family and just go. You won’t be disappointed. There’s so much to do. Read a little about what the park offers and consider a hike, a bike ride, kayak trip or picnic, or just do nothing – it will still be an opportunity to take in Florida’s natural beauty.
Tip #2: Cook Florida
Visit your nearest farmers market, produce stand, or even a locally owned grocery store. Look for fresh ingredients from Florida. What’s in season? Unlike other states, Florida has two major growing seasons, Fall/Winter and Winter/Spring, so there’s plenty to enjoy from October all the way through mid-June. Florida seafood, fruit and vegetables, would be a good place to start.
By using what’s fresh and in season, you’ll find yourself in good company. The greatest chefs in the world always start with fresh ingredients, especially when they can source them locally.
Tip #3: Garden Florida
A year ago, I didn’t know how to plant a tomato. Now I’m a certified Master Gardener! Even if you don’t have a back yard, consider growing fresh herbs in a pot or planter. The freshness of homegrown herbs makes any meal better.
Tip #4: Exercise Florida
When it cools down this Fall, take advantage of enjoying a new sport that gets you out – paddle boarding, yoga on the beach, horseback riding in the pine flatwoods, canoeing or kayaking in the Florida mangroves or springs, or biking in one of the state’s 160 state parks. Trying something new will give you a new perspective on Florida!
Tip #5: Read Florida
If you read nothing else when it comes to Florida literature, do read A Land Remembered, an Authentic Florida favorite. You’ll fall in love with this endearing Florida tale by Patrick Smith. You can usually find it on the “Local Interest” shelf in your favorite bookstore, or check it out at just about any public library.
Tip #6: Enjoy Florida Art
Look around you. Find your community’s art center. Go to an art show, visit a gallery. There are Florida artists everywhere who create art reflective of our Florida environment. Local art is unique and special, and purchasing it supports our creative artisans.
Tip #7: Use Florida Decor
Does your home reflect your Florida surroundings? Does it bring in the light? Florida is special because we have lots of sunshine year around. Your home is your castle and creates your mood. Lighten it up!
And finally: Love Florida
I suppose living an Authentic Florida life has always been my passion. The joys of discovering “real” Florida allows me the opportunity to discover new things and practice what I love in all areas of my life – from travel to cooking, books to gardening, art to decorating my home. Even better is sharing my passion with all of you, my Authentic Florida readers and friends.
So, it really doesn’t matter whether you were born here, or came south to escape colder weather, came for a vacation and never left, or even moved here from another country. Anyone can live an authentic Florida life.
Are you living yours?
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Robin Draper, Siesta Key
As a native Floridian, Robin grew up on the barrier island of Siesta Key, off the Gulf Coast of Sarasota. Blessed to have had a unique upbringing, Robin fondly remembers spending countless days on the beach, in the sun and swimming in the Gulf of Mexico.
Once Robin graduated from high school and college, she joined the Peace Corps and found herself assigned to an island in the Pacific Ocean – Ifaluk in Micronesia, a remote culture without electricity or modern conveniences. Outrigger canoes were the primary mode of transportation, and home was a thatched hut. Bathing was in the ocean and rain provided the drinking water. Children went to school if there was an abundance of food, otherwise they were a part of the subsistence culture of fishing and gathering.
After two years overseas, Robin returned to the United States, married and moved to California. California was another treasure in her life, but she was homesick for Florida for 20 years. She and her family finally moved back to Florida only to rediscover the land she longed. Her childhood memories are of days gone by - but continue to inspire new and renewed discoveries. This website is an homage to Florida, the home her heart has never left.