Sunday, September 29, 2013

Florida Springs: Fanning Springs & Manatee Springs, Levy County, FL

The road between Orlando and Dekle Beach passes by quite a few springs, as I noticed on my last trip there. I took a short trip to Dekle this weekend (which will be the subject of another post) and decided to stop at one spring on the way there and another on my way back. 

On the way there I stopped at Fanning Springs, which is located in the tiny community of (wait for it...) Fanning Springs on the western edge of Levy County. To be honest, I found the springs rather disappointing. While the water was crystal clear and bright blue - and while I was the ONLY person there other than park staff - I was still a bit let down. For starters, even though the water was perfectly clear, there was no vegetation whatsoever inside the spring head area. None, other than at the very edges. While this might make the springs more comfortable for swimmers (I admit, freshwater "seaweed" is always disconcerting when it rubs along my legs while I'm swimming), it gave the springs a bit of a dead appearance, in my opinion. The other disappointing factor was the concrete dock which separated the springs proper from the run leading out to the river. Again, convenient for swimmers (and boaters), but god what an eyesore.

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However, despite my feeling of disappointment, it was an absolutely gorgeous day to visit a spring. Not only was the sky clear and blue, not only was I the only visitor at the park, but it was the first day that it actually felt like fall here in Florida. It's so rare here to have a gorgeous, sunny day that isn't blisteringly hot and tormentingly humid, so having a day of perfect weather made sitting on the spring-shore quite pleasant. And while there might not have been a lot of aquatic plant life, I saw quite a few fish and turtles. I'm guessing they were enjoying the fact that there were no humans in the water to disturb them! I saw an insane amount of mullet, plus one super adorable baby turtle who was only about two inches in diameter.

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He wasn't much bigger than this in real life.

On  my way home from Dekle, I stopped at Manatee Springs, located just outside of Chiefland, FL in Levy County. Sadly, despite the arrival of fall temperatures, it's still too warm for manatees to be seeking warmth inside the springs, so I didn't see any. Also, when I arrived at the park it was about to start pouring. I also knew that I had two more hours of driving to go. As such, I didn't spend much time at the park. That being said, I found Manatee Springs much more to my liking than Fanning. The springs seemed more natural (as in no giant concrete dock marring your view), and they seemed a lot more alive vegetation-wise. That being said, there were quite a few swimmers and scuba divers, meaning that the fish and turtles were nowhere to be seen.

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You can walk all the way around the spring head. One side (the far side) is bordered by a man-made wall. From the other side, one can walk right into the water from a natural shoreline (although it does have that ramp that the boy is standing on).

Monday, September 23, 2013

Things to share with my students (or not...)

I was watching the 2009 Star Trek last night, and the scene where Kirk meets Uhura for the first time is just so bloody brilliant from my point of view. I would love to share it with my students since it mentions so many of the things we've been discussing in class (albeit from the point of view of xenolinguistics, not plain old bound-to-earth linguistics), although Kirk's quip at the end makes it a little less than appropriate for class. As such, I'll share it with you guys instead (until youtube takes me down for copyright violations, anyway).

And in the category of things I will actually share with my classes, here's my next powerpoint. Kind of annoyed that SlideShare eliminated my Arabic script :-(

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mixed Feelings

Here’s some appropriate music to listen to while reading:

I love traveling. It’s what I do, and I will never stop doing it. That being said, I’ll be turning 35 in a few days, and I’m starting to think in terms of actually… not settling down, but more like establishing a permanent base here in the US. While I’m not a huge fan of the Orlando area, I do like Florida in general and there are a lot of TESOL opportunities here due to our high native Spanish speaking population. I also do not relish another couple of plane flights with animals. Flying with pets, while often a necessity in my life, is never a pleasant experience for me, and I suspect it’s far worse for them. I’d love to have my own place with a fenced in yard where Mochi could run, and maybe even play with a dog his size, and a house big enough that I wouldn’t have to have the litter box in my bedroom. Obviously, when I do this (and I will eventually), I will continue to take fun and ridiculous vacations to destinations that hardly anyone else would choose… but am I ready to stop living and working overseas long term? I don’t know. On the one hand, I’ve been browsing real estate listings in central and north Florida while hunting for potential future employers in those areas. (Of course, I don’t graduate until May 2014, and all of the job ads online now are for either immediate or January start dates, so it’s not like I’m applying for anything.) On the other hand, I’m still working on my application to the State Department’s English Language Fellow program and browsing overseas job listings. Some days I’m certain I want to move overseas again, other days I’m certain I want to stay here. I’m thinking it could go either way. Obviously it’s way too early for me to be worrying about this, as I won’t be submitting any job applications until next semester… and yet it seems that nowadays this is all I think about.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

In which I see a dead body

My roommate got home around 10pm. As she was pulling in to our road, she noticed an obviously intoxicated (drunk/high/something) individual wandering down the middle of our road. He was so out of it that he didn’t even react to her car. This happens a lot. Unfortunately, our neighborhood is close to a bridge, under which quite a few homeless people live. There’s also a fenced-off area at the end of our road, which is the property of the local electric company; a lot of homeless people live there, too. While I understand that homeless folks must live somewhere, it is definitely disconcerting when people who seem obviously intoxicated or obviously not-quite-right in the head regularly walk through your neighborhood. I have no problem with the non-crazy, sober homeless folks. Anyway, my roommate had basically come inside then gone right back out to her car when our neighbor, who had been outside talking on the phone, said she thought someone had just been hit by a car, but she wasn’t sure and was too afraid to go look. The neighbor called 911, and my roommate came and got me, and we went to check it out. It was the guy my roommate had seen staggering down our road, and he had obviously been run over. It wasn’t the first dead human body I’d seen in real life, but it was definitely the first that hadn’t died of natural causes. We were out there before the cops, before the EMS folks. The guy who hit him, as well as the woman who had been driving in the next lane over and had witnessed the accident, were there, frantically calling for help. The cops arrived less than a minute after we did, and the ambulance pulled up a couple of minutes after that. Apparently the guy had been standing on the edge of the road, and had staggered into the street directly in front of an oncoming truck. The driver had no chance of stopping or swerving. The medics attempted to revive the guy, but with no luck.

Because we essentially live on the corner where this happened, we stuck around. The cops got my roommate’s contact info, in case they needed to verify the way the guy was acting prior to the accident. The main road was closed for the entire block on our side of the road, and no one was allowed in or out of our street (which was inconvenient for some folks who needed to get out to go to work, or who were returning home late). We waited with the driver while he waited to be told if he could go or not, during which time several homeless people came by to find out what was going on, wanting to know what the guy had looked like, and if he was going to make it. White, shaved head, light grey or white shirt. And no, he wasn’t going to make it. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Florida Springs: Wekiwa Springs, Apopka, FL

The two closest springs to Orlando are Blue Spring and Wekiwa Springs. I went to Blue Spring last week, so this week I drove over to Apopka to visit Wekiwa Springs. I’ve been to Wekiwa before, but not since 2007. The park tends to fill up on the weekends (you’ll be denied entry if the park is full), but if you go in the morning on a weekday (especially during the school year) it’s not crowded at all. Unfortunately, if you get there around 10:30-11:00 the light is in exactly the wrong spot for getting really quality spring pictures (sigh) although if you want pictures with few people in the spring, it’s the perfect time. Kind of a mixed blessing.

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Unlike Blue Spring, at Wekiwa Springs you can walk right up to the spring head; however, unlike Blue Spring (which is still in its natural state), the spring head at Wekiwa is surrounded by a man-made wall. (Many of Florida’s springs were enclosed in such structures in the early 1900s.)

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While I didn’t have much luck photographing the springs, I did get some pretty nice insect and animal photographs while hiking the two miles to Sand Lake and back. Of course, Sand Lake itself was pretty underwhelming and not exactly worth the effort (especially when you can drive there instead of hoofing it for four miles).

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Grasshopper sex.

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Sand Lake, rather underwhelming.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Florida’s Springs: Blue Spring, Orange City, FL

When people who aren’t Floridians think about Florida, they tend to think of Disney and beaches as the state’s main attractions. While the beaches and the theme parks might very well be the things that attract most tourists to the state, Florida’s freshwater springs are to me one of the state’s most attractive features. Since I’m here – and since I have a lot more free time this semester than last (last semester I worked two jobs and took four classes; this semester I’m back down to a more reasonable one job and three classes) – I’ve decided to see how many of the state’s springs I can visit and photograph.

I started off this week by going to one of the two spring-containing Florida state parks in the Orlando vicinity: Blue Spring State Park in Orange City.

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I’m going to have to admit that this was not my favorite spring. I’m not sure which spring is my favorite, although Ichetucknee definitely has the home court advantage as I grew up about a fifteen minute drive from the springs. At Ichetucknee and many other springs, it is possible to walk directly up to the shore of the spring-head. This is not possible at Blue Spring. One can swim from slightly downstream of the spring into the spring-head, or one can view the spring from a boardwalk in the woods above the spring. Neither of these options provided the best spring-viewing opportunities for me and my non-waterproof camera. Still, the spring was pretty, and I got some decent photographs. I had heard that Blue Spring was a prime manatee watching location. I was a little disappointed to discover that it’s only a prime manatee watching location in the winter (when the spring’s waters are warmer than those of the nearby St. Johns River). There was not a single manatee in sight. My time at the spring was cut short by the typical Florida afternoon sunshower, which I eventually grew tired of trying to wait out. I did, however, get to witness the amusing – if confusing – running of sopping wet, bathing suit attired folks, frantically scrambling for shelter when it started to rain. Dude. You’re already wet. You’re in a bathing suit. There’s no lightning. Seriously? I just didn’t get it. I wrapped my DSLR in a plastic bag and slowly sauntered on.

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The spring head as viewed from the boardwalk above

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Another shot of the spring head from the boardwalk above

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You can rent kayaks to explore the spring run

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The spring run flows into the St. Johns River

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Thursby House, 1872
The folks who lived here apparently grew citrus until all their trees were killed in a freeze. They had a steamboat dock which was pretty active until a new railway was built into the area and replaced steamboat travel as the main method of transportation.

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Only the home's kitchen was done up 'period' style. The remainder of the house was either closed to visitors or contained some rather repetitive and not-too-informative displays.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Language Learning, PowerPoints, and Teaching

This semester, I am teaching a course on second language acquisition, or the process by which we learn second languages. I was provided with a complete set of PowerPoint presentations which had been used by current and previous teachers of this course... but I'm kind of picky about my PowerPoints. To me, there are certain fonts which should never be used in a PowerPoint presentation. I'm not just talking about Comic Sans; in my opinion decorative fonts and any sort of serif font should never be used in professional presentations. Likewise, multiple colored fonts can be used for emphasis, but this should be done sparingly. ClipArt and WordArt need to go. Slides packed full of words need to be rare and limited to Really Important Things. Basically, the set of PowerPoints that I was given pretty much hit on everything that makes me shudder with regards to presentations. As such I'm re-doing them. They're based on the PowerPoints that I was given as well as on the text The Study of Language by George Yule. Here are the ones that I've used so far. Annoyingly, I haven't found any share-your-powerpoint website that lets me embed the files on my blog AND lets the animations work AND doesn't mess up my formatting here and there. Boo. I'm using SlideShare, as it seems to work the best for sharing on Blogger. If any of you know of a site that would work better, please let me know. Anyway, keep in mind that a good PowerPoint presentation should be used as the backdrop for your lecture - it shouldn't simply contain the text of your lecture. As such, a lot of the slides are just pictures, short video clips, or short phrases meant to stimulate discussion. Anyhow - enjoy!

After using this one in class, I learned that my students have no clue as to who Kirk Douglas is. I was finally able to get through to them by saying "You know Michael Douglas? The guy who's married to Catherine Zeta-Jones? Yeah, his father." Also, note to self: warn students before showing the video on brain surgery. I nearly had one guy puke. Not everyone has as tough of a stomach for such things as I have.

You can't discuss second language acquisition until you know a bit about first language acquisition. Also FYI, the last slide consists of discussion group questions. And a picture of me as a toddler.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Laborious Driving, Beachless Beaches, and a Turtle

This holiday weekend I did a LOT of driving. I drove from Orlando, FL to Dekle Beach, FL. From there I drove up to Waycross, GA, then back down to Orlando. I’m including a map so you can see what I’m talking about:

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As I mentioned in my last post, my mom’s boyfriend, F, has purchased a vacation home in Dekle Beach, FL. Now, despite being named Dekle Beach and being located along Florida’s Gulf Coast, there is no beach at Dekle Beach. There’s a lot of scenic marsh, but no beach. There’s also not much of anything there (they don’t even so much as have a convenience store). It’s a pretty tiny community, and its one claim to fame is fairly horrific: ten people were killed there (including a family from my hometown) back in 1993 during a freak storm that pretty much appeared out of nowhere. (See the wikipedia article on the storm, as well as an article in which survivors recall the events of that evening. It's pretty harrowing stuff.) F’s house is one of the ones that was around before 1993 and survived the storm, so here’s hoping it survives whatever else Mother Nature throws at it.

The plan was that I would drive up from Orlando, mom would drive down from Waycross, and F would drive down from his home in north Florida. I thought the goal was to get there around noon. I got there at 12:45 and no one was around. I should also mention that while mom and F have keys, I do not. Also, the AC in my car works well while the car is moving, but not so much while it’s sitting still. And it was Florida in late August, meaning that it was HOT. Mochi and I went for a long walk around Dekle Beach (although eventually Mochi just sat down and refused to go any farther. He does have awfully short legs, and it was quite hot out). We then sat in the screened in area underneath F’s house, waiting for someone to come and let us into the air conditioning.

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Mochi's a hot dog :-)

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Not really what you think of when someone says "it's a beach community in Florida"

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There were houses here before the 1993 storm.

Once mom and F arrived, we set off for nearby Keaton Beach. Unlike Dekle Beach, Keaton Beach actually has a small stretch of – gasp! – beach. Unfortunately, the one restaurant located in Keaton Beach has gone out of business (if you’re interested in a cool business location, it’s up for sale…) meaning that our lunch ended up being whatever had been baking in the tray at the local gas station for god knows how many days. Also, the water was incredibly shallow and rather overgrown with seaweed. Not the best beach, but good for a short dip if you don’t mind sitting in the seaweed. There were tons of hermit crabs. I also saw a garfish with a smaller fish in its mouth, as well as a stingray and quite a few sea-birds.

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Keaton Beach at low tide: sea grass everywhere!

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Mom and me

After our “swim” we returned to Dekle Beach, where we did some more walking (much to poor Mochi’s chagrin), and we may have explored an area clearly labeled with ‘no trespassing’ signs, haha.

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It was also clearly marked with these signs about not stealing palm trees. Um, ok.

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Mom :-)

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The view from F's porch in the morning light

The next morning, I left to drive to Waycross. Somebody has to feed mom’s animals while she’s enjoying the beach house! My stint in Waycross was wholly uneventful, and I returned to Orlando on Monday. I did stop on US 1 to rescue a turtle who was foolishly walking south down the center of the southbound lanes. It terrified Mochi.

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I’m still posting stuff regularly over on my Kyrgyzstan blog, so go check it out!