Explore Ocala with Nana & Grandchildren

Explore Ocala with Nana & Grandchildren

I am delighted to present a guest blogger this month – Barbara Fitos, Executive Director of the Community Foundation for Ocala Marion County. Barbara also has another title: she is Nana to four awesome grandchildren. For her blog she shares lively descriptions of the connections between generations and the joy of the Fitos4 having adventures together in Ocala.

By the way, Barbara makes the best cheese grits this side of paradise. Just thought you should know.

Her dream is to someday have a regular column called “Through Barbara’s Eyes”.

And so it begins here. Enjoy



Those of us blessed to be grandparents have a special bond …we can share photos and anecdotes endlessly and when a dear friend, colleague or mere acquaintance joyously announces that they are about to become one – we each smile knowingly and say “Just wait!” Perhaps most importantly, we are there to support each other in life’s sorrows – illness, separation or loss. It matters not what we are called – I inherited my dear mother’s “Nana” title – because we carry that name proudly and whether our grands live in close proximity or hundreds of miles away we as grandparents are linked forever to their lives.

My only son Joseph was raised here in Florida and both sets of his grandparents still resided in my hometown in New Jersey.   Thus time spent with them was precious whether here in Florida celebrating Thanksgiving in shorts – something Nana Rose never adjusted to! – or the Christmas holidays in New Jersey seeing snow for the very first time. Memories and legacies abound.   Some of my fondest memories are of Grandpa Fitos taking long afternoon walks around our neighborhood on a very patient journey of discovery with his two year old grandson…and of course, visits to the iconic Silver Springs.

Ocala - pop pop and great grands
Pop Pop and great grands

Grandchildren live just an hour away from Ocala

And now my son has blessed me with four wonderful grandchildren who I affectionately call the “Fitos4” – yes I said “only” and “four”!   Further blessings abound in that they reside only a little over an hour from Ocala.   With four in tow, they are obviously an active and busy family.

As such, memory sharing plays an important role in their family tradition-making. The grands, for example, curiously want to know about Daddy as a little boy – “Nana – did Daddy really do….?” Well…

My dear Mother – their great grandmother “Nana Rose” passed away long before the grands were born. My youngest granddaughter came rushing out to meet me during one Sunday dinner visit with a photograph in hand saying – “Look, Nana, do you know who this is?   Daddy found this picture!” It was a photo of my Mother with my son – so very special making the connection that Nana Rose was indeed my Mother! Three of the four grands were blessed to know my Dad – their “PopPop”.   He spent the last six years of his life here in FL with all of us – a bridge to the generations…grace abounds!

Mamie & Pop, my son’s in-laws and Marah’s extended family, are vital in creating family memories – Thanksgiving dinners, a special Christmas Eve celebration. While they reside here in Ocala they have a beautiful home on Lake Ontario in upstate NY – a summer vacation tradition eagerly awaited each year.

Overnights provide unique opportunities for exploring and creating new experiences (although only two of the four at a time – wisely!). All things in NanaB’s world belong to NanaB – like the lovely little park across the street.   “Nana, let’s go to your park!” Once there, however, the conversation went like this – “Nana, this is a very nice park but it has no swings!” So off we go to explore the park around the corner, complete with swings, slide & monkey bars – better!

Favorite local pastimes in Ocala for Nana and Grandchildren

Favorite local pastimes include visiting Brick City Center for the Arts when dog houses ruled; Downtown Farmers’ Market; Christmas on the Square (carriage rides with “real horses, Nana!”) .

Ocala - downtown square with Christmas lights
Ocala – downtown square with Christmas lights

Future planned outings include the labyrinth at Sholom Park; Silver River State Park; Art Camp at the Appleton Museum; Turkey Trot at the Frank DeLuca YMCA (for my “Runner Girl” – taking after her Mom – an accomplished marathon runner).

And this “library lady” would be totally remiss without mentioning books, books and more books.   Books that I cherished when my son was little to be passed on to another generation…Good Night Moon, Pat the Bunny, Where the Wild Things Are, the Best Christmas Pageant Ever…and discovering new finds on trips to the library and bookstores – the favorite to date “The Day the Crayons Quit” – a read aloud-laugh out loud delight.   And my dear friend and brilliant author, Lucy Beebe Tobias’ “Mary Margaret Manatee” is a must!

Ocala is the horse capital of the world

And, of course, living in the “Horse Capital of the World” grandparents and grands alike must see and visit some of the amazing farms that surround us. The generosity of spirit of owners and breeders is evident in the open farm policy of many who welcome tours and visitors on a regular basis.   The Founding Chairman of our Community Foundation, Frank Hennessey and his lovely wife, artist Carol Hennessey, are the proud owners of Hennessey Arabians .   Foaling season is not to be missed! And the grands have a standing invitation to come and see up close and first hand this amazing breed.

Ocala horse drawn carriage & grandchildren
Ocala horse drawn carriage & grandchildren

Equestrian events abound throughout the year as well. HITS – Horses in the Sunshine – the annual hunter/jumper winter circuit featured the prestigious World Cup in 2015. The famous Live Oak International that for over twenty years has hosted the premier combined driving event brings equestrians from all over the world to Ocala, FL for this four day event in late March. Ocala’s own Florida Horse Park features year round events including polo.   And one unique event perhaps not as well-known is fox hunting. The Perry Plantation in Gainesville, FL is home to Misty Morning Hounds Hunt Club that hosts traditional fox hunts throughout the season (without live foxes – licorice/anise scents are used instead!) complete with traditional attire, the blessing of the hounds and a sumptuous breakfast following the early morning hunt – spectators follow the route in tally-ho wagons.

We as grandparents are privileged to share in the lived lives of our grandchildren and have that rare opportunity to enrich their lives and ours in creating these special memories of beaches and theme parks, sports events, holidays and birthdays… but most especially those unique community places that become the essence of family life…Blessings to all my fellow “G’Mas” and “G’Pas”.

Ocala - sign to Nana


Pet friendly travel with your canine

Paddle, float and be free

Knott House Museum and More History



Mount Up – Horseback Riding in Florida

Mount Up – Horseback Riding in Florida

In his seminal book A Land Remembered published in 1984 author Patrick Smith traced three generations of a family homesteading in Florida.

Life was tough. Mosquitoes were relentless in their pursuit of human blood and bad guys burned down their first house. But they persisted, built again in another location and gathered herds of cattle – descendents of cows left behind by Spanish explorers.

The annual cattle drives from the Jacksonville area to the west coast Punta Gorda area where freighters waited to take the beef cattle live to Cuba – these drives were fraught with danger. That caught my attention. Cattle drives and cowboys. We had the Wild West right here in Florida. Who knew?

Mount Up and Enjoy Horseback Riding

The cattle drives are gone, except for occasional reenactments, but you can mount up and enjoy horseback riding all over the state.

horseback riding - on the trail at Silver River State Park, Ocala
Riders start off on the horse trail at Silver Springs State Park in Ocala. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

Here is one trip I haven’t done but it sounds intriguing. The Horseback Adventure at Forever Florida in St. Cloud promises to blaze a pioneer style trail. This hour and a half ride on a walking trail goes along historic paths and through a creek.

This adventure is for riders of all skill levels and first timers are welcome. Children must be at least ten years old and be with a parent or guardian. Wearing long pants and closed toed shoes are both a must do. The tour operators promise to match horses with each individual’s personality and experience. Worth it to go and see what kind of horse has your personality! Advance ticket purchase is recommended. Call (866)-854-3837. Price per person is $69.99.

In Venice, located 16 miles south of Sarasota, one horseback riding vendor is Deer Prairie Creek Preserve. Rides are offered October through May. Western saddles used. Prices start at $60 an hour. Note that price is for two people each paying $60 for a one –hour ride. Children must be at least eight years old.

Florida is rightly famous for sun and fun. Beachhorses.com in Bradenton captures both with horseback riding on the beach and then into Palma Sola Bay. Yes, you will be on a horse that is swimming. Price is $124.95 per person plus taxes and fees. Times vary with the tides (they do low tide).

For more beach riding – Amelia Island, north of Jacksonville, has rides on the beach through Amelia Horseback Riding Cost is $90 per person for an hour. The owner is Debbie Manser and she takes two to four people at a time on her rides.

Note: Most horse riding web sites have calendars with available dates marked or numbers to call.

Two hours north of Orlando, Marion County and Ocala call themselves “Horse Capital of the World” so there – Just move over Kentucky. This horse capital thing is great news for horse lovers. Visit horse farms, see demonstrations and even go riding on the horse trails at Silver Springs State Park.

Check out the self-guided tour of horse farms with a deep list of farms that welcome visitors.

Horseback Riding in Silver Springs State Park

 Silver Springs State Park has an equestrian entrance down the road from the main park entrance (the old Silver Springs) in Ocala The trail goes through a wetland habitat so bring lots of bug spray in the summer. Bring your own horse; there is room for horse trailers. Don’t have a horse but want to ride? Consider taking a trail ride from one to two hours with Cactus Jack’s Trail Rides.

Horseback ridig - reading horse trail maps at Silver Springs State Park, Ocala
Checking out the possible routes at Silver Springs State Park, Ocala. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

They take ages six and up. Prices for Silver Springs State Park ride are $45 an hour plus tax. Call for reservations at (352) 266-9326. Cactus Jack is also the designated horseback-riding provider for the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway.

The ride is mostly shady and goes through pine forests, meadows and oak hammocks. $45 plus tax per person for one hour, $55 plus taxes for an hour and a half and $65 for two hours. A two-hour ride gives you the choice of staying in the woods or riding the Greenway Land Bridge that spans Interstate 75 – a unique structure made for walkers and horseback riders – no cars allowed!

When you see natural Florida on horseback it is a step back in time, a kinship with Spanish explorers, Native Americans and Tobias MacIvey, his wife Emma and his son Zechariah, the pioneer family in A Land Remembered.

Horseback riding - two horses taking a break at Silver Springs State Park
Two horses taking a break. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias


Lucy Tobias is teaching a one-day workshop in Ocala for getting on track with your writing. The link is: http://masterthepossibilities.com/classes.php?cid=26

When: May 16 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m

Where: Master the Possibilities, a program of On Top of the World in Ocala.

Cost: $50 for residents. $55 for non residents. Lunch is included.

Writing exercises and hands on beginning of your novel, children’s book, memoir, you name it! Bring paper or an electronic tablet. This will be a great day! Jump in and sign up.



Living History Reenactors are Time Travelers

Soldiers Take Over Fort Clinch Again !

Water Tours Offer Unique View of Florida

Empty Bowls Filled with Love and Soup

Empty Bowls Filled with Love and Soup

I walked up the wide stairway then down a long hallway looking for the right room number. I heard my destination before arriving. Laughter spilled out of an open doorway of the ceramics studio at Central Florida Community College in Ocala . Yep, exactly where I needed to be.

It was the last day of the Empty Bowls project. I’d had to cancel a studio date earlier but now my turn had come to pull up a stool, play and help social change – namely fighting hunger by feeding the hungry in our local area. How cool is that? I stepped inside.

empty bowls project - A greenware bowl
A greenware bowl

Bowls already fired, called greenware, were on the long tables along with brushes and foam trays for colors – acrylic paints that have to be applied in three coats to come out bright after firing.

Empty Bowls project helps feed the hungry

Jillian Daniel Ramsammy, CFCC’s Hampton Center Director and guru for this project suggested doing the outside first.
“Have you got a design in mind?” She asked.
“Sortof, yes.” I nodded. “Blue green sea colors then paint fish over that.”
“Good, here, look at the color chart, let’s pick out some blues and greens.”

The colors leap off the chart, vivid hues far different from what comes out of the bottle – a thick matte paste with a muted color. It takes imagination to see the finished bowl. I wander over to a table covered with fired bowls – bright colors, beautiful designs.

Empty bowls project - A finished bowl in the CFCC ceramics studio
A finished bowl in the CFCC ceramics studio

The Empty Bowl project has had three months of bowl-making sessions. At the end of this last day over 500 bowls will have been painted.

I’m surrounded by fun and laughter in the ceramics studio. At the table next to me several CFCC teachers are painting bowls and enjoyed doing something totally different from their daily routine.

Empty bowls project - CFCC faculty painting empty bowls
CFCC faculty painting empty bowls

In walks a CFCC student, a little breathless as she ran up the stairs. Sitting across from me, she quickly works on a bowl, doing the background then lettering words in a clear, sure handwriting.

I comment on her lovely script, so straight and perfectly formed. My attempts at making fish outlines fizzled with wavy lines and indistinct shapes. The fantasy and reality didn’t quite match.

“My hand better be sure, I want to be a surgeon,” she says smiling. Jillian walks by, looks at her sure handwriting and says “I’d let you operate on me.” We all laugh.

I didn’t get her name but here is her story – she goes to CFCC Monday through Friday, on weekends she works 32 hours at the hospital so she can pay for her car to get her to classes and it pays the rent. Oh yes, she also has small children. Whew. I felt like I’d run a half marathon just listening to her schedule. With all that, and she found time to paint bowls for a good cause.

The Empty Bowls Web site says: “The basic idea for Empty Bowls is simple. Participants create ceramic bowls, then serve a simple meal of soup and bread. Guests choose a bowl to use that day and to keep as a reminder that there are always Empty Bowls in the world. In exchange for a meal and the bowl, the guest gives a suggested minimum donation of ten dollars. The meal sponsors and /or guests choose a hunger-fighting organization to receive the money collected.”

On March 3, at CFCC from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Patriot Café, Bryant Student Union, you can enjoy soup and bread and pick out a bowl to keep as a reminder of the empty bowls in the world. Minimum $10 donation required. Call (352) 873-5881 for tickets in advance. Proceeds benefit Interfaith Emergency Services, Citrus United Basket and Tri-County Outreach.

Empty bowls project – paint a bowl, help the hungry

But one little catch developed – almost everyone who painted a bowl, including me, said they’d like to get heir own bowl. Jillian’s advice to potters – come early.

Ceramics carries a bit of mystery. I left my painted bowl – it looks dull. But like a caterpillar that turns into a butterfly, a bowl transformation will take place. The bowl cures for a few days. Then Jillian and helpers put on a clear finish. Next it is into the kiln for firing and what comes out – a bright vivid bowl, made with love for a good cause. I can hardly wait to see the results.

There may be an Empty Bowl event near you, check here for state listings. Or organize your own event.Yes, you can change the world one bowl at a time.

I arrived feeling rushed and uncertain – would this take long? Would it be hard to do? Would I be done in time for the next thing on the schedule? I left smiling, happy and wondering what’s the hurry? Slow down and enjoy the moment. Paint a bowl. Fight world hunger. I’d do it again anytime.

Update: in 2015, Empty Bowls celebrates 25 years of its grassroots movement to end hunger. Visit their Web site. Type in your state. Find events year you.

©2009 Lucy Beebe Tobias. All rights reserved.
Lucy Beebe Tobias is the author of “50 Great Walks in Florida” and the Authentic Florida Expert for VISIT FLORIDA. She lives in Ocala, Florida with two dogs and three cats at last count.


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