Too Long Out of The Water…..

Scrawled File Fish on Reef

I really do try to dive as often as possible, yet the past year has seen a distinct drop-off in my underwater time. I admit that like many who live here year-round, I am spoiled about conditions. When the water temperature dips to 72 degrees, I have a tendency to hold off and when the wind is kicking up at 12+ knots, I usually weasel out. Even setting those parameters aside, I haven’t been out as often as I like, so last Saturday I agreed with my husband when one of our snow bird friends called to say they were going. I shut the computer off and went, and yes, I worked all day Sunday to make up for it, but that’s another post.

It was a beautiful day, although the current on the first dive did get your attention. I suppose I should consider it as more exercise. The second dive was calmer and we were by no means the only boat on Molassess Reef. It was not a day of spectacular finds with really only a huge eel tucked so far back under a ledge that my husband couldn’t get a good photo. Lots of barracuda though and enough angel fish to keep me happy. That means at least one queen, French, gray, and rock beauty. I have yet to see a blue angel even though I have heard other people claim sightings. There were several trumpet fish as well as abundant snappers of multiple types and the other standard reef inhabitants.

I could make a promise to myself to do better this year, but practically speaking, I will merely say that I will try to “get wet” more often.

Healing Horse Therapy……

Good Hope Equestrian Training Center near Homestead, FL provides therapy for spcial needs adults, children, and wounded veterans

Whether you use the proper term of equestrian therapy or the casual term of “horse”, this is another of those alternative programs that does not always, but can have healing, or at least greatly beneficial theraputic results depending on the individual. I previously posted  about the amazing Island Dolphin Care therapy program and a couple of weeks ago I went to the Good Hope Equestrain Training Center to speak with two wonderful women who are working to spread the word about the programs they conduct. Like many organizations, these programs have seen a reduction in funding levels and they are planning two fund raisers; a Family Day and concert March 31, 2012 from 12:00 to 6:00 p.m., and a golf tournament on April 14, 2012 with registration beginning at 11:00 a.m.

I met with Peggy Bass, the Executive Director, and Betty Quinn, a woman who helps find employment for special needs adults, the day that I was at the Good Hope Center. Their commitment and compassion were palpable and I was amazed at the variety of programs they offered for special needs children, adults, and wounded veterans. I haven’t been on a horse since I was a kid visiting my grandfather’s farm, but I did used to take Dustin to riding lessons. Peggy, who has personally developed several of the programs, explained the mechanics of some of the therapies and Betty talked about the positive impact she has seen in participants and family members.

They took me for a stroll where the 12 specially trained horses are stabled and I watched the excited interaction with a class of adults who were helping groom two of the horses. There was no mistaking the delight on the faces of the group or the patience of the staff members. It was a rewarding afternoon and if you are in a situation where a special needs child, adult, or wounded veteran requires therapy, perhaps there is an equestrian center near you that you may not be aware of.

 

Why I Love Carmax….

No, this is not an advertisement per se and certainly not any sort of compensated endorsement. It is merely something for me to relate to anyone (male or female) who hates the ritual of car buying. I do know people who revel in that process and I once took a friend with me after I expressed reluctance to buy a new car. He genuinely enjoyed the back-and-forth, “Well, let me check with the manager” crap that I detest. I was grateful for his help and annoyed that there wasn’t an easier way to do it.

A number of years ago, a friend told me about their experience with Carmax and when we were in Puerto Rico and our son was in Northern VA, I was concerned with the age of his car. I gave him the dollar limit he had to work with and suggested he try Carmax. They couldn’t have treated him better and so when it was time for me to get another car upon our return from PR, I had already been searching their web site. One of the many good things about them is their inventory changes daily and you can go in and specify the type of car you are looking for. If they don’t have the one you want in a particular location, they will bring it in using zones for shipping price. Nearby zones have zero cost and then they expand all the way across the country. As with everything else about Carmax though the price is clearly shown and that is the price. No surprises, no haggling. When you are on line, you can narrow the seach by price, and number of miles on the car as well as make, model, or type. Carmax does sell some new cars (mostly Toyotas) at some locations, but they primarily have previously owned cars.

If you have a car to trade, they will give you as good a price as you are likely to get anywhere – again, they tell you the price they will pay and that’s it. The trade-in value doesn’t change the longer you talk. Since I didn’t have a trade-in, I basically bought the car on-line (a make and model I was familiar with). We flew into Atlanta where my sister-in-law and her husband picked us up. The Carmax was close by. We arrived, the car was ready. Did we want the extended warranty? No? Did we want Lo-Jack? Yes. Okay, they took my husband’s mother’s address so they could have a technician come to her house to do the installation. Sign paperwork, give them a check, take car. That was it. The extended warranty and Lo-Jack are the only options they offer. Their dealer price of $149 (I think it’s $199 now, maybe a little higher) is clearly shown as the only addition to the price of the car. No endless list of services to be pitched, no trying to wear you down with why you ought to have something else added. We weren’t doing financing, but their financing process seemed fairly quick from what I saw going on around us.

Between us and our son, we have purchased five vehicles through Carmax. While you can go on-line as I usually do, you can also go to a location and wander as you wish with no pressure. Again, one of the primary differences in Carmax is that when you look at a sticker price, it is what you get, although tax and title are not shown. If a car price is shown for let’s say $21,099, the $199 Carmax addition is shown for a purchase price of $21,298 and then tax and title costs that vary by state/municipality. They will even tell you the percentage of that before hand if you ask so you can do the calculation yourself if you wish.

When we left the Carmax in Atlanta, my brother-in-law was impressed. My sister-in-law was too, but she said that no, she enjoyed the traditional haggling. And yes, if you want a brand new car they are probably not a good option. On the other hand, if you are in the market for a previously owned one and you are near a Carmax, at least check out their web site.

Women’s History Month, Part III – College Isn’t Always the Answer…

I don’t intend this to be a contrarian position and yes, I do very much value a college education. Let me say, however, as I mentioned in the post about math and science, all college degrees are not created equal. If college costs had not sky-rocketed as they have during the past 30 years, deciding to major in Diversity Studies, Philosophy, or a number of other liberal arts disciplines would be a matter of pursuing personal interests without perhaps an eye for practical application. With that said, as long as you understand that jobs in those areas tend to not be plentiful and skills such as written and oral communication are what you plan to bring to whatever actual job you pursue, then enjoy the time spent. Read all the philosophy you wish and plan to go into banking or whatever. With the economic reality of tens of thousands of dollars for a college education though, you at least want to try and limit a four year degree to four years. The truth is that not all high school seniors are ready for college and that is nothing to be embarrassed about.

As an Army veteran I strongly believe that if someone needs some time to “find themselves”, the military is a great place to do so for those who are physically and mentally able. I didn’t say it was an easy way, and no, not everyone will qualify. Other options though such as the Peace Corps or Americorp provide an opportunity for young people to engage in worthy projects that can help them focus on what they really want.

There are certification programs in many of the trades that may be a better answer and if your child has always shown an interest in mechanical things or has an eye toward beauty school, that is a valid way to enter the working world. Most adults will have multiple careers and rather  than spend huge sums of money that may result in a failed try at college, step back and consider if a delay is better for your son or daughter.

Taking on a part time job and going to Community College part time taking basic courses that will apply to most degrees is another approach that can be a great fit. We all want what is best for our children and our society stresses a college degree as being what is best. I have come to believe that is simply not always the truth. Choosing to attend college much later in life may be a better answer and in some cases, not attending at all is the correct choice.

Easy Shepard’s Pie….

This is a quick post and yes, I know tomorrow is St Patrick’s Day, so I should have done this yesterday. Anyway, the recipe I use for the party is really simple and I always use 9 x13 foil baking pans so there’s very little cleanup. (This is one of the few times I don’t use extra lean ground beef.)

5 pounds of ground beef (85% lean); 1 large onion – diced; 1 32-oz bag of frozen corn; 1 16-oz bag of frozen sliced carrots (I admit I do cut these smaller after I thaw them, but it’s a quick thing to do); 1 jar beef gravy; 1 Guiness (optional); 2 containers of refrigerated prepared mashed potatoes (2 lb size).

Thaw the carrots by putting them into a bowl of hot water for about 15 minutes. Drain them and chop into small pieces. Thaw the corn the same way. Brown the meat, then dump it into one of the foil baking pans. Add enough oil to the pot to saute the onions, then add the meat, the vegetables, the gravy, and the beer into the pot and mix thoroughly. Salt and pepper to taste and cook on medium for fifteen minutes or until the liquid is reduced to where the mixture stirs easily, but is not “soupy”. Heat the oven to 400. Divide the mixture into the foil pans. It will for sure fill two and maybe three depending on how deep the pans are. Spread the mashed potatoes on top of the mixture and bake for 30 minutes. Oh, the foil pans are not sturdy, so it’s best to put them on top of a cookie sheet for baking. The nice thing is that you can do all of this ahead of time, cover the pans with plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator or an extra ice chest if you don’t have room in the refrigerator. I would take them out of the fridge/cooler half an hour before you put them in the oven to allow it to come to room temperature. If you aren’t certain of how many people are coming, you can bake the first pan, then the other one later. If you do have leftovers, it reheats well in the microwave.

This is obviously a crowd-size dish, so you can do 2 pounds of beef, 16 ounces of corn, 16 ounces of carrots, 1/2 onion, 1 jar of gravy, (1/2 of a Guinness), and 1 container of mashed potatoes for a smaller batch. I pair it with party-size potato rolls, although crusty bread works, too.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

 

Women’s History Month Part II – Math and Science as Equalizers

Okay, everyone knows about Marie Curie and I admit that a famous female mathematician doesn’t leap to my mind, but in my last post I explained that from my perspective, the truly important point for women is the array of choices that we have, more so than in past generations. During my 22 years in the Army I learned to do things that I hadn’t thought possible, especially in the first few years when men were still trying to absorb the fact that women were coming into previously restricted military specialities and assignments. I watched other women do the same and while not all were successful, it taught me some valuable lessons about stepping well outside your comfort zone. However, the doors that could have been opened to me had we understood it when I was younger were math and science. Interestingly, my older sister was inclined to science and good in math from as early as I can recall. Despite the fact that we were in a small town, there was a female science teacher in junior high school who saw that desire in my sister and nutured it from the beginning. (My older sister was also perfect, but that’s another subject.) I was neck-and-neck with my sister academically until I moved from basic arthimetic. When I struggled with algebra, the standard phrase of, “girls aren’t supposed to be good in math”, gave me the out that I needed. I was smart, but not in that and hey, when would I ever really need geometry? My sister was winning science awards left and right, acing trig and calculus, but I could talk rings around her with literature.

I kid you not that she went straight through from first grade to her PhD in Biochemistry, or maybe it was Cell Biology, and let us say that my path included as little science and math as I could get away with. The truth though is that while sure, some people are more obviously inclined to math and science than others, the fear, and therefore reluctance, that most children/adolescents have with regard to math and science can be fairly easily overcome with proper teaching. Now, I am not going to enter into the debate about the shape of our schools, and the education of children in general, because that is a multi-faceted subject. My point is that we still culturally immediately accept when girls don’t want to do math and science. A number of organizations and programs have developed to combat this inclination and if you don’t know about the work of Danica McKellar, former television star (“Wonder Years” and “West Wing”), who has authored books like, “Math Doesn’t Suck”, and become a major advocate for girls overcoming their fear of math, please visit her site of, http://www.mathdoesn’tsuck.com

When we consciously or unconsciously promote the idea that, “math and science aren’t for girls”, we do not only a disservice to girls, but also to ourselves as we lose our standing among other nations with regards to these disciplines. Not all mathematicians are scientifically oriented, but all scientists and engineers need math. Since I don’t have an artistic flair, had I become an engineer, I would have gravitated to the civil engineering side and implemented plans that others designed, but none of that was possible when I wasn’t willing to go beyond fundamental arthimetic. Would I have been better for it? I don’t know, but I love it when I watch Kari Byron on “Mythbusters”, or see interviews with women working in robotics, astronomy, etc.

So if you are in a position to influence a girl/adolescent who is certain she can’t “do math or science”, take some time to find out why and perhaps you can help her overcome the fear – even if you didn’t choose those subjects. I am not saying we don’t need artists, musicians, literature majors, and so forth. I am saying though that we may be closing doors that can be opened wide to lead to other paths.

 

 

Women’s History Month, Part I – It’s About Choices…..

This is actually going to be a three-part post because it would be entirely too long for a single one. Let’s begin with the admission that as a Baby Boomer, my life view has modified since I was eighteen. I had a life plan laid out that was a good plan and it’s difficult to know how things might have been for me had I kept to the plan. In reality I had two plans, neither of which I followed, although both had me remaining in small towns in Louisiana in a professional capacity. I was in that generation of women who anticipated having a career outside the home and balancing all that came with that – the “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar” of the Helen Reddy song, and I indeed embraced the sexual revolution. No drugs other than alcohol, but I am straying from the point.

I set upon a different path though, one that caused me to be an inadvertent pioneer in the Army. While my “groundbreaking assignments” seem mild now compared to what women are doing, I can genuinely claim to have mentored some of those women. Along the way though I have encountered women who are so stridently feminist that they cannot see accomplishment unless it falls within their narrow definition, and on the other end of the spectrum, I do know women who are convinced that women have no place outside the home.

What I have come to embrace is that liberation in this, as in so many other things, is about choice – genuine choice. Are there still people who perpetuate a “glass ceiling”? Sure, but from my personal experience, they have significantly diminshed in number. Girls and women today have extensive opportunity from a career perspective if that is what they choose to do. On the other hand, if you look at childcare, commuting, and other work-related expenses, it sometimes makes economic sense for a woman to choose to be a stay-at-home mother rather than having/continuing/returning to a career, if that is what she also wishes to do from an emotional aspect. Neither position is intrinsically superior to the other, and it is when we try and claim so that causes acrimony among “the sisterhood”.

Genuine choice from my definition is that girls and women recognize the incredible range of options they can pursue. Some will be vastly more difficult than others, some may well run counter to cultural, familial, or social expectations. I firmly feel that it is my role as an older woman to help show girls/younger women that it is okay to step outside those barriers if they wish to do so. If they prefer to remain inside those expectations, that’s okay, too, as long as it is a choice freely made.

So here is a salute to women through the ages who have been warrior queens, who have made leaps in science, who have made aviation history, who have served as prime ministers of countries, and those who have cared for scraped knees, baked cookies, and kept a household together. Let us remember that there is room in the sisterhood for us all.

History of Diving Museum…..

History of Diving Museum, Islamorada, FL

As I mentioned in my last post, the continuing wind during our company’s visit kept us out of the water. We did go down to Key Largo for lunch at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen, then over to look at the Wyland Wall, and in to buy snorkel gear for their upcoming trip to St John. We had plenty of time and so headed to the History of Diving Museum in Islamorada. I first visited the museum when researching Islands in the Sand: A History of Artificial Reefs in the USA. The museum had only recently opened and it has been a pleasure to watch the growth.

You can read more about the background of the museum at their website of http://www.divingmuseum.org but in essence, Drs. Joe and Sally Bauer of Ohio balanced their medical careers with passion for marine biology, SCUBA diving, and the history of diving. They began collecting dive helmets and other historic equipment, books, etc., and were interested in the evolution of diving from its earliest concept. Their research took them around the world and they became well-known for the depth and precision of their research, pulling together stories that had been almost lost to time. Their collections and reputations grew internationally and they finally decided to bring all of this together in a “retirement” to South Florida. In truth, it was not remotely a retirement, but rather a new career now dedicated to bringing to public view 4,000 years of man’s efforts to exist within the ocean realm.  It was an wonderful endeavor and the museum was opened in 2006 (I think). Sadly, Dr. Joseph Bauer passed away unexpectedly in 2007. His wife, Dr. Sally Bauer, coped with her grief, carried on the dream, and has crafted the museum with its unique collections into  a place where everyone who dives or has any interest in marine/maritime history should visit.

We are members of the museum and take friends and relatives whenever the opportunity presents, as well as attend numerous events throughout the year. The thing that strikes most people is to see the many (and sometimes truly strange) ways in which man attempted to achieve the ability to exist underwater. Most people don’t realize the connections that date back hundreds and even thousands of years. The museum, which also has a lovely exterior mural, has aspects that children also enjoy. It is not a large museum, and no, there aren’t any spectacular shark skeletons, but it is a place where almost everyone learns something new.

Blustery Florida….

One of the points about living in South Florida is that you expect to have visitors in the winter time. However, despite the fact that we mostly have beautiful warm winter weather, that is average – not every single day. We get brief cold snaps and sometime overcast rainy days, and then there is the wind. None of these last long, but if a visit is only a day or two in length, it does cause a change of plans.

Family is headed our way tomorrow and our intent of snorkeling is looking a bit dicey. The temperature is fine and plenty of sunshine, but with the wind blowing up to 30 knots, that really doesn’t bode well for being out on the reef. There is a chance for the winds to come down, but we have alternative plans in-pocket just in case.

Since only in-water activities are affected, we can still take advantage of several outdoor things. I’m not certain that we’ll take a day trip to Key West, but down to Islamorada for lunch at Zane Gray’s is always fun. If we don’t launch too late, we can swing into the History of Diving Museum with their wonderful displays. (I’ll highlight the museum in another post.) I’ll check to see how our visitors feel about wild birds because the Wild Bird Center on the far end of Key Largo is another choice. I don’t know if they have ever seen a Wyland wall, but that’s another definite stop, although it’s actually a Wyland building. When the artist Wyland purchased a home in the Keys, he selected a building in Key Largo that did need to have the mural re-painted. An entire building by Wyland was certainly a bit more than most people expected and it’s a great photo opportunity.

Heading west to Everglades City is another favorite of ours or we might stay closer and pop out to the Everglades National Park to stroll the trail where we’ll probably see alligators and lots of birds. If the company was a bit younger, we would suggest the zoo which is a really nice zoo, but not everyone is into it. South Beach is of course an option that we save for company. The Art Deco area is fun if you haven’t seen it and we’ve learned to mostly time the in and out to avoid the worst traffic.

While I really was looking forward to getting back into the water (it’s been almost two months for me), we may have to do topside activities instead. Fortunately, the hot tub is not affected by wind, so an afternoon sitting in the hot tub sipping favorite beverages watching the colors fade to sunset is in no danger.

 

Women and Cars…..

Restored 1968 Plymouth Barracuda

This is a post for women who might enjoy cars, but aren’t really vocal about it – sort of a companion piece to the previous one about NASCAR. Two weeks ago, there was a local classic car show with a mix of classics, today’s cars, and motorcycles, all in a great setting by Biscayne Bay on a beautiful day. Unfortunately, my husband had to work, but some friends were in town, so off we went. I was covering the piece for the weekly paper, and once again, I wished that I was a better photographer, but I did get a few good shots. There were 200 cars and trucks in addition to about 60 motorcycles. I’m not sure how old the oldest one was, but there was a pristine 1941 luxury Chrysler sedan. The mix of vehicles from the different decades, to include today’s muscle cars, would have made a Hollywood prop master proud.

Not all the vehicles had people close by, but there was a couple near the 1968 Barracuda, and as I chatted with them, there was no question as to whose car it was – hers! She rattled off the stats and cheerfully answered questions as to where they’d found it and the four years that it took to restore it. Her husband nodded, throwing in a comment occasionally, and at one point explained that he did most of the work, but it was her car from Day One. They were a delightful couple to speak with and as we meandered through the displays, it was obvious that a number of women as well as men were admiring the offerings.

From my own experience, I admit that I have at times bought cars for more than simply the purpose of transportation. I will also admit that when you own a convertible, you might be surprised at how seldom you put the top down. By the way, when you have long hair, it doesn’t actually flow prettily behind you. It whips around and stings your cheek, so a braid is a good idea. I can’t be called a true car enthusiast though because when we lived in Germany with the Autobahn available, I rarely took it over 90, and usually kept it at 80 while others blasted past me. I just wasn’t comfortable driving in that 100+ range. So, for all those women out there who do love your cars (even if you’re currently driving something totally practical) – have a great weekend.

Ford Pickup (not sure of the year)