Silver Sort of Sparkles….

Okay, silver doesn’t tend to have the actual glow of gold or sparkle like diamonds, but in this case, it definitely has a special sheen. The particular silver won’t ever hang around my neck or that of most people because it belongs to an Olympic silver medal. Several years ago, someone contacted the South Dade News Leader, the community paper I wrote regularly for and still contribute to occasionally. They told the editor there was a kid who went to their church who was a great gymnast and could possibly make it to the Olympics, but even more so, the family had a wonderful story. I was sent to see what the deal was and it was one of those heartwarming situations that makes you want to cheer. At the time, Danell Leyva Gonzalez and his parents, Maria Gonzalez and Yin Alvarez, didn’t know how far Danell could go as he was working through the competitions for an eventual shot at the Olympic team. I was so impressed with them, I did a post for the blog after I wrote the article for the paper. This is a family that left Cuba with nothing when Danell was a toddler. Both Maria and Yin were national gymnasts, but for them, life away from Communism was more important than their own glory. They were finally able to open a gym in South Miami where a huge Olympic banner hung. Their point was it does take a certain level of talent, but determination and the willingness to work hard with the proper coaching were more important than belonging to a prestigious program. As Danell grew and honed his skills, he did indeed make the 2012 Olympic team and brought home a bronze medal.

Fast forward to this year when my husband looked up from the paper and said, “Hey, your guy just missed making the Olympic team, but one of the other guys was injured so he’s back on.” I knew immediately which “guy” he was talking about. Perhaps it was Fate stepping in, perhaps not, yet Danell has won two silvers this time and I’m not certain what other events are on the schedule. For him, his family, and his country, these are proud moments. You can Google him and watch the video clips if you want to see his terrific performance.

About Me and Photographs…..

A Type of Butterfly Fish From Fiji

A Type of Butterfly Fish From Fiji

I am terrible with and about photographs. I’m certainly not going to call this an aversion – it’s much more a disinclination. I have no idea why, but I am simply not a person who takes photos. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen too many stacks of photo albums that fall into the, “What on earth are we going to do with all these?” category. On the other hand, I like looking at really old photos, appreciate the history of them and enjoy photographs as an art medium.

Which brings me to the shift in our household when it comes to photography. Most of my readers are already aware that Hubby has gotten deeply into photography. It started, of course, with underwater shots. Several people he works or dives with began to exchange ideas, techniques, etc. The fairly modest camera was upgraded, although for underwater, the housing is what really gets upgraded. That’s what protects the camera. Then there are accessories for mostly lighting. Then, a couple of years ago, a few local individuals who are amazing photographers (as their “hobby”) got together and established the South Florida National Parks Camera Club (SFNPCC). Yes, it’s kind of a long name, but since we are one of the few places in the country that has two National Parks virtually in our “backyard”, the landscape and wildlife opportunities are abundant. By aligning with the National Parks Association, that comes with access to places within the parks that aren’t always open to the public, periodic offers for exhibition, and the parks can use selected photographs for promotion – a win-win kind of arrangement. The time he has spent with the camera club has definitely taken him to a level I don’t think he ever really expected it to. It has been fun to see even though I don’t have much idea of what he’s talking about half the time and it has sort of complicated gift-giving. Before, it was – do you want a new tool or a piece of new dive gear? Now he has to work through three choices. In truth, the workshop is in pretty good shape, so I suspect tools will be the third priority for a while.

Playing with Lights Photo

Playing with Lights Photo

Our Local Sharks…..

The answer to the question, “Aren’t you afraid of sharks when you dive?”, is “That depends.” Was I a little nervous the first time? Yes. On the other hand, it doesn’t take long to learn the reality about this aspect of diving. There are a lot of varieties of sharks and that’s one factor I’ll get to. Because of the gear a diver wears, we simply don’t look like prey and especially not if we have regular scuba where you exhale a constant stream of bubbles. Sharks don’t expend unnecessary energy and they don’t eat if they aren’t hungry. If a person is on something like a surfboard or a boogie board, then from below, that resembles a seal or turtle shape, both of which are favored by sharks. The reason people who are attacked aren’t usually “consumed” is because as soon as the shark realizes this isn’t a food they like, they move on. The problem, of course, is they may have inflicted lethal damage in their exploratory “bite”. Anyway back to the diving part.

The predominant shark on the reefs here are nurse sharks and they are quite docile. If someone gets bitten by a nurse shark, the odds are 99% the individual was doing something inappropriate. There has been an increase in the number of Caribbean reef sharks around (saw one the other day), but they tend to run 5-8 feet and they’re not aggressive. There’s plenty of their preferred food to keep them happy. An exception can be divers who spear fish. Here’s the thing. If a shark wants to take a fish you just speared – you really should give it up. We do get the larger bull sharks (not a type I want to be around) on the deeper wrecks as well as in the backcountry which is too shallow for diving. Then there are the occasional sightings of hammerheads that breeze through – always a thrill, but also not generally aggressive. The presence of a great white does cause a stir. The water here is too warm, but they swing in sometimes and can hang around for a short while. That’s not one I have any desire to be in the water with, but again, attacks on divers haven’t been an issue.

What about shark feedings? That is a whole different subject and I think I’ll save it for a future post.

Heartwarming and A Little Spooky…..

Hmm, “spooky” might not be the correct term – I’ll let you decide. The White Lion Café in Homestead is a regular lunch spot for me. A friend suggested we go there on Friday which was fine. One of the things about “The Lion” is LoryAnn Swank, Chef/Owner and her family are well known within the animal lover/rescue community. Dog owners are welcome to bring their pets to the outdoor area and there are multiple “Fundraising” events each year for different rescue groups. The “house cats” will stroll over to see what you’re up to when you’re dining outside and every so often when you’re inside, LoryAnn will stroll around with an animal who needs a new home. On Friday, there were three women sitting at a table next to us. Sure enough, LoryAnn came in with a Chihuahua. “She was just rescued this morning and needs a new home.” She went on to explain a friend of hers had been at the vet’s and realized a woman had literally dropped the dog in the parking lot and run her off before driving away. (I won’t even get into how I feel about that, but at least it wasn’t in the middle of Redland). The friend scooped the dog up, took her into the vet’s and called LoryAnn.

I was on the verge of saying, “So cute, but….”, when one of the women at the other table said something like, “I am looking for a new dog.” She had lost her Pomeranian (I think it was) a few years ago and had said to her husband she thought she was finally ready and they should go to the shelter to take in a rescue. The moment she embraced the abandoned pet, it was apparent the dog sensed her own safety. As the women prepared to leave, LoryAnn gave her a card in case she decided it was an inappropriate impulse. Later, as I remarked on the coincidence and said I was going to do a post about it, LoryAnn passed on the woman’s parting remarks. She said she had just had a feeling the White Lion was the right place to go that day because she felt as if something special was going to happen. Who knows? Maybe it was after all, no more than a couple of coincidences merging in the universe.

It’s Not Taking a Chance on Chance…..

Okay, I was interrupted in writing this post and I can’t resist a good pun. We, as in the Homestead Center for the Arts (HCA), put together a special committee to work on an exciting project. They’ve been working very hard and it’s time to share the news. This is the centennial for the National Parks System and with Homestead being the Gateway to the famous Everglades and the less well-known Biscayne Park, we have a special relationship with them. For those who may not have been there, Biscayne Park is mostly underwater, but sitting on the boardwalk with a cup of coffee and watching the sun rise is a great view for we morning people. Anyway, there are obviously a lot of different things being done to celebrate the Centennial and based on a recommendation from one of our favorite park rangers, HCA has booked the ensemble Chance to perform Friday, Oct 21st at the Seminole Theater. Chance has played in many National Park settings, internationally, and on public television and radio. Their music is categorized as Urban Chamber, but think Celtic crossed with folk and a dash of country mixed in. They pay special tribute to John Muir, who is more well-known for his work with the Western parks.

Concert tickets are $35 each and went on sale last week. There will be a limited seating cocktail party before the concert also for $35, but there will be an opportunity to speak with the group after the concert as well. It’s going to be a wonderful evening and I would urge everyone to go ahead and book their tickets as soon as possible. You can go to either the HCA website or Seminole Theater. http://homesteadcenterforthearts.com and http://www.seminoletheatre.org or if you want to hear the details about the group, their website is http://www.chanceworld.com

If you have friends or family who come seasonally or visit occasionally, I recommend you talk to them about coming in time to share this experience.

A Little Tardy…..

I intended to post yesterday and time slipped away amid multiple events and errands, not to mention getting soaked in a thunderstorm. In general, unless there is a serious weather system hanging over us, summer thunderstorms blow through in as little as ten minutes and it’s not at all unusual to be staring through the glaring sun as your windshield wipers are on full power. Or you cross three blocks down out of the pounding rain onto totally dry pavement because “isolated” means contained in a small radius. Yesterday was the exception. Two girlfriends and I are pretty good about making time for lunch once a month and yesterday we met at Ram’s Diner in Naranja (I think I’ve posted about Ram’s before). I had to make a run by the grocery store and fill the car before we left for an event in Key Largo that evening. I made my farewells a little early, noticing the clouds had become more threatening. Okay, maybe I could make it into the store. Nope – didn’t happen. It was obvious the rain wasn’t going to let up quickly, so fine, protect at least my head and cell phone clipped to my waist with the umbrella and not worry about from my knees on down. I didn’t need more than a few items and if the normal pattern worked, the rain would be either gone or much lighter as I checked out. Wrong again.

The driving rain and now standing water in the parking lot weren’t going to slacken and I simply didn’t have time to wait it out. I had decided not to stop for gas even though the tank area did have cover over it. My leather sandals were completely soaked as were my lower pants legs and somehow in juggling the grocery bags and umbrella, I managed to get part of my shirt wet. The relatively short trip home was pretty slow as the torrents hit the windshield and standing water geysered up when you drove through it. Forked lightening splitting the clouds was added to the mix. Once in the house, I gingerly tiptoed across the floors to remove my wet shoes, then stripped out of partially soaked clothes and into my robe. Shoes onto the window sill and clothes draped on a chair, I was glad to see we hadn’t lost power. It was almost another 30 minutes before the storm abated and then we had the typical South Florida clearing where the sun burst out and the heat sucked all but the deeper standing water right out of the hard surfaces. By the time I dashed back out to gas up the car, there wasn’t a trace of gray cloud left in the sky. Ah well, summer is our rainy season.

 

 

Even More Fun Than I Expected…..

In promoting the Seminole Theater (http://seminoletheatre.org), we have mostly attended concerts, although I would have liked to have been in town when the What If Works one-act plays were performed. (Check out WIW as an affiliate member of http://homesteadcenterforthearts.com)

Anyway, the terrific Seminole Director was contacted by a member of the WLRN Radio Theater organization a few months ago about having a SciFi Summer after the regular season ended. Like many people, I wasn’t aware the Public Broadcasting WLRN had a Radio Theater component and I’ll get to that part later in the post. Although I never heard the radio drama, War of the Worlds, I had heard my grandparents and parents talk about it. The way the presentation at the Seminole was described was intriguing in that the “broadcast booth” would be on-stage and as the audience, we would be seeing inside as the historic broadcast took place. In reality, it was a bit different, and indeed even more fun than I expected.

The director came on stage to explain the concept and urged everyone to stay for a bit after the performance when they would elaborate about the production and take questions. The script they were using was the original with the customization of changing the location to Florida instead of NJ as written by Orson Wells. The marvelous sounds effects expert, absolutely vital to radio theater, not only had his array of equipment, he had cue cards for the audience. We were to be prompted with “Applause, Crowd Noise, and Scream.” The lights dimmed and we were all set for a thoroughly entertaining evening. Another slight variation was the actors did have some movements and costume additions to allow for visuals for the audience which of course wasn’t necessary back in the day of radio theater when no audience was present.

During the post-performance session, we learned the company has revived many radio dramas and adapted numerous movie/play scripts to the format. I knew the second part of SciFi Summer was to be Plan Nine From Outer Space (called the worst movie ever made). I had told Hubby I wasn’t going even though he said he wanted to. I will now be buying tickets for us both because I am a total convert and look forward to any future events with WLRN Radio Theater at the Seminole.

 

Supporting New Small Businesses….

A tiny sigh because I had set aside to go diving yesterday, but the weather wasn’t as cooperative as I would have liked. (Okay, I was wimpier about it than I probably should have been). Setting that aside, we made sure there were umbrellas in the car and did this terrific loop down to Islamorada and back. First stop (after really slow traffic) was Olive Morada that I’ve posted about before. If you haven’t been yet, make the trip. We’ve purchased most the different flavored oils by this point and added the new Chipolte one this time. Oh, and the smoked onion mustard is terrific.

We then came back up to have lunch at M.E.A.T, the subject of another of my posts, and it was delicious as always. By the way, they now bottle and sell their homemade mango catsup. All right, the other objective for the day was to stop into a very new place called Corks and Curds in Key Largo, oceanside at the blinking light (99201 Overseas Highway). Jill and Mike Atwell have a lovely shop and I would urge everyone who can to give them a visit. In chatting with Jill, they’ve consulted in a couple of other places about such ventures and as she said, “Our goal is to turn passion into profit.” They are especially attuned to having reasonably priced wines that aren’t well-known among the more expensive varieties they offer. The carefully considered cheese and sausage collection is the kind you find at places like Whole Food and the Valencia fried almonds are a real treat. There are other selected items, too, but you get the idea. You no longer have to make the trek up to Pinecrest, etc., to add a few gourmet touches to your table. They don’t have a website up yet, but the telephone number is 305 451-0995 and you can email them corksandcurds@gmail.com

 

An Interesting Coincidence……

“Okay, why would someone who is assigned to Hawaii come to Key Largo to get their scuba certification?” When Hubby is notified about an upcoming class, he’s provided as much background as is available, but in some cases, that isn’t much. In some cases, details get a bit mixed up, and when he was told there were some Navy guys from Hawaii he would be doing an Open Water Certification for, that seemed odd. Open Water is the basic step in certification and there are dive shops all over Hawaii. However, once he learned the situation, it not only made sense; it is a particularly cool  story because of a professional connection.

For starters, the individuals are in Key Largo to receive critical training for something else and the timing was right for them to dovetail scuba classes with that training. Okay, sure. The professional reason they’re taking scuba is because they are members of a unit called Joint Task Force Full Accounting. This isn’t a well-known unit in general, but they do make the news periodically. When you read or hear a story about the long lost remains of American military being located and returned home, in all likelihood, JTF Full Accounting is involved. Their mission is to follow every lead and physically go around the world investigating missing service members and recovering the remains whenever possible.

Their capability is fascinating and while military personnel of all services (that’s the Joint part) rotate through the unit, there are civilian experts who have been there for years. They are forensics and other experts such as in military equipment. Based on their experience, they can take scraps of metal or pieces of fabric and determine what type of aircraft or uniform the items came from. The teams from JTF have been up in mountains, deep in jungles, and in tiny villages where planes might have crashed or wounded servicemen might have died and been hastily buried. As technology advances and more places in the world are accessed, there are increasing discoveries of information about missing military personnel. Being scuba certified comes in since some of those missing includes personnel who perished underwater.

Neither Hubby nor I have been personally involved in a recovery, but a good friend of ours was with JTF Full Accounting while we were in Hawaii and we had the opportunity to learn details about their work. For some families, they vaguely knew where a member was lost, but the resources to pinpoint and bring the individual home did not exist at the time. For them, even decades after the loss, to have that loved one honorably returned to them is incredibly important.

Happy Bastille Day……

With everything that’s been going on, I wasn’t paying attention to the fact today is Bastille Day. We usually celebrate and under the circumstances, I just can’t pull together the really fancy meal. That would be beef tournedos with peppercorn sauce, potatoes dauphinois, haritcots vert, and tart tartin (or chocolate mousse made from scratch). Tonight’s menu will be the less intense modern version of coq au vin although I did get bacon to render, shallots, and I am using bone-in, skin-on chicken. What I am not doing is cutting up a whole chicken, finding lardons, and making a bouquet garni. I also confess to having bought chocolate mousse cups from Jello, but I did look in the dessert freezer section just in case there were some authentic ones there.

Anyway, this gets us close enough. In actuality, the way we started celebrating Bastille Day was many years ago the first summer we were together. The wonderful Baltimore Aquarium did a Bastille Day sunset harbor cruise and we were able to enjoy that two years in a row. Although we’ve missed a few years because of schedules, we’ve been able to celebrate properly most of the time. I don’t actually think there’s any French ancestry on Hubby’s side of the family and I don’t recall where it is on mine. I’ll have to check that out again one of these days. I know there was someone on my paternal side and it might be maternal as well.