Been Being Tour Guide…..

I’m going to try to get a post off before I head out again. I’ve had family visiting since the evening of I January and also juggling the last requirements for the new book as we send it to the printer. One of the highlights of the trip was for my two second cousins (one a junior in college, one in her first year of law school) to take the Discover Scuba class. My first cousin isn’t into snorkeling, but she went along on the boat and I did at least get in the water to see some fish. When we planned the visit, Hubby was of course going to teach the girls, but he had a request to teach a rebreather course, and that does take priority. There are only a couple of instructors at the shop who can teach rebreathers and all of them can do Discover. The girls had a great time despite a drenching rain that overtook us between Dive #1 and #2. Full certification might be in a future trip.

The weather wasn’t as cooperative as I’d hoped yesterday with a lot of overcast sky and some occasional drizzle. We were going to drive down to Seven Mile Bridge, but traffic was also much heavier than anticipated, so we opted to do the History of Diving Museum after lunch at Zane Gray, then it was on to the Rain Barrel with the giant lobster. The plan was for us to occupy our time until we went to Big Chill for a sunset dinner. The clouds cleared up a bit to give some pretty colors even though we didn’t get the beautiful effect of the sun setting into the water. Ah well, can’t control Mother Nature.

Today will be probably lunch at the White Lion, Coral Castle, and Robert is Here, then get packed up for an early start to their two-day drive back to Louisiana.

A Year Flown Past……

Here it is – New Year’s Eve again and as any of us over the age of let’s say 50 and for certain over 60 are aware, time does have an “acceleration factor” and yes, please forgive me Dr. Einstein. Actually, even younger parents sense it a bit when the tiny baby is suddenly ready for the next size up car seat.

There is a Kenny Chesney song, “Don’t Blink”, and that’s the theme. The singer is watching an interview on TV of a man turning 100 and when asked his advice, he says, “Don’t blink”, and the song goes into the verses about how quickly the major events in your life go by. You can see it at family gatherings if you have them. The once-adolescents that now have their own children, the grandparent who has become the fourth generation and can no longer hoist giggling infants into “airplane swoops”. If the end of the year is about reflection of what has passed and what may be coming in the future, for some of my readers, there have been times of sorrow, and for others immense joy. In some cases, there has been a mix, and that is perhaps as much the reality of most of our lives as anything.

Time does pass at the same speed as it always has (although I still think Leap Year could have been handled in a better way), but it often feels as if it is zooming along. It is nice when we have those moments to sit quietly and enjoy something special, and no, it doesn’t have to be big to be special. In fact, maybe I’ll wander into the backyard with another mug of coffee and watch the sunrise colors this morning. Happy New Year’s Eve to all.

Windy Woes…..

Not having much experience with sailing, I don’t know the parameters for what size sailboats are impacted by small craft warnings. From a diving perspective here though (and probably sport fishing as well), most charter boats can’t go out. November and December have both been tough months for trying to dive and on a number of occasions, people who have gone out when conditions were on the edge haven’t had the kind of underwater visibility and pleasant boat trips Key Largo is known for. It’s inconvenient for locals, but we can reschedule without much difficulty. I always feel badly for tourists who have planned a trip for maybe months, come a fair distance, and are “blown out” for diving. If they’re here for a week which is kind of a standard time, there will usually be at least a couple of days they can salvage. Fortunately, if the issue with being on the water is wind and not rain along with high wind, there are quite a few outdoor activities that aren’t affected, so it isn’t as if the vacation will be a total waste. When you’re looking forward to spending time underwater though, and you travel to a dive destination, that’s pretty much what you really want to do.

There was hope for today and there are no doubt a few people who decided to brave the water, but most will have to keep their fingers crossed for some calm to settle in. When the wind is whipping above 20 knots, that just doesn’t tend to be much fun. On the other hand, I guess if you have a kite to fly, it works out well.

 

A Range of Artistic Choices……

A small sampling of art at The Children's Art Gallery at Cauley Square

A small sampling of art at The Children’s Art Gallery at Cauley Square

All of us who knew the Children’s Art Gallery were sad to see them leave Homestead, but it was an issue of timing that couldn’t be avoided. I’ve posted before about Cauley Square, the pleasant 10-acre parcel between Homestead and Cutler Bay with cute shops and a couple of restaurants. They were happy to provide a location for the Children’s Art Gallery and if you haven’t visited Natalie and Carlos there, you are missing a treat. If you aren’t familiar with the Gallery, the name can be misleading. They do indeed provide a wonderful environment for children (to include special needs) to express themselves artistically and to learn, but their love of art extends well beyond that. Aside from their own considerable talent, they nurture artists as often and in every way they can. (http://www.childrensgalleryartscenter.org)

The gallery has a range of mediums to select from and if you need a beautiful scarf, I would look there first. Some handcrafted jewelry is almost always available and there are other small gift items if that’s what you are looking for. The array of classes in different mediums is impressive and their Art and Wine Parties can provide something new to try. Have a piece of art to restore? That is yet another service to talk to them about. Their passion for art shows through in everything they do and if you want to help support the arts, spend some time on their website or make some time to visit them. At a minimum, you will feel uplifted being in the presence of a couple whose lives are devoted to sharing their love of art.

Beautiful scarves and other wearable art

Beautiful scarves and other wearable art

A Sign of Change?……

This is going to be an unusual post for a couple of reasons. If you follow routinely, you know I steer away from politics as a general rule. This is one of those times though when something of a political nature is in actuality cultural as well. It is a case of also being historic, although whether of lasting significance remains to be seen. Last week for the first time women in Saudi Arabia were permitted to vote and to run for public office. One article highlighted a 94-year-old woman who made certain she went to the polls. While the number of female candidates that won was small, nearly 1,000 ran for a variety of offices that included what we would refer to as city, county, state, and national positions. There is no way at this point to know what sort of impact this change will have, but it’s connected to another more personal point.

Some readers may recall Desert Shield and Desert Storm (Shield was the initial defensive response following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and Storm was the offense that liberated them) was based out of Saudi Arabia. This is where the massive number of troops of the international coalition flowed into and prepared for the offensive campaign. Hubby and I were assigned to the VII Corps which was augmented and led the main tank attack in Desert Storm. Our exact unit was the Second Corps Support Command which provided logistical support to the other VII Corps units. Ammunition, fuel, medical support, things like that, to include water production which was pretty important in a desert environment. Anyway, the thing is that Saudis were startled at the number of women in our military and especially at the jobs we held. There was a lot of discussion about how much cultural accommodation we could make and function without interfering with our jobs. A great example was driving. Saudi women don’t drive. We had a combination of military vehicles and several governments also provided SUVs and commercial trucks to our forces. In an attempt to bridge the cultural gap, the decision was made that military women could drive military vehicles, but not civilian ones if they were in places like Riyadh. In the places out in the desert like we were, the restriction didn’t exist since there weren’t many people to see us. In fact, a group of Saudi women decided to drive in public to demonstrate that it had come time for a social shift. They were promptly arrested, although if I remember correctly, they were let off with a warning instead of punished.

The thing is that our forces were in country for months and even though most of us weren’t in the cities, many women were, since some of the units didn’t deploy much beyond the port areas. Did our presence influence Saudi women with their continued press for change? Did watching our female military members give added emphasis to the desire for change? Maybe not, but we certainly didn’t go un-noticed.

 

Opening Night at the Seminole……

The crowd coming in for opening night of the Seminole Theater Dec 12, 2015

The crowd coming in for opening night of the Seminole Theater Dec 12, 2015

In 2013 voters in Homestead sent the message that they were willing to share in bringing the Seminole Theater out of the state of unfinished renovation. Efforts to restore the theater had been an on-and-off undertaking for more than twenty years or longer depending on whom you talk to. These situations are never easy and the cost in money, time, and resources is usually greater than anticipated. Despite all that, Saturday night, December 12, 2015 was the date when work and hope came together for a packed house to see the curtain rise for the first time in almost forty years.

The City of Homestead and the new theater management company can be proud of the event. The City held a festival in adjoining Losner Park with a wonderful array of activities such as an interactive art project for children and they brought in the outdoor screen so individuals who did not have tickets could watch a broadcast of the musical performance. Mother Nature got in on the act and provided a perfect night with no threat of the rain we’ve been having. Broadway tunes were the bill with a company of talented vocalists and a terrific trio of pianist, bass player, and drummer. The songs ranged from classics like, “The Impossible Dream” to the comical, “I Want to Be a Producer”. In keeping with the understanding that it will take some time for the theater to be in full operation, the twelve other performances scheduled between Jan 15th and June 4th are a diverse mix. Rather than a movie theater, the Seminole is now for the performing arts and at the moment, the focus is primarily music. Ticket prices are also mixed and some are as low as $15 for certain performances. You can see the line-up and order tickets from http://seminoletheater.org or call (786) 650-2073.

It will be important for those of us who have pushed for this to be supportive and I foresee a number of “girls night out” events as well as a few performances that hubby wants to go to.

 

Definitely Not a Holiday Film…..

Yes, I always watch “Miracle on 34th Avenue”, I prefer the version of “A Christmas Carol” with George C. Scott, and I enjoy “Scrooged”. I like some of the other classics, too. Last night, we tuned into a WW II movie, “Fury”, that we’d been told was well done. I must digress for a moment and explain that years ago, our son said he didn’t like watching military movies with us because we were too quick to point out the errors. That’s an occupational  hazard and part of why when I enter into technical aspects of my novels, I go out of my way to be accurate with whatever the “techy” part is.  We can handle a certain amount of “Hollywood version” (such as in “Saving Private Ryan” when they attacked this one position instead of logically using the long gun to pick the bad guys off), but when a movie is well-done with attention to detail we appreciate it.

Anyway, my point is we started watching “Fury” and many of the small details were properly captured. It is, however, graphically violent in several scenes which I don’t care for, but did support the story. It is a dark movie in many ways and certainly not what would one call heart-warming. I definitely don’t recommend it if you’re looking for something light. If you want thought-provoking though and you’re a fan of WW II movies in general, it’s worth your time. Some of the dialogue is a little difficult to follow since it takes place in the tank over their intercom system, but you can get the idea even if you don’t catch it all.

Hey, About Turning 62…..

Well, yes, the main thing most people think of when approaching 62 is the social security aspect, but that’s far too complicated to get into in this blog. And while many readers may already be aware of this benefit, others might not, Whether you’re getting to close to the age or you know someone who is, the National Parks Senior Pass is a great benefit to know about. From their website: “A $10.00 lifetime pass that provides access to more than 2,000 recreation sites managed by five Federal agencies, with up to 100% of the proceeds being used to improve and enhance visitor recreation services.” (http://store.usgs.gov/pass/senior.html)

You can also apply on-line for an extra $10 in processing fee, but even with that, you’re talking $20 for a lifetime pass and that’s still a good deal. If you’re like many of us, you have these travel lists and while not all the National Parks charge a fee, most do these days. Although the fees aren’t very much in most cases, why not take advantage of this? For us, with the Everglades practically in our backyard, it comes out to be a small annual savings.

Back when Daddy and my mother, then step-mother were traveling, they made a point to go to a lot of the national parks, some more than once. Then a couple of years ago at the Homestead Book Fair, there was a lovely couple who had retired and set out to visit a large number of the parks and chronicle their experiences. I can’t for the life of me recall if they had actually written a book or they intended to and since I was part of the fair, I didn’t have too long to chat with them. I heard several people mention how much they enjoyed their lecture. So, if you didn’t know about this, now you do. If you did know, make sure you spread the word.

Rainy Day Accomplishment…..

Rainy Day Project - Organizing the Pantry

Rainy Day Project – Organizing the Pantry

When you don’t have to get out in nasty weather, why do so? That was how I felt today as the rain began lightly, then increased, and has been in that light-heavy pattern for hours. (Yes, cold weather readers, I know some of you might be willing to trade 73 degrees and rain for whatever you have today.) My work load is a little less than usual and while I always need to clean up files of one form or the other, that was something  couldn’t face. What else was on the when-I-get-some-spare-time list? Ah, the pantry.

If you followed the blog when we remodeled, you’ll recall moving and enlarging the pantry was one of my goals. It certainly isn’t anywhere near the size I would like, but it’s definitely larger than what we had. However, like everything else in the house, we use vertical space and for we “shorties”, that pretty much presents a daily challenge. So, despite the pantry being very well organized originally, it didn’t take long for the reachable space to be less organized as I would jam more into those spots rather than unfold the stepstool. (Part of the pantry design hubby did for me was to accommodate room for the fold-up stepstool.) Enough, I decided today. Take the stepstool out and get this place back in order. No, I don’t label things, but there is logic to the arrangement and hubby and I are fairly compatible with our ideas of “logical arrangement”.

As for what we keep in the pantry, we follow the rule of having the essentials you need and something you can make at least two meals out of using only items from the pantry. That is two meals in addition to soup. And yes, when I say soup, I mean keeping the cream ones that are used as ingredients in other dishes. We rarely eat pasta marinara, but if we somehow found ourselves without meat, we have that as a fallback. Rice and beans is another option.

How about it? What staples do you always keep stocked?

How Book Pricing Works……

When I can, I like to give readers looks inside about how the book world operates. I think most people who read this blog are aware I predominantly self-publish, and that gives me a different insight into the mechanics of publishing. I was just told someone out there has priced a copy of my first Shades book, Shades of Murder, at $287. That brought a laugh for sure.

Like any commodity, the market drives retail book pricing. Coffee table books with lots of images are always at the high end because those are the most expensive to produce. Thick books tend to come in next because the longer the book (even without images), the higher the production cost. Very specialized books can also be expensive because there are certain segments of the market that will pay specialty prices.

With that said, let’s talk about ordinary, everyday fiction or non-fiction. That leads us to format. Standard hardback is the most expensive to produce, the larger “soft cover trade” is the size I always publish in, then there is the standard paperback size. (While the larger soft cover is a paperback, the term “paperback” in general refers to the smaller size.) As anyone who buys books knows, all the best sellers come out in hardback, then are released in different formats. The whole point of not releasing them in paperback initially is to capture the market segment that doesn’t want to wait. This is also why the Kindle (and other e-book formats) price tends to be $12-15. When you’re a best seller, that automatically puts you in the higher price category.

So now we get to book sellers. Again, most people know Amazon has had a major impact on the book world, and with the advent of the large bookstore chains, the small, independent sellers face more obstacles than they used to. Store can only carry a limited number of items and how long they carry any individual book is reasonably based on sales. They may take a shot on a unknown (or have a special corner for local/regional authors), but they simply can’t afford to take up valuable space for “maybes”. By the way, when you walk into a store and see a big display about a particular book, there’s a very good chance the publisher has paid a premium price to the store. Other books are “spine only” display. In addition to all the well-known sellers, there are hundreds (and probably more like thousands) of re-sellers. They are everything from established companies to individuals and they can set whatever price they choose. During my research for the upcoming book we planning to release in February, I needed a source and the only copy of it I could find was around $300. Fortunately, when I mentioned this, an individual loaned me a copy.

You expect rare books to come at a hefty price, but in reality, people can decide to ask a high price for any book just to see if they get it. You never know why someone will pay extra. There are obviously many factors that go into pricing, but these are the basic elements.