About Charlie Hudson

Off with my combat boots and onto writing best describes Charlie my two careers. Born in Pine Bluff, Ark., and raised in Louisiana, I count myself as a military veteran, wife, mother, freelance writer, and author. What was intended to be a quick two years in the Army became a 22-year career instead, and somehow in the process, I discovered that I was an inadvertent pioneer by serving in several positions that had previously been held only by men. By the time I was in Desert Storm and later Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti, women in leadership assignments was more widely accepted. My love of writing never left me though whether it is a short article that highlights an animal rescue group, penning the stories of a female police detective in the Florida Keys, or presenting issues about aging that Baby Boomers need to address, or working on a corporate proposal. When my husband, Hugh, also retired from the Army, we relocated to South Florida where we can both enjoy the underwater world in dive sites all around Key Largo. We do break away though to still travel, and especially visit the Washington, D.C. area where son Dustin is a professional dancer and lives with his wife, Samantha.

Not Sure What To Call The Dish….

Every now and then, we deviate from certain recipes purely because of particular ingredients we have on hand. The other night we had planned to do Snapper Vera Cruz. When we make that, there is usually sauce left over and we’ve had leftover sauce from other dishes lately. We also happened to have extra sun dried tomatoes in olive oil because there was a buy-one-get-one at the store. So, instead of using a can of tomatoes, if I used a smaller amount of sun dried ones, that would give us a nice sauce without leftovers. On the other hand, sun dried tomatoes are normally with Italian dishes (at least for us) and not Southwestern cuisine. Anyway, we proceeded with flavoring the snapper fillets with a seafood blend a friend created and gave us for Christmas. Seasoning for the diced onions, sun dried tomatoes, and can of green chilies was a Chipotle sea-salt, black pepper, and cumin. It was 3-4 minutes sauteing the veggies in the skillet, then pushing the veggies to the sides of the skillet to cook the fillets around 4 minutes, turn and cover the top of the fillets with the vegetables for another 4 minutes. It was a simple, one-pan dish and didn’t use a lid.

The recipe worked, although we agreed a little more cumin would have been better and we might add garlic next time. Again, we tend to not use garlic in Southwestern dishes, but since we obviously had already “blended cuisines”, there was no reason not to consider it for the next time. We couldn’t come to agreement about what to call it and are open to suggestions. Oh, and there were no leftovers.

Underwater Favorites……

Juvenile Spotted Drum

I think divers are much like birders when it comes to certain aspects. There are the regular species you encounter depending on your region. You enjoy them and for some people even the “ordinary” bring a pleasure others don’t necessarily understand. Or perhaps it’s a combination of a setting such as forest, park, meadow, a back yard with bushes or feeders. Underwater is similar in that you can have reefs of different variety such as “patch”, “walls,” “finger”, artificial like shipwrecks which may be like the title of my non-fiction book, Islands in the Sand. The geographic location of those types of reefs dictates what species of marine creatures you will find just as the geographic location of bird habitat dictates what species of birds are seen. Yes, you do have migrations, more so among the bird population I think. There are absolutely known marine migrations which is why you get great white sharks cruising through Florida at times.

Anyway, one of the reasons our Key Largo reefs have an abundance of marine life is they have had increased protection for a couple of decades now. We don’t have the spectacular corals found deeper in the Caribbean, but we also aren’t over-fished. Among my favorites are angels, tiny blue chromis, yellow-headed jawfish, puffers, spade fish, spotted drums, trunks, midnight parrots, and file fish. Those fall into the category of regularly seen, but not quite as ordinary as squirrel fish and yellowtail snappers. On the non-fish side, I always look for sea cucumbers, anemones, tiny shrimp,  and do enjoy seeing lobsters. Everyone always wants to see eels, turtles, rays, sharks, Goliath Groupers – the “big stuff” for our region. While we have all those, you simply never know if you’ll see one or not when diving. The more often you’re in the water, the greater your chances obviously.

The point to travel to other dive destinations is in general to see creatures you don’t have here. Fiji was a great example. On the drive from the airport to the resort, the driver was proudly pointing out tropical features like palm trees and hibiscus – hardly anything new for us. Underwater though were amazing masses of soft corals and so many species native to the South Pacific such as “unicorn” fish.

The only disadvantage of our local reefs are they tend to be out where a boat is required instead of places where you can just gear up and go off the shore. But the sheer volume of marine life and good dive conditions throughout much of the year is why people come.

And the Lapse This Time Is…….

Actually, the gap in posting is two-fold. There was, once again a two-day, well, parts of three days network outage like the ones I have previously vented about. And there was, and continues to be, back-to-back functions and obligations that require time and cause me to shift my priorities. Today, in fact, is virtually non-stop although if all goes well, it will include diving. We’ll see what Mother Nature has in store for us.

Speaking of Mother Nature, Military Appreciation Day is one of those annual events that doesn’t have exactly a fixed day. Military Appreciation Month is May. The first time the City held the event, they had it right around Memorial Day, but that has some drawbacks for timing. They swapped and decided to kick off the month with the event and that does work well except this year they weren’t able to do that. So it was Saturday. A tremendous amount of planning and effort goes into getting together the demonstrations of things like military vehicles, weapons on display, a physical challenge for team competition, and so forth. It is all outside and as the day approached, so did a front coming in. The forecast was looking problematic, but the decision was made to continue and hope for the best. The rain did hold off for most of the set-up. Light rain started in and a number of people had their umbrellas and rain jackets handy. Now, who knows if the collective pleas had any impact since they usually don’t, but the rain did stop. Things were wiped off and while it was mostly overcast, clouds are not liquid. There were probably people who decided not to risk it, yet the ones who turned out had fun. I was of course at the downtown museum  although I could see the displays close to me and I spent a few minutes walking around after I locked up. It was a successful day for sure.

Key West Spots….

Hubby and I made our way to Key West yesterday to spend the night for the first time. Friends we’ve not seen in many years had a port call for a few hours and we linked up at First Flight, a restaurant and brewery previously known as Kelly’s Caribbean Restaurant and Brewery. With parking the issue it is, I booked us into a small inn about a 25-minute walk from the center of town. The mostly open air place was good and we all had a great time getting caught up. Hubby and I paced ourselves a bit since we intended to remain in the center and have dinner at another place. We did wander to Mallory Square after, but with sunset scheduled for almost 8:00 p.m., we didn’t want to bother with it. We did, however, go into Sloppy Joe’s for a drink and some excellent music.

Before leaving the inn, Hubby suggested I take the umbrella to ward off rain. Rain that wasn’t actually predicted except maybe a brief shower. That turned out to not be the case. It did start as a light shower and for a little while seemed as if it would move off. We were on our way to the A&B Lobster House and close to a CVS. Since the small umbrella we had wasn’t really doing the job, Hubby took shelter under an awning with some other people and I popped in to buy another umbrella. The deal with any umbrella, however, is it doesn’t do much to shelter your legs or your shoes, especially not when there are apparent drainage problems with the streets. On the other hand, the restaurant we were going to was closed-in rather than open air like many of them. A higher end place for sure than First Flight, but an excellent meal and the rain had slowed to a drizzle by the time we left. It did stop within a short time as we walked back.

That Apple Cake…..

I don’t do much baking and certainly far less than when we had son and teenage friends around the house. I’ve mentioned in posts before how I do not have the knack for dealing with pastry and I am definitely not creative when it comes to making a cake, cupcakes, or cookies look pretty. Today, however, happens to be one where I needed to prepare a specific cake (well, I mean specific because I chose it) for a social event. I had decided on an apple cake that I haven’t made in ages. It goes all the way back to my very early years in the Army and I can’t even recall now which wife did this one and then shared the recipe. Notwithstanding the fact it has apples, it is not what one could call nutritious. Delicious yes, and it has the added benefit of being one of the recipes you are supposed to make a day ahead. The batter is quite thick by the time you get everything in (done by hand) and when done, the cake is very dense. But if you want something in the “comfort food” category, here it is.

2.5 cups flour; 2 c sugar, 1c salad oil, 2 eggs, 1 tsp cinnamon, 3 cups chopped apples, 1 bag butterscotch chips (caramel or white chocolate would work, too).

Sift flour and cinnamon together. Put oil, eggs, and sugar in bowl and stir with fork. Add flour mixture in small batches and blend in. Stir in apples. Place into 9X13 baking pan and top with butterscotch chips. Bake at 350 degrees for 55-60 minutes (I find 57 min to be right for my oven).

The melted chips make it a little harder to cut, but you have to wait around an hour before you can do so. You can leave it in the pan and cover with foil or if you want to take the squares (rectangles) out and place into some other dish/container, use a spatula and be gentle. It can fall apart since it does take a few hours to set up. It does not require refrigeration although you can if you like. I serve it at room temperature and you can top with whipped cream and some kind of berry if you’d like.

So Much in Orlando…..

Dragon Atop Building in Diagon Alley, Universal Studios Park

The other day someone was startled to learn the number one vacation destination in the U.S. is Orlando. For anyone who hasn’t been in a number of years, it may seem incredible, but the fact is between Disney and Universal Parks, they just keep adding more to what they already have. That doesn’t take Sea World and a few more notable, smaller, theme-specific parks/attractions into mind. In addition to theme parks, there are like ten museums, art galleries, more shopping than most people can manage, and it has become quite the “foodie town”. The convention center is huge and people who attend conventions often pick up the literature about what all there is to do and decide to return for vacation.

As I have mentioned before, when we go to the big dive trade show every other year, we usually tack on 1-2 extra nights to do either Disney or Universal and true, it’s combined with business, but it is still a deliberate choice. Hubby is already thinking granddaughter can enjoy Disney younger than I was planning (age 7), but I think I’ve convinced him 5 is a bit young and we’ll settle on 6. Even with that, you literally can’t see all of Disney in less than a week unless you go solid all day every day. Universal isn’t quite as bad, but you do need two very full days. A real issue is wait time for the really popular or new rides and people often don’t have the ability to go at non-peak season. Not surprisingly, they do a very brisk business with the add-on charges for the pass that allows you to be in the Express (or whatever the term is) lane.

Notwithstanding the lure for kids/teens, there is plenty for adults to enjoy, and that’s why Disney will have special annual events such as the Garden Show and the Food and Wine Festival. There are a number of places that put together coupons and other savings for visiting Orlando and it’s not a bad idea to check these out before making plans. Visits are expensive and especially if you go in for the “extras”.


About Those Benefits…..

I was reminded in a recent conversation of something from my second career I hadn’t thought about for a long time. After I retired and took some time off to write my first book, the novel, Orchids in the Snow, it became painfully obvious I would not be making a living as a writer. Like most other retired military in the D.C. area, I went to work in the defense services contracting sector. I knew I didn’t want to work for a Fortune-500 company and went with a small company experiencing growth. The culture was what I was looking for and their salaries were mid-range which was fine based on our situation. What benefits to provide employees can be rather complex. Their basic package was basic and the intent was to add selected benefits as they were able to. I knew the company had work in some high-risk areas/specialties, none of which I was remotely interested in. But when they added kidnap and ransom insurance as a benefit for those employees who did that sort of work, it was appreciated. (To the best of my knowledge, the policies were not put to test during the time I was with the company.)

When it came to growth, another thing I was unfamiliar with was the founder and his wife decided to buy another company. This wasn’t anything I had experience with, but I usually had lunch with my boss and he explained the rationale and process to me. A second company was later acquired to make the original company become “A Group”, which was in turn acquired by a Fortune-500 corporation. This was a case of becoming, “too big to be small, and too small to be big”. In other words, there are certain contracts set aside for small business and once you pass out of that category, you are then required to compete with the really big guys. It’s difficult to go head-to-head with them and the big guys all know this. Selling the company is often the most advantageous and the original founding members were able to negotiate a nice deal. Another interesting lesson learned in the real world of business.

The Ups and Downs of Volunteering…..

I’ve previously posted about the extra volunteer work I have taken on and how I really should have said “no” to the last board request. I did not, however, and therefore have pretty much only my lack of willingness to say “no” to account for this. The up side to volunteering is when you see the good of it. I was at a luncheon today where someone thanked me for helping give their organization a bit of a boost when it was at a kind of critical time for them. Since it is a group that helps mostly high school and young adults, how can that not make you feel good?

On the other hand, I have also been dealing with the proverbial “tempest in a teapot” in some other situations the past two weeks because quite frankly of egos more concerned with their own agendas than the goals of the organization. This aspect of groups is just as likely to occur among volunteers as in business. When in business, you can sort of understand the drive that might very well result in promotion or career advancement in whatever capacity. In a volunteer organization, it is essentially self-aggrandizement, which can be tolerable if the end results are something good for the organization. On the other hand, if the behavior includes persistent denigration of others, that makes it tough to cope with. How does one handle it? Cautiously if the intent is to maintain the group. In some cases, the departure of selected individuals is the only solution. The individual/individuals who depart though might not be the ones “creating the waves”. It really is a shame, but so it can go. Ah well, these are the times, an adult beverage or soothing cup of tea comes in handy.

About Being a Parrothead……

We haven’t really counted how many Jimmy Buffet concerts we’ve been to; around a dozen which is certainly fewer than some fans. Or “Parrotheads” as we are referred to. I think I’ve previously posted about how they are really more an “experience” than a traditional concert. To start with, costumes can be quite elaborate. Some like us, merely opt for tropical-motif shirts, shorts, and sandals. Others add in the touch of parrot or shark hats, grass skirts on top of shorts, leis, and coconut bras. Full-fledged pirate attire is of course appropriate. Hubby didn’t take a photo Saturday, but the guy in the pink flamingo costume was a first for us. As Buffet has said, when he started this journey forty years ago – initially trying as a country singer by the way – he never truly imagined it would still be going on and that three generations would now be attending his concerts. His “empire” from a business perspective is phenomenal. After the many hit records, accompanied by tee shirts came the Margaritaville restaurants/stores with all sorts of products. Then it was the Margaritaville Resorts/Casinos, and most recently, an actual retirement community. This first one is in Florida and I assume if it is as successful as his other ventures, there will be others.

As with many of the older stars who still perform, their body of work is so large, they generally cannot get to all the favorites and Buffet is no exception. He will absolutely always do “Come Monday”, “A Pirate Looks at Forty”, “Margaritaville”,” Fins”, “Son of a Sailor”, “Changes in Latitude”; usually “One Particular Harbor” and “Southern Cross” (one of the few he or one of his longtime band members didn’t write). He starts his concerts on time or within about ten minutes and gives a full two hours with only a short intermission. Every sings along and people have been known to stand the entire time, moving to the beat. As I said, it is an experience. I suspect we have only a few more concerts left and he, too, is likely to wind down at some point in the not too distant future. For now, however, the fun does still go on.

In A Whirl….

The days do seem to accelerate at times and this week is like that. One of the non-profits I am most heavily involved with and have previously posted about is Homestead Center for the Arts (http://homesteadcenterforthearts.com) We have a degree of difficulty in explaining what the organization is and what we do because we do not have a physical location. HCA was actually started back in 1977 (or 1976 depending on how you count it) by a core of individuals who realized the local artistic and cultural groups had no voice in the county. They came together and arranged for a small county grant to be awarded under their administration. The charter was, and continues to be the nurturing and promotion of groups and individuals engaged in different forms of art and culture. There are 20 Affiliate members, some of which are 501c3 and others not officially organized as such, but brought together to support and promote whatever their particular passion is. The Lamplighters Writers Group is obvious from the title as is the East Everglades Orchid Society. Dance Expressions is easy to understand, and the Historic Homestead Town Hall Museum is an example of culture rather than art. All the organizations seek members or volunteers and there really is something for just about everyone.

Anyway, in our on-going effort to let people know who and what we are the founder of What If Works, a theater and film non-profit, created an on-stage showcase, the first we have ever done. This is another one where it’s easy for the South Dade Community Choir to kick the show off with a rousing number. How to promote the South Florida National Parks Camera Club? Having an array of beautiful photographs scroll across the large screen as the poem “Everglades Morning” (written by a local author) is read.

As the first of its kind, however, there has been a lot of work being done by only a few people. In this case, it was a deliberate choice to limit the number of people since we don’t know how the reception will be. If we can establish it to become an annual event, we can use the lessons learned to form appropriate committees for the future.