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.

“Little Chickens”…..

The game hens have finished thawing for tonight’s dinner. This is one of those meals that brings back fond memories. The title of the post by the way comes from a scene in a TV sitcom where the rather demanding woman of the house told the housekeeper to pick up game hens and said, “And don’t buy little chickens and tell me it’s the same thing.”

Anyway, we now grill game hens as a weekend meal, each have half, then do a meal of leftovers later in the week. When Hubby and I were going together, he invited me to his place for dinner. We hadn’t really had many discussions about his culinary ability although we did both enjoy food. I more or less assumed it would be steaks because that’s kind of a guy thing. I walked into his condo to see the table set, a lemon slice in the water glasses, salads ready, the wine opened, and a lovely aroma from the kitchen. He had just taken the roasted game hens stuffed with brown and wild rice from the oven. I expressed my pleasure and he explained someone had once given him the advice that as a bachelor, he needed to find and perfect just a few dishes – one for special dinners, one to take for pot-lucks, and one to have as central to parties. That was to be in addition to the common guy expertise with grilling.

The game hens were obviously the special dinner, he had a wonderful broccoli rice casserole for potlucks, his chili-cheese dip for parties is always popular and he did a killer chili. As you know if you follow this blog, cooking together is something we share and the number of his specialty dishes has definitely expanded. We’ve had a few we’ve experimented with that while they were good, we determined they just weren’t worth all the trouble. It’s been a lot of fun along the way, not to mention delicious.

Memorable Movie Lines….

Hubby made the comment recently that he thought the most lines routinely quoted were from “Princess Bride”. I quickly pointed out, “Casablanca”. He countered with if you ask Millennials, they wouldn’t know about it. Hmmm, he may have had me there. I truly don’t  know how many younger generation have watched “Casablanca”. First of all, I don’t know how often they watch black and white movies. Nor do I know if, of those, WWII ones are of much interest. Not that it was precisely a war movie. Anyway, there are fabulous lines from both those movies that really have made their way into many conversations.

“We need a bigger boat” and “I’ll be back” are certainly two others. The whole Dirty Harry thing of “Do you feel lucky?” and “Go ahead and make my day” count. “Failure is not an option” has to get some votes and even though it isn’t a whole line, “the right stuff” was picked up quickly. .There are definitely some lesser known ones that have always resonated with me when it comes to philosophy. Two were from “The Competition” when Richard Dreyfuss was really young. He and Amy Irving were in an intense piano competition. Winning for her would be the high point of many years of hard work in her privileged life. Winning for him would be a career launch out of his lower middle class life where he had to struggle to fit piano time in. They of course became interested in each other providing the necessary complication to the movie. At one point, as Irving debated about deliberately losing since she could compete in a later year, her mentor and teacher said something like, “Of course, and when it is your final year, some other pianist will step aside and let you win because life is so fair and equitable.” Since it’s possible you will actually watch the movie some day, I won’t give the other quote because it would be a spoiler.

So, how about it? Favorites movie quotes?

Balancing Love of Art and Practicality…..

I have previously posted about the “journey” of Hubby and I in the decision of son to become a professional dancer rather than pursue one of the careers we anticipated for him. Those who are fans of my books are also aware the “great commercial breakthrough” has yet to occur. Those two elements came together in a recent discussion when I was having coffee with a young man who is both an artist and a performer. He is in a position to be able to work part time in administration at a small performing arts center, and be in the associated community theater group as he works on an associate degree in business. Whether or not he continues with a bachelor degree remains to be seen and he is realistic about balancing his passion with the need to be marketable.

There is often the question as to why someone in the arts must generally put their art (in whatever form that takes) second to an income-producing career. This is especially painful when the individual is inclined to art to the degree it is difficult to do well in the skills considered more suitable to most paying jobs. The core reason is “supply and demand”. , Setting aside whether an individual is talented enough to be paid for whatever the art form is, there are simply far more artists, musicians, writers, etc., than people who can (and will) pay for those products and services.

Since that aspect of the world is not likely to change, being supportive of someone’s artistic desire is important while understanding for most, it will be something “done on the side” or as a hobby. The love of such can found in some of the oldest records of mankind and it is something to embrace even if it must be far less than full time.

Finally Underwater…..

I did intend to post yesterday, but it was pretty hectic and today has been about the same. Tomorrow will be a bit worse and Thursday and Friday have the potential to be fairly normal. That would mean busy without being totally jammed.

Anyway, I in fact got to spend Easter diving. We went to one of the more distant reefs due to better visibility so it was a bit longer of a day and since Hubby was with students, the nice leisurely lunch we try to have wasn’t in the cards. However, conditions on the reefs were good and we saw some of my favorites like the trunk fish in the photo along with a decent size stingray,  a couple of nurse sharks and a very large green eel as well as some fairly large groupers. I was looking at one of the groupers under a ledge and realized the eel was in with him. The other divers were close enough to let me get their attention and I backed out of the way for them to get a good look. Hubby used his light since it was a bit dim and by moving the light around, the eel moved some, too. Although it didn’t come out from under the ledge, everyone got a nice view. On the other end of the scale, I found a tiny shrimp tucked away and the bright blue Chromis I enjoy aren’t much bigger than a thumb. I spotted all four of the most common angelfish – queen, French, gray, and rock beauty. There are allegedly blue angels around and are almost never seen.

I really am going to try to go one more time in April to make up for not going at all in March. As we know, it will remain to be seen if that works out.

Easter Bunnies and Such……

A FB post came around the other day showing little girls’ feet in white patent shoes in what was obviously a 1960s photo. It was one of those “Do You Remember This” things and my yes, didn’t it bring back memories? The white patent shoes were part of the Easter outfit although “bonnets” had become less popular. Lots of women still had their lovely Easter hats, but not so much girls anymore. And of course it was the general time frame to wear white, another of those fashion “rules” that I think have gone by the wayside. The dresses in the deep south tended toward dotted Swiss and I don’t know about the cooler parts of the country. Ham was the meat of choice since no one we knew had, or would have thought of, lamb. The whole wonderfully messy Easter egg coloring occurred a few days prior and I suppose we held onto the Easter Bunny idea for as long as we did Santa Claus.

When my son was a little tyke, I don’t think I ever actually tried to bother with real eggs as I had discovered how much easier it was to use plastic ones. For the longest time I did faithfully watch “Ten Commandments” as much because of Charlton Heston as for any other tradition. Our granddaughter is just about old enough this year to sort of grasp the concept so it will be interesting to hear how it all goes.

We got into the rhythm of Easter brunch for several years, but it so happens Easter morning is a very popular time for people to dive the Christ of the Abyss statue in Key Largo and therefore, Hubby often works that day. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for weather (which has been terribly windy) and boat situation so I can finally get back into the water as well. If so, maybe we’ll see an Easter turtle instead of a bunny.


A Tough Business…..

There are few small businesses that are easy and those with a lot of competition add an extra dimension of difficulty. Restaurants are among the most difficult for several reasons. The facility and health requirements are constant demands, and by that I mean a place can be all set to go for the day and the/a stove goes out. That can create all sorts of turmoil.  Health inspectors can show up unexpectedly and maybe the temperature for the hot water in the sinks isn’t correct. It may seem like a small thing, but can cause problems.

The simple fact is restaurants have to price within a narrow band of similar restaurants and managing inventory is difficult, especially if you want to promote “fresh”. That aspect means potential for spoilage which equals higher operational costs. Labor is of course a huge headache because again that is one of the major costs and turnover is common. Hiring good staff can pose problems, and keeping them even more so. Anyone who has ever spent time as a waitress/waiter knows this and anyone who experiences poor service does, too.

We have a local restaurant/lounge which is attempting to “transform” and it will be interesting to see what happens. The new manager is quite pleasant and means well, but there are a number of obstacles to overcome. One of the aspects is potentially mutually exclusive target markets. There may not be as much disparity as initially appears, so I will hold off judgment until I see how things progress. The menu at the moment is quite limited which is generally a good idea going back to inventory and quality management. Of the four items our group sampled, three were good and one was questionable. Again, the actual “transformation” will include new menu items, but having something that works well in the meantime is a basic step. I always hope the best when someone has a vision, is willing to take a risk, and works hard. We shall see.