Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Magnify What Matters

Tuesday, August 20th, 2019

Here are examples from Memorial Day. I chose to stay behind the color guard beneath the shade of trees on a hot, sticky afternoon. This is what I saw with a 70mm lens.
Photos by David LaBelle

My first professional photo award came the month after I bought a 300mm lens. Although it was a slow manual lens (f/4.5), I felt like my camera suddenly grew wings and could record emotions I was unable to capture before.

During most of my newspaper career, I carried only three lenses: 24mm, 180mm and 300mm. If I had a shoot that required something like an 85mm, I borrowed a lens.

Whether fixed/prime or zoom, telephoto lenses magnify reality, allowing you to focus on subtle emotions easily missed with a 50mm lens.

Long lenses compress and condense information, bringing faraway backgrounds closer. They allow me to see more deeply into the faces and eyes of people, and eliminate unwanted backgrounds.

A long lens also allows you to quietly incorporate subtle color accents in front of or behind your primary subject without stealing the show.

Here are tips to consider regarding telephoto lenses:

Pay the price.
Avoid cheap 50-300mm f/5.6 or f/8 lenses. They are not practical unless you photograph only in broad daylight. If shooting in low light, the difference between f/2.8 and f/4 can be the difference between success and failure.

Well-made lenses are expensive, equal to or greater than the cost of a camera body. A Nikkor 300mm f/4 lens sells for $600 to $1,000. A 300 f/2.8 (one more aperture opening) is $3,500 to $5,000.

Go to a camera store and handle the item to see if it is what you really want. Things often look great online, but feel different in your hands.

Brace yourself.
Tripods can be awkward. A lot of photographers—especially those who shoot action sports—use monopods to help stabilize heavy lenses.

If hand-holding a long lens, brace yourself, as if using a rifle. That helps minimize camera/lens movement. A telephoto lens magnifies small movements.

If you don’t use a sturdy base, remember the “rule” of using a shutter speed equal to—and preferably twice that—of the focal length of your lens. For instance, if using a 300mm lens, your shutter speed should be at least 1/500th of a second to minimize camera shake.

I am still a medium to long lens guy. A 180mm lens is my favorite portrait lens. I like the compression, the lack of competing backgrounds, the feel a telephoto lens produces.

At 68, with a tender back, a bad right shoulder and a neck worn from five decades of carrying cameras, it’s tougher for me to use long lenses. That said, I am stubborn enough to endure the pain to capture those faces and moments I want to share.

Take the ‘A’ Train

Tuesday, August 20th, 2019

Customers get a hand while boarding an Amtrak train.
Photo by Amtrak/Doug Riddell

From Jacksonville to Tampa to Miami, you can leave the driving to Amtrak. With 18 stations in Florida, you can board the train to take the family to an attraction, tourist destination, shopping trip or weekend excursion.

It may not be on your radar, but riding Amtrak within Florida has plenty of benefits. You don’t have to drive, gas up the car, deal with traffic jams or watch the road. You’re reducing your carbon footprint by taking the train.
It can be a new and fun family adventure.

“Amtrak is a great way to travel to other parts of Florida,” says Dana Jones, president of the Palatka Chamber of Commerce, one of the rail line’s eastern Florida stops. “People can board the train here and go to Orlando to shop or to Winter Haven, Lakeland or Tampa to play tourist. It is such a convenient way to travel, plus you can see so much more of the state by riding the train.”

If you want to travel outside the state, board the train in Sanford and catch the Auto Train—an overnight ride to Virginia that allows you to take your car with you.

The Silver Meteor runs from Miami to New York City, with stops in Orlando and Jacksonville before heading up the East Coast through Baltimore and Philadelphia.

The Silver Star also travels between Miami and New York, with stops in Tampa, Columbia, South Carolina, Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Wilmington.

Visit for more info about Amtrak routes and travel options.

Sea Turtle Nesting Season
September and October are the last two months for active sea turtle nesting for 2019. In March, female sea turtles began making their nests along Florida’s beaches. After 45 to 55 days, the hatchlings emerge and make their way at night back to the ocean.

Florida is home to five species of sea turtles: green, loggerhead, leatherback, hawksbill and Kemp’s ridley. All are endangered or threatened.

To learn guidelines for helping protect these species, check out the Florida Fish and Wildlife website,

Five Things Flight Attendants Hate
To stay in the good graces of flight attendants, avoid these behaviors, cited recently in

  • Keeping your headphones on during food and drink service. Flight attendants have to repeat the selections to each row.
  • Leaving trash around your seat and the lavatory messy.
  • Ignoring seat assignments.
  • Ignoring the seatbelt sign during flights or immediately standing up once the plane has reached the gate.
  • Using the call button for no reason.
  • Whether you are on a short flight or a trans-Atlantic journey, being courteous to the flight crew can make the trip more pleasant.

Romantic Florida
The Active Times ranked Key West the most romantic destination in the state for its sunset cruises and quaint lodging.

Even if you don’t snorkel or scuba dive, consider a visit to Dry Tortugas National Park,

To enjoy the quieter side of Key West and create your own memories, stay at a charming bed and breakfast inn off one of the main streets.

Florida native and travel enthusiast Pamela A. Keene is a freelance journalist who specializes in travel, gardening, personality and feature writing. She is also a photographer and accomplished sailor. Her website is

Lionfish Art Is More Than Jewelry

Tuesday, August 20th, 2019

Although curing rids spines of their venom, Lena is careful when placing the delicate spines into intricate patterns. Bottom right, pendants come in a variety of shapes. No two patterns are alike.

Keys residents address lionfish invasion with handmade, wearable art with a message

Lionfish have been invading the East Coast for more than a decade now. While it seems little can be done to stem the tide, that doesn’t mean Florida Keys residents are giving up any time soon.

Key Largo teacher and lionfish jewelry maker Lena Nyman and her husband, Adam Besteman, are doing their part.

“We started off just hunting and eating them,” Adam says. “We were just sitting talking one day and figured there’s got to be something else we can do.”

Eating them was enjoyable, but that wasn’t combatting the population spike. Adam says that even though lionfish taste good and can be prepared in various ways, larger lionfish are only good for a couple of fillets.
Lena and Adam say the fish are as beautiful as they are invasive, which sparked the idea to create jewelry from the brightly colored, yet venomous, spines. Most of their lionfish pieces are necklace pendants, but Lena recently added earrings to the line.

Both get questions from people asking about the fish.

“When people realize what it is, it’s great,” Lena says. “For some people, it takes them a bit to realize it’s real.

They appreciate the story behind the pieces.”

Lena’s first pieces were given to friends as gifts. As word got out about the new local, handmade jewelry, Lena and Adam started getting requests.

Adam and Lena get many of the fish from local lionfish derbies. With hundreds of the fish caught at each derby, supply is not an issue. They team up with other groups who appreciate and rely on the ocean for their livelihoods, too.

“We work with a lot of local divers and fishermen because this is a problem that’s not just environmental, it’s economic,” Adam says. “It affects everyone because lionfish can completely wipe out species living on a reef.”

After the spines are removed from the lionfish, they are cured. Lena says curing not only removes the venom, but reveals the colors of the spines.

“You never know what you’ll get,” she says. “It’s fascinating to see how much they vary.”

Lena and Adam do not use any dyes to add or bring out color. Everything is natural and eco-friendly, which is important to the couple.

Smaller pieces take the most time, and round pendants are toughest to make, Lena says. Long, narrow pendants seem to resonate more with women, while men tend to buy more of the circular pendants.

“You almost have to pick by which one speaks to you,” Adam says. “People come and they’re drawn to one.”

Selling the jewelry is nice, but educating the public is the most important aspect of this work for Lena and Adam.

“The more we educate, the more people know about the problem,” Lena says. “When people are snorkeling or diving, they don’t realize how invasive the fish are.”

Each necklace, bracelet or pair of earrings that sells or is displayed means one more person learns about the lionfish infestation and the havoc they can wreak.

“The most important thing for me is spreading the knowledge and hoping people can use that knowledge to put us back on track—not just with lionfish, but the environment,” Adam says.

Lena echos the sentiment.

“I want folks to be aware of this invasive species and to know what a problem they are,” she says. “Love the ocean for what it is, because we aren’t on a very good route environmentally.” n

For more information, contact Lena Nyman at

Wrap Your Arms Around the Season

Tuesday, August 20th, 2019

Fall is peak hunting season, so be aware of your surroundings and stay alert. Consider limiting your nonhunting outings to areas where hunting is not allowed. When that’s not possible, stay on established trails, keep pets on a leash and wear bright clothing to increase your visibility.
© iStock/richardoreitmeyer

Americans love autumn. It’s their favorite time of year, according to a survey by research firm YouGov.

One reason for the love affair in Florida is that fall signals the start of some of the best opportunities of the year to enjoy the outdoors.

Of course, it’s hunting season, but nonhunters also can find plenty of reasons to relish the season.

  • Active pursuits. Some of the best hiking, biking and paddling begins in late September and continues into the new year. Moderating temperatures, humidity and rainfall make activities more comfortable and enjoyable.
  • Photography. Fall is an outdoor photographer’s dream. It offers gorgeous light, stunning color, and some of the best sunrises and sunsets of the year.
  • Camping. Fewer crowds, more wildlife and cooler nights are just three things that make autumn a favorite with campers.
  • Bird-watching. This is one of two seasons when birds are in motion. Birds from northern climes start to arrive, while some of the birds already here fly farther south. Other wildlife is more active in fall as well.

Something to keep in mind when planning fall outings is weather. Temperatures tend to be cooler—especially overnight—and conditions can change quickly. The days are shorter, too.

Get Ahead of the Crowds
Take advantage of advance reservations at state and national parks. You can make reservations six months in advance at most national parks and monuments, while Florida state parks allow booking camp spots 11 months ahead of time. Making advance reservations for other types of lodging and guide services is also a good idea if you want to beat the crowds.

Special Days in September
September 14, International Crab Fest Day.
September 16, Collect Rocks Day.
September 28, National Hunting and Fishing Day.

Got a Tip or a Whopper?
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication, we will send you $25 for one-time use. Email your submission to

Catch of the Month
Here are prime fishing opportunities around the state in September.
The Keys: bonito, bonefish, swordfish, tuna, drum, mackerel, permit, snook, snapper and tarpon.
Northwest: jack, bluefish, catfish, drum, bonito, seatrout, snapper, barracuda, triggerfish, sheepshead, mackerel, pompano, sailfish, cobia, shark, grouper, marlin, tarpon, tuna and wahoo.
Central West: flounder, bluefish, cobia, bonito, drum, seatrout, grouper, grunt, mackerel, barracuda, porgy, snapper and ladyfish.
Southwest: jack, ladyfish, barracuda, bass, drum, snook, sunfish, cobia, grouper and snapper.

Preparation and Practice Equal Results

Saturday, July 20th, 2019

Consider target practicing with the arrows and broadheads you plan to hunt with, rather than the usual field points. It’s more of a pain to remove broadheads from targets and painful to the wallet when you lose or damage one, but it will help you make more-precise adjustments that could mean the difference between a hit or a miss when it counts.
© iStock/Stefan Malloch

What you do before the hunt can be just as important—if not more important—than what you do the day of the hunt. That’s because preparation and practice are keys for success.

With hunting seasons already open in some areas or fast approaching in others, here are six things you can do to improve your odds whether hunting with a bow, rifle or black powder.

  • Scout areas beforehand. Look for forage and bedding areas, and identify natural lanes of travel. Don’t forget to formulate an exit strategy for how to remove game if you are successful.
  • Get in hunting shape. It could be something as simple as a series of hikes or bow pulls-holds. Match strength and conditioning efforts to the terrain and mode of hunting you plan to employ. For archers, that means strengthening arm and shoulder muscles.
  • Get serious about target practice. The current term is mindfulness. Focus on each step of every shot. Use the same bow or firearm you intend to hunt with, as well as the same ammo or projectiles.
  • Do dress rehearsals. When target shooting, wear the same clothes, footwear and outerwear you plan to use when hunting.
  • Shoot all the angles. Shoot uphill and down, short and long. This will prepare you to shoot from a tree stand and in different types of terrain. Practice in different types of weather and low-light conditions, too.
  • Get a head start. If you plan to be stationary, set up your tree stand or blind at least 24 hours beforehand, if possible.

Why-Didn’t-I-Think-of-That Camping Cuisine
This summer I ran into a family enjoying what they called tacos in a bag, which can be fixed cold or hot. For hot, heat meat or beans. Prepare other ingredients, such as veggies, olives and cheese, and combine everything in snack-size bags with your favorite taco chips. Bon appetit!

August is National Picnic and Catfish Month, and …
August 10, National S’mores Day
August 31, National Trail Mix Day

Catch of the Month
Here are prime fishing opportunities around the state in August.
The Keys: bonito, swordfish, tuna, permit, snook, snapper and wahoo.
Northwest: jack, bluefish, bluegill, catfish, drum, bonito, seatrout, snapper, barracuda, triggerfish, sheepshead, mackerel, pompano, sailfish, shark, sunfish, marlin, tarpon, tuna and wahoo.
Central West: amberjack, bass, tarpon, flounder, bluegill, bluefish, drum, seatrout, sunfish, shark, grouper, tarpon, grunt, mackerel, barracuda, permit, porgy, pompano, snapper and ladyfish.
Southwest: jack, ladyfish, barracuda, bass, bluegill, snook, permit, shark, sunfish, grouper and snapper.

Got a Tip or a Whopper?
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication, we will send you $25 for one-time use. Email your submission to

Many of Curtis Condon’s fondest memories involve outdoor adventures with friends and family, whether fishing with old school buddies, backpacking in the mountains of the Northwest with his sons, or bird watching along the Gulf Coast with his wife. He feels fortunate having the opportunity to write about the outdoors and other subjects for more than 30 years.

Sweet Dreams

Saturday, July 20th, 2019

Contemplate how to accumulate the highest point total using the letters on the walls of the Scrabble bedroom.
Photo courtesy Orlando Area Luxury Rentals LLC

Florida has some unexpected lodging destinations for family reunions, weddings and friends getaways. Families of all ages can get to know each other or relive childhood memories with a week or a weekend away.

Stay in bedrooms decorated in classic game board themes at The Great Escape Lakeside Retreat. Accommodations sleep up to 45 people in rooms dedicated to Monopoly, Clue, Pictionary and Scrabble.

“Having a reunion in a game setting really helps you get to know people much better and more quickly than just sitting around the dinner table or hanging out by the pool,” says Andrew Greenstein, owner of four such resorts in Central Florida. “People always tell us what fun they had when they stayed here.”

Amenities include a TV family game show studio, a karaoke club, larger-than-life chess and human foosball. The 13-room estate in Clermont is one of four destinations Greenstein has created. Others include The Great Escape Parkside, The Sweet Escape Mansion and the Ever After Estate. Each has a full kitchen, pool, large gathering space and indoor theater.

Rentals must include the entire property.

For more information, visit or call 352-250-4220.

Just south of Englewood on the Gulf Coast barrier island of Manasota Key, the Pearl Beach Inn offers low-rise multifamily condos and apartments. Reachable by a two-lane road on the south end of the island, there are no high rises or traffic lights. The pace is relaxed with beachfront rooms, good shelling and plenty of wildlife.

For more information, visit or call 941-473-2361.

For a different kind of gathering in the Panhandle, Grayton Beach State Park and Topsail Preserve State Park both offer glamping. Canvas tents include queen beds, area rugs, couches, interior lighting and all the comforts of home. Visit or call 850-628-9696.

The Daily Meal’s website says it is worth the drive to Dania Beach in Broward County for ice cream at Jaxson’s Ice Cream Parlour and Restaurant. Even if you’re not into turtle sundaes and banana splits, browse the store’s huge collection of rural Americana memorabilia and expansive license plate collection.

Dania Beach’s Secret Woods Nature Center is a great place to walk off the calories and see butterflies and wildlife at the same time.

Mayport’s Safe Harbor Seafood Market and Restaurant made the Cheapism list of Best Seafood in Florida. While in this part of the state, tour Kingsley Plantation ( or the St. Johns River Lighthouse.

Insiders Info travel website is filled with tips, recommendations and information about travel, whether staying in state or taking a trip around the world. Here are some helpful hints:

  • Do you ever wish you could talk with a real person instead of filling out an online form? Go to and fill in the company name.
  • If staying in a hotel, try using a food delivery service instead of room service. You will save a bundle and have a wider choice of cuisines.
  • Considering a cruise? Check out wholesale clubs like Sams and Costco for deals.

Sign up for daily travel tips and deals at

Florida native and travel enthusiast Pamela A. Keene is a freelance journalist who specializes in travel, gardening, personality and feature writing. She is also a photographer and accomplished sailor. Her website is

The Buzz About Drones

Saturday, July 20th, 2019

Tucker LaBelle flies his drone in this photo taken by his father, David.

Life looks different from the air than from the ground—and often looking down is the only way to see what’s really up.

As a newspaper photographer, there were numerous times I ached to get high above a scene to capture a better, more complete picture.

Unless I could hitch a ride on a helicopter—which I occasionally did—few options were available for elevating my camera high enough to grasp the scope of what was happening on the ground.

A few resourceful photographers mounted cameras on small aircraft or used balloons to elevate cameras, but in most news situations this was neither timely nor practical.

Thanks to consumer drone technology, anyone can make pictures from above.

Like most technology, drones came in with a buzz and a bang—so fast the Federal Aviation Admini-stration didn’t know how to regulate them.

Drones buzzed sports venues, beaches, news scenes, even celebrity parties.

My son Tucker has always been a bit of a propeller head. He created YouTube and Instagram followings, where he built a lucrative lacrosse business before he was 14.

Then he wanted a drone.

Uncharacteristically, I stayed up late on Black Friday and stood in line with Tucker, hoping to buy his early Christmas present at nearly half the price. Success.

The next day, a Saturday, the Washington, D.C., area was still pretty quiet and empty, so we looked for a park or schoolyard—a place to practice flying his gift.

Tucker was dumbfounded when, after doing everything he was supposed to do, the drone would not fly. Then came an intimidating warning on his cellphone. Before we could leave the schoolyard, a policeman arrived with lights flashing. We were in trouble.

Recognizing we were no threat to national security, the officer explained we were violating federal law by flying in federal airspace, and let us go.

On the way home to Ohio, we pulled over at another park and watched in amazement as the bird climbed almost out of sight.

I wish I had had one of these when I was 14.

Three years later, Tucker is still flying that drone—a tool the soon-to-be 20-year-old college student and social media guy for Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa, uses to shoot stills and video.

“Consider the price and the camera image quality,” Tucker says. “What do you want to do with it? Do your research.”

Just as different lenses are made for capturing different situations, drones are designed for various purposes. Some commercial drones are made for imagery and some for hobby, such as racing.

David Stephenson—a former student of mine who teaches drone photography at the University of Kentucky—says everyone should follow certain protocols:

Safety. Do not endanger your subjects, yourself, nature or property. Do not fly at night, over people or traffic, around stadiums or events while filled with people, in restricted airspace or within 5 miles of an airport unless you have a waiver or permission. Don’t chase wildlife. It is illegal and unethical.

Ethics. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Consider a drone a camera that flies. If you wouldn’t shoot it from the ground, perhaps you shouldn’t shoot it from the air either. Respect privacy. Do no harm.

The law. When drones are in the air, they are regulated by the FAA, not local municipalities. However, local ordinances can dictate where you launch your drone. Respect ordinances and signage at parks, beaches, etc.

“You don’t want to be a headline on the nightly news after your drone shuts down a major airport,” David says.

Shooting photos from the air offers a unique perspective.

“Follow the same fundamentals of photography you would use when shooting with a standard camera,” David says. “Shoot in early and late light with long shadows. They look great from the air. And practice, practice, practice! The more you fly, the better pilot you will be.”

Photographer, teacher, author and lecturer David LaBelle has worked for newspapers and magazines across the U.S. Visit

A Rural Fashion Statement

Saturday, July 20th, 2019

The Leavitts—from left, Phoebe, Lucy, Tyson, Annie, Rodney and Abigail—love their rural life in Nevada, despite the challenge of being so far removed from shopping. They depend on online options.
Photo by Reyanna Jarrel/Rey of Light Photography

Distance-challenged consumers go online for forward-thinking yet functional styles

Rural American fashion has come a long way from the anticipated arrival of Wells Fargo wagons or well-thumbed mail-order catalogs. With small-town niche boutiques and almost limitless online options, far-flung fashion fans can get just about anything they want.

“I feel like the rural customer—they know a lot more about what they want,” says Jessi Roberts, founder of Cheekys, a boutique company geared toward rural women. “They are looking for good quality, something that puts a smile on their face. I don’t have to meet the superficial demands I feel someone who is designing for an urban customer would have to.”

In a rural fashion industry long dominated by big businesses such as Wrangler, Levi and Boot Barn, innovative smaller companies such as Cheekys and Rural Cloth—a company capitalizing on the theme “America, We Grow Beer”—are winning fans.

In her life story, “Backroads Boss Lady: Happiness Ain’t a Side Hustle—Straight Talk on Creating the Life You Deserve,” Jessi talks about New York’s misplaced judgment of small-town America.

“Thanks to some book called ‘Hillbilly Elegy,’ there’s a perception in cities like New York that people in small towns should be pitied because we’re too stupid and lazy to know our lives would be better in the city,” Jessi says. “Well, I don’t believe that at all. I’ve lived in Texas. I’ve lived in Boise. I live in New Plymouth, Idaho, population 1,538, because I want to live here. I want to raise my kids here. And I run a company for all the women in all the little towns like New Plymouth who feel the same way.”

Jessi started her company in New Plymouth—which is just east of the Oregon border—as a tiny tanning salon, with a few purses and fashion items sold mostly to provide some decoration. She soon realized women weren’t interested in tanning, but were aching for fun fashion.

She sold the tanning beds and used the money to bring in more merchandise. She started to manufacture her own line of clothing and accessories and sell it to 35,000 small boutiques like hers.

Admittedly, not all rural residents have the luxury to shop locally for fashion. Distance to retail outlets can be a challenge for people who live in remote areas, and a desire to dress fashionably is tempered by the need to dress for function.

About a year ago, Marci and Jim Pettingill moved from North Las Vegas to a rural Nevada community about halfway between Vegas and St. George, Utah.

Marci’s tastes have always been fashion forward, but moving to the country resulted in inevitable changes.

“Our property is actually rural,” Marci says. “It’s not in a neighborhood. We have dirt and gravel and chickens and uneven surfaces. Just tonight I ran out to feed the chickens, and I just threw on my Birkenstock sandals. I was thinking, ‘Why did I do that?’”

Marci has learned closed-toe shoes are best to keep crud out of your toes. She has a few fashionable pairs of mules for going out, but her go-to chicken mucking shoes are Crocs.

While Marci and the women around her aren’t eager to look like they hopped off a tractor, Marci says fashion frequently answers to function.

“This is a farm town,” she explains, “and it doesn’t make sense to get super cute if you have to go out and feed pigs or take care of the cows and goats or whatever, and that’s what everybody has all around.”

That said, Marci says she makes an effort to make herself and her kids look put-together for church on Sunday or big community events such as football games.

She has noticed others go all-out, with little girls in fancy hair bows that make her feel like she needs to “up her game” and make sure her daughter, Laura, “has her hair at least brushed.”

The Leavitt family—parents Tyson and Annie, and kids Rodney, Phoebe, Abby and Lucy—who live a few minutes from the Pettingills, are at least an hour away from a well-rounded retail establishment.

There is a Walmart about 40 minutes away in Mesquite and a Bealls. A few minutes away there’s a Family Dollar, which Annie admits has come in handy when she needed last-second socks or underwear for the kids.

But if she wants to do serious shopping, she turns to her computer.

“I’m pretty antisocial,” she says, “so shopping online is my favorite pick. The kids are older and don’t enjoy hand-me-downs. We get most of their clothes before school starts online from Old Navy and Target.”

She orders shoes from Zappos, which offers free shipping and free returns.

When the kids were younger, Annie says she got by without investing in fancy clothes, but influences are changing that.

“Fashion isn’t huge out here, which is a nice relief,” she says, “but because of social media/online influences, my kids know what the Kardashians are wearing, and that determines what they like/don’t like. I’m trying to teach them that quality and style matter, and that really style is timeless. But arguing with hormones is a lose-lose game for all involved.”

If shopping for celebrity-wowed kids seems hard, try shopping for husbands.

“Tyson hates clothes,” Annie says. “We order his work pants online. He still has the same casual clothes from several years ago that I force him to wear on dates or for family photos. For his job as a commercial electrician, he wears pants and a work shirt, and changes into a T-shirt and shorts after work. We order his work boots online. I like to go to Nordstrom Rack for his church and casual shoes because there’s a large selection in his size of quality shoes.”

If anyone understands Tyson’s perspective, it’s Andrew Webecke.

Andrew and his wife, Kristina, live in Snowville, Utah—a town of just more than 150 residents. It is about 30 minutes from the closest grocery store, 50 minutes from the nearest Walmart and roughly an hour and 20 minutes from any other retail store.

Andrew’s favorite shopping venue is While he frequently buys online, he says it is best when he can visit the retail store in Logan, Utah.

As at home, you flip through a computer catalog and pick out what you want. A salesperson goes to the warehouse and fetches your potential purchases. Dressing rooms are available, so you can try on items and buy only what fits.

By necessity, Andrew says, his family does a lot of shopping online. Getting things in the mail is easy, but he says it is a hassle to ship an item back if it’s the wrong size or different than pictured.

“UPS or FedEx is at least an hour drive, and it’s not super convenient to try to get them to come pick stuff up from you,” he says. “A lot of places have a good return policy, but that’s assuming you’re going to get back into town.”

Andrew says he’s not super fashion-focused, but his kids are exposed to more trendy styles through school.

Andrew’s 19-year-old daughter, Hannah, says comfort is key, along with clothes to fit the seasons, which include deep snow in winter and severe heat and wind in summer.

“You run into things you don’t in town,” Andrew says. “In town, you’re not worried about the foxtail grass that gets stuck in your clothes.”

He says people he knows do not try to dress like stereotypical cowboys, but when working on a farm, the style makes sense.

“It comes down to function,” he says. “Think about bicycles. If you dressed the way bicyclists do for fashion, you’d probably get your butt kicked. But if you get on a bicycle and you realize, ‘OK, I’m wearing this clothing because it doesn’t catch the wind, and it breathes better and it’s not getting caught in the chain,’ you start realizing that everything having to do with cycling is function and has nothing to do with fashion.

“It’s kind of the same thing in country living. As soon as you hop on a horse and you start riding, you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s why they wear pants like they do.’ I’ve got normal-sized feet, but when I try to wear something that’s not a Western-style riding boot, I can’t get my feet quick in and out of the stirup. It starts catching. You move away from the canvas and lightweight nylon because it gets torn up so fast.”

For some rural consumers, more than just distance deters shopping local. In Southport, Florida, retail accessibility has been complicated by a natural disaster.

“The mall closest to me was destroyed in Hurricane Michael,” says Kristin Evans, vice president of marketing and communications for Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative. “The only clothing store that reopened was Dillard’s, although J.C. Penney says they plan to re-open.”

That will be helpful, since Kristin likes the Ralph Lauren clothing brand for her 5-year-old son, Jameson, for church, school pictures and special programs.

Kristin relies on Target and Walmart for children’s play clothes and sometimes even school clothes for Jameson and 2-year-old Courtney, “since many days my kids come home wearing part of their lunch and/or art project.”

T.J Maxx recently reopened, and Marshalls is 30 to 45 minutes away at the Pier Park shopping complex in Panama City Beach. Destin is about an hour and a half away, and Tallahassee is about two hours, but the busy working mom says she rarely makes the drive.

Much of her shopping is done via social media.

“I already have my daughter’s first day of school outfit in hand, and I have ordered her outfits to wear to the National Peanut Festival in Dothan, Alabama, in November, to the pumpkin patch in October and for pictures in a cotton field in the fall,” Kristin says.

Growing up in the tiny town of Marianna, Florida, Kristin frequented a few locally owned children’s shops—her mom emphasized shopping sales—but most of the time they would travel 30 minutes north to the mall in Dothan.

“I still love to shop in Dothan, but it is not the same as it used to be,” Kristin says. “So many stores have closed due to online shopping, and I know that I contribute to that. In today’s fast-paced society, it is easier for people to shop via their computer, phone or laptop and have items shipped straight to their door, especially since so many online retailers offer free shipping and returns, making it no risk to try something.”

Online Shoppers Count On Instagram Bloggers for Help

Kristin Evans and Marci Pettingill turn to these fashion bloggers on Instagram for online shopping insights and tips.

“They’ll get on their stories and do try-on sessions,” Marci says. “They’ll give you their measurements and describe how things fit so you know to size up in this pair of pants or size down. I have shopped a ton through Instagram story bloggers because I can see how things fit, and I can have it shipped to my house.”

Piper & Scoot
136K followers, based in Draper, Utah
They offer twirl-worthy dresses and flutter sleeve shirts.

When Kylee and Nate Middleton—aka Piper & Scoot—met, married and combined their household, it was apparent Kylee’s extensive closet needed to slim down. She started selling clothes to family and friends on Instagram. That was so much fun, she decided to chase her dream of owning a clothing boutique. She vows to only carry items she’s tempted to add to her own closet. “You should be head over heels for every piece of clothing you own,” Kylee writes. “Wearing an outfit that I feel confident in helps me to be my best self and I hope it can be the same for you.”

J’s Everyday Fashion
56.6K followers, based in Florida
No models, Photoshop or fancy backdrops. Real women talk real fashion.
Jeanette Johnson provides a study of one woman’s closet, sharing failed attempts, experiments, successes, what she wears to events in her own life, and what she might wear if she worked in an office or was a busy mom. She is about empowering women—inspiring them to embrace “the audacity to enjoy yourself” through practical fashion without the frills.

Matilda Jane
156K followers, based in Fort Wayne, Indiana

It features clothing for babies, girls, tweens and adults, with a whimsical approach to texture, pattern and color, along with a few boys’ and men’s items, accessories, home decor and toys.

Founded by Denise DeMarchis, the line is designed to preserve little girls’ desire to twirl. Products are available online or through independent trunk keepers.

“I have a friend who is a Matilda Jane trunk keeper—and she is trying her best to get me to be one, too!” Kristin says. “The clothing is all very well made out of soft fabrics with a lot of detail.”

Lee Anne Benjamin
241K followers, based in Austin, Texas

She features the best of big retailers like Nordstrom, American Eagle, Loft, Amazon, Abercrombie, and even Walmart and Target, through her website and her husband’s website,

Lee uses her lifestyle blog to share her experiences with like-minded women. Fans get a peek at more than just her fashion hauls. They learn more about her mom experiences and her “coffee-obsessed and crazy busy life.”

The Spoiled Home
279K followers, based in Oklahoma

It features home decor and furnishings, cute clothing, makeup, shoes, unique accessories and sales, sales, sales.

Sandi and Shalia—the two friends behind the blog—met more than a decade ago when Sandi became Shalia’s hairstylist. Sandi is Native American (Seminole, Creek and Choctaw). Shalia is a high school English teacher who has run in three marathons, one with Sandi.

Jen Reed
478K followers, based in Dallas, Texas

She features affordable everyday clothing from Abercrombie, American Eagle, Ann Taylor, Amazon, Express, Banana Republic, Nordstrom and Target.

The mom of two says she lives on coffee, wine and a lot of humor. Expect more than fashion tips. Jen offers travel advice, beauty tips and even weighs in on the challenges of parenting. She’s just as likely to demonstrate a new face wash or razor as she is to do a try-on session.

Outfitting Rural Americans in Quality

For years, Brandon Bates worked the Professional Bull Riders circuit as an announcer before founding Rural Cloth—a hat and clothing outfitter that caters to a rural crowd.

“We design, source and ship everything ourselves,” proclaims the company’s website. “There are no department store middlemen or unnecessary layers. Every thread and stitch is placed with American craftsmanship in mind because the heartland deserves a brand that’s tailored to the rural lifestyle.”

Brandon and his wife live in Utah, but he draws his rural connection from the Oklahoma farm his maternal grandfather started when his mother was a kid.

“We still have this multi-generational family farm and ranch,” Brandon says. “My parents still live there. My aunts and uncles still live there, and I visit there quite a bit.”

Brandon says he had a comfortable life as a PBR announcer, but he wanted more.

“We were born with the single largest winning lottery ticket in the history of humankind, and we all have it if we have citizenship in America,” Brandon says. “What we choose to do with that lottery ticket is totally up to us.”

His focus has been on developing high-end retro ’80s-style jackets and vests. His biggest hits have been in the T-shirt and hat market.

“We created this fun little concept called ‘America, We Grow Beer.’ We thought it was fun,” Brandon says. “It was more of a celebratory thing for the American farmer. It has taken off like a rocket.”

Outsmarting the Fish

Saturday, July 20th, 2019

Richard Darlington enjoys making flies, showcasing his skill as a craft vendor at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park. He sells his flies in the gift shop. The small bream flies are $1 each. The larger bass and saltwater flies are $3.

Lifelong fisherman designs flies to fool fish into biting

When he was just 5 or 6 years old—big enough to hold a line—Richard Darlington began fishing with his dad and two brothers in Tarpon Springs.

“My dad was an avid outdoorsman since his youth,” Richard says. “He started us out using old handlines with braided line that the local grouper fisherman used. They were primitive, but we still managed to catch a lot of fish back then. It was then that I fell in love with fishing.

“What I found most fascinating about it was that you never knew what you were going to pull out of the water. It instilled a sense of mystery to fishing that has never gone away for me.”

Today, Richard fishes and ties flies.

“My goal is to make fish think it is something good to eat,” Richard says of his flies. “I’m trying to prove to myself that I am smarter than a fish—even though a lot of it is luck, being in the right place at the right time.”
As a youth, Richard was so fascinated with fishing that his parents bought him a fish dictionary from a local sportswriter.

“I studied so much that I had memorized the common names of all the fish it was possible to catch in the local area,” Richard says. “I even memorized the scientific names of the more popular gamefish. Did you know the snook, a popular Florida gamefish, is known to scientists as Centropumus undecimalis. What it means is sharp gill plate. It’s the scientists’ way of warning fishermen to use wire leaders when fishing for them.”

Florida is both a saltwater and freshwater fisherman’s paradise, Richard says.

“Rivers and lakes were alive with bass and panfish everywhere you looked, even close to a big city like Tampa,” he says, reflecting on his youth.

Richard says he got into fly fishing in about 1960, when he was 12 or 13.

“I had been developing an interest in it, but hadn’t gotten a fly rod yet,” Richard says. “My dad took me out fishing on a local lake one evening, and that experience pushed me over the edge.

“We got out to the lake a couple of hours before dark and started bass fishing. All I had to fish with was an old spin-casting outfit. Just before sunset, an enormous insect hatch occurred on the lake, and the whole lake exploded with feeding bass. I had bought a bass fly, but I had to throw it to the fish on my spin-casting rig, using a float to be able to throw the light lure. With that I still managed to catch a fair size bass or two. That clinched it for me.

“I saved my model airplane money from mowing lawns and got myself a fly-fishing outfit and a handful of flies, and was hooked on it for life.”

Richard’s parents bought him a small fly-tying kit and he set to work.

“They were crude at first, but I found the fish didn’t care so much,” Richard says. “I remember loaning one to a friend when we were fishing the river in Tampa and he caught a snook on it. The fly was a kind of rainbow special made from a variety of colors, but the fish didn’t care.”

Another time, Richard caught a nice snook on a crude fly he had made. His cousin’s husband took one look at the fly, called it “just plain ugly,” and gave Richard one of his special trout streamers, urging him to tell people he caught the snook on the streamer.

“I guess the fish don’t care much, but other fishermen do, so I started trying to improve my patterns,” Richard says. “It took a while, but I think I do OK now.”

After high school, Richard attended seminary in Miami. He did mission work with North American Indians for a couple of years in the West and in New York with the Iroquois before returning to Tampa and working in an electric motor repair shop. After the birth of his son and later the death of his first wife, Richard remarried and moved to Georgia, working as a truck driver.

“We did well enough to get a nice place on a lake up there, and I was in heaven,” Richard says. “The lake was full of all kinds of fish: bass, crappie, bream, catfish, carp, white bass and striped bass. You name it. I tried to tie flies that would catch them all. I did pretty well on everything but the catfish. Shrimp and chicken liver still do better on them.”

In 2011, Richard moved to White Springs, where his wife, Sharyn’s, parents lived. After Sharyn’s death in 2014, Richard says he was looking for something to keep him occupied.

While at the town laundromat, he learned about the craft cabins at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park and was encouraged to apply as a vendor.

“That was four and a half years ago,” he says. “I’ve been a regular ever since.”

Earlier this year, a man visited the craft cabin and learned about Richard’s interest in fly tying and fishing. He invited Richard to join Fly Fishing Healing Waters—a national organization that helps traumatized and wounded veterans by teaching them to tie flies and fly fish.

Richard works with veterans from the Lake City VA Medical Center. He says it is personal and particularly meaningful because his son, Kendon, is a wounded veteran, injured in Fallujah in 2004.

“He’s doing fine now, with a beautiful family and a fantastic job in Atlanta,” Richard says. “I’m thrilled to be able to contribute in this way. It’s been a wonderful experience. I have a chance to do what I love and help people at the same time. What could be better?”

Richard says he has caught thousands of fish in his lifetime, and never tires of it.

“A lot of my fishing is catch and release, especially for bass,” Richard says. “I feel sorry for them because they get hammered by all the professional bass tournaments that go on all the time.

“But I do keep a lot of other fish to eat, especially panfish like bream and crappie. They’re delicious!”

For more information, contact Richard Darlington at

Take a Kid Fishing—Safely

Thursday, June 20th, 2019

Childhood fishing trips make memories that will last a lifetime. Ensure they are good memories by being safety conscious, prepared and child-focused.
© iStock/auldist

The Hole. The nickname always sent shivers down my spine when Dad said that’s where we were going.

The Hole was a prime fishing spot, but was treacherous to get to. Anglers had to scramble down a steep, precarious, 300-foot ravine to get to the water.

For an 8-year-old first-timer, it was the thing of nightmares—even after the first few trips.

Dad loved to take his kids fishing, but safety wasn’t always part of the equation.

Safety should be a priority.

Here are tips to help keep kids safe while fishing.

  • Wear a life vest. In a boat, children must wear life vests. They should also wear them while fishing from shore.
  • Use barbless hooks—at least to start. They are easier to remove if a child accidentally hooks themselves or someone else.
  • Consider using barb tip covers. They protect from accidental pokes. They sell for $10 to $15 per hundred.
  • Wear protective eyewear. Sunglasses will suffice. Not only will they shield young eyes from harmful UV rays, but they protect against errant lures and branches.
  • Prepare in advance. Make sure the fishing spot is kid friendly. Teach kids to swim. Practice casting in the backyard. Pack a first-aid kit, just in case.

‘Bee’ Aware Outdoors
Often when people think of dangerous animal encounters, they think of bears, mountain lions and venomous snakes. Think again. Bees and wasps injure and kill far more people each year than those other three animals combined.

Stay alert and pay attention to the signs. Buzzing is a signal to be careful. Bees bouncing off your head or body is a warning to get away—quickly.

Bees and wasps can be relentless, so if attacked by a swarm, run away and keep running. Run through brush to confuse and disorient them. Don’t seek refuge in water. They likely will wait for you to resurface.

Hot Weather Bike Tire Tip
Tire pressure will increases as air temperature rises, and as friction between tires and road surfaces increases.

Extreme heat can lead to air loss in tires. In rare cases, it may also cause blowouts.

Check tire pressure before each ride. In hot weather, keep tires inflated at the low end of the manufacturer’s recommended pressure range.

Notable Days in July
July 5, National Bikini Day.
July 14, Shark Awareness Day.
July 16, World Snake Day.
July 22, Hammock Day.

Catch of the Month
Here are prime fishing opportunities in July.
The Keys: barracuda, bonito, marlin, shark, snapper, snook, swordfish and wahoo.
Central: bluegill and sunfish.
Northwest: amberjack, barracuda, bluefish, bluegill, bonito, catfish, drum, jack, mackerel, marlin, pompano, sailfish, seatrout, shark, sheepshead, snapper, sunfish, tarpon, triggerfish, tuna and wahoo.
Central West: amberjack, bass, barracuda, bluefish, bluegill, drum, flounder, grouper, grunt, ladyfish, mackerel, permit, pompano, porgy, seatrout, shark, sunfish, snapper and tarpon.
Southwest: barracuda, bass, bluegill, grouper, jack, ladyfish, permit, shark, snapper, snook, sunfish and tarpon.

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Many of Curtis Condon’s fondest memories involve outdoor adventures with friends and family—whether fishing with school buddies, backpacking in the mountains of the Northwest with his sons, or bird watching along the Gulf Coast with his wife. He feels fortunate to have written about the outdoors and other subjects for more than 30 years.