Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Stocking Stuffers for Anyone Who Camps

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018

Stargazing and camping go together like campfires and s’mores. Gifts to enhance the experience include binoculars and other optics, books, star maps, pillows, blankets, cushions, smartphone apps and even chairs specially made and angled for stargazing. But perhaps the best gift of all is someone to enjoy the experience with.
© iStock/anitoliy_gleb

Stocking stuffers are often an afterthought. But they don’t have to be.

This year, break the cycle of sweets, books, knickknacks—and all the usual stocking stuffers—and get something outdoor enthusiasts on your list will enjoy more.

The key is to focus on what most of them do: camping. It is one of the top-five outdoor activities, in terms of participation. Even people involved in other activities often camp in conjunction with those activities.

Here are a few ideas to get the creative juices flowing:

Glow-in-the-dark waterproof playing cards by Kikkerland, $10. Use them to play games anytime, anywhere and in any kind of weather.

Stormproof strikeable fire starter sticks by UCO Gear, $10. These are great for camping, the survival kit or even at home for lighting fires in the wood stove.

The MT908 11-function stainless steel credit card multitool by SE, $5. It’s a survival tool kit that fits in a wallet.

Collapsible clover-style solar-powered LED lantern by Suaoki, $19. Fold up its three solar panels, set it in the sun and power it up. To use the lantern, hang it in the tent or on a tree branch. Adjust the lighting level by folding the three panels up or down.

The Trucker’s Friend by Off Grid Tools, $50. It just as easily could be called the Camper’s Friend, since it’s so handy around the campsite. It’s great for splitting kindling, driving tent stakes, removing hot lids and pots, and a dozen other uses.

Three Online Sites to Get Excellent Outdoor Deals
Sierra Trading Post. This website has a huge selection of overstock, seconds and last year’s name brand gear at discount prices.

Steep and Cheap. This website offers hefty discounts, but you have to act fast because quantities are limited on many items.

Campmor. For the best deals, especially on seasonal closeouts, check out Campmor’s clearance section.

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

Dreaming of a White Christmas?

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018

Youngsters enjoy sledding at Mount Dora’s Children’s Christmas in the Park.
Photo courtesy of Jill Santos, city of Mount Dora

You actually can have a white Christmas in Florida, if you know where to find it.

Several major attractions produce snow, including Disney’s Celebration in Orlando, Winterfest Reindeer Games in Pensacola and WinterFEST at Adventure Landing in Jacksonville Beach.

But look a bit farther and you will find it could be snowing at a town near you.

Mount Dora’s Children’s Christmas in the Park with Snow Saturday, December 8, has snow sledding, ice skating and visits with Santa in Donnelly Park.

“Everyone here just loves the snow every year,” says Grace Aguda, community relations specialist with Mount Dora. “We use real snow, not something made with snow-fluid, but water-based. The kids and their parents have a blast.”

That is one of many holiday celebrations in Lake County. In Tavares, take a trip to the North Pole and a visit with Santa on The Polar Express with Christmas caroling and a reading of the children’s book by the same name.

In White Springs, the Stephen C. Foster Folk Cultural Center’s Festival of Lights December 1-24 puts on a show with millions of twinkling lights. See candy cane and Christmas tree forests, a gingerbread village and live oaks wrapped in tiny white lights. The park’s carillon is transformed into a giant multi-colored Christmas tree towering over the park. Sparkling light displays depict moving trains, Santa and his sleigh and snowmen. Designated nights feature snow, children’s activities, gift-making, bonfires and crafts demonstrations.

Flying Tips
Flying somewhere for the holidays? Here are tips to make your flight more enjoyable:

  • Want to change seats? Check the seat map about four days before your flight. Passengers upgrading to business or first class leave you with more choices. You can make the change online. If you upgrade, you may be subject to additional fees.
  • If you must take off your shoes while flying, keep your socks on. The carpet is a ready receptacle for spilled beverages, vomit and baby pee.
  • Carry wet-wipes to clean arm rests, tray tables, touch-screens and your hands.
  • Seats and some plane’s seat belts are getting smaller. Instead of struggling to fasten a too-tight belt, request a seat-belt extender from a flight attendant during boarding.
  • Place smaller bags beneath the seat in front of you. Most people place everything in overhead bins, leaving little room for people who board in later zones. On many flights, later passengers must check their bags at the jetway.
  • Flight cancellations are inevitable during the holiday travel season. Book earlier in the day for a better chance of sticking to your original itinerary and avoiding delays due to overbooking or severe weather. If you have an obligation and need to arrive at a specific time, book travel for the day before the event.

Online Insights
Sign up for regular bulletins from, where you can find out about last-minute deals, new websites and apps, and discounts on local personal services and events.

CLEAR, which has been around since 2016 and is available to air travelers, can speed passengers through airport security through scanned fingerprints and biometrics used to verify identity. Enrollment is available at The cost is $179 a year. If you are a Delta Medallion member or use certain credit cards, the cost may be discounted. Other discounts may be available through other organizations.

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

Keeping Memories Alive

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018

Me and my young mother in Costa Mesa, California, before we moved to Creek Road in Ojai. I was 1 year old.
Photo courtesy of David LaBelle

In seconds they are lost forever—our homes, our dreams, our irreplaceable heirlooms and precious photographs—memories devoured by roaring winds, racing flames or trespassing waves of water.

Fifty years ago, churning floodwaters swept away our family home, taking my mother’s life and everything my parents had labored so many years to build. All documents, records, letters, family pictures, negatives from my childhood through my teenage years were lost.

My father, brothers, sister and two friends escaped when rescued by a helicopter just minutes before we were swept downriver as well. The 1969 flood claimed many lives.

During any tragedy, escaping with life is most important. We are thankful, but there is real grief in losing one’s home, pets and precious personal items that connect us to the past and present and help us keep memories alive.

For me, the only physical items I have to connect me to my mother is a small nightstand my brother retrieved from piles of debris a mile down the creek from where our home was washed away and a few copies of family snapshots my relatives had, mostly made when I was a small child. My brother refinished the nightstand and gave it to me as a Christmas present a year after the flood. After a half century and dozens of moves, I still have it.

As a news photographer, I covered many natural disasters—fires, floods, tornadoes and earthquakes. My heart ached each time I witnessed the deep pain of people who had lost loved ones, homes and personal belongings. Of all the material things lost, irreplaceable photographs was what they grieved over most.

In light of the barrage of natural disasters, take steps to save your precious memories.

  • Burn DVDs or CDs of images you want to keep. Make at least two copies. Keep one in your home and another in a fireproof, climate-controlled safe or storage facility in another state. The lifespan of a a DVD or CD is debatable. Some say they are good 7 to 10 years.
  • Make archival prints of important images and store them in acid-free archival boxes in a fireproof, climate-controlled safe or facility.
  • Store images on a designated external hard drive, although I don’t trust these as my only source of backup. There are too many stories of lost information, especially after dropping the drive.
  • Store images in “the cloud”—a network of integrated computers that store your data online, as opposed to keeping them on your hard drive. Like physical storage units where we keep our valuables, the cost of digital online storage varies, depending on how much storage you need. As long as a natural disaster doesn’t destroy the mammoth city of computers holding your pictures, your images should be safe and retrievable. But there is always a risk.

It’s a dilemma. I opposed online storage because of horror stories of photographers losing all their images when a company collapsed. With the cloud, this is highly unlikely.

I also don’t like someone else having access to my information. However, anything you post is out there. I continually see my pictures on unfamiliar sites. Once I post something online, there is no such thing as private. Somebody can access it. Always. I have somewhat made peace with this, but it still feels like living in a glass house where every stranger can see my daily life.

There is no one perfect system. In the end, I suggest you back up your most precious pictures a variety of ways.

Last month, someone took my phone with all of my images and contacts. I tried to track it, but the thief had turned the device off. I didn’t have my data—my words, contacts and pictures—backed up on the cloud, though I had downloaded many pictures.

I think I learned my lesson. Though I despise the idea of someone else holding and having access to my images and information, I am in the process of backing up my work online and keeping DVDs, negatives and hard copies.

David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He applies many of the lessons he learned during his magical boyhood years in rural California to photography. For more information, visit

Toys for Tots

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018

Lance Cpl. Gentres Anderson, from Pensacola, and Sgt. Sheldon Curry, from Montgomery, Alabama, deliver toys to donation bins in Montgomery.
Photo by Jon Holmes

How one Marine’s dream became a foundation for hope

On a chilly night in Sunrise, Florida, last December, thousands of hockey fans crowded into ticket lines for the Florida Panthers game. Among the mass, the distinctive dress blue uniforms of three U.S. Marines stood out.

Standing his post next to a large Toys For Tots collection box, Sgt. Marshall Kulik noticed a young mother handing a toy to her son. Barely 5 years old, the child approached the Marines and smiled, dropping his donation into the box and beaming with pride.

“Those are the best moments,” Kulik says about serving as an assistant Toys For Tots coordinator with the 4th Civil Affairs Group in Hialeah, Florida. “It’s really touching to know there are kids out there who are learning to give to children who are less fortunate. The underprivileged kids wouldn’t get anything for Christmas if it wasn’t for the donations, and that’s an important lesson.”

Every year, members of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Reserve collect millions of toys for underprivileged children during their annual Toys For Tots collection drives. While holiday collection drives have become commonplace across the nation, there was once a time when no such programs existed.

Among the early pioneers of holiday toy drives was Marine Col. Bill Hendricks, founder of Toys For Tots. In December 1947, then-Maj. Hendricks watched his wife, Diane, lovingly craft a rag doll out of yarn in their Los Angeles home.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to give this to some poor youngster who isn’t going to have a good Christmas?” Diane asked.
Inspired by his wife’s generous spirit, Hendricks looked for a charity that could make Diane’s words reality. After finding no such charity in Los Angeles, Diane’s vision became Hendricks’ mission as a Marine.

He pitched the idea to another Marine officer, and the men took the proposal to their superiors, asking to launch an annual toy drive run by Marine Corps Forces Reserve.

With the command’s approval and less than two weeks until Christmas, Hendricks—who also worked as the director of public relations for Warner Bros.—reached out to his contacts in the entertainment industry to promote the fledgling program. They gathered 5,000 toys and distributed them to local children, working until 11:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

The following year, Hendricks’ close friend designed the three-car train graphic that serves as the program’s logo. That friend’s name was Walt Disney.

The same year, the Marine Corps adopted the program as a national community-action campaign, collecting and distributing toys to needy children across the nation.

“Marines are all about leading from the front, upholding traditions and being part of our community,” says Toys For Tots National Program Coordinator Maj. Ismael Lara. “Helping the less fortunate is part of that, and what Maj. Hendricks and his wife started has persisted for more than 70 years.”

According to its website, Toys For Tots has grown into a massive operation. Today, 800 Toys For Tots coordinators manage more than 40,000 Marines, Marine Corps League members, veterans and volunteers who support the annual campaigns.

In response to its massive growth and appeal, the program evolved in 1991, becoming the Toys For Tots Foundation—a national non-profit organization governed by a board of retired Marines.

The foundation maintains a strong partnership with Marine Corps Forces Reserve and carries forward Hendricks’ legacy, collecting and distributing tens of thousands of toys to underprivileged children every year.

Kulik says his unit—the 4th Civil Affairs Group—received more than 80,000 requests for toys last year. Thanks to the help of countless volunteers, the Marines were able to meet those needs.

“Having volunteer support helps the program in so many ways,” Kulik said. “We are a small staff, and we don’t mind working late into the night to ensure success. But having the volunteers to help us at the warehouse, sorting and packing toys and shipping them where they need to go, really takes a lot of the pressure off and frees us to do the community-engagement events, be at the drop boxes and really help promote the toy drives.”

Marine Reserve units continue to receive record-breaking requests for toys each year.

Recognizing that poverty drives the high demand, Toys For Tots has expanded its mission several times. In 1980, the charity established the Toys For Tots Native American Program.

“The Native American children served by the program are some of the most underprivileged kids in our country,” Lara says.

The proud legacy of the Navajo code talkers and their strong relationship with the Corps helped illuminate the need in Native communities, according to Lara.

The code talkers were members of the Navajo Nation who served as Marine radio operators in World War II and used their language to safely communicate sensitive information over the radio. Enemy forces were never able to crack the Navajo “code.”

While the Navajo Marines’ service is well documented and widely known—thanks in part to the 2002 film “Windtalkers”—Lara is quick to point out that countless Native Americans from tribes across the country have served honorably and admirably in the Marine Corps for decades.

Until 1980, Toys For Tots operated primarily at the local level, collecting and distributing toys to needy children in the communities where they were donated.

The lack of large population centers surrounding most Native reservations meant the program wasn’t serving thousands of Native children throughout the country. Today, Toys For Tots’ Native American Program supplies toys and books to more than 120,000 children living on reservations across the country.

In 2008, the foundation evolved further with the creation of the Toys For Tots Literacy Program. Through the program, the foundation collects and distributes books to more than 14 million children each year.

“The literacy program provides us an opportunity to develop young minds,” Lara says. “When we invest in the education of young people as early as possible, we are investing in our future and helping to end poverty. It’s a worthy goal and something we are very proud to be part of.”

Kulik, who has volunteered with the program for the past nine years, says Toys For Tots provides an immeasurable sense of meaning and pride for the Marines and volunteers who commit themselves to the mission of spreading goodwill to those who need it most.

“I wish we could hand out the toys to the kids ourselves,” he says. “But for us the most satisfying part is when we get to see photos of the kids receiving their toys. Their expressions when they get a bike or an action figure or what have you—it makes the program really exciting and memorable.”

In the 71 years since its inception, Toys For Tots has collected and distributed more than 530 million toys to more than 244 million needy children.

It has inspired numerous other charitable organizations to launch their own toy drives and fundraising efforts for the nation’s most vulnerable children.

With its efforts in the Native American Program and 41 million book donations to the Toys For Tots Literacy Program, the Marine Corps continues to lead in the national effort to ensure every child’s needs are met during the holidays.

And it all started with a rag doll made of yarn, a couple’s charitable spirit and a determined Marine.

For information about Toys For Tots, including how to make a donation, visit

Jolly Elf Finds Magic

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018

Santa Bob Elkin provides magical wonderment for a little girl in a Christmas scene that could have come straight out of a Norman Rockwell portrait.
Photo by Larry Hersberger/Art of Magic and Light

Florida Santa inducted into International Hall of Fame

Bob Elkin was quite a clown—a Shrine clown, that is—until one day in 1993 when his 3-year-old granddaughter Rhianna’s day care needed him.

The center’s Santa didn’t show up for a holiday party.

“My son Trip called me and asked if I could help out,” says Bob, a resident of Tampa and a member of the Egypt Shrine organization in Hillsborough County. “I hurriedly found an inexpensive suit, black boots and a theatrical white beard so my granddaughter wouldn’t recognize me and showed up. I even disguised my voice. At that point, I just wanted to make the children happy for the holidays. For years, she never knew it was me.”

Bob’s quick response changed his life.

For 11 years before then, he was Waki the Clown and Waki the Wizard, performing in the troupe of clowns sponsored by Egypt Shrine. He brought clown magic to birthday parties, corporate events, Shrine parades and patients at Tampa’s Shriners Hospital for Children.

“Something happened that day,” he says of the impromptu visit 25 years ago. “I still recall the feeling I got when I walked into that day care as Santa. There was a real living sense of magic and wonderment. It really overwhelmed me. I decided that I wanted to do this more often.”

Bob had a head start on the Santa look. His hair and beard turned white when he was just 40. He incorporated his beard into his Waki character, augmenting it with a lavender wig, exaggerated eyebrows, a purple cape, a wizard hat and oversized gold curl-toed shoes.

As he transitioned into Santa, he let his beard grow out. He attended Santa school in 2004 to fine-tune his portrayal and to learn the ropes.

“There we were, 40 Santas from all over the state,” Bob says. “I learned a lot, including the huge commitment it takes to be Santa—especially those of us who have real beards all yearlong. We can’t break character when we’re out in public, no matter what time of year.”

When he goes out, Bob dresses as “casual Santa,” typically wearing a red shirt and khakis.

“With my beard and white hair, people often see me as Santa,” he says. “We have to pretty much be in character all the time, and you have to be in the spirit, no matter what you are going through.”

Through the years, Bob has taken on leadership roles in the Santa world, as he and others call it. Early on, he became involved with local and national Santa groups. His organizational skills—honed when he worked in investments, finance and real estate—have come in handy.

Bob attended his first Santa convention in Branson, Missouri, in 2006. Several years later, he helped found the Palm Tree Santa Drill Team, serving as president since 2012. For five years, he was president of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, which now has more than 2,100 members. He is Captain of Knights in the Knights of St. Nicholas, which is the official honor guard of the Santa Claus Oath, which is administered to members of the IBRBS.

Last December, Bob was inducted into the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame, headquartered in Santa Claus, Indiana. The first Santa inducted from Florida, Bob is one of only 51 Santas inducted since the Hall of Fame got its start in 2010.

To fellow Santas in the group, Bob is known as “The Organizational Santa” because of his immersion in all things Santa Claus.

When not being Santa, Bob continues his work with Egypt Shrine. He has served as hospital chairman for eight years in support of the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Tampa—one of 22 in the country.

Santa Bob makes more than 100 appearances at corporate parties, photography studios and private events in the five-week season leading up to Christmas. He and the drill team also perform in parades and other events.

Once Christmas is behind him, how does Santa Bob celebrate New Year’s Eve?

“I may stay up and watch the ball drop, but most years I’m asleep long before then,” Bob says. “I used to be a bit sad following Christmas, but now I remember all the love, smiles and joy, how blessed I am to portray Santa—how in my heart, I always feel the spirit of Santa—and it is always Christmas.”

Healing Vets With Rod and Reel

Saturday, October 20th, 2018

Lou wrestles with his catch while on board the Cana during Fish With a Hero in Islamorada. He and dozens of other disabled veterans from throughout the U.S. took part in the multiday event that promotes healing through fishing.

Annual fishing event in the Florida Keys brings together disabled veterans and volunteers for three days of camaraderie and adventure

“Whoa, flying fish!”

“Man, this is going to be great!”

Noticeably absent from the cheerful calls heard over the whir of fishing boat engines are discussions of post-traumatic stress disorder, combat and wounds that still haunt some of these disabled veterans.

Twenty-five veterans from various branches of the U.S. military were selected to attend Fish With a Hero, a nonprofit organization that seeks to help veterans deal with PTSD and other wartime injuries. Attendees are selected from more than 200 chapters of Project Healing Waters, which works to help disabled active duty personnel and veterans recover through support, partnership and learning to fly fish with fellow veterans.

The event was in Islamorada, Florida, from September 25 to September 28. The all-expense-paid excursion was overseen by Fish With a Hero Florida Keys Director of Operations Mark Gibson, a decorated U.S. Navy veteran who served in Vietnam.

“I’ve been a fisherman all my life,” Mark says. “Gulf Coast fishing, backcountry—I’ve been doing this since I was knee-high to a grasshopper back in Texas.”

Decades after his combat experience—and while spending a day on a boat with other veterans during his fourth residential PTSD therapy—Mark realized fishing could be a way to heal.

“I remember thinking on the way back in, ‘I don’t remember the last time I felt this good,’” he says. “I couldn’t remember a time when I didn’t have something going 90 mph in my head. I realized this was something I needed to pursue further. I figured I could make dealing with PTSD my excuse or my purpose. I chose to make it my purpose.”

Mark chartered fishing boats out of Tampa for eight years before moving to the Keys and starting Dauntless Fishing. While working part time at Bass Pro Shops, he was introduced to Fish With a Hero Executive Director Larry Kendzior. Mark took a group out on the water and decided it was a good fit.

A few years later, with financial support from Worldwide Sportsman and Bass Pro Shops, he brought the event to Islamorada.

The Healing Process
Recreational therapy is often used by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in dealing with PTSD and other injuries. It offers veterans a chance to try something new, meet others with similar backgrounds and, sometimes, a way to keep their minds off trauma.

“One of the things in dealing with PTSD is getting outside yourself,” Mark says. “Relationships, work performance and so many things decline because you’re so wrapped up in your own head.”

Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Lou Orrie retired after 30 years and now lives in Navarre. He was a door gunner for many years in combat zones, which left a lasting impression—physical and mental.

“A lot of the dust-offs in Afghanistan were pretty nasty,” Lou says, referring to emergency casualty evacuations. “A lot of landings we made were just controlled crashes.”

He has had 13 surgeries in the past 61/2 years, and still suffers night terrors, which he says are difficult for him and his wife.

Lou’s service dog, Becker—who gets anxious when Lou is not near—has been by his side for about 16 months. He says she anticipates his emotions and leaps into action. Becker knows when Lou is experiencing a night terror, too, and gently rests her head on his shoulder or leg to soothe him.

With Becker in tow, Lou says he enjoys the program.

“There’s no pressure,” he says. “My wife is happy that I’m doing this. She knows I’m creative, and I like to work with my hands. When tying flies you are able to create whatever you want. You can try to duplicate whatever you see in nature with a fly.”

Keeping busy and experimenting with new techniques are just some of the program’s benefits. Lou says many groups work with local schools to teach students fly-fishing basics. For many, it’s as simple as having a new purpose, a new mission.

Lou says he never would have learned to fly fish or attend an event like this if it were not for Healing Waters and Fish With a Hero. He believes they make a difference.

“There’s always that constant struggle to stop the 22 veteran suicides a day,” Lou says. “That’s why these programs help. They open doors. We often don’t want to ask for help. It took me forever to ask. It’s just one of those things that many think it’s a sign of weakness to ask for help.”

The trick, he says, is making sure veterans and their families know about the program. When battling severe depression and other trauma, Lou says people often don’t want to do things that used to bring them joy. They withdraw.

Mark understands that withdrawal. He has made it his mission to bring these veterans an outlet for fun, adventure and stress relief.

He says fishing and spending time on the water can do just that.

“They can get a window of what it feels like not to have these weights on their shoulders at all times,” Mark says. “I’ve seen the guys and women who I take out, and it seems like their worries just melt away—especially when they’re with other vets.”

Fish With a Hero
Executive Director Larry Kendzior agrees that fishing is a great way to bring wounded veterans peace. He initially contacted the Wounded Warrior Project and pitched them on creating a fishing event to help wounded veterans. They passed. After a couple years of trying, he heard about Project Healing Waters.

When Larry reached out to the organization and learned its annual event could not be funded, he wrote a check to make sure it happened.

“It was amazing to see the difference in these guys from when they left for two days to when they got back,” he says.

Larry says the entire group was quiet and close mouthed, but that all changed by the evening’s gathering. Larry wanted that to continue, but in the Keys.

After successful fishing excursions in Pigeon Key, Healing Waters leadership asked Larry if he would lead a national event. That resulted in Fish With a Hero.

Shortly after, he met Mark—a twice-wounded combat veteran—who volunteered to take on the Islamorada-based event with local support.

“In both Islamorada and Fort Myers—where the event began—there are numerous businesses that support our efforts,” Larry says. “I’ve never seen anything like it. They go way overboard. It brings out the best in people.”

Larry says participants often become the volunteers and support staff. In a sense, they become givers with a new purpose—not the patients.

“I’m no expert in the field, but I think giving helps greatly in the healing process,” Larry says.

A new challenge goes a long way for many who feel lost.

“What it boils down to for all of us is when you’re in the military, you have a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging,” Lou says. “When you separate from the military, you kind of lose that sense of purpose. You try to find something to fill that void. I think the folks who can’t fill that void often are the ones who take their lives.”

The void is difficult for many. Others are haunted by wartime memories.

“When you do some of the things you do in wartime, there’s a price that must be paid,” Larry says.

As the war has gone on, Mark says the number of deployments for service members continues to rise. They spend month after month away from family and friends, and they may do so several times throughout the war. It takes a toll.

Mark has seen many breakthroughs on the water, but also has experienced heartbreak.

One veteran, who was twice-wounded and suffered from PTSD, spent two days fishing with him. The man’s wife heard about Mark and his work with vets, and she wanted to send her husband on a fishing trip.

“I did two full days with him, had a fantastic time and caught a lot of fish, “ Mark says. “Things were great!”

Two weeks later, the man’s wife called and said her husband was doing great—that he was practically a different person. The three stayed in touch for some time. But the stress was too much. Mark recently learned the man killed himself.

“I can’t even imagine what his wife and their two kids are going through,” Mark says. “That one was tough.”

He says that is why veterans who volunteer and join support programs such as Healing Waters and Fish With a Hero are so important. They show others that healing is possible.

Larry says it also demonstrates the program works.

“One vet being with another with vet is without parallel,” Mark says. “You let your defenses down and you just have a great time.”

Dale Moravec, also a decorated Vietnam-era combat veteran, says the event is about participating with like-minded individuals who do not judge one another, which may be the case for veterans returning from deployments or who have served for many years.

“One of the common misconceptions about vets coming home is that they can just fit right back in,” Mark says. “When your head is on a swivel for six months or a year, you have a purpose and camaraderie. These are people you trust. You no longer have that purpose, and it takes time and it takes effort.”

Many participants and volunteers agree it is time to do more to combat PTSD and the high veteran suicide rate.

“What can we do to stop the 22 a day? Lou asks. “I think the answer is more programs like this.”

For more information about Fish With a Hero and Project Healing Waters, go to or

Former Chef Carves Career in Ice

Saturday, October 20th, 2018

One of Joe’s works, the U.S. Capitol created for a July 4 event.

Job creating frozen displays for an upscale restaurant inspires ice-carving business

In the midst of the Florida heat, Joe Rimer spends most of his days in freezing cold temperatures chipping away at blocks of ice, creating frozen works of art.

“The temperatures I’m working in usually range from 13 to 17 degrees (Fahrenheit),” the Bradenton-native explains.

In his walk-in freezer, Joe sculpts food and drink displays, figures, statues and massive pieces for corporate and special events. Joe has created sculptures as tiny as miniature ice slippers for the sorbet course at Disney to something as big as a major set up for the last Super Bowl that was staged in New Orleans for the Beyoncé after-party.

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in New York, Joe took a job as an executive chef in Memphis. That is where he began creating ice displays for special events. He soon discovered it was a challenge getting the blocks of ice needed for sculpting, so he and his wife, Lianne, started a side business.

“We actually started off as an ice block producing company, but I started carving a lot of ice sculptures and it took off,” Joe says, noting he went from being executive chef of the Memphis Country Club to doing ice work full time.

The Rimers left the ice business behind when they moved to Orlando to take full-time jobs—Joe once again working in the restaurant business. But when the 2008 recession came along, both were suddenly unemployed. The idea of ice carving came back around.

“We knew we had the skills,” Lianne says. “We had previous experience with business ownership, so we moved back to where Joe’s originally from and started the ice-carving business here with his father.

“They have about 75 acres in Parrish on a farm. It was a perfect situation to pull all of our skills and resources together.”

They formed Ice Pro, with Joe handling the ice carving and Lianne—who has a financial and computer background—handling sales. She began teaching herself to design sculptures on the computer.

Their small business took off, morphing into a major operation that now includes offices and staff in Orlando and Parrish, high-tech equipment and freezer trucks for transportation.

Their sculptures have been displayed at events throughout Florida and all across the country. They have created ice bars—basically, ice-drinking establishments—in a number of venues.

“You’re going inside of a building that’s in a freezer that’s all made of ice,” Joe says, describing an ice bar. “All the walls, all of the furniture, the bar, everything is in ice. They’re big projects.”

His original installation used 650 300-pound blocks of ice.

Technology has come a long way, and machines now do a lot of the carving—especially for bigger projects. However, the intricate, detailed work is still done by the artist.

“It’s almost all hand-carving,” Joe says. “When you’re carving ice, you’re getting prismatic effect from light because of what you’re cutting into the ice. The fact that it’s melting and becomes the vision of crystal, you don’t get that in any other medium.”

The effect is so stunning most people think they’re looking at glass until they touch it.

Joe holds an International First Place in Competition and also set a Guinness World Record for the longest ice bar at 207 feet. In the middle of the bar was a 23-foot-tall working ice luge called Rapunzel. Rapunzel generated so much publicity Joe was invited to Boston to create an even bigger one for Johnny Appleseed Hard Cider.

“We did a 25-foot version of the Johnny Appleseed bottle complete with nine taps for Johnny Appleseed to flow from the massive sculpture itself.

Ashley Miller, a managing partner with Avenue Event Group—which handles 11 venues in Orlando and others elsewhere—has worked with Ice Pro many times.

“We do mostly corporate events and get all kinds of requests from people doing product launches who want to freeze something in ice,” she says. “We had one that required Joe to make a treasure chest with a frozen credit card inside. It was an odd request, but he was able to pull it off.”

When the client asked for a key that could open it, she explained that ice melts and it doesn’t work that way. But Joe was able to make it happen.

“Anything from just a logo to a beer tap wall to something like a treasure chest with a key that opens it, Joe’s been able to do it,” Ashley says.

Ice sculpting is a team effort, Joe says. He enjoys the camaraderie with fellow ice carvers who often come together for competitions and major projects.

For example, he did the New Orleans Super Bowl with Dawson List of Ice Dragon Ice Sculptures.

Joe says he is grateful for the projects and competitions that have allowed him to travel throughout the U.S. and to places as far away as China.

Even though he has been sculpting for many years, he still looks forward to new challenges.

“Every year we seem to get something that’s big and out of the norm,” Joe says. “Those are the ones that excite me.”

To learn more, visit or call (941) 776-8166.

Half of Americans Get Outdoors

Saturday, October 20th, 2018

Surprise! The No. 1 outdoor activity in the country in 2017 was running, according to the Outdoor Industry Association’s most recent survey. That includes road running, jogging and trail running.
© iStock/Brian A. Jackson

The United States is a nation of outdoor lovers. As proof, consider that more than 146 million Americans participated in outdoor activities in 2017, according to the Outdoor Industry Association’s annual survey report released in July.

That represents 49 percent of the total U.S. population, age 6 and older.

According to the report, the top five outdoor activities last year were:

  • Running
  • Fishing
  • Biking
  • Hiking
  • Camping

The survey also notes that 20 percent of participants engaged in outdoor activities two or more times a week.

Overall, they went on 10.9 billion outings in 2017.

There are many other enlightening facts. To read the complete report, visit

One question you may ask after reading the report is, “What is the other half of the country doing?”

Four Tips for Long-Term Storage of Fishing Gear
Clean and lubricate your fishing reels. If they have seen extensive use, take them apart and inspect for worn or broken parts, and replace as needed. A thorough clean and lube is especially important for saltwater reels.

Inspect rods for cracks and missing hardware. Also check ferrules carefully for nicks, wear or loose windings, and repair or replace them when necessary.

Store rods vertically to prevent warping. Avoid storing them in extreme temperatures, which can damage or weaken the rod material.

Clean out tackle boxes. That includes repairing or discarding damaged lures, throwing away expired jar baits, sharpening or replacing used hooks, and making sure tackle boxes are dry inside and free of dirt and grime.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Rolls Out Red Tide Map
To keep the public informed about red tide, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has created an online map showing areas affected by this naturally occurring phenomenon. The map is updated daily, using water sample data gathered from throughout the state.

“We are pushing out all we can, when we can, in the spirit of providing the most timely and beneficial information to the public and partners,” says FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton. “We will continually expand efforts to assist during this difficult event.”

To view the map and for more information about red tide, visit

What’s Special About November?

  • November 6, Marooned Without a Compass Day
  • November 17, Take a Hike Day
  • November 22, Go for a Ride 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

Enjoy a Night Under the Stars

Saturday, October 20th, 2018

The sound of the surf crashing to the shore sets the scene for a great night’s sleep under a blanket of sparkling stars.

Florida has more than 900 campgrounds at state parks, attraction-related campgrounds and private camping facilities.

With relatively cooler temperatures this month, it is fine sleeping weather by the shore. In some parts of the state, the mosquitoes are on holiday.

From the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean and the Keys, you can choose from tent camping to glamping, RV parks to cabins.

Florida’s state parks are a sure bet. You can book your retreat for camping or marinas through the national reservation system Reserve America.

The website offers tips for camping, access to hunting and fishing licenses, recommended hikes and bike trips, information about gear and even suggestions for family activities while camping.

Panama City Beach’s St. Andrews State Park has 176 sites for RVs and tent campers under tall pines near Grand Lagoon.

The facility offers two bathhouses—just in case you want a fresh-water shower—fire rings, picnic tables, a playground and electric/water hookups. The park will undergo maintenance November 26 to December 17. During that time, camping is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

South of Boca Grande near Captiva, Cayo Costa State Park offers camping on one of Florida’s many barrier islands. The only way to get there is by boat or ferry.

The island is heavily protected to preserve its ecology, so be prepared for primitive camping with picnic tables, an in-ground grill and potable water. Restroom facilities offer cold showers and flush toilets, but that is offset by the chance to meander the pristine beaches and see dolphin, manatee, birds and turtles.

Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area at Flagler Beach has 68 campsites that offer visitors either riverside or beachside overnight stays and can accommodate tent and RV campers. All sites have electric and water. Several are ADA-accessible.

New of Note
Architectural Digest magazine announced its best-designed museums by state. The Miami Children’s Museum represents the Sunshine State.

Designed by Arquitectonica, the museum’s whimsical yellow, blue and white exterior with a tepee-shaped entrance is the just beginning of immersive, colorful, engaging exhibits for children and adults.

Air Travel Insider Tips
Atlanta-based travel guru and consumer writer Clark Howard,—who started his consumer-advocacy career as a travel agent in the late 1980s—offers several newsletters that contain travel tips, consumer information, financial guidance and the latest on special offers. Recently, he suggested booking flights on Sundays for the lowest average price.

If you use airline sites for fares, search incognito or delete cookies to “hide” your former searches for the same routes. Sometimes airlines bump up fares if you search for the same route on the same device.

Include the words “discount,” “coupon” or “code” when using sites such as Google Flights, Kayak or Orbitz to search for fares.

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

Teacher, Teach Thyself

Saturday, October 20th, 2018

There is a Bible verse—a rhetorical question—that asks, “You, then, who teaches others, do you not teach yourself?”

In a rare moment recently, I decided to leave my camera and cellphone in my hotel room and take a walk on the beach with a friend I see once every two years. I had just finished three days of photographing and teaching photography and decided a walk without a camera might help me be more fully present.

Though I preach to others to always carry a camera, there are times—though few for me—when a camera can become a distraction, a buffer or even an impediment to a meaningful conversation. Sometimes I intentionally hide behind the viewfinder.

It was just a walk on the beach. Bad move.

We immediately noticed a child pushing another child in a wheelchair across the wet sand near the surf while two other children joyfully frolicked in the water. It was one of those beautiful, joyful, innocent, life-affirming moments I live to record.

My friend, Craig Reed, smiled and stated the obvious. “There’s your story,” he assured in his slow, deep radio voice. He had participated in many workshops with me through the years and was keenly aware of the type of candid moments I sought to capture.

“I decided not to bring my camera,” I painfully admitted.

“Well, you got a cellphone.”

“No, I didn’t bring it either.”

I felt embarrassed. Naked. Like reaching a mountaintop, spotting a bull elk, then realizing I left my gun at home.

Another hundred yards later, while still beating myself up for the uncaptured moment I would never be able to share, dark morning clouds parted and golden sunshine washed over an assembly of gulls, their white chest feathers glistening against a gray-blue backdrop. In the not-so-far distance, stretched proudly across the horizon, the silhouetted skeleton of Newport’s Yaquina Bay Bridge completed the postcard scene—the same bridge assigned as a subject of a photographic scavenger hunt.

My heart dropped.

All week I taught about seeing light, anticipating light, feeling light. Here I stood watching, with nothing but my memory to capture this awesome beauty.

Of all the photographs I had seen made this week, both by myself and others, nothing compared to the beauty of this magical, fleeting landscape.

It was as if all the elements were laughing at me, teasing me for my poor judgment.

The clouds slid in front of the morning sun and the vibrant colors left.

The moment was gone.

I know there is a time for everything—even a time to put the camera down and experience the moment. I really believe this. This just wasn’t one of them.

The next morning, still feeling tender for pictures missed the day before, I grabbed a camera and one lens and took a train to downtown Portland. Soaked in a heavy rain, I roamed the streets looking for a picture—a moment that captured the cold, soggy day and that perhaps would help me forget my failures from the day before.

I made several pictures that wet afternoon, but none that cut my heart more than the one outside Starbucks.

The image doesn’t take away the sting of the pictures I missed the day before, but it does put life and making pictures in perspective.

Internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer David LaBelle has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He spent his magical boyhood years taking photos. For more information, visit