Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Photos That Teach Important Life Lessons

Friday, October 20th, 2017

These two photos are titled “Forever Friends.” They document the bittersweet story of a dog’s 48-hour vigil for its canine playmate struck and killed by a car.
© Photos by David LaBelle

Bittersweet: No other word better describes much of my life and most of my photography.

While talking to a group of high school students, I realized my favorite images—the ones I keep sharing—are bittersweet moments, where pain and comfort meet and where love triumphs over tragedy.

These storytelling scenes awaken and stir my God-given sense of compassion and connect me to the lives of those in the photographs.

Bittersweet pictures—often made during a loss of some kind—reassure me that even during the deepest, darkest crisis, there is light and hope and goodness in this world.

When I began my photographic career, I was drawn to clean, action-packed sports or wildlife photos. Obsessed with trying to record peak action, I climbed trees and waited uncomfortably with telephoto lenses trained on hawk nests, waiting for them to return with prey. I crawled on my belly, photographed high school, college and pro football, baseball and basketball, always hoping to capture that one great action photo.

Just as my taste in music changed with age, so has my taste in photography.

These days, I have little interest in one-dimensional action photos, such as someone catching a ball, throwing a ball, hitting a ball. I need more than a single face or action to hold my attention.

I need a story.

The more layers—the more sophisticated the photograph—the more I am drawn to it and the longer it holds my attention.

I feel the same way about movies. I no longer have an interest in loud, aggressive action films.

Occasionally, a photograph of a single face or subject is compelling and even storytelling. Yet the photographs that most often move us emotionally are those that tell a story. Often that story involves a loss, coupled with an act of comfort, reassurance or courage.

How would we know true joy if we had never experienced grief or sadness?

Just as our perception of a particular color changes when placed alongside different colors, so does our grasp of tragedy and love.

When Jesus asked the rhetorical question, “Does a fountain send forth from the same opening both sweet water and bitter?” the answer was no. With documentary photographs, the answer often is yes.

The pictures above, showing one dog grieving and holding a vigil for his fallen playmate killed after being struck by a car, are examples of bittersweet photos, where love and grief are present in the same images.

The sadness of loss is apparent, but so is the affection and connection between the dogs.

Titled “Forever Friends,” the scene tugs at our hearts and reminds us of true friendship.

Bittersweet images do more than entertain us. They teach us important life lessons.

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

Living the Dream

Friday, October 20th, 2017

The historic Stetson Mansion that he now calls home is a far departure from the modest New Jersey home in which J.T. Thompson grew up. Photo courtesy of Stetson Mansion

Jersey boy moves up in the world with purchase of the historic Stetson Mansion

Growing up with three older sisters in the projects in north New Jersey, J.T. Thompson never had his own bedroom. He also always had to wait his turn for the bathroom.

“Until I was in fourth grade, I slept on the living room sofa,” he says. “My father was a police officer and my mom worked as a teacher’s aide, so we lived a very modest lifestyle. I learned early on to appreciate the little things.”

What J.T. never imagined is that one day he would own and live in one of Florida’s historic mansions—a showplace of the Gilded Age that once was home to John B. Stetson, the famous hat maker and philanthropist.

Stetson donated a significant amount of money to support DeLand Academy, founded by Henry DeLand. Renamed Stetson University in his honor, the school is billed as Florida’s first private college.

“When I was young, I dreamed of having a house with my own bedroom and bathroom, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the way my life is today,” J.T. says. “My family gave me the nickname ‘Dreamer,’ so I guess some things do come true.”

J.T. worked odd jobs from the time he was 7, raking leaves and shoveling snow, always putting his money in a savings account.

“I remember when the teller told me that I had saved $101,” he says. “I thought I was J.T. Rockefeller.”

By the time he was 22, J.T. bought and ran a deli convenience store in New Jersey.

“I hated that job those four years,” he says. “I was so glad when I sold it.”

Along the way, he married and had a son. The family moved to Florida in 1994 to escape the cold winters of New Jersey. J.T. pursued a variety of jobs, from managing a men’s formalwear store to owning a pet shop that sold tropical fish.

J.T. and his wife divorced in 1999. He began investing in real estate, flipping houses with Michael Solari, who has a background in historic architecture. They even restored the 20-unit Tropicana Motel in Fort Lauderdale, selling it at a profit after several years.

“We talked about wanting to move to the beach, but we couldn’t find anything we liked,” J.T. says. “Our Realtor mentioned this old mansion in DeLand and we asked to see it. I knew from the minute we drove up that this would be our home.”

Michael and J.T. made an offer that day. Four months later, they began the tedious work of restoring the three-story, 10,000-square-foot Victorian home, removing wallpaper, replacing plumbing and wiring, updating bathrooms and even reconfiguring walls.

“The house had very good bones, but there was much work to be done,” J.T. says. “We call it adaptive restoration, because the goal was to make it livable and still maintain the historic aspects of the home.”

The home’s parquet floors needed a light sanding to bring out the 16 patterns of inlaid wood throughout the house. Dental molding was stripped and refinished by hand.

The Stetson mansion was built to be powered by electricity, rather than gas, which was prevalent in the 1880s. Thomas Edison gave John B. Stetson one of the first generators he produced, making this possible.

“When we purchased the mansion, there were very few outlets,” says J.T. “Most were from wiring added years after the mansion was built. The house still ran on the original circuit box. Needless to say, we did extensive electrical work.”

The original circuit box and several original light fixtures remain and are highlighted on tours of the mansion.

Eighteen months after they started the work, the restored mansion was finished.

It has eight bedrooms and nine bathrooms in the main house, plus more living quarters in a converted schoolhouse that was on the property.

J.T. now has his own bedroom with a private bath—a design feat that included tearing out the back wall of an upstairs bedroom closet and converting the bedroom behind it into an elegant master bath. The master suite is about 800 square feet, with plenty of windows overlooking the grounds from the second floor.

“I never imagined I’d be living in a wonderful historic home like the Stetson Mansion,” J.T. says.

Enjoy Yummy Iconic Eateries

Friday, October 20th, 2017

Nine-year-old Maverick Lewis-Clevenger pours batter onto a hot griddle on a recent visit with his father, Geoff Lewis, to the Old Spanish Sugar Mill.
Photo by Pamela Keene

What’s better than dining at home? Eating out at an iconic restaurant, because you cannot make it like that at home.

Cook your own pancakes right at your table at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill, next to the legendary 72-degree healing waters at DeLeon Springs State Park. The mill was built in the mid-1800s to grind sugar cane using power generated from the springs.

The mill now houses about 30 tables with built-in griddles. Guests can make their own pancakes from two signature batters, and top them with pecans, blueberries, peanut butter, apples or chocolate chips. They also can prepare their own French toast, eggs and omelets with ham, bacon or sausage.

Patty Schwarze runs the restaurant founded by her parents in 1961.

It is open for breakfast and lunch every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

After eating, head out to the springs for a swim, visit the museum or take a boat eco-tour to see the area’s wildlife.
Check out other iconic Florida eateries, including:

Any of the seven locations of Columbia, founded in 1905 in Ybor City and featuring authentic Cuban food.

Angel’s Dining Car in Palatka, opened in 1932 and is billed as Florida’s oldest diner.

The Bubble Room on Captiva Island—a three-story fantasy restaurant that opened in 1979 with collections of toys, movie memorabilia and one floor dedicated to everything Christmas.

Fabulous Sweets
Looking for amazing desserts? Try Bocas House in Doral, Weston and Coral Gables. Insider/MSN recently named its Nutella milkshake as Florida’s craziest milkshake. Here’s what’s in it, layer by layer: vanilla ice cream blended with Nutella, a Nutella brownie drizzled with Nutella and topped with a Nutella truffle and another scoop of vanilla ice cream. It is dressed with even more Nutella. It is big enough for four friends to share.

Kermit’s Key Lime Pies, with two locations in Key West and one in DeLand—may define the authentic Florida Key lime pie. Made with intensely concentrated Key lime juice, pies are not the only the product the company has created. Key lime pie bars dipped in dark chocolate, Key lime marmalade, Key lime steak sauce and Key lime skin-care products round out the selections.

To the Lake
Known as Lake Toho by locals, Central Florida’s Lake Tohopekaliga, was ranked the best vacation lake in Florida by Money Talks News. The 18,810-acre lake beckons bass anglers, bird watchers and people interested in the area’s wildlife, which includes turtles and alligators.

For an interactive history of the area, visit the Osceola County Pioneer Village at Shingle Creek,

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

Live the Dream: Fish Year-Round

Friday, October 20th, 2017

Saltwater fishing offers some of the best year-round fishing opportunities, since there is always something in season. Above, fishing guide Chuck Brodzki of Islamorada, Florida, displays a 40-pound blacktip shark caught on light tackle by Grace Gettel of Bozeman, Montana. It was Grace’s birthday. She celebrated by catching “a ton of species.” Photo courtesy of Chuck Brodzki

Pop was a year-round angler, and his rate of success was legendary. How the fishing guru of my childhood did it was beyond most observers.

When asked about it, he often dodged, “I’m too poor to golf and too young to play shuffleboard.”

Pop was more upfront with his fishing groupies. He said the key to fishing successfully year-round was all about change, and a person’s ability and willingness to adapt.

Here are three basic changes he recommended:

Change gear. This may seem obvious, but changing it up means more than just using different bait or tackle. Matching the correct rod, reel and rig to a given situation also is important to get the best touch, presentation and accuracy in any season.

Change tactics. Most anglers understand the importance of changing gear to fit circumstances, yet they often use the same techniques and tactics all the time. What works in spring doesn’t necessarily work in winter. For instance, it’s best to fish horizontally (closer to the surface) in warmer months and vertically (deep) in colder ones. Forage, feeding habits and activity levels are also different.

Change locations. There is nothing that says you have to fish the same spots all year. In fact, you will probably enjoy more success by moving around. Certain bodies of water are better suited than others for different times of the year. Figure out the best ones for each season and species.

For more detailed advice about fishing year-round, ask other anglers, browse fishing magazines, or check out free apps such as Pro Angler and My Fishing Advisor.

Give the Gift of Outdoors
With Christmas fewer than 60 days away, it’s not too soon to be thinking about gifts for family and friends.

Presents with a personal touch are favorites, so this year why not make gifts that say something about you and your love of the outdoors.

One of the easiest is a framed scenic or wildlife photo you took. If you want to get more creative, there are hundreds of gifts you can craft from incidentals found in woods, waters and along trails.

Check out Pinterest, Etsy and similar websites for ideas.

App of the Month—Google Earth
Google Earth provides an aerial perspective of the surface of the Earth and has many applications for hunting, fishing, boating, backpacking and other outdoor pursuits. Combine the free app with the desktop version of Google Earth for even more versatility. Free ArcGIS topographical maps can be downloaded and overlaid on the Google Earth maps to measure contours and plot elevation profiles for lines of travel. The app is available for Android and iPhone devices.

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 of the item. When sending a photo, identify people and pets, and tell us the story behind the picture. Email your submission to

Curb Appeal

Friday, October 20th, 2017

When selecting colors for the exterior of your home, look for something that will stand out.
Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock

Give the exterior of your home a fresh look with durable and attractive new materials using vivid colors that pop

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. That old saying is true for you and for your home.

All too often, homeowners dwell on how a house looks and feels on the inside and neglect the outside.

A new granite countertop may add sparkle to your kitchen, but maintaining your home’s exterior appearance—or curb appeal—also is important to your enjoyment of the place where you spend most of your time and have invested much of your money.

According to Lorin Miller, president of Miller Custom Exteriors, pride of ownership motivates many people to improve their home’s curb appeal.

“They want a house that immediately looks good when they’re entertaining family and friends,” Miller says.

Others want to give their home a fresh, updated appearance.

“People get tired of the way a house looks, but if they change the siding or install a cultured stone product, they’ll get a totally different exterior,” says Miller.

Miller Custom Exteriors has been in the home improvement business since 1978. While its renovation and remodeling projects are mostly in rural areas and small towns, the family-owned company also does jobs in the suburbs.

“Our goal isn’t just to cover up the outside of a house, but to create something that stands out,” Miller says. “We want to give a house character and make it unique in the neighborhood.”

A few years ago, the work his company did earned a contractor of the year award from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. The Victorian-era home’s makeover involved new roofing, siding and windows.

“We took the house back to its original appearance as much as possible, but used modern materials,” says Miller. “It’s a good example of how combining the right colors and style creates curb appeal.”

The house is light gray with burgundy and charcoal gray architectural features, with seamless steel siding on its walls and vinyl shakes in the gables.

Similar materials were used for a historic renovation of a Queen Anne house, which sports colors of russet red, classic blue, charcoal gray and almond.

“Color is an expedient way to add curb appeal,” Miller says. “The better siding products available today have no issues with darker colors fading, and there are lots of color choices for siding and trim pieces. We’re no longer limited to neutrals like white, beige or clay.”

But homeowners want more than a house with a pretty face. Sprucing up the outside also presents an opportunity to say goodbye to chores such as caulking worn-out windows and painting old siding.

“With so many limitations on everyone’s time today, people don’t want to spend their free time maintaining their home’s exterior,” Miller says.

Many customers choose a galvanized steel product with a baked-on finish.

“It’s stronger and lasts longer than vinyl siding,” says Miller.

Since each length is custom-cut on the job site, seamless steel siding fits a house exactly and has no unsightly splices or gaps. In addition to its durability and good looks, steel siding is manufactured from recycled material and can be recycled.

Because vinyl siding is relatively inexpensive and available in numerous colors, finishes and profiles, it has been America’s number-one exterior cladding for decades. However, its quality varies, and thin, cheap vinyl siding eventually undermines curb appeal by sagging or losing its luster, Miller says. He prefers to use a thick vinyl siding that is sturdy, impact-resistant and made in extra-long lengths to minimize seams and splices.

“Installation is really important because if vinyl siding is put on right, it lays straight and flush and won’t blow off,” Miller says.

Since it consumes so much space, the roof can enhance or diminish a home. An attractive roof in good condition increases curb appeal. Stained or missing shingles are both an eyesore and a red flag for a house in disrepair.

According to a report from the National Association of Realtors, new roofing ranks highest among exterior projects appealing to home buyers. A roof that keeps out the elements and keeps up appearances protects homeowners and their property investment.

Asphalt shingles are the nation’s most common residential roofing material. They can last for years, are available at different price points and offer design options ranging from traditional three-tab shingles to dimensional shingles to shingles that mimic wood shakes and slate.

Miller acknowledges asphalt shingles remain a popular choice for renovations, but his company also has installed hundreds of steel roofs on homes. Metal roofing costs about twice as much as asphalt, but lasts longer.

The steel roofing Miller uses has a hidden fastening system and is made in eye-catching patterns that look like pricier shakes and slate.

“They’re perfect for homeowners wanting something impressive,” he says.

When replacing windows, the frame is mostly a matter of style, Miller says.

Vinyl manufacturers offer numerous exterior colors and even wood-grain finishes to match interior trim.

“About 80 percent of people want white windows,” says Miller. “Their thinking is that white goes with everything.”

Trading drafty, dilapidated windows for modern, energy-efficient ones not only boosts curb appeal, but makes a house more comfortable and less expensive to heat or cool.

If homeowners can afford the upgrade, Miller recommends triple-pane windows.

“They’re way more efficient and help with noise reduction, too,” he says.

Miller reminds customers not to forget their front door.

“The entry door is one of the most important aspects of curb appeal,” he says. “It’s the first thing people see. Everything about the door—color, design, even hardware—forms their opinion of a house.”

Wood doors lend sophistication, but because they are costly and require care, many homeowners opt for steel or fiberglass.

Generally, steel doors are less expensive and better for painting because of their smooth surface. Fiberglass doors—which can be made with wood-grain textures duplicating mahogany, cherry or oak—look great stained or painted.

Steel and fiberglass doors are virtually maintenance free and are available in many styles and decorative glass designs.

Doors with tight-fitting frames, energy-efficient foam cores and glass inserts have higher price tags, but look nicer, function better and survive longer than bargain-basement products.

A dazzling front door is also an asset when it is time to sell your home. The National Association of Realtors included new steel and fiberglass doors in its report on projects with maximum buyer appeal.

“One thing that will never change is the importance of curb appeal because it serves as the first impression of the home,” says NAR President Tom Salomone. “If buyers don’t think a home is attractive when driving by, chances are they won’t ask a realtor to see more.”

A Closer Look: Windows and Doors

Friday, October 20th, 2017

Windows brighten a home and make a dramatic statement.
Photo courtesy of Marvin Windows and Doors

Windows do more than bring light into your home. They provide views of your neighborhood, connect the indoors with the outdoors, accent your home’s architecture and contribute to its curb appeal.

“Windows matter,” says Brett Boyum of Marvin Windows and Doors. “They’re a large and important part of the overall statement that a house makes.”

Marvin—a family business whose window expertise dates to 1939—is the world’s largest manufacturer of made-to-order windows and patio-style doors. Its signature brand is known for wood and clad wood products that can be customized, but the company also has newer brands that feature fiberglass, including one that simulates wood.

Aside from being a good insulator, wood looks rich. Marvin choices vary from standards such as pine and cherry to black walnut and mahogany.

Exterior aluminum cladding is available in several colors and finishes.

“It’s extruded aluminum and the thickness of a quarter, so it really stands up to wear and tear,” says Boyum.

Marvin’s patented, protruded fiberglass does not expand or contract in extreme temperatures, and “it resists cracking and denting, and gives structural strength to a window,” says Boyum.

Along with durability, the fiberglass windows come in light and dark fade-proof colors. If a homeowner needs to match siding or roofing, the windows can be painted.

In addition to aesthetics, Boyum reminds homeowners to consider performance. Replacement windows should be energy efficient and keep the house comfortable.

While Marvin has an online gallery and downloadable apps to help you find the perfect windows, Boyum recommends visiting a retailer to see the windows’ construction and operation.

“Homeowners shouldn’t choose windows for the cheapest price, but the best value,” he says.

Joe Klink at ProVia agrees value is an important consideration when selecting new windows and doors.

“You may pay more upfront, but you’ll have less hassle later,” he says.

ProVia makes exterior doors, replacement windows, vinyl siding and manufactured stone. Besides steel and fiberglass entrance doors, ProVia makes aluminum storm doors and vinyl, steel and fiberglass patio doors.

Its flagship product is the 20-gauge steel entry door with a mechanical interlock system for extra strength. The company’s fiberglass doors also are popular, thanks to embossed wood grain that seems like the real thing.

ProVia’s website has helpful tools geared to homeowners’ four main motivations for replacing exterior doors: beauty, durability, security and energy efficiency.

The company’s vinyl window products also deliver energy efficiency and eye-catching design options.

“Window performance is all about the U-factor,” says Klink. “The lower the number, the better.”

The U-factor—which measures heat conduction—indicates a window’s overall energy efficiency, which can be affected by grids and even the kind of gas used in double-pane windows.

“Krypton gas insulates better than argon,” says Klink.

From all-vinyl windows to those with vinyl exteriors and pre-finished wood interiors, ProVia windows offer options such as internal grids, privacy glass and the company’s hand-stained Inspirations Art Glass, which allows people to personalize their home with original designs, house numbers and even their names.

Comfort Foods Contest Winners

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Sometimes, the best cure for what ails you is food that provides a little emotional comfort. We asked our readers for “comfort food” recipes—whether they be for a dish reminiscent of childhood, a beloved relative or a favorite destination—that could be featured in our Comfort Food Cookbook.

We received submissions from members of many of the electric utilities we serve—and even from some that we don’t. It was not easy to choose the winners of the recipe contest, but after great debate, we chose our seven favorites.

The winners are featured on these In the Kitchen pages and will appear in our next cookbook, along with other recipes submitted for the contest. Enjoy!

Outrageously Delicious Cheese Bread

  • 1 round loaf of Shepherd’s bread
  • 6-oz. package of sliced Swiss cheese
  • 3 to 4 slices of raw bacon
  • 1 stick of butter at room temperature
  • ¼ c. diced onion
  • ½ tsp. Accent seasoning mix
  • 1 T. poppy seeds
  • 1 T. dried parsley

Slice bread six times on top of loaf, but not all the way through.

Cream together the stick of butter, chopped onion, seasoning mix, poppy seeds and parsley. Spread butter mixture between slices of bread, but save enough for the top. Place cheese between the slices of bread. Spread remaining butter mixture over top of loaf. Put slices of raw bacon over the top of the loaf.

Bake at 350 degrees on tinfoil-lined baking sheet for 30 minutes.

To serve, slice six times in the opposite direction of the cuts. Enjoy!
This is wonderful with a glass of white wine.

This cheese bread recipe was my grandmother’s recipe, and the whole family was so excited when she would make this.

Judy Medley
Lakewood Ranch, Florida • Peace River Electric Cooperative


Chocolate Bread Pudding

  • 6 slices cinnamon bread, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • Zest of one orange
  • ¼ c. cooking oil
  • ¼ c. orange juice
  • ½ c. honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c. milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ c. chocolate morsels

In a 11/2-quart casserole dish, combine bread, cinnamon, nutmeg and orange zest. Measure oil, juice and honey in same cup. Mix well and pour over bread mixture. Slightly beat together eggs, milk and vanilla. Pour over all. Add chocolate morsels. Mix all ingredients until bread is moistened.

Cover and microwave on medium for 10 minutes, stirring every 3 minutes. In oven, bake at 350 F for about 40 minutes. Stir to remix ingredients. Bake 20 minutes longer.

Lynne Schaefer
Sunriver, Oregon • Midstate Electric Cooperative


Betty Sue’s Vanilla Orange Pudding

  • 2 c. whole milk
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 2 T. cornstarch (4 T. flour may be substituted if corn allergies are an issue)
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 orange cut into bite-size pieces

In a saucepan, bring the milk just barely to a simmer.

In a bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch beating until blended. Note: Mixture will bunch up in the whisk; keep beating until it flows out into the bowl. A hand beater/mixer can be used for this step.

When milk comes to a simmer, slowly add about half of the hot milk to the egg mixture while whisking or stirring, then pour back into saucepan with the rest of the milk. Cook, stirring until mixture becomes thick.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Stir well. Chill until cool.

Stir in chopped orange pieces just before serving.

Use 1 c. unsweetened coconut milk (not coconut water) with 1 c. milk.
Use 2 c. half-and-half for a richer pudding.
Add nuts, coconut or dried fruit

When I was a child in the ’50s living in a small in rural town, and would stay home from school for one thing or another, Mom always made me this pudding. I loved the fresh juicy oranges mixed with creamy, rich pudding that always made me feel better.

Susan Conklin
Mosier, Oregon • Wasco Electric Cooperative


Chicken Reuben

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 16-oz. can of sauerkraut, drained and pressed to almost dry
  • 1 c. Thousand Island dressing
  • 4 to 5 slices Swiss cheese
  • 1 T. chopped parsley

Heat oven to 350 F.

Place chicken in greased Pyrex dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread sauerkraut over chicken. Top with cheese. Pour dressing over cheese.

Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

This is really tasty with toasted rye bread on the side.

Mindy Street
Midstate Electric


Tater Tot Casserole

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 package dry onion soup mix
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup (or cream of celery)
  • 1 bag frozen tater tots
  • 1 can green beans (optional, I never put them in)
  • 1 c. sour cream

Heat oven to 350 F.

Brown beef with dry onion soup mix. Spray casserole pan with cooking oil. Mix soup and sour cream in a separate bowl.

Layer ingredients:
1/2 tater tots
1/2 soup and sour cream mixture
1/2 hamburger mixture
All of green beans, if desired
Repeat layers, ending with ground beef mixture.
Bake for 30 minutes or until heated through.

Serves 4

In 1972, I went from Texas to work at a Girl Scout camp in Minnesota. First grand adventure away from home on my own. This casserole was the opening-night dinner every session for the two summers I was there. My parents came up to see me, and I asked the camp cook to give my mom a family-size version because I liked it so much. It is quick to make with few ingredients but the flavors blend wonderfully. I even like the leftovers cold. Easy for beginning cooks, too.

Paula Christy
The Dalles, Oregon • Northern Wasco PUD


Mom’s Potato Soup

Peel one large or two small potatoes. Cut into a dice (small cubes).

Slice a small onion. Put potato and onion into a small saucepan (not non-stick). Barely cover with water. Add a little salt; boil until done.

Cube a slice or two of bread (Mom always used white, so I do, too) and put in a bowl. Pour the liquid from cooking the onion and potato over the bread. Your choice whether or not to remove the crusts.

Mash cooked potato and onion with a potato masher, fork or small mixer. Stir in one beaten egg.

Add soaked bread cubes with liquid and milk to desired consistency. I like mine on the thick side. Season to taste.

Heat until hot on low heat, but do not cook. Stir often. To serve, top with a chunk of butter and chives or parsley if you have some.

This recipe is for one serving. Mom said that if you make a larger batch, still only use one egg.

Nancy Caslick
Oceanside, Oregon • Tillamook PUD


Grandma Grace’s Apple Cake

  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 3/4 cube butter (softened) or 3/4 stick Crisco baking stick
  • 2 med-large or 3 small red, sweet apples peeled, scored and thinly sliced**If using tart apples, add 1/3 c. additional sugar
    1/2 c. milk

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in large mixing bowl. Blend. Add butter and work through thoroughly with a pastry cutter or clean hands. Add apples and mix thoroughly. If apples aren’t juicy enough, add just enough milk (1 T. at a time) until dough is crumbly but slightly sticky. Press firmly down into a well-greased shallow pan, dish, or onto cookie sheet (about 1 to 1½” high). Mix 1 T. sugar with 1 tsp. sugar and sprinkle over the top of unbaked cake.

Bake at 400 F (375 F for dark, nonstick) for about 40 minutes (pan or dish) or about 30 minutes (cookie sheet) or until top and sides look brown and crispy and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Top with vanilla ice cream or yogurt.

Optional: For a richer dessert, add 1/2 c. chopped walnuts. Drizzle melted gourmet chocolate on top of the finished cake. Serve warm or cold. Enjoy!

This recipe was handed down by my mother’s mother (my grandmother) Grace, who was a wonderful and inventive cook. This recipe is as comforting as apple pie or cobbler, but way easier and faster to make.

Margaret Gilbert (submitted by daughter Glenna Lee)
Westwood, California • Lassen Municipal Utility District


Order your copy of our newest cookbook, Comfort Foods. Our reader-submitted recipes, from pasta and casseroles to treats and desserts, are sure to warm your heart and soothe your soul.

You can give this as a gift or add it to your collection for just $9, shipping included.

Order online at, over the phone by calling (503) 718-3720, or by mail with your check or money order to Ruralite Cookbooks, 5605 NE Elam Young Pkwy, Hillsboro, OR 97124.

Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover accepted.
Allow 4-6 weeks for delivery.

Hiking the Transition Seasons

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

It is advisable to keep dogs on a leash while hiking. That is even more imperative in the wake of Hurricane Irma to ensure the safety of your dog and that of stray pets, as well as wildlife displaced and disoriented by the storm. © iStock/wojciech_gajda

There’s something wonderful about the transition seasons, fall and spring.

With October’s arrival, temperatures are cooling and rain is in decline. It’s a time you can encounter more wildlife without being eaten alive by bugs.

This combination of factors makes conditions for hiking and other outdoor activities near perfect.

If you were not active during the summer, take it slow at first. Let your muscles and lungs adjust to the new stresses on them. Start with short, easy hikes before tackling longer distances.

The same goes for shoes. Wear well-conditioned, comfortable shoes, or be sure new ones are broken in before going more than a mile or two in them.

Weather can change quickly during the transition seasons. Check weather reports before leaving and monitor them throughout the hike. Also, for safety’s sake, consider packing the 10 essentials. Find the list of items at www. or other sites online.

Take along your camera and binoculars. The change in weather makes wildlife more active, so you are more likely to see it this time of year.

Try to avoid surprising animals, especially bears, wild hogs and elusive Florida panthers. Stay on developed trails. Make a little noise to announce your presence, particularly when rounding blind corners.

Keep in mind it is hunting season throughout the state, so use extra caution when hiking outside of urban areas. Wear brightly colored clothes or a blaze-orange vest to increase your visibility.

App of the Month—Geocaching
Geocaching is a treasure hunt for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages. The activity requires a GPS device to locate hidden geocaches. More than 2 million of them can be found around the world.

Geocaching, the app, is the best way participate in this popular pastime. The free app is available for Apple and Android devices at the App Store and Google Play.

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 of the item. When sending a photo, identify people and pets, and tell us the story behind the picture. 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.

Shiver Me Timbers

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Members of the St. Augustine Swashbucklers give a big cheer in front of the Pirate & Treasure Museum. Their leader, Commodore Mayhem, is front and center. He is the face and voice of the St. Augustine museum.
Photos courtesy of Bill McRae

Commodore Mayhem seeks to shift perception of pirates to do-gooders as leader of St. Augustine swashbuckling group

He wears no eye patch, but has a true heart of gold. People in northeast and central Florida know this career pirate as Commodore William Mayhem.

The St. Augustine native, whose legal name is William McRea, came by his occupation honestly as an entertainer and professional magician in Las Vegas for 40 years before returning to his hometown in 2006.

Bill has embraced his pirate persona, dressing the part “nine days a week,” he says, raising money for charities and giving other pirate enthusiasts the chance to live the seafaring life through the St. Augustine Swashbucklers LLC—a 130-member group of businesspeople and volunteers who stage festivals and games dressed as pirate characters.

Becoming Commodore Mayhem “was sort of accidental because when I moved back, I’d do the pirate thing, magic and card tricks in local pubs to earn some money,” Bill says.

The distinguished-looking white-bearded man—whose father was in the military—was born in St. Augustine. As with most military kids, he moved around during childhood. As a young adult, he ended up in Las Vegas working as an actor—not in pirate films, he says—and a magician at The Dunes, The Debbie Reynolds Hotel Casino and The Improv.

Bill visited St. Augustine for a reunion in 2004 and started thinking about moving home.

Two years later, he and his wife, Cece—who also has a pirate persona—were back on the East Coast.

“The character of William Mayhem just developed over time as a gentleman of fortune who had traveled the world,” Bill says. “Now, not many people even know my real last name because they always see me as Commodore Mayhem when I’m around town.”

Contrary to the public’s legendary view of pirates as criminals, thieves and ne’er-do-wells, Bill uses his pirate skills all for good.

In 2009, he became commodore of the St. Augustine Swashbucklers LLC—a group that had been in existence since 2001 to raise money for charities through festivals and parade appearances.

Its main recipients are Give Kids the World, based in Orlando, and Dreams Come True out of Jacksonville. It also works with St. Augustine’s St. Francis House homeless shelter. During the holidays, the Swashbucklers collect toys for underserved children.

“We give $30,000 to $35,000 a year to charitable organizations, and our members get to have fun being pirates at the same time,” Bill says.

The group charges annual membership dues. Those funds provide the bulk of the organization’s yearly operating expenses.

Many of the Swashbucklers’ events take place on weekends, but Commodore Mayhem seemingly never sleeps. In addition to managing the paperwork and setting up festivals, he is a much-sought-after tour guide at the Pirate and Treasure Museum, which moved from Key West to St. Augustine in 2010 and is owned by Pat Croce.

As the voice and face of the museum, Bill has conducted more than 1,800 school and public tours.

Bill regularly teaches actors, tour guides and re-enactors who come to the Ancient City for seminars. He also is Commodore Mayhem at corporate events and meetings around the state.

In 2012, Bill was inducted into the prestigious Order of the Leviathan—an international group that recognizes pirates and their service to their communities.

The Old City Pirate Fest—one of the Swashbucklers’ major fundraising celebrations—is the fourth full weekend in January. The 2018 event, set for January 26-27, features pirate-goods vendors, re-enactments, black-powder and sword demonstrations, entertainment on two stages and historical tours of the quarter.

“I’ve always been fascinated by history, ever since I was young, from the Civil War, World War II and American history in general,” Bill says. “My goal is to bridge the gap between what people think pirates might have been and how they’ve been portrayed in movies and all the good that pirates did and still do today.”


Changing Fashions Featured

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

The lavender and black lace tea dress worn by Maggie Smithis among the 36 costumes from “Downton Abbey” on display at the Lightner Museum.
Photos courtesy of Carnival Films

Don’t look now, but the Brits are coming to Florida!

The costumes of Dowager Countess Violet Crawley, Lady Mary, Mr. Carson and the staff of “Downton Abbey” arrive at the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine this month for an exhibit through January 7. The elegant costumes and lifestyle are showcased in “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashions for Changing Times.”

It is the last stop on a nine-city tour of U.S. museums that included visits to Chicago, Nashville, Tennessee, and Asheville, North Carolina.

“This incredible exhibition has been almost three years in the making,” says Megan Mosley, development coordinator for the Lightner. “We’re converting the museum’s ballroom into room vignettes and furnishing them with pieces from our permanent collection, some that have never been on exhibit before.”

Dressing Downton features 36 costumes, jewelry and accessories from the long-running British Emmy-winning TV show. It covers 1912 through the mid-1920s.

The Lightner has scheduled events during the three-month engagement, including high tea and ancillary exhibitions. Reservations for timed entry are strongly suggested; a limited number of walk-up admission tickets will be available.

Florida Stories
Thanks to the Florida Humanities Council and modern technology, residents and visitors can experience their towns in a new way. A new app, “Florida Stories”, features nearly a dozen walking tours of points of interest in communities across Florida.

Download the app and stroll along the streets and historic districts in DeLand to learn about the Athens Theater; the Opera House; DeLand Hall, which is the home of founding father Henry A. DeLand; and the story of the city’s Mural Trail.

In June, MainStreet DeLand won first place in America’s Main Street contest, sponsored by Together We Stand. It beat out 241 other towns.Other cities with walking tours are Bartow, Fernandina Beach, Fort Pierce, Key West, Lake Wales, Pensacola, St. Augustine and Tampa’s Ybor City.

Good Eats
Delish has its eye on Florida. Recently, it named Jacksonville’s Terra Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse the best all-you-can-eat restaurant in the state. It also singled out The Mermaid & the Alligator in Key West as the best bed and breakfast in Florida because of its alternately sweet and savory breakfasts and social amenities.

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