Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

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.

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 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.

Wolf Kisses

Thursday, June 20th, 2019

A guest to Seacrest Wolf Preserve gets a little love from one of the resident wolves.
Photo by Laurie Rowe Communications

Special relationships between man and beasts are not unusual. As humans, our families often include dogs and cats, sometimes birds and horses. But most people don’t think of wolves as being warm and cuddly.

That is not so at the Seacrest Wolf Preserve. Visitors to the 400-acre preserve in Chipley can safely pet the 30 or so wolves and even get wolf kisses and cuddles.

“Guests who visit Seacrest Wolf Preserve interact with wolves in a one-on-one environment in their habitats,” says Heather Lopez, director of tourism for Washington County. “Wolves are very intelligent, playful animals, and very loyal to the members of their pack. In that way they are much like humans.”

The preserve has several species of wolves, including gray, Arctic and British Columbian. Guests can walk through the wolf habitats or take a private tour.

“The goal of the preserve is to educate humans about the importance of this keystone species to the environment and help dispel many of the myths about wolves,” Heather says. “It is an amazing experience to visit here.”

In Lakeland, east of Tampa, Safari Wilderness Ranch, offers guided tours of its 870 square miles of habitat.

Guests can travel in covered, open-bed safari vehicles, ride camels or kayak to see hundreds of wild animals—from elands to zebras, water buffalo to llamas. Feed ring-tailed lemurs, budgies and guinea pigs and visit the baby animals born at the facility.

Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Melbourne, was created to protect habitat for loggerhead sea turtles that nest in the area from May to mid-August. The quiet beaches with little artificial light are ideal for nesting. The refuge is also home to more than 140 species of water birds, wading birds and other waterfowl, along with raptors passing through during migration.

Travel Insurance
Life’s unexpected events can throw a wrench into vacation plans. Many cruise lines, airlines and travel companies offer travel insurance when you book. Typically, the cost is based on a percentage of the price of your trip per person.

Travel insurance can protect your investment if you must cancel because of illness or family emergency. The policy also can protect you if the travel company doesn’t provide the services you have purchased, such as an airline that goes out of business, help in a medical emergency far from home or even replacing lost or stolen luggage.

Coverages are wide-ranging and specific to the policy you buy. When considering travel insurance, carefully read the fine print. Compare benefits and prices of the coverage offered by your tour company with independent providers. You may find comparable benefits at a lower cost.

Check, and

Glad You Live Here?
Here are interesting facts about the state. Florida has:

  • More than 1,300 golf courses, tops among all states.
  • Almost 12,000 miles of rivers, streams and waterways.
  • 7,800 lakes larger than 10 acres; Lake Okeechobee is the second-largest freshwater lake in the U.S. with 700 square miles of surface area.
  • The most first-magnitude springs of any state.

You have an edge over tourists. You can visit any attraction, park, beach and destination anytime you want, without having to make major plans.

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

Salute to Parades!

Thursday, June 20th, 2019

Look at a parade from the perspective of the participants and the spectators.
Photos by David LaBelle

“Where are the floats and the marching bands?” the editor asked the newspaper photographer. “Readers expect to see a grand view of the parade.”

The photographer had documented the parade for years. This time he ignored the predictable overall picture of the parade and instead focused on preparations and colorful individuals in the procession.

It’s great to be interpretive. As an editor and instructor, I encourage photographers to take risks—after first making the literal event picture.

Here are a few tips to help you make parade pictures:

  • Find a high or low vantage point on an incline to see the long string of participants and record the overall view.
  • Arrive early so you can meet the participants. When possible, stick around after the event. My best pictures from parades are almost always before and after the parade.
  • Do your homework. Know who will be there: the oldest person, king or queen, or a local hero or celebrity.
  • Challenge yourself to do more than make a lifeless document that says you were there. Leave your comfort zone and try new techniques—perhaps long shutter speeds to produce swirling colors of movement, or lower angles that give your pictures a surprising or fresh view.
  • Dare to take your eyes off the marching participants and scan the sidelines. Look for animated subjects with great faces and uninhibited emotion. Choosing good subjects is more than half the success of making interesting pictures. If I notice an excited, engaged family, I position myself across the street and wait for their reactions.
  • When people ask for pictures, give them a business card with your contact information rather than taking down theirs. Put the onus on them to get in touch.
  • Challenge yourself to interpret. I teach students to dig deep and learn to make pictures that go beyond showing what people are doing, instead revealing how they feel about what they are doing. Anybody with a camera can make a decent picture of people doing things. An artist looks deeper for the emotion that reveals the love of the action. Make the overall, scene-setting picture first, then look for things that catch your eyes or reveal stories.
  • Focus on a theme: a specific color, flags, or people’s hands and feet. The possibilities are endless.
  • Give yourself permission to photograph. People expect to be seen and photographed. This helps young photographers learn to feel comfortable photographing strangers.

As always, have fun!

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

Protecting the Ecosystem

Thursday, June 20th, 2019

Jessica Levy of the Coral Restoration Foundation, left, shows Florida Keys Electric Cooperative’s Sara Hamilton a Lesser Starlet Coral (Siderastrea radians). It was removed from an FKEC structure and relocated.
Photo by Nikki Cullen

Every day on the water is a good day for cooperative’s environmental manager

Few people are lucky enough to work in a job they not only enjoy, but one they feel makes a difference. Florida Keys Electric Cooperative’s Sara Hamilton is one of them.

As environmental manager for the cooperative, Sara spends some time behind a desk, but many tasks take her into the hardwood hammocks and along the coastline, which she loves.

“It’s something different all the time,” Sara says. “I might think I’ve got an office day when I’ll sit at my desk, but then I get a call and we’ve got to deal with an oil spill or there’s an osprey trying to build a nest in equipment.”

Sara has a master’s in coastal zone management and marine biology from Nova Southeastern University. She has been with FKEC more than nine years.

Her job is to ensure the cooperative is in environmental compliance with rules and regulations set forth by what she calls an alphabet soup of agencies that create and enforce rules to keep ecosystems and their inhabitants safe, including the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and National Marine Fisheries Service.

“Luckily, we have a great relationship with them,” Sara says. “I think that’s because they know the co-op is going to do the right thing.”

The right thing includes FKEC’s commitment to hardening the transmission system. The co-op has been adding cathodic protection to power poles set in the water to protect against saltwater damage. She says that helps keep the utility’s assets safe.

“Saltwater is a very harsh environment, and the rebar in the poles can begin spalling, so we need to help strengthen the poles,” she says. “Replacing a pole on the water is not easy, it’s not cheap and it’s not fun. If one of these poles goes down, you’ve got to think it probably won’t be the only one. It will probably bring down at least one other, if not five others, which could mean weeks without power.”

Before the utility could get permits to begin work, Sara had to survey each pole and prepare an assessment. She documented what corals lived on and around the poles, as well as what seagrasses would be affected by barges so the co-op could minimize disruption to the ecosystem.

Minimizing damage to sea life is important to Sara, but her job also takes her into the hammock and along roadsides. The dense woods and high-traffic areas have challenges of their own.

“I’ve learned so much and I get to enjoy all the ecosystems of the Keys through my work,” she says. “I love it. One of my most fun projects is protecting six different listed endangered species when we’re trimming the right-of-way on County Route 905, which is between Dagny Johnson Botanical State Park and Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

“Part of our permit up there is to take certain precautions to protect the species. I’ll spend several months just relocating tree snails off the branches that our guys trim and put them back into the hammock. We’ve saved thousands of these beautiful trees snails that you don’t really find anywhere else but South Florida or Hawaii in the U.S.”

Sara’s diligence and excitement when it comes to relocating snails has earned her the moniker “snail lady” from some of her co-workers, and “snail wrangler” from her husband, biologist David de Silva, an independent environmental consultant.

From the smallest tree snails to the sensitive corals clinging to coastal power poles, Sara sees her work—and the efforts of FKEC—as important to the local environment.

“I feel like we make a difference,” she says. “I’m very proud of what we do for our environment, whether we’re out protecting the smallest creatures in our environment or when we do our avian protection for eagles and osprey that live in our area.”

It’s not all work for Sara. Since moving from Ohio in 1999 after spending a semester on Long Key, she has made the most of Florida living.

Her family loves getting out on their boat, walking through the hammocks, fishing, diving and lobstering.

“Spending time with family, especially outdoors, is all quality time,” Sara says.
Sara says she appreciates that the community looks out for one another, and can’t imagine living anywhere else.

“We live in such an environmentally sensitive area and we see our environment as part of our membership,” Sara says. “Most of our members live down here because of this environment, because of the beauty of the waters and the beauty of the majestic hardwood hammocks.”

A Juice Giant

Thursday, June 20th, 2019

A former Tropicana refrigerated boxcar sits on the tracks, shortly after being donated to the Florida Gulf Coast Railroad Museum in Palmetto.
Photo by Harvey Henkelmann/Wikimedia Commons

Sicilian fulfills an American dream, turning $30 into a $495 million citrus empire marketed as Tropicana

What began as an African dream for adventure ultimately turned into an American dream of entrepreneurship.
Inspired by stories of opportunities in America, Anthony Talamo Rossi sailed from Naples to New York in 1921. Armed with $30 in his pocket and rough, broken English, he and several friends planned to earn enough money in New York to finance an African expedition they planned to turn into a film.

“It was exciting, exciting,” Anthony said. “I came here to make money, to make enough to explore Africa. There were five of us, other boys like me, in Italy. We wanted to make a film, to cross Africa from the Belgian Congo, to film the animals, the life, the country. It was not the film—it was the adventure. I came first to New York. But I like the country so much, I don’t leave.”

From a modest start shipping fruit boxes from Bradenton, Florida, to New York, Anthony emerged as a citrus industry power player, creating the iconic brand Tropicana more than 70 years ago.

He not only dominated the market, but revolutionized the industry.

Born September 13, 1900, in Messina, Sicily, Anthony was lucky to survive childhood. A catastrophic earthquake and tsunami struck Messina when Anthony was 8 years old, flattening much of the town and killing thousands.

From an early age, Anthony was an individualist. He didn’t enjoy school. He wanted to work and build something.

Anthony showed a flair for agriculture, raising all of the vegetables for his household in a large garden. He also grew fruit in the surrounding idyllic countryside.

When Anthony came to the United States, he found business possibilities bountiful. Deciding to stay on in New York, he worked as a machinist, cabbie, chauffeur and grocer. After a stint farming in Virginia and longing for the Mediterranean clime of his native Sicily, Anthony moved to sunny Bradenton.

He grew tomatoes and ran a cafeteria and restaurant, but soon went into the fruit business, producing fruit gift boxes he sold to Gimbel’s and Macy’s department stores in New York City.

That success led him to buy the Overstreet Packing Co. in Palmetto, just north of Bradenton. He renamed the firm Manatee River Packing Co. and began buying citrus from local growers.

After expanding into marketing chilled fruit sections in jars, Anthony started making juice out of the smaller fruit that had been going to waste. He shipped both to the Northeast in refrigerated trucks.

Anthony’s early fruit business—established as Fruit Industries Inc. in 1949—grew quickly and was soon providing 1,000 gallons of sliced citrus fruit weekly to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. That success led Anthony to drop the gift boxes.

In 1949, he registered the name Tropicana. He and a friend each invested $15,000 in creation of the brand.
Anthony bought an evaporator to extract water from orange juice to produce and market frozen concentrate.

In 1951, he commissioned creation of the character Tropic-Ana—a pigtailed girl in a grass skirt carrying a bowl of oranges on her head. Tropic-Ana appeared in TV commercials and provided quick brand recognition of Tropicana products in supermarkets.

Tropicana moved its operations to the former Florida Grapefruit Canning Plant in Bradenton in 1953—premises it occupied until the late 1990s.

Anthony created a way to freeze pure whole—not concentrated—juice in 20-gallon blocks for convenient storage and shipping. Tropicana also pioneered frozen concentrated orange juice packages featuring the image of Tropic-Ana.

A Tropicana watershed occurred in 1954 when Anthony developed a flash pasteurization process. Briefly heating the juice extended the product’s shelf life to three months while not detracting from its flavor. This breakthrough made fresh orange juice shippable and available across a wide region.

Anthony taste-tested his juice daily.

“The main thing is how you extract,” he said. “If the orange is green, you must squeeze light. When you get too much rain, the orange gets more crispy. Water tightens the skin. Then you’ve got to loosen the machine. I am the quality control. I have a very keen taste.”

To avoid wasting any part of the fruit, Anthony bought machinery that converted the peel, pulp and seeds into cattle feed.

In the 1950s, Anthony spent $1 million on refrigerated trucks and turned to American Can Co. to create wax-lined cartons in sizes from a half-pint to a quart.

Combined with Anthony’s pasteurization method, this paved the way for the widespread delivery of chilled orange juice to supermarkets. Tropicana had 2,000 dairies provide doorstep delivery of the juice every morning. The scheme was a great success, especially in New York, where chilled Tropicana orange juice accounted for up to 40 percent of orange juice sales in the 1960s. The chilled juice—which differentiated Tropicana from its competitors—led Anthony to drop production of frozen concentrate.

Anthony’s business exploded to the point where he bought a ship to carry his citrus cargo. The 8,000-ton SS Tropicana began service in 1957, carrying 1.5 million gallons of juice from Florida to New York weekly. The ship hauled the juice in bulk in a massive stainless-steel tank. The product had to be packaged upon reaching port at Whitestone, Queens, so Anthony built a receiving, packing and distribution plant there. Tropicana later switched to packaging its juice before shipment.

“When we made the first fruit section in jars, they think we are crazy,” Anthony said. “We start to chill juice, we are crazy. But the chilled juice got so good, we had to buy a ship to move it. That’s crazy too.”

The SS Tropicana made its final orange juice delivery in 1961, when Tropicana shifted to truck and rail transport.

Amidst these successes was the occasional setback, such as when the company introduced concentrated Tropicana Coffee in 1958. Packed in an aerosol can, the coffee was meant to be sprayed into a cup with the press of a button, but a faulty valve spelled the end of that product.

A much more serious difficulty occurred when greater than one-third of the Florida citrus crop was destroyed in a December 1962 freeze.

Ever nimble, Anthony responded by installing processing equipment on a ship and anchoring it off the coast of Mexico—a country that provided an abundant and inexpensive orange crop.

A success initially, the Mexican government soon raised the price of the country’s oranges, foiling the plan. Tropicana sold the ship and its onboard processing machinery, losing $2 million.

In the early 1960s, Anthony developed a high-speed vacuum packing system that led Tropicana to pack and ship more of its juice in glass bottles.

Due to the plentiful sand in Florida, in 1964 Anthony built his own glass factory to produce Tropicana bottles.

Tropicana began manufacturing plastic containers in 1968. It was the first citrus company to run its own plastic factory.

International sales started in 1966, with Tropicana shipping 14,000 cases of juice in glass bottles to France. The company’s growth continued, as Tropicana became a publicly traded company in 1969.

In the early 1970s, Anthony bought a train—dubbed the Tropicana Juice Train—that delivered juice to a Kearny, New Jersey, distribution center. Demand for juice was so great Anthony had to schedule more weekly shipments. By 1971, Tropicana was running two 60-car unit trains, each hauling about 1 million gallons of juice across 1,250 miles.

The Great White Juice Train began service June 7, 1971. This roughly mile-long train consisted of 150 100-ton insulated boxcars. Tropicana soon pressed 100 more boxcars into service, and added small refrigeration units to the cars.

In the first decade of operation of the juice trains, Tropicana saved $40 million in fuel costs it would have spent in employing trucks for hauling the freight.

A second train serving Cincinnati entered service in 1997. The trains ran 10 times a week each, providing powerful advertising as they traversed the American countryside.

Continuing in the spirit of making Tropicana as much a self-contained company as possible, Anthony opened a corrugated box factory in 1972.

A second fruit processing plant was added in 1973 in Fort Pierce, Florida.

“What can I do next? What can I do next? I’m never satisfied,” Anthony said.

In the mid-1970s, Tropicana expanded its marketing in the U.S., Bermuda, the Bahamas, the West Indies and Europe.

The success of Tropicana led to many purchase and merger offers from Kellogg, Philip Morris and PepsiCo. Kellogg made three attempts to merge with Tropicana, but each time Anthony walked away. In August 1978, he sold Tropicana to the Beatrice Co. for $495 million.

As a testament to the quality of Tropicana’s products and the loyalty of its customers, when a 1983 freeze forced Tropicana to raise the price of its chilled juice three times in rapid succession, its sales remained steady.

The company reached a milestone in 1986 when, for the first time in the U.S., chilled juice outsold concentrated juice.

Tropicana changed hands again in 1988 with its sale to the Canadian Seagram Co. Ltd. In the 1990s, Tropicana expanded its chilled juice market to Canada, Central and South America, throughout Europe, Hong Kong and China.

In an advertising coup, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ baseball stadium was named Tropicana Field in 1996.
Seagram sold Tropicana to PepsiCo for a mammoth $3.3 billion in August 1998.

One of Anthony’s legacies was instigating the inclusion of Florida citrus juice in American school lunch programs.

After selling Tropicana, Anthony founded the Aurora Foundation, which funds charities and educational institutions.

Through attention to every detail of his business, Anthony created what is now the only worldwide citrus juice business. Tropicana is the world’s leading maker of chilled orange juice and controls about one-third of the U.S. orange juice market, and an even greater share of the U.S. chilled juice market.

Anthony was inducted into the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame in 1977 and the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1987. In 1980, he received an honorable doctorate from the University of Tampa.
Anthony died in 1993 in Bradenton at the age of 92, but the citrus empire he created lives on.

Given that he started in New York with $30 and eventually sold his company for nearly half a billion dollars, it was a staggering achievement.

Juice Joust Pits Fresh Against Frozen Concentrate

In 1973, Minute Maid—owned by Coca-Cola—went into direct competition with Tropicana by introducing chilled orange juice, though Minute Maid juice was reconstituted from frozen concentrate.

A debate ensued over which company had the superior product.

While Tropicana’s juice came direct from the orange to the bottle following pasteurization, Minute Maid claimed that drawing on frozen concentrate meant the flavors of juices from oranges harvested at different times of the year blended together, giving a consistent flavor through the seasons.

Behind the power of Coca-Cola’s marketing machine, Minute Maid became the first nationally available chilled orange juice in the U.S. Tropicana struck back in 1975 when it once again put frozen concentrate on the market.

Competition intensified in the 1980s between the two juice giants and newcomer Citrus Hill—owned by Procter & Gamble—but Tropicana managed to stay ahead in the chilled orange juice sector.

The juice joust between the two citrus titans proved too much for newcomer Citrus Hill, which withdrew from the orange juice battlefield in September 1992.

Florida’s Citrus-Greening Epidemic Threatens Industry

Citrus-greening disease—officially known as Huanglongbing—is caused by a bacteria transmitted by the Asian citrus psyllid. Once a tree is infected, yield, canopy foliage and root density decline. The condition makes trees sickly and causes them to produce undersized, misshapen fruit that stays green on the bottom. Symptoms can be found year round, but are more prominent September through March.

The disease has affected more than 90% of Florida’s citrus trees, and is confirmed in all commercial citrus growing counties in Florida, according to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Citrus Research and Education Center. The yield has declined by more than 80% from the early 2000s to the present crop forecast, says Steve Futch, a UF/IFAS extension agent based in Lake Alfred.

Tropicana is working with grower partners and UF/IFAS to tackle what is regarded as one of the most devastating citrus diseases worldwide. Scientists and Tropicana are testing citrus varieties bred by UF/IFAS for increased tolerance to greening. Tropicana leases a 14.5-acre commercial grove for trials of rootstocks and cultivars in Polk County. The plan at that location is to develop greening-tolerant trees as a short-term solution, until greening-resistant trees can be developed. Scientists working on the project employ standard grafting methods to combine new and improved scions and rootstocks, which hopefully will provide greater tolerance to citrus greening.

UF/IFAS citrus breeders advise Tropicana on which combinations of rootstocks and scions to test in this and other trials, as well as on new types of oranges and hybrids thought to be most promising to enhance yields and improve juice quality to meet the needs of the citrus juice industry.

Painting With Light

Monday, May 20th, 2019

Photos by David LaBelle

Ever thought about light as a beautiful, God-given paint to be gently applied to your pictures? We can learn much about light by standing quietly and watching nature’s artistry.

Think of light as a glaze carefully applied to a ceramic piece to enhance its color and shape—just as morning light crawls across an awakening valley, painting trees, rocks and grasses in fine gold.

I had a vivid dream where a photographer was showing how to create tone separation and depth by light painting grave markers in a Civil War cemetery. I have no idea what prompted this dream other than my subconscious working overtime while sleeping.

It reminded me I have not shared the technique of light painting—using a flashlight or cellphone light to illuminate the subject of a photograph during long exposures.

Beyond being a practical way to illuminate an object or subject, this seldom-used technique might be just the accent needed to turn an ordinary-looking photograph into something special, with mood or even attitude.

Because the concentration and application of light is different from what we see from flash or continuous broad light sources, light-painted pictures feel more like works of art than static documents.

Light painting also can be an effective technique to draw emphasis to a portion of your subject. How does one do this?

  • Determine exposure before adding illumination. Underexpose your subject by at least one, preferably two, stops at the lowest ISO possible.
  • Use a tripod.
  • Exposure needs to be at least 30 seconds to give you time to paint. Experiment. Two to three minutes might give you more time to paint.
  • If using a cellphone camera, download an app ( or to allow you to manipulate ISO and shutter speed manually.
  • Experiment with different light sources and strengths—from the LCD flashlight on your cellphone to a more powerful flashlight with a directional beam.
  • Put a colored gel over your light source to give your subject a different feeling.

Remember: Light from the side reveals texture. Light from behind shows shape.When painting with a small light, play with angles.

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

A Positive Voice From Home

Monday, May 20th, 2019

Sean Dietrich lives near his childhood home along the inland waters of the Florida Panhandle with his wife and their two dogs.
Photo courtesy of Sean Dietrich

‘Sean of the South’ lives his dream telling the stories of everyday people who make small towns special

Sean Dietrich grew up amid the pine forests of the Florida Panhandle and says he “found himself” along its shores.

His family moved around when he was a child, but the Panhandle area became home. He, wife Jamie and their two dogs live in Santa Rosa Beach.

Sean has made a career of telling the stories of the people and places he encounters through a daily column, “Sean of the South,” published on his website and Facebook page.

“That’s where my family lived,” he says, pointing out an area on the shores of a Walton County bayou. “It used to be pure sugar pines, longleaf pines. There were old-timers there who remembered when the mail was delivered by boat on the bayou.”

It was here—after his father’s suicide when Sean was 12, after dropping out of school to help support his mother and sister, after a litany of odd jobs and after finally earning his degree at a community college—that Sean began to live the life of his dreams.

He used to visit the Pensacola area to play music, camping at a nearby state park.

“I had finally given up construction work,” Sean says. “I was living the life of a musician and I was writing. It was a dream come true.”

Sean recalls those days he spent writing and nights playing gigs as the time he began to find his voice as a writer.
“When you feel like you’re not just a screw up, then you are in a good place to write,” he says.

Sean determined early on that he wanted his voice to be positive—one that uplifts his audience, reminds them there is good in the world or maybe just makes them smile.

“My goal is to make people feel good. That’s it,” he explains. “It just hit me. I remember thinking, ‘What is it you want to do?’ I realized I just want, however I can, to make them feel good. If they can just feel good for a few moments, that’s it.”

Paying Attention to the Little Things
A talented musician and singer, Sean had a different calling from an early age.

“I wanted to be a newspaper columnist,” Sean says. “I thought that would be the coolest. My literary influence was Lewis Grizzard. I wanted to be in the same vein as Lewis Grizzard or Erma Bombeck or Dave Barry. I love a column.”

Sean has been writing daily columns for more than five years. He has a loyal following with readers across the Southeast.

Sean speaks of everyday people leading everyday lives. Some are struggling. Some are quiet heroes. Some are dog lovers.

His stories are of chance meetings at small-town cafes, gas stations and church socials. He marvels at the attractions along two-lane roads and in dusty little towns. And those attractions are not neon lights and tourist sights. Sean sees the people, places, traditions and communities that make these places special.

“The small town really, really touches me,” Sean says. “I just like that. I don’t want it to die. It is, to some degree, but if I write about it, at least it’s still alive for a little while longer.”

Sean says he feels proud of the people he features in his stories.

“When I see somebody who doesn’t seem like they are getting much attention—and I see them and notice what they’re doing and I can write about them—I feel proud,” Sean says. “I see my family in them.”

Earlier this year, Sean paid homage to three linemen who also reminded him of his family. The men were killed in October by a hit-and-run driver while working to restore power in the Panhandle after Hurricane Michael.

“Chipley” is the story of those men.

It begins, “Just outside Chipley, Florida, three wooden crosses stand beside the highway at the intersection of Highway 77 and Talton Drive. I pulled over to look at them.”

Sean and Jamie were driving through the area on their way home. He had seen the roadside memorial, but on this day felt the need to stop and pay his respects.

Serendipitously, a man stopped and shared the story of the three men—“good, good men,” he called them, Sean says. He had known one of them, a local lineman. The other two were from North Carolina, in town to help with recovery.

“I knew I wanted to write about it immediately,” Sean says. “I wrote it before we even got home, in the car. I come from a steelworker family. These guys, linemen, I know are a lot the same way. They have a strong fraternity of guys and they have a strong work ethic that tells them to go when there’s a disaster. It just touched me, seeing that memorial.”

Sean’s story had a profound effect on both those who knew the men and Panhandle residents they had come to help, touching more people than he ever imagined. Through Facebook alone, it was shared 36,000 times and garnered nearly 3,000 comments.

For Sean, hearing from family members of the fallen linemen was an honor.

“It was profound for me,” he says. “I got to hear from their family members who wrote me personally.”

Staying True to His Voice
Through such stories, Sean of the South has become a source of encouragement for his readers, who are hungry to find the good—and often the humor—even in the struggles of everyday life.

Sean has not one ounce of hubris and has no aim to be, as he puts it, “inspirational.”

“That’s not my bag,” he says. “If you find something that inspires you, then great. My goal is to make people feel good.”

He feels good, too. Having found his stride as a columnist, now fields an increasing number of requests for speaking engagements throughout the South and pursuing other writing opportunities.

“Writing is my life,” Sean says. “I write every day.”

In addition to his daily columns, Sean has just finished a novel, to be published in July, and the draft of a memoir.

“I feel lucky,” he says. “I don’t know how you define what I do, really. I don’t want to think that much about it. I don’t want to lose the good old boy that I am.

“If I died now, I feel like I’ve done it all. I never thought I’d be here today, so for me, I don’t know if there’s anything above this. Every day, to me, feels even more like a mountaintop. If it goes any higher, I don’t know. I’m happy right here.”

Sean Dietrich’s columns are published daily on the Sean of the South Facebook page and at his website, Podcasts are available on that site and the iTunes podcast app.

A Tasty Reward

Monday, May 20th, 2019

Photo credit Brandon Pomrenke.

Large, sprawling gardens may be a great home for a plethora of tasty greens, savory root vegetables and myriad herbs, but what if large unused space is difficult to come by?

For those lacking the outdoor space but not the drive to grow, an indoor herb garden might do the trick. All it takes is a countertop or small section of wall to get started.

“No matter where you live—house, apartment or condo—if you don’t have room for outdoor gardening, there’s a lot you can grow indoors,” says Adrian Hunsberger, an urban horticulture agent at University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences extension office in Miami-Dade County. “Herbs are a perfect match for indoors. The most important thing is the sheer joy of growing your own edible crops.”

When it comes to size, material, aesthetic and variety, there is virtually no limit to indoor herb gardens. Common herbs include basil, chives, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme. Many grocery and hardware stores sell startup kits, seeds and supplies consumers need to get started.

You can choose a traditional soil-based growing method using potted plants or water-based hydroponics.

Because it involves less mess, fuss and maintenance, hydroponics is growing in popularity. Instead of soil or fertilizer, this method uses water and nutrients. Because nutrients are in the water, they are absorbed directly into the roots, resulting in faster growth than with soil.

Weston Miller, community and urban horticulturist for the Oregon State University Extension Service, extolls the many benefits to growing your own herbs.

“Fresh herbs will hopefully be eaten, increasing one’s intake of nutrients and fiber-rich plants,” he says. “Hands in the soil and growing plants also have therapeutic benefits.”

Weston says learning how to grow in a small indoor space comes with a nice perk: enjoying the aroma of herbs such as basil and mint.

Establishing a Healthy Crop
While rewarding, starting an indoor herb garden requires plenty of thought and planning.

How you pot the herbs matters.

“Use sterile containers and potting soil,” Weston says. “If reusing pots, they should be sterilized—submerged in bleach—and rinsed before use.”

Whatever growing method you select—soil or water—the key to success after planting is to provide adequate light and the right amount of water, with good drainage if using soil.

Figuring out optimal light and water is not an exact science. It often requires trial and error.

“Growing herbs indoors can be challenging because most windows do not have enough daylight to grow healthy plants,” Weston says.

Adrian reiterates the need for light, whether natural or artificial.

“The more light you get the better,” she says. “A nice window is best, but some people don’t get enough natural sunlight. You can buy grow lights that have a special color spectrum that is best for plant growth. Those are easy lights to get, especially online.”

If you decide to use mostly natural light, remember that east- or west-facing windows get the most light in summer, and south-facing windows have the brightest light and most sun in winter.

Adrian says most herbs are tolerant of indirect light or some shade.

Light kits can help alleviate the aggravation of replacing constantly dying plants. If you decide to rely on or supplement with artificial lights, place them about a foot from the plants.

According to, keep the lights on for 12 to 16 hours for full-sun plants, and adjust as necessary. Once the roots are established and your plants are strong and healthy, aim for about seven hours of sunlight.

Add Water, But Not Too Much
Indoor plants need less water than outdoor plants, but not all novice growers understand that.

“The No. 1 problem people have is they overestimate how much water plants need,” Adrian says. “That’s why a lot of plants—especially indoor plants—don’t succeed.”

To determine if a plant needs water, lift the pot. Well-watered soil will be dense and heavier, so the pot should not be light.

Adrian says novice gardeners can determine how much water different herbs need through some experimentation. Mark on a calendar when you water a particular herb. When it starts to look droopy, water it and take note of how long it takes to look healthy again.

Another way to check if a plant has enough water is to stick a finger about 2 inches into the soil. If the soil is dry, water the plant.

But Adrian warns that if a plant gets too much water, it can get root rot and die.

“It’s better to err on the side of being a little dry,” she cautions. “A lot of herbs prefer their leaves dry, so you’re only going to water the soil. For people who have to really heat or air condition their home, if they feel they need to add humidity to the air, they can just have a shallow saucer of water near the plant.”

Because most herbs are from the Mediterranean, they like it a little on the dry side, Adrian adds.

Misting with water is not a good idea, she says, noting it encourages fungal disease.

“One challenge people might face is damping off fungus,” Weston says.

The horticultural condition is caused by pathogens that can kill or weaken seedlings.

“The fungus rots seed in the soil, or will make a brown spot on the stem of seedlings, which then die,” Weston explains.

To avoid damping off, plant seeds at the correct depth—which varies plant to plant—and do not crowd the seeds.

Good drainage is important because overwatering is common.

Harvesting Your Bounty
Today’s indoor gardening methods make it possible to have fresh herbs for homecooked meals year-round.

Gardeners get to pick their herbs at the peak of freshness and flavor, Adrian says, noting when used right away, you cannot get any fresher.

Once a healthy plant has been established, using fresh herbs is as easy as snipping off a piece. Rinse and dry before adding to a dish.

While fresh herbs are great, you can dry them for later use. The trick is to harvest and dry them at the right time, preferably when they begin to flower.

Many prefer to air-dry herbs indoors because it is believed to better retain flavor and color. Bundle herbs only with the same variety, since drying times may differ.

Placing herb bundles in a paper bag speeds the drying process, but some growers prefer to hang dry plants. Keep hanging herbs out of direct sunlight.

Air-drying herbs outdoors can cause loss of color and flavor as a result of the direct sunlight. To decrease color loss, use a paper bag, which also catches seeds for future growing.

If drying seems too time-consuming, consider freezing fresh herbs. Rinse them well, pat dry and set on a flat tray in the freezer. Once frozen, store them in an airtight bag.

Help is Plentiful
Whether you prefer tried-and-true soil or simpler, no-fuss hydroponic systems, there is an indoor garden suitable for everyone and resources to help you succeed.

Cooperative extension services are available throughout the United States. Adrian says agents often are the best sources for local information.

“Almost every county has an extension office,” she says. “In Alaska, it’s by territory. Local extension offices can usually get an answer quickly. Use whatever search engine you prefer and just type in your county and the word ‘extension,’ and you’ll get straight to your local extension office.”

Keeping active and busy are great, and indoor gardening is less strenuous, so anybody is able to do it, Adrian says.

“No matter how old you are or your experience and background, it’s the magic of creating your own food or plants,” she says.

Eating On the Run (and Walk)

Monday, May 20th, 2019

Sports bars—whether store bought or homemade—are a light, portable, concentrated food source you can’t easily replicate with bulkier foods. They also are more convenient, and make getting a meal or energy boost quick and easy. © iStock

Many of us don’t have the time, space or inclination to pack a meal before setting off on a run, hike, bike ride or fishing trip. If anything, we prefer to grab a snack and go, a proclivity that has fueled the multi-billion-dollar sports bar and gel industry.

The first sports bar arrived in the mid-1980s. For years, it was the only game in town, even though it wasn’t especially tasty and had the consistency of cold tar.

Things have changed a lot since then. Today, there are dozens of brands and hundreds of tasty choices.Choosing the one that’s right for you is the biggest challenge and depends in part on your favorite activity, its duration and intensity.

Sports bars and gels come in two basic categories: energy boosters and meal replacement or supplement bars, which are commonly called protein bars.

Energy bars and gels provide quick energy. They work best for short, intense activities. The main ingredient is fructose or high-glucose carbohydrates, supplemented with vitamins, minerals and electrolytes.

Meal replacement or supplement bars contain mostly protein, healthy fats, fiber and some carbohydrates. They also contain vitamins and minerals. They work best for longer-duration activities, when you want a no-frills bite to eat or a meal in motion.

One downside is sports bars and gels are not cheap. Trying to figure out which one is right for you can take a bite out of your wallet.

Fortunately, many sports bar companies offer coupons or free samples. For the cost of postage, get free samples from MammothBar and Verb Energy.

How to Keep Fish Fresh
For best results, keep your catch alive. A properly outfitted live well is optimal—but not always available—so many anglers keep fish on a stringer or in a dunk basket in the water. An alternative is to put fish on ice.
The idea is not to freeze them, but to activate a fish’s natural reflex to go dormant in freezing temperatures.

National Park Stats
The National Park Service offers a useful tool for planning and timing trips to sites operated by the NPS:

Got a Tip or a Whopper?
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If published, we will send you $25. Email your submission to

June Catch of the Month Around the State

  • The Keys: bonito, barracuda, swordfish, shark, marlin, tarpon, snook, snapper and wahoo.
  • Central: bluegill and sunfish.
  • Northwest: jack, amberjack, bluefish, bluegill, cobia, catfish, drum, bonito, seatrout, snapper, barracuda, tuna, triggerfish, sheepshead, mackerel, pompano, sailfish, shark, sunfish and wahoo.
  • Central West: amberjack, bass, flounder, bluefish, bluegill, drum, seatrout, sunfish, cobia, grouper, tarpon, snapper, barracuda, ladyfish, mackerel, permit, bonito, pompano, porgy, grunt, snook and shark.
  • Southwest: jack, ladyfish, barracuda, tarpon, bass, bluegill, snook, permit, shark, pompano, sunfish, seatrout, grouper, tripletail and snapper.

Literary Roots Run Deep

Monday, May 20th, 2019

Author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings sits at her typewriter at her Cross Creek home in north central Florida in the early 1940s.
Photo courtesy of the University of Florida

Talk about Pulitzer Prize-winning authors who lived in Florida, and Ernest Hemingway comes to mind. His yellow-shuttered two-story Spanish colonial home with dozens of six-toed cats may be the most-visited author’s home in the state.

Other authors also have put Florida on the literary map:

  • African-American Zora Neale Hurston wrote about racial struggles in the South during the early 20th century. Her most noted novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” was published in 1937. She died in 1960 in Fort Pierce.
  • “Elmore Leonard (“Get Shorty”) lived in North Palm Beach and Detroit. Some of his 42 novels were set in Florida.
  • U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Frost spent winters in Key West and Coconut Grove from 1940 until his death in 1963.

Perhaps the most prominent next to Hemingway is Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. She made her home in north central Florida. Cross Creek is legendary as the inspiration for “The Yearling,” which won the Pulitzer in 1939—the year after it was published. It was also where she wrote “Cross Creek”—a nonfiction work about her life in rural Florida.

“At one time Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was selling more books than Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe combined,” says Leslie Poole, former executive director of the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Society. “She even shared an editor with Hemingway.”

Marjorie and her husband, Charles, moved from New York to a large farm in Cross Creek near Gainesville and the Ocala National Forest.

“The rural area with its wildlife, swamps and forests appealed to them,” Leslie says. “She was inspired by the people and the land.”

Her original wood-frame home still stands; chickens and ducks wander the yard. Now known as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park, the site includes hiking trails and picnic areas. Park rangers in period costumes conduct tours of the homestead.

“When you visit Cross Creek, it’s like stepping back into Old Florida,” Leslie says. “You see the porch where she worked and a typewriter like the one she would have used. You can imagine what it was like to live here in the 1930s.”

For more information about Marjorie’s life and works, and special events, visit

Hotel Money-Saving Tips regularly posts ways to save money. Among the site’s 50 hotel secrets only insiders know:

  • Be flexible on travel dates to save. has a price index that compares hotel costs in 35 U.S. cities.
  • If you’re willing to wait to reserve, offers last-minute discounted deals for unsold rooms.
  • If you book a hotel stay through and the price drops, the company automatically rebooks you and refunds the difference.
  • Rather than ordering room service, get take-out. Ask the staff which nearby restaurants deliver.
    Vacation Deals

Check for a chance to grab good deals on vacations across the Sunshine State.

With destinations in 48 cities and categories ranging from green lodging to pet friendly, bidders may be able to nab significant savings.

Many hotels and attractions offer discounts for Florida residents. Seniors, students, and active or retired military personnel may be eligible for discounts. Ask if there’s a discount you qualify for when you buy tickets.

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