Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Make Room for More Fishing Gear

Sunday, January 20th, 2019

Here are three ways to make every penny count when shopping for fishing gear: Don’t miss the preseason sales in late February and March, shop the deep-discount aisle and ask retailers to match prices of other stores. If you know exactly what you want, check out online sales. It’s not a bad way to shop. You avoid crowds and can score some awesome deals.
© iStock/JackF

It won’t be long now. Fishing retailers will start rolling out some of the biggest sales of the year later this month.
What better excuse to clean out and organize your tackle boxes, and make room for new gear.
Here are eight tips to help get you started:

  • Go through everything you have. That way you know exactly what you have and what you need.
  • Get rid of ineffective gear. Give it away, garage sale it or donate it to charity. Maybe someone else will have better luck with it.
  • Determine the best way to organize the keepers. There are two main strategies: organizing by type of tackle or organizing by fish species. The latter works well when dealing with less gear, while organizing by tackle type is preferable when managing large inventories. Or use a combination of both.
  • Everything should have a home. Plastic trays and bins with adjustable dividers are perfect for the job.
  • Use clear plastic storage containers. They provide better visibility and allow quicker access to tackle than opaque containers.
  • Keep similar tackle together. Arrange it according to type, size, shape and color.
  • Keep soft baits in original packaging. If already opened, store them according to type and color in plastic bags to avoid a mess.
  • Label everything. Use removable labels rather than writing directly on the containers. Add color coding to locate gear even faster.

Outdoor 101: First Aid in a Bottle
Carrying a first-aid kit is a good idea, even on day trips. To make a pocket-size version, fill a prescription bottle or similar container with a few of the essentials, such as antiseptic wipes, antibacterial cream, adhesive bandages, pain relievers and small tweezers.

What Day is It?
February 3, Feed the Birds Day
February 5, National Weatherman’s Day
February 22, Walking the Dog Day

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

Catch of the Month
Here are prime fishing opportunities around the state in February.

  • The Keys: bluefish, amberjack, jack, bonito, grouper, cobia, mackerel, barracuda, pompano, sailfish, shark, seatrout and snapper.
  • Central: crappie, striper and snook.
  • Northwest: crappie, grouper, seatrout, snapper, striper and triggerfish.
  • Central West: bass, crappie, flounder, tripletail and sheepshead.
  • Southwest: bass, amberjack, drum, crappie, sheepshead, ladyfish, mackerel, pompano, grouper and snapper.

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.

Very Presidential

Sunday, January 20th, 2019

Dwight D. Eisenhower is among the presidents who have used Truman’s Little White House for official business through the years.
Photo courtesy of the Truman Little White House

Did you know you can visit several presidential sites and museums connected with our country’s famous leaders right here in Florida?

Disney’s Hall of the Presidents in the Magic Kingdom was a technological wonder when it opened October 1, 1971. Through the years, it has been updated by adding each new president. Since 1993, it has given the sitting president a speaking role.

Although no U.S. president has been born in Florida, some have maintained winter homes here, most famously Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Richard Nixon’s Florida White House in Key Biscayne and the former Kennedy Compound in Palm Beach. Nixon’s residence in Florida was torn down in 2004; the Kennedy Compound was sold in 1995.

Never fear. You can still experience some of Florida’s presidential connections just in time for Presidents Day. Truman’s Little White House is in the Truman Annex in Key West and Clermont has the Presidents Hall of Fame.

Truman’s Little White House is part of the former Key West Naval Station. It was home to President Harry S. Truman for 175 days during 11 visits there between 1946 and 1952. During that time, he met with world political figures.

The Truman site has been used by subsequent presidents, including Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, as well as for international peace talks between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2001.

Originally known as Quarters A, the structure was built in 1890 as the home for Naval Station commanders in Key West. President William Taft visited in 1912. During World War I, Thomas Edison lived there for a time, inventing weapons.

Truman’s Little White House is open for tours 365 days a year. Visitors can experience President Truman’s personal life through photos and displays, and find out about the history of the Truman Annex as a naval base during the Cold War.

A visit to Clermont’s Presidents Hall of Fame showcases the history of American presidents with a collection of First Lady inauguration gowns and a miniature replica of the White House—complete with a cutaway of rooms on three floors. Outside, a re-creation of Mount Rushmore provides a backdrop for photographs.

The Presidents Hall of Fame is at 123 N. Highway 27, Clermont. The phone number is 352-394-2836. It is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Watch Your Weight On Vacation?
There is good news for those of us who worry about gaining weight on vacation.

According to, you probably shouldn’t be too concerned.

Here’s why: Weight is not the only indicator of good health. It’s normal for your weight to fluctuate. A brief splurge of a couple of days or a week probably won’t make a long-term difference, as long as you return to normal eating habits when you return home.

Just in case, here are some tips from nutritionist and author Rachel Meltzer Warren to help you be healthier on vacation, as quoted in

  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
  • Carry snacks, such as nuts or granola bars, to help curb overeating.
  • Pick wisely from restaurant menus.
  • Walk whenever you can, especially when sightseeing.

Meltzer says you may even lose weight on vacation because you’re not sitting at a desk all day.

Florida Fast Facts
From the folks who keep track of these kinds of things at the official state website: Did you know Florida has more golf courses than any other state, with more than 1,250? Palm Beach County has the largest concentration of golf courses in the nation. Florida’s 700 campgrounds offer more than 100,000 campsites for the 6 million people who camp in the state annually.

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

Brushes With Fame

Sunday, January 20th, 2019

John Denver in a candid moment before a concert in Utah in 1982.
Photo by David LaBelle

Have you ever found yourself face to face with a famous person? Maybe at an airport, a shopping mall, a sporting event, a fishing spot or in an elevator? You may have felt a little star struck and unsure how to act or what to say.

Somehow, being seen with somebody famous makes us feel a little famous, too.

Before the term “selfie” was born, most of us liked having our picture taken with a famous person. With the advent of cellphone camera technology, it is easier and quicker than ever to get your picture taken with a celebrity.

As annoying as quicker, easier smartphone selfies can be—clearly out of hand, at times—I understand the appeal. Brushes with celebrity can be exhilarating. I have seen people freeze and even cry uncontrollably when having their picture taken with a star.

Brushing shoulders with famous actors, authors, musicians, sports stars and even presidents sometimes feels a little like visiting Fort Knox. You are close to unfathomable wealth—so close you can touch it—but it doesn’t belong to you.

I have never been a celebrity photographer, though I have photographed a lot of famous people. I regret not taking advantage of some opportunities. I could have photographed Robert Kennedy the day before he was killed, but passed because I wasn’t interested in politics or making pictures of celebrities then. I was in high school and had not yet developed an awareness of history or how important images like these could become.

When I look back at my black and white images—many now a half-century or more in the past—I am thankful I photographed the people I did. Though thousands of pictures may have been taken of a celebrity, each is unique.

I remember sitting on the steps of a Utah university debating philosophy and evolution with John Denver several hours before a rehearsal, and being backstage with a weary Johnny Cash before a concert. I told him I came from the same area where he once lived and had watched him in an ugly bar fight that had spilled out in the street.

I encourage you to photograph as many famous or almost famous people as you can, on stage or off. Most of us love old pictures, candid moments of celebrities before they were famous. We love seeing them as equal, vulnerable human beings without their stage faces or decoration, when they are not performing. Some of my favorite celebrity pictures have been taken by amateur photographers.

A few tips about photographing famous people:

  • Choose small venues in out-of-the-way places. The atmosphere is often more casual and less stressful. You might be able to approach a person in Billings, Montana, who is unapproachable in New York or Chicago. I have been to venues where a dozen people came to listen to an artist who later filled stadiums.
  • Photographing is one thing. Publishing a picture is another. These days, more than ever, celebrities are extremely protective of their image because it is so attached to their livelihood and their legacy. Taking a picture and sharing it with friends is one thing. Selling it commercially is another. Agents, artists and handlers frown on that.
  • If you get an opportunity to photograph a celebrity, don’t overshoot. Be polite and discreet. Enough is enough and too much is too much.
  • Above all, respect your subject. Most famous people are surrounded by pushy people with an agenda. Be sensitive. Be honest. Be real.

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

Keeping the Blues Alive

Sunday, January 20th, 2019

Kim with musician Joey Gilmore at the Bradfordville Blues Club. The two share a birthday.
Photo courtesy of the Bradfordville Blues Club

Labor of love is a two-way street for club owners and their ‘irregulars’

In December 1976, Gary and Kim Anton moved to Jacksonville from Fort Lauderdale to attend college. They had just gotten married. He was going to law school and she was studying to be a nurse. After graduation, they would return to south Florida, where Gary would join his father’s law firm.

That was the plan. The plan changed.

“That was the hardest decision I ever had to make in my life,” says Gary. “I had to tell my dad, ‘I’ve fallen in love with Tallahassee.’ I’ve spent the last 42 years here.”

Gary and Kim earned their degrees and pursued their respective careers. Along the way, they developed a passion for what has become a nearly two-decades-long labor of love.

Now both retired, that labor of love has become a full-time job. It’s also where they have created a second family.

“I’ve always been a music fan,” Gary says. “I got that from my dad. He had me in guitar lessons when I was about 5.”

His love of music—particularly of the blues—led Gary down what he calls a “goat trail” that would shape the rest of his life.

“I heard about this blues club called Dave’s C.C. Club,” Gary says. “I said, ‘I’ve gotta find that place.’ The first time I came here, I got lost.”

He and Kim now own that club, which sits at the end of a rutted dirt trail off of a gravel road near a two-lane highway outside of Tallahassee.

“When I walked in, there was Dave, who owned the place, his wife, Elizabeth, the guitar player and me,” Gary says. “When I stepped inside, I knew I had found nirvana.”

Gary and Kim became fast friends with Dave and Elizabeth, who had re-opened the club—previously a juke joint on the site known as a community gathering place since the 1930s.

The Antons volunteered during events and helped run the club. They loved the music—the “vibe,” as Gary describes it—and they loved the community of folks who gathered there.

“If the door was open, we were here,” he says.

When Dave decided to close the club in 2001, the Antons were compelled to keep the vibe alive. In March 2002, they reopened it as the Bradfordville Blues Club.

“I had no desire to be a club owner,” Gary says. “We just couldn’t let the thing die … such a unique place. We’re still doing it and loving every minute of it.”

The Antons are there when the doors open Friday and Saturday nights—and many more hours, too. Kim works the door, greeting patrons and escorting them to their seats. Gary welcomes musicians and works with the sound crew. They are joined by a legion of friends and fellow music lovers every weekend.

“We have many, many folks—we call them irregulars—who come here all the time,” Gary says. “Blue collar, white collar, young, old. It’s a great cross section of Tallahassee. People who wouldn’t ordinarily cross paths.”

While the emphasis is on the music, throughout the evening laughs, hugs and stories are shared, along with a meal from the fry shack out back.

Thanks to the Antons, the club’s tradition as a community gathering place and its reputation as a blues mecca lives on.

In 2018, the couple saw just how much the place they love means to the community. They were dealt a major blow as one of the property’s trademark towering oaks fell through the club’s roof after Tropical Storm Alberto came ashore, splintering crossbeams and destroying the stage and all of the sound equipment.

Local patrons and musicians showed up right away to clear debris and start the cleanup.

“It’s family,” musician Mike Lanigan told a news reporter. “If you played here, you’re family to Gary and Kim. No doubt about it.”

Mike was among the many who came to help. He also launched a GoFundMe page that raised $27,000 in one week to help with repairs. He and others also organized a benefit concert.

“They are like family,” Gary says. “They may not see each other outside of here, but when they’re here, they are family.”

Donations came in from as far away as Ireland, Australia and China.

“We got lots of donation from bands, agents and record labels,” Gary recalls with a smile. “The community, and the larger blues community, wasn’t going to let this place die.”

Kim recalls the aftermath and cleanup fondly, as a time of camaraderie.

“It was great,” she says. “People came out with their coolers and worked all day. Some worked almost every day.”

Given that, the couple knew for sure they had to reopen.

“We’ve got to give back,” Kim says. “We can’t take all this and then not give them what they want.”

After eight weeks of work, the doors reopened and the “irregulars” and others returned—not to work, but to enjoy the vibe, appreciate the music and spend time with family.

While Gary refers to the blues club as an “unintentional nonprofit,” he remains dedicated to it.

“You have to be committed to it,” he says. “It’s not a profitable endeavor. Kim and I have had this place for almost 18 years. We haven’t worked a day yet. It’s a labor of love.”

About the Club

Described as a place that is hard to find but impossible to forget, the Bradfordville Blues Club is in a rural area of Leon County, just outside of Tallahassee.

The only Florida location recognized as part of the Mississippi Blues Trail, the club combines a historic location with a true juke joint atmosphere and the best blues music around. The one-room, cinder block club is surrounded by fields and ancient oaks. Out back is a bonfire and a fry shack serving fresh-out-of-the-fryer catfish. Inside, dozens of original portraits serve as table tops and wall hangings, noting the legends and up-and-coming stars who have performed here.

If you go, go for the music because there are no televisions or bar room games. It’s all about the music, which is performed by different artists each week.

The Bradfordville Blues Club is at 7152 Moses Lane off Bradfordville Road. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 9 p.m. For more information, visit

Sprouting Young Gardeners

Sunday, January 20th, 2019

Elementary school students and their teacher harvest peppers grown in the school garden.
Photo courtesy of Captain Planet Foundation

Introducing children to gardening helps plant healthy habits for a lifetime

Gardening is a great way for parents and kids to spend quality time outdoors. Whether the goal is to grow flowers, herbs and vegetables; have an activity to share; learn about nature and the environment; or just break away from the pull of technology, it pays off with a bumper crop of fun and some life lessons.

“Gardening can be a wonderful bonding opportunity for parents and their children,” says Jane Taylor, nationally recognized youth gardening advocate and founding curator of the 4-H Children’s Garden at Michigan State University. “Children are too attached to their electronics, and they need to be outside more. They’re not eating healthy foods, and they’re not getting enough exercise. That’s resulting in greater incidence of childhood obesity and early childhood diabetes.

“Getting them to unplug from technology and learn to garden has so many benefits, both short term and for their lifetimes—from learning about nature to developing good nutrition habits.”

Teachers, schools and gardeners across the country have found that encouraging youngsters to grow their own vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers addresses myriad challenges and expands their curiosity.

“They’re more interested in trying new foods if they’ve helped grow them,” Jane says. “They get a chance to participate in fun, social activities outdoors, and they can spend time with adults, including parents and grandparents, as they learn about gardening, nature and the world we live in.”

Thanks to the American Horticultural Society, National Garden Clubs, Master Gardeners and 4-H, youngsters from preschool to high school are being introduced to the wonders of gardening.

In-school and community gardens allow kids to play in the dirt and see the results of their work.

Formalized junior master gardening programs are offered from Alaska to Florida. Some are community-based organizations, sponsored by garden clubs or other groups. Many programs are offered in tandem with 4-H.

“Whether kids are learning to grow beans and carrots, to make compost and recycle or solve a math problem using gardening as the basis, the benefits of engaging young people in gardening are more far-reaching than simply producing more fresh foods,” Jane says. “Beyond the obvious, we’re finding that students are becoming the teachers as they share what they’ve learned with their parents and siblings. The kids are asking their parents to create home gardens, and their enthusiasm is spreading.”

Whether you have a place for a backyard garden or need to start with containers on a deck or patio, gardening offers unlimited possibilities. Colorful catalogs and websites provide the inspiration to research plants and put a garden together.

“It’s exciting to create a sense of wonder with children as you plant seeds together,” says Kathy Lovett, who—along with her husband, Lee—received the American Horticultural Society’s Jane L. Taylor Award in 2016 for their work with children and youth gardening. “You can share the magic and a true scientific understanding of what happens to seeds that grow into plants and produce more seeds.”

If you live in a colder climate, start seeds indoors in cups on sunny windowsills. Seed packaging describes the planting depth, light and water requirements. Remember to turn the cups periodically so the plants will grow straight stems.

For container gardens, buy larger pots with drainage holes, and use good-quality potting soil. Place your plants in a sunny spot on your deck or patio.

Outside, stake out a sunny spot. Most vegetables and many flowers require at least six hours of sunlight a day. Start with a small plot to keep it manageable. Select three or fewer crops the first year.

“Gardening is a time to play outside and get your hands dirty,” Kathy says. “Wear older clothes that can be thrown in the washer when you’re finished. This is about having fun together, so don’t worry about getting a little muddy.”

You will need trowels, shovels and rakes. Make the shopping trip a family outing. Look for smaller tools that will fit kids’ hands, buying real tools rather than ineffective plastic ones prone to breaking.

Select fast-growing vegetables such as radishes, baby carrots, bush beans or cucumbers. Plant according to package instructions. Buying seedlings gives you a head start.

“Flowers like marigolds, nasturtiums and zinnias can offer quick color, and brightly colored blooms attract pollinators to further ensure the success of your vegetable crops,” Kathy says.

Herbs are an excellent way to introduce kids and their families to gardening.

“As the gateway to gardening, herbs can be harvested right away and, with the proper care and requirements, they’ll keep on producing all season long,” says Joan Casanova of Bonnie Plants.

She suggests growing basics such as basil, parsley and rosemary, and branching out with novelty herbs such as Thai basil, cinnamon basil or lemon thyme.

“Add to your growing experience by picking out simple recipes that use these herbs,” Joan says. “Consider freezing them in water in ice-cube trays so you can use extra harvest all winter long. Freezing herbs retains more of the nutrients and flavor than drying.”

To engage third-graders in gardening, Bonnie Plants delivers more than 1 million free 2-inch oversized Cross cabbage transplants to schools in the lower 48 states each season. Students take the plants home and, with their families, tend to the cabbage plants.

“Within 10 to 12 weeks, the cabbages have reached maturity, some tipping the scales at more than 40 pounds,” says Joan. “The kids are just amazed, not to mention engaged.”

The Bonnie Plants cabbage program sparks children’s interest in agriculture while teaching them not only the basics of gardening, but the importance of growing their own food, says Stan Cope, president of Bonnie Plants.

“This unique, innovative program exposes children to agriculture and demonstrates—through hands-on experience—where food comes from,” Stan says. “The program also affords our youth valuable life lessons in nurturing, nature, responsibility, self-confidence and accomplishment.”

Let children explore the dirt for earthworms, dig holes to plant seedlings and place them in the ground.

“This is a shared activity, and it’s a chance for kids—and adults—to learn,” Kathy says. “Younger ones can also help water the garden and look for insects as the crops grow.”

Take time to explain what is happening in the garden. Find age-appropriate books such as “Green Thumbs: A Kid’s Activity Guide to Indoor and Outdoor Gardening” by Laurie Winn Carlson, “Square Food Gardening with Kids” by Mel Bartholomew and “Seed, Sun, Soil: Earth’s Recipe for Food” by Cris Peterson. “Kid’s First Gardening” by Jenny Hendy includes step-by-step activities and crafts for kids ages 5 to 12. “Gardening Lab for Kids” by Renata Fossen Brown offers more than 50 experiments related to gardening.

To introduce children to gardening on a larger scale, schedule a trip to a nearby farm. Many offer U-pick activities so your family can harvest fruits and vegetables. Find a simple recipe you and your kids can prepare together.

“Getting kids engaged in gardening can have lifelong benefits,” Jane says. “Not only are you helping children learn about nature and health, you’re starting them off on a hobby they can enjoy for a lifetime.”

Utter Destruction

Thursday, December 20th, 2018

An aerial view of east Lynn Haven off Titus Road and Highway 231. The photo captured by drone shows the wide swath of devastation.
Photo courtesy of PowerSouth Energy Cooperative

In the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, communities begin the long road to healing

On October 9, 2018, the night before Hurricane Michael made landfall, Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative Lineman Jason Curry joined nine other employees at the Southport office to wait out what was projected to be a Category 2 storm.

His family—wife Brandi, daughter Madison and sons Wes and Brason—stayed with friends 5 miles away until the intensity of the storm increased to Category 4 status literally overnight.

“At 4 a.m. I called my friend and said, ‘You have to get out,’” Jason says.

His family moved on to Columbus, Georgia, where they stayed with friends.

Jason remained behind with co-workers, waiting to begin power restoration efforts even before the power went out.

As Michael approached the area, rain poured in around windows and through holes in portions of the roof the wind had peeled away, flooding member services areas, warehouses and conference rooms.
CEO John Bartley and others staying in the Wewahitchka office heard a loud crack and watched through a window as their solid steel radio communications tower was blown down.

“It was four hours of hell,” Jason says.

Among those hunkered down in the Southport office was Kristin Evans, vice president of marketing and communications. She said the nonstop freight train noise from the hurricane was terrifying.

“Rather than panic, we stayed together and tried to stay upbeat,” says Chief Operating Officer Francis Hinson, who has weathered many storms in his 33-year career—none as devastating as Michael.

“Until we got out of the building, we didn’t realize how bad it was,” Kristin says. “It was shocking. I thought, ‘We’re lucky we’re not dead. I hope people are OK.’”

Entire stands of trees and power poles snapped like toothpicks, littering roadways. The 2,600 miles of power line serving GCEC’s 21,000 meters were ripped apart and tossed amidst the debris.

“We could not even make it a block down any road without a chain saw to cut the thousands of downed trees off the roads,” John says. “Tree damage was so extensive most roads were impassable.”

But that was just the start.

Jason estimates at least half of the homes in the area—including his and several other GCEC employees’—were wiped out, either blown off their foundations or left unlivable because of extensive structural damage and moisture.

“It was widespread,” Jason says. “It had no respect for person or property. It took out everything. Big homes. Small homes. It was a life-changing event.”

Just days after the hurricane, Air Force Captain Nathan McWhirter arrived at Tyndall Air Force Base, served by GCEC.

“It looked like a complete war zone,” he told his public affairs officer.

Without a single meter turning, PowerSouth Energy Cooperative officials dubbed the area ground zero. PowerSouth—which provides generation and transmission services to GCEC—had 448 miles of transmission line and 46 substations out of service.

The Process of Rebuilding Lives
The hurricane left behind shattered lives, with loss of personal property, loss of housing options, loss of business access, loss of jobs and loss of normalcy.

But it also left behind a determination to persevere and overcome.

“Crises can tear communities down, but they can bring people together, too,” says Gary Smith, president and CEO of PowerSouth. “It was remarkable to see the communities and people come together and work together to rebuild lives.”

Rallying the troops was no easy feat.

“Hurricane Michael took out every one of our communications systems,” John says. “We had no internet, no computers, no Facebook, no truck radios.”

Jason and fellow employee Jeff Carter were the only GCEC employees who could pick up a cellphone signal.

Working from the tailgate of his truck, Francis used those phones to summon reinforcements. Ultimately, 1,600 contract workers and mutual aid crews from cooperatives around the country arrived to help GCEC’s 80 employees repair the catastrophic damage.

Unable to carry out her usual communications duties, Kristin shifted her efforts to assisting Francis by arranging food, shelter, laundry and shower facilities to support incoming workers, and ordering fuel and materials.

“It took 75 years to build this system,” Francis says. “It was destroyed in a few hours, rebuilt in three weeks and will take several years to completely fix.”

That Herculean effort was aided by mutual aid crews that worked alongside GCEC staff, logging 16-plus hours seven days a week for up to two weeks before co-ops rotated in replacement crews.

“You are dog tired, but you don’t want to quit,” Lineman Brian Rhymes of Glades Electric Cooperative says of the long hours. “It’s hard to watch people’s faces as you pull out, knowing that even though you will be back in the morning, they have to spend another night in the dark. When the lights come back on, their smiles make it all worth it.”

Escambia River Electric Cooperative Lineman Kevin Macht left his wife and four little ones at home to respond to GCEC’s call for help.

North of Wewahitchka, a 3- or 4-year-old girl sat on her porch, watching Kevin work. It was suppertime, but the crew was committed to finishing the job.

“You see that and you want to do everything you can to help,” Kevin says. “Our kinfolk live just south of Wewa. That’s really close family.”

“There is nothing better than getting out there and doing what you were trained to do to help someone out,” says Matt Perry of Glades Electric Cooperative.

“It is truly remarkable that co-ops all over our nation can come together and work shoulder to shoulder,” says Van Crawford, vice president of operations for Peace River Electric Cooperative, who helped map out restoration work. “I can’t say enough how proud I am to be a part of the cooperative world.”

Hurricane-hardened lineworkers were shocked by the extent of damage.

“Ivan was a thunderstorm compared to Michael,” says EREC Foreman David Deese, who has responded to storms for 21 years. “It was like a 700-mile tornado.”

Co-worker Mark LeFlore says pictures don’t do justice to the scope of damage.

“I saw a 100-year-old oak tree that was 8 feet at the base of the trunk laying on the ground, root ball and all,” he says. “You had to be there to believe it.”

“It was mindblowing,” adds EREC’s Matthew Reynolds. “It was every house. Nothing went untouched.”

“The damage from Michael far exceeded Irma,” Van says. “If I had to sum it up in one word it would be trauma.”

Brian from Glades and Andy Baxter from Florida Keys Electric Cooperative say Hurricane Michael reminded them of Hurricane Andrew, but on a bigger scale.

“It was overwhelming,” Andy says.

Irma took out about 150 FKEC poles. GCEC is replacing around 10,000.

An Outpouring of Neighborliness
Despite their personal losses, people living in makeshift shelters next to slabs where homes had been greeted crews with expressions of gratitude: cold water, hot food, snacks and thank yous.

“People there made you feel at home, doing everything they could,” David says.

Andy was invited to a shrimp boil and a spaghetti dinner. His GCEC partner, Jason, prepared steak one night.

“They came to my community with their blood, sweat and tears and worked beside me,” Jason says. “It was a mess, and they never complained even once.”

“It warms your heart,” says Andy. “We’re just doing what we do, helping people out. It makes you appreciate your job.”

Neighbors also are helping neighbors.

“People came together,” says Francis. “Looting and violence did not happen here. People didn’t try to steal what others had. They pulled together as family.”

GCEC employees put members first.

“They put power restoration ahead of tending to their homes,” says Cody Gullatt, system control dispatcher for Peace River Electric Cooperative. “Some of them lost their homes and had to stay at the office with us because they had no home to go back to, but there was no way you would’ve known because they were completely dedicated to their jobs.”

Neighbors, friends and family united to clear roads of storm debris to allow the community to receive and give help.

“Tragedy has a way of bringing a community together,” John says. “Churches reached out with supplies, retired co-op employees offered their services to help bird-dog for mutual aid and contractors. Local grocery stores opened their damaged stores to us so we could access food and water to feed the first line crews arriving to help restore our system. Even in this tragedy, the generosity has been widespread and gracious.”

The rebuilding—both physical and emotional—will take many years.

The roof at Andy’s Florida Keys home is still awaiting repair from Irma damage.

Homeowners in the Panhandle are lining up to meet with insurance adjusters. Others have no insurance. As with Irma, contractors are in short supply.

Schools are on split schedules because some cannot be occupied. In February, the heavily damaged hospital will lay off 635 employees—almost half of its staff. Panama City Mall will remain closed.

“It’s heartbreaking,” says Francis. “We have people in Panama City living in tent cities, cold, with no heat and no electricity. It is going to take years to rebuild. So much of Panama City is gone. Things we grew up with are gone. Every day we are working to make it better. It is depressing, but I will brag on this community. People are keeping their heads up.”

Those not connected to the community left in droves, but “people who are grounded and rooted here aren’t leaving,” Jason says.

“Time never heals,” he adds. “You are always going to have scars. But they will mend. Scars help you remember.”

John says it is easy to be discouraged by all of the destruction, “but we will not be discouraged. Our community is determined to come back better than ever.

“The face of this community has changed forever. Some things will never be the same. However, if we continue to unite together for the greater good of our community, just as we have done in the weeks since Hurricane Michael made landfall, we will be a stronger community.”

Construction workers are desperately needed in the area, and dozens of relief organizations are accepting donations for hurricane victims. Want to help GCEC employees and their families? Send donations to the Line Workers Disaster Recovery Fund at P.O. Box 220, Wewahitchka, FL 32465.

Fishing is Fine Where the Water is Brine

Thursday, December 20th, 2018

Consider chartering a boat to access more saltwater fish species. Just remember, all charters and guides are not created equal, so do your homework. Ask for recommendations from friends and family members. For more options, visit one of the many guide associations online, such as the Florida Guides Association at
© iStock/krblokhin

In the fishing capital of the world, bass is king. However, January isn’t necessarily the optimal time to fish for bass, particularly largemouth.

To experience the best fishing January has to offer, just add salt.

This month is prime time for many saltwater fish species, such as seatrout, grouper, snapper and mackerel.

The most convenient way to fish for some of them is from the beach or a pier. But for the best success and access to the most species, a boat is essential.

If you don’t have a boat, borrow one. Better yet, charter one. The charter company takes care of gear, fuel, bait and logistical details so you can concentrate on fishing.

Guides aren’t cheap. Prices run the gamut, from less than $100 for fishing with a crowd to several hundred dollars—and much more—for a private charter. But cost should not be your only consideration. Safety is important, too.

Make sure the charter company you choose has the required licenses or certifications. Operators of for-hire saltwater boats are required to have a U.S. Coast Guard captain’s license.

Five Outdoor Classics You May Have Never Heard Of
Most Americans are familiar with Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” and London’s “The Call of the Wild.” A few have even read them. But they are just two of the outdoor classics written in the past 100 years.

Here are five more to curl up with in the off-season. Most people have never heard of them, but they are well worth the read.

  • “The River Why,” by David James Duncan.
  • “Meditations on Hunting,” by Jose Ortega y Gassett.
  • “Trout Bum,” by John Gierach.
  • “The Longest Silence: A Life in Fishing,” by Thomas McGuane.
  • “Winterdance,” by Gary Paulsen.

Catch of the Month
Here are prime fishing opportunities around the state in January.

  • The Keys: bonito, bluefish, cobia, drum, grouper, jack, mackerel, pompano, seatrout and snapper.
  • Central: crappie and snook.
  • Northwest: crappie, grouper, seatrout, snapper, stripers and triggerfish.
  • Central West: crappie, flounder, grouper, sheepshead and tripletail.
  • Southwest: amberjack, crappie, drum, grouper, ladyfish, mackerel, pompano, sheepshead, snapper and sunshine bass.

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

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

2019 Photo Resolutions

Thursday, December 20th, 2018

Benedictine monks prepare for public worship. Writing a photo story about the monks is on my 2019 photo resolution list.
Photo by David LaBelle

My New Year’s resolutions are usually the same. I intend to spend more time in prayer, and be a better husband, neighbor, father and grandfather—and do a better job of remembering birthdays.

I go back and forth about resolutions, believing, like starting a diet or exercise program, I need not wait until the beginning of a new year to begin doing what I should be doing or quit something I shouldn’t be doing.

I don’t remember ever making photo resolutions. But this year feels different.

It has been 50 years since my first pictures were published in a newspaper and I began my photography career. I realize the shadows are longer and my days are numbered, and there are photo contributions I still hope to make. I cannot say with certainty I will do these things because only my Creator knows the time I have left.

Here, in no particular order, are my 12 photo resolutions I intend to keep and hope will guide and challenge me through the upcoming year:

  • Keep a camera handy, battery charged and always have a flash card or film.
  • Read at least two photo biographies.
  • Continue writing and learning to be a better writer.
  • Begin assembling photo books for my family—photos for my children and grandchildren to be given as graduation, wedding or anniversary presents.
  • Have prints made of our loved ones and put them up on our walls.
  • Taking the advice of now-deceased LIFE Magazine photographer Horace Bristol and begin putting my photo house (archives) in order.
  • Teach at least two photo seminars.
  • Return to Italy and, with my photographer wife, finish a book called “Postcards from Florence.”
  • Complete several other books for publication—some photo, some not.
  • Finish several photo projects, including a story about Benedictine monks in Vermont.
  • Continue teaching and growing with the Athens Photo Project—a nonprofit art program that promotes mental health recovery by providing opportunities for community members living with mental illness to express themselves creatively through photography.
  • Take a first step toward photographing (on film) with a medium or large format camera an interpretive biblical project I have dreamed of doing for 40 years.

I encourage you to make your own list. Write them down and post them in a place you and others see regularly.

Perhaps it is to buy a better camera that allows you to do more of the things your creative heart desires. Maybe there is a faraway place you wish to visit and photograph, a photography seminar you want to attend or a photo story you long to do. Perhaps you hunger to expand your awareness and competence with specific types of photography: sports, portraiture, macro-photography, nature or documentary. Maybe you have a list of pictures you want to make.

Hopefully, making a list of photo resolutions will help you discover what is important to you—your photo dreams—which should make your life and photography more rewarding while making you a better, more deliberate photographer.

It has often been said, how will we know if we have arrived if we have no idea where we were going?

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

The Race is On

Thursday, December 20th, 2018

Participants in New Smyrna Beach Shark Bite races sometimes don costumes.
Photo by James Freeman/Almost There Photography

Florida in January is a great time to participate in a 1-mile, 5K, 10K, half marathon or full marathon road race.

Running calendars in the Sunshine State are filled with opportunities, whether you are a die-hard competitor or just looking for a reason to get out and enjoy the cooler temperatures with friends.

Runs on the beaches, through parks, along trails, on roadways or through downtown streets offer runners and walkers of all levels the chance to get exercise or compete for prizes, medals or the sheer satisfaction of completing the course. Competitors wear race T-shirts with pride.

Many 5K and 10K races include a walking category for people who want to try out road races, so you don’t need to be a star athlete.

From events that raise money for charity to those sponsored by schools and scout groups, the choices offer fun and fitness.

Now it its fourth year, New Smyrna Beach’s Shark Bite Half Marathon and 5K RunWalk draws participants from across Florida. The certified road race starts and finishes at the Flagler Avenue Boardwalk and crosses two bridges, with views of the Intercoastal Waterway, the Atlantic Ocean and two historic districts. Some runners dress up in costumes. Others bundle up when there’s a cold snap. Most importantly, people come out for a good time.

For the serious athlete, check out for nearly 20 marathon and half-marathon races in Florida during January. Many of these races offer shorter distances, too, and even relays.

January is just the beginning of a year filled with athletic events for people of all ages and abilities.

For information about road races throughout the state, visit

Best Winter Beaches in Florida and Beyond recently listed its picks for best winter-time beaches. Several from Florida made the list: Siesta Beach on Siesta Key near Sarasota, known for its soft white-quartz sand; Miami Beach and South Beach, for the party set; Sanibel Island near Clearwater, for being low-key and great shelling; Pensacola Beach, for affordability; and Dry Tortugas National Park off Key West, for untouched beaches and good snorkeling.

Picks just a short trip from Florida include Trunk Bay in the U.S. Virgin Islands for snorkeling, azure water and soft white sand; Nassau, Bahamas, for scuba diving at Trinity Cave and the Blue Hole; Culebra, a small island about 17 miles east of Puerto Rico, for snorkeling in the Luis Pena Channel Natural Reserve to see stingrays and sea turtles; Gulf Shores, Alabama, known for its festivals; and Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island in Georgia, with ancient tree trunks and driftwood.

Musicians’ Homes Preserved for History
Several renowned musicians have Florida roots. The homes of a few have been preserved to honor their accomplishments.

Ray Charles’ boyhood home in Greenville was saved from demolition and restored in 2009. It is located in the Florida Panhandle about three miles off I-10 at exit 241. Charles lived in the small home from birth until his mother died when he was 15. Today, a historical marker details his life and the importance of the location. To visit the home, call Greenville City Hall at (850) 948-2251.

In Jacksonville, the childhood home of the Van Zant brothers—Ronnie, Donnie and Johnny, otherwise known as founders of Lynyrd Skynyrd—is designated by a historical marker. Jacksonville entrepreneur Todd Smith bought the home and placed the marker in May 2018. The home is not open for tours, but fans can drive by 5419 Woodcrest Road to read the marker.

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

Offering a Different Shopping Experience

Thursday, December 20th, 2018

William Rolfs checks the fresh-cut produce section at Ever’man Cooperative Grocery & Cafe. As general manager, William works with his staff and a board of directors to provide members with clean, organic food choices. Providing healthy convenience foods is a growing trend nationwide and at Ever’man.
The co-op plans to have a produce butcher at its
second location, now under construction. Shoppers drop off selected produce for slicing or chopping.

Cooperative grocery store is committed to promoting wellness and healthy living

Walk into the Ever’man Cooperative Grocery & Cafe in Pensacola and you cannot help but immediately notice the clean, open feel, with colorful produce, plants and deli surrounded in fresh green walls and signage.

That first impression of health and wellness and everything behind it is an intentional, well-thought-out welcome coordinated by General Manager William Rolfs and the store’s staff and board of directors.

William was hired as a store manager in 2009 after a 26-year career at the Winn-Dixie supermarket chain. He started there as a 16-year-old grocery bagger and worked his way up to store director. Faced with a corporate move to a store in Atmore, Alabama, he decided to pursue other career opportunities. William heard about the store manager opening at Ever’man, and found a local grocery cooperative with potential.

“On my first visit, I walked every aisle in the store with my wife,” says William. “It looked like the store needed some basic upkeep like painting and general maintenance. I also noticed the staff not talking with us as new visitors. That got me thinking. I felt like I could really make a difference not only with the look of the store, but also the people and the service.”

Reflecting on his start at Ever’man, William says it was a period of transition both for him and the store. The general manager he worked under left six months later. Soon, William was named interim general manager.

Because his background was with a corporate grocery chain, he says he had to learn how to manage as a cooperative and what that meant in building trust with board members, staff and the general membership.

As a cooperative, allowing time for feedback and discussion is important, and every opinion matters—from members and staff, to the board of directors and the national cooperative.

Ever’man is part of National Co+op Grocers and works with the Development Cooperative, an advisory group for co-ops.

Given the growing demand for clean and organic food choices and changing trends in healthy living, William, the staff and board stay busy. A major renovation to the current store was completed in 2014, and Ever’man is embarking on a long-awaited second store.

After years of research and discussion, Ever’man bought a 4-acre site in 2016 on Nine Mile Road near the University of West Florida—a busy, growing area.

Groundbreaking in October 2018 was a celebration of years of planning as a cooperative, actively working to bring the best ideas together for more shoppers.

“The second store will be similar to our current store, with a few updates to serve the students and young family demographics in that area,” says William. “We’ll offer a pizza and burrito bar, sushi, hand-dipped gelato and more convenience foods. We will also have Kombucha on tap, which is a growing trend and new to this area.

“We also plan to make it a fun, family-friendly environment with a fire pit and a walking trail around the drainage pond. We’ll eventually have a teaching garden, and we expect our education center will be busy. Most of our classes are free to members, which is a great benefit for the cost of the annual $20 membership.”

William says National Co+op Grocers offered input on health trends nationwide and what is working.

“One thing you will find in our Nine Mile store is a produce butcher, which most people have never heard of,” William says. “It’s happening around the country. It features a room you can walk up to with the produce you’ve selected and have it sliced any way you want it. Drop it off, go shopping and pick it up when you’re ready to check out. We’re also looking into offering fresh juices you can watch squeezed right in front of you.”
William is proud of the quality of goods offered at Ever’Man.

“Our members count on us to research the foods and products we offer to make sure they meet the highest standards for clean, healthy choices,” William says. “We take that very seriously. Our product policy is so tight, our shoppers can pick up anything in the store and know it’s clean, without chemically made ingredients and no artificial dyes.

“We go through 200 to 300 items a month. In the time we take to research a product before it goes on the shelf, at least 10 different employees review it. It’s time consuming, thorough and something we have to keep up with. We continually have to check for any product changes. One ingredient can change and the product will no longer meet our standards and have to come off the shelf.”

William says there really is a difference between a corporate grocery chain and operating as a cooperative.

“At Ever’man, you don’t have to be a member to shop here, but there is value in joining, like free education classes,” he says. “One of the biggest differences is knowing that all the decisions are made right here. In the corporate world, that is not the case.”

As Ever’man opens its second store, it will welcome new members and explore trends in health foods, grocery and wellness as it strives to offer clean, healthy choices for area families.