Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Surviving Natural Disasters

Saturday, May 20th, 2017

Fire rages out of control near Lake City, Florida, as firefighters wait for a helicopter to bring a load of water. Wildfires were particularly bad this spring.
Photo by Mark Wolfe/ Federal Emergency Management Agency

From hurricanes and floods to wildfires and tornadoes, learn what you need to do to protect yourself and your family from harm

In 1992, as Hurricane Andrew barreled toward Florida, Robert Baltodano was the only member in his household awake when a television meteorologist—clearly shaken—urged people to take refuge.

Robert took the warning seriously, rousing his family and herding them into a closet, as advised. The Nicaraguan family had been in the U.S. for 12 years, but had no idea how to prepare for the powerful storm—and their neighbors did not seem particularly concerned.

“When the hurricane came, it shaved the roof off,” says Robert, who today is communications specialist for the South Florida Red Cross. “We could hear the furniture like it was in a blender. It was mayhem.

When we came out of the closet, the windows were gone. It was as if a bomb had gone off. Everything was broken.”

On that day, Robert became a “spontaneous volunteer,” offering his assistance to the Red Cross on the spot.

It was the beginning of a lifetime of helping others learn how to prepare for disaster.

Disaster preparedness starts long before disaster strikes. The first step is knowing the risks in your location. Is it prone to flooding or wildfires or, as is the case in Florida, vulnerable to hurricanes and violent thunderstorms?

Once you know the likely risks, devising a survival plan is fairly simple, generally calling for items most people already have on hand.
It is all about thinking ahead.

“People tend to react to disasters as opposed to preparing for disaster,” Robert says. “People always think it is going to happen to someone else, and when it happens to them they are unprepared. Generally speaking, communities and individuals who take time to prepare are far more resilient and, therefore, better positioned for a healthier and faster recovery—especially those with high vulnerability.”

Plan Ahead
The Red Cross encourages taking a proactive approach that includes three simple steps: putting together an emergency preparedness kit (see related story, page 15), making a plan and being informed.

In making a plan, discuss with your family how you will prepare for and respond to emergencies that are most likely to occur where you live, learn, work and play. Identify responsibilities for each member of the household, and plan to work together as a team.

Choose two places to meet—one outside your home in case of a sudden emergency and another outside the neighborhood in case you cannot return home or are asked to evacuate.

Being informed means identifying how you will get your information when disaster strikes, knowing the difference between weather alerts such as “watches” and “warnings,” and what action your household will take for each.

Know what actions you will take to protect yourself, and make sure at least one person in the household is trained in first aid, CPR and knows how to use an automated external defibrillator.

Furthermore, remember that disaster can strike at any time.

“When Hurricane Matthew hit, we hadn’t had a storm in almost 11 years,” says Robert. “It had the community in a state of complacency.”

During that disaster, the Red Cross sheltered 4,000 people in 144 shelters. But plenty of other people stayed behind.

“We need to make sure those who stay behind understand that there are things to be done,” Robert notes.

Some of those actions include remaining informed, monitoring physical needs and emotional health, inventorying emergency supplies and trying to maintain contact with family, friends and those nearby.

In the Florida Keys especially—where natural disasters include not only hurricanes, but tropical cyclones, high winds, tidal surges and heavy rain—the Red Cross makes a concerted effort to encourage and teach preparedness.

While the Keys are automatically evacuated during disasters, most locals do not leave.

“Those who live there just weather it out,” Robert says. “It’s a very relaxed community—high-spirited. They rely on each other a lot. It’s in their DNA to stay and help each other out. We encourage them to leave, but if you are going to stay, we empower them with knowledge. You need to learn CPR. You need to have a kit.”

Robert encourages people to take pictures of their homes and possessions, and keep them on a thumb drive to help expedite insurance claims and provide proof of their losses. Register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency as soon as possible so when the disaster declaration becomes official, you are already signed up.

“Preparedness is all basic steps,” Robert says. “It really doesn’t require all that much thinking. It’s common sense. People think it is expensive. In reality, most of what they need they already have. It’s really about gathering what you have and getting a kit together.”

Respect Weather Events
While Florida is well known for its hurricanes, residents also face numerous other dangers, including tornadoes, flooding and lightning.

“Florida is ground zero for lightning strikes,” says Alberto C. Moscoso, communications director for the Florida Division of Emergency Management. “Tampa is the lightning-strike capital of the world.

“The main thing to know is that lightning is not necessarily as far away as you think it is. It can travel as far as 10 miles from the storm it originates from. If you are close enough to hear thunder, you are close enough to be hit by lightning. The worst place to be is in the open.”

If you are outside, Alberto advises getting in a closed-top car, staying away from sides of the car, the dashboard, the steering wheel and windows.

But the best option is to get indoors and stay away from windows, plumbing and electrical devices.

Avoid any outdoor water activities, such as boating, fishing and swimming, which are particularly dangerous during a lightning storm.

Most people are not killed by lightning, but can suffer serious injuries, Alberto says.

If you are with a lightning victim and touch them, you are not going to receive a shock, so begin emergency care immediately, Alberto says.

Floods are a year-round risk in Florida, the most dangerous being flash floods that can come with little or no warning.

If you live in a flood-prone area, have an escape plan. Keep sandbags, plywood, lumber and shovels on hand to protect your home and belongings.

Never drive through flooded areas or play in a flooded area, where water is likely to be contaminated with chemicals and littered with hazardous debris.

“The best preparation is to know if you live in a flood-prone area,” Alberto says.

Exercise Caution
Natural disasters often cause power outages, which come with potential dangers as well.

“Downed power lines are obviously a concern in any major storm,” says John Stuart, chief operations officer with Florida Keys Electric Association. “They could still be energized. Consider them live.

“In a hurricane situation, you could be out of power for several hours or several days. In our area, we do encourage evacuations. We tell people you may not have electricity for a period of time, and here in hot, humid Florida, that’s not a pleasant thing, so why not get out.”

For those who do stay, John says it is important—potentially life-saving—not to run a personal generator without disconnecting from the grid.

“It can back feed into the system,” John says. “Linemen have been killed or badly injured.”

FKEC sells and installs a relatively inexpensive protective device. Once the generator is plugged in, the device automatically disconnects it from the grid.

“If you have a generator, be conscientious and learn the ins and outs of using it correctly,” John says.

Take the Warnings Seriously
On that day in 1992, when Robert’s family emerged from the closet, they found neighboring houses on both sides were gone.

“That shook us up,” he says. “I’d never seen my dad cry. That was the one time he cried. That’s why I take it so seriously.

“When you come out of that closet and realize you’ve lost a lot, but realize that you have food and water, it may not resolve the problem, but from a psychological standpoint, it makes you feel OK.”

A Moving Example

Saturday, May 20th, 2017

June Kittay, center, leads participants in her Tampa Family YMCA yoga class in a stretch known as sun salutation. 
Photos by Nikki Rawlings/NHR Photography

Fitness instructor motivates seniors to stay in motion­—and have fun doing it

June Kittay is not one to stand still for long. At 66 years old, the Tampa Bay fitness and wellness instructor believes movement is the key to life—and she is her own best example.

“The body is a system of wheels within wheels meant to rotate and revolve on a weekly basis,” she explains. “You’ve got to keep moving. You’ve got to stay active.”

June says she has always maintained a high energy level, but came to realize the true value of movement and exercise after a car accident 13 years ago. Her injuries led to back surgery, which forced her to spend several weeks at home recuperating.

She became frustrated at being cooped up inside and forced to take it easy. Her daughter, a fitness instructor at the YMCA, suggested she come in and attend her Silver Sneakers exercise class for older adults.
June could do simple moves at whatever pace felt comfortable.

“Immediately afterward, I walked up to her and said, ‘This is what I want to do when I grow up,’” June recalls with a laugh.

Although younger than others in the class at the time, June enjoyed the exercise. In some ways, it reminded her of her days as a kindergarten teacher.

“You’re teaching coordination, balance, range of motion, small and gross motor skills,” she says. “You’re also talking about socialization and getting people out and moving.”

June became certified as a fitness instructor, determined to focus on seniors.

She says the socialization aspect of exercise classes for people who often spend far too much time alone is almost as important as the exercise itself.

June sought new ways to get seniors moving. She added yoga and line dancing to her class offerings.

She found music to be a great motivator for getting people who might be reluctant to exercise to get up and move.

As she advocated for using exercise to battle the aging process, June made a name for herself.

A member of the National Fitness Hall of Fame, June has worked and appeared with tennis great Martina Navratilova, exercise gurus Jack LaLanne and Richard Simmons, and golfer Chi-Chi Rodriguez.

June teaches a range of health and wellness classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of South Florida, has written a book, “Tips by Kittay,” and is featured in a DVD.

Her love of exercise through music motivated her to get fitness instructors approved to teach line dancing through the Athletic and Fitness Association of America. Thanks to June’s efforts, group instructors who need continuing education earn 15 credits for completing the two-day workshop, “Line Dance Young and Old.”

“People have this mentality that line dancing is all done to country music,” June says. “It’s not. It’s all over the board. Have you ever done the Cupid Shuffle? Or what about the Electric Slide? If so, you’ve done some line dancing. It’s just a matter of connecting people with music—and who doesn’t love music?”

June’s line dancing classes at the South Tampa Family YMCA are popular.

“She’s one of the few people we have that teaches those classes,” says Josh Brown, district development director for the YMCA. “She makes it really simple to follow along, and the cool thing is everybody can learn to do it. They love her line dancing classes.”

Josh notes that line dancing gets people exercising without them realizing they are doing it.

“Nobody gets all excited about lifting weights, so it’s a nice alternative,” he says. “People are moving, getting their heart rate up, and it helps with strength, coordination and endurance. And they’re having fun.”

Marilyn Westropp has taken June’s line dancing class and is a regular at her Monday night yoga class. She says June has a gift for motivating those around her.

“She has a spirit about her—an energy that draws you in,” Marilyn says. “She touches you, she moves you and she inspires you.”

When June is teaching, Marilyn says she makes sure to show up.

“It’s very rare for me to get all excited and not come up with excuses why I could miss a class,” she says with a laugh. “Other classes, I’ll say, ‘If it works out with my schedule or whatever, I’ll go.’ But I actually schedule my life around her classes.”

Joseph McAuliffe with the Osher Institute says June’s enthusiasm shines through when she teaches.

“She’s very dynamic, very vibrant and she practices what she preaches,” Joseph says. “She’s a real believer in the importance of physical as well as nutritional and intellectual stewardship at this stage in your life.”

For June, it is all about following her personal pledge: Keep on moving, and having fun doing it. She says it is the key for older adults who want to maintain a healthy lifestyle and a good quality of life.

“Motion is motion,” June says. “You’ve got to keep moving, you’ve got to keep active, and you have to get out and be social.”
To learn more about June, visit her website at

Pack an Emergency Kit

Saturday, May 20th, 2017

Personal and household emergency kits should contain supplies sufficient to last at least three to five days.

One of the most important aspects of an emergency preparedness plan is the emergency kit: an easily accessible supply of the items necessary to stay safe, nourished, hydrated and as comfortable as possible.

“You are looking to be self-sufficient for at least 72 hours,” says Roberto Baltodano, spokesman for the Florida Red Cross. “Depending on your situation, that time period could be up to seven days. A couple of things are crucial. Chief among them is water. We recommend one gallon per day per person for three to seven days, and enough food for three to seven days.”

Food and beverages should be nonperishable, packaged or canned, and include items for anyone with special needs, such as infants and the elderly. Peanut butter, energy bars and canned fruit and vegetables that do not require cooking or refrigeration is best.

Include a non-electric can opener, plastic utensils, paper plates, plastic cups and any equipment needed for cooking, such as a grill, fuel and utensils.

Pack blankets, pillows, sleeping bags and clothing, such as rain gear, sturdy shoes and boots.

Include enough supplies to deal with medical needs, three to seven days of prescription medications, sunscreen, aloe, Florida-specific bug spray and a first-aid kit.

“Make sure you have appropriate toiletries, hygiene items, flashlights and batteries,” Robert says. “Do not use candles. Make sure you have cash on hand, as banks, ATMs and credit card vendors may not be available during an emergency event.

“Make sure you have a radio. Battery-operated or hand cranked is even better, and make sure it is a NOAA weather radio to receive weather alerts from state and local officials.”

The Red Cross recommends putting important documents in a waterproof container. Include birth certificates, extra house keys, Social Security cards, medical records, proof of address, the deed or lease to your home, passports, insurance policies and anything that is irreplaceable.

Keep it in a place where it will not be washed away.

“With regard to your vehicle, make sure it is not positioned where falling debris could render it inoperable, and make sure the fuel tank is filled,” Robert says. “Finally, make sure you include in your kit pet-care items. The same rules that apply to people apply to your pets: medications, food, water.”

Additional things to consider are a whistle, surgical masks, matches, work gloves, plastic sheeting, duct tape, scissors, household liquid bleach and entertainment items.

“In this modern age, most people are dependent on the internet, but you may not have access to your cellphone or service may be down,” Robert says. “Keep phone numbers written down for doctors, banks and emergency officials.

“If you have all those things, you should be squared away as far as your supply kit is concerned.”

For more survival kit information, see

Four Tips for Fishing With Kids

Saturday, May 20th, 2017

Most of us remember our first fishing trip. Your kids will, too. Any day is a good day to fish, but If you need an excuse, the first week of June is Fishing Week, and June 18 is Go Fishing Day. Sounds like two great opportunities to make memories.
© iStock/BraunS

Fishing with kids is different than fishing solo or with other adults. It is both wonderful and challenging at the same time. The key to making a fishing trip with kids successful is to understand their needs and concerns.

Here are four things to consider if you plan to fish with kids, especially those who have never fished before:

  • It’s all about the fish. When kids go fishing, they expect to catch fish—lots of them. There’s no such thing as “the fish aren’t biting’.” To improve the odds, go to a proven honey hole or a spot recently stocked with fish.
  • Make things interesting. Kids get bored easily, so keep them engaged. One way to do that is to tell stories, maybe about fishing when you were a kid or about the ones that got away. Another way to keep kids’ focus is to teach them basic skills, such as baiting a hook, tying a proper knot or casting a line.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t make fishing more complicated than it has to be. For example, bait cast and spinning reels can be a challenge for kids to use, so leave them at home. Stick to spincast reels. Not only are they easier to use, they are relatively inexpensive to replace if they accidently end up in the drink.
  • Minimize discomfort. If you can keep kids warm, dry and fed, you improve the odds for a memorable outing. Bring along plenty of drinks and snacks. If there’s a chance of rain, pack raingear. A chilly morning? Bring a jacket, hat and gloves. Keep outings short, too. That’s especially true with first-timers. Kids can be impatient and get bored easily, especially if fish aren’t biting. Take your cues from the fish—and the kids.

In Pursuit of Prime Seafood
Red snapper is one of the tastiest fish in the Gulf, and the timing to catch your next meal couldn’t be better.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced the Gulf recreational red snapper season is as follows:

Open daily, starting the Saturday before Memorial Day, May 27, through Sunday after Independence Day, July 9.

Open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in September and October, plus Labor Day, Monday, September 4.

Outdoor App of the Month—First Aid
Accidents and injuries happen. The chances increase outdoors, where bumps, bruises, cuts and blisters are often part of the experience. That’s when it’s beneficial to have first aid information at your findertips.

There’s an app for that.

It is called First Aid, created by American Red Cross. It is available for Apple and Android phones. Best of all, it’s free—and ad-free.

June Mentionables
The first week of June is Fishing Week.
June 3: National Trails Day.
June 18: Go Fishing Day.
June 18: International Picnic Day.
June 24: Swim a Lap Day.
June 25: National Catfish Day.

Show-and-Tell Time
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication, we will send you $25 for one-time use of the item. When sending a photo, identify people and pets, and tell us the story behind the picture. Email your submission to

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

Sea for Yourself: Take a Dip

Saturday, May 20th, 2017

A family enjoys petting stingrays at the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center in Stuart in Martin County.
Photo courtesy of Martin County Office of Tourism and Marketing

Say “the Sunshine State” and most people know you are talking about Florida. But with more than 30 percent of the state’s land mass as wetlands—plus 2.1 million acres of estuaries and more than 8,500 miles of tidal shoreline—Florida also could be known as “the Water State.”

Florida’s miles of beaches, dozens of attractions connected with the sea, marine life and adventure are not just for tourists. Check out these must-see attractions:

Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center in Stuart ( inspires all ages to get their feet wet with interactive exhibits, including a stingray petting pool, sea turtle feeding and a 750,000-gallon game-fish lagoon. The center offers half-price admission Thursday, June 8, in honor of World Oceans Day and Friday, June 16, to celebrate World Sea Turtle Day.

The Gulf Specimen Marine Lab in Panacea ( showcases little sea treasures, such as sea horses, hermit crabs, emerald-eyed spiny box fish, red-and-white spotted calico crabs and electric rays. Off the beaten path, between Tallahassee and Apalachicola, it is worth the drive. The Sea Mobile, with 450 gallons of saltwater aquariums, takes sea life to schools and special events, with touchable displays of sea urchins, starfish, sponges and crabs.

Seabird and sea turtle rehabilitation distinguish the Marine Science Center at Ponce Inlet in Volusia County ( Visit the Mary Keller Seabird Rehabilitation Sanctuary and the Turtle Terrace to learn how the center helps save injured critters, then climb the Bird Observation Tower to see falcons, bald eagles, pelicans, herons and egrets.

Florida on the Radar
In a recent poll of must-eat road foods by MSN/Pop Sugar, Florida’s Apalachicola oysters were singled out as “painfully tender, ocean-sweet and overwhelmingly satisfying.”

Apalachicola’s 54th annual Florida Seafood Festival is in November, and the Apalachicola Oyster Cookoff is in January. To find out more details, check out

MSN recently named Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as the state’s most-recognized icon. The nearly 66,000-seat stadium hosts the New Year’s Day Outback Bowl. Twice it has been the site of the Super Bowl. It is undergoing a $140 million renovation.

Digital Fun
Weather apps cover everything from colorful real-time radar sweeps to 10-day forecasts that predict rain, storm events and temperatures.

Download Dark Sky,, for weather exactly where you are, hour by hour. Using GPS technology, it can tell you how many minutes before a major storm will hit your area or exactly when those pesky drizzles will clear up. It has a global radar screen and a seven-day forecast of precipitation and temperatures.

Do you know about CityPASS, It bundles attractions, museums and landmarks at a discount. Choose from a dozen locations across North America, including Tampa and Atlanta, for good deals.

Remember to visit the websites of your vacation destinations to find out about seasonal promotions and discounts on attractions, lodging, meals and events.

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

Seeing the Light: Treasures Around the House

Saturday, May 20th, 2017

Gus sits in a shaft of morning light, providing a beautiful, natural portrait of a time, pet and place.
Photos by David LaBelle

Many people love traveling and foolishly believe anywhere other than where they currently are will produce better pictures than those from home. We become so enamored with far-away places we can miss the beauty right under our noses.

We have heard someone say after viewing breathtaking travel pictures, “If I could travel halfway across the world, I could take stunning pictures, too.”

Unfortunately, it is not so easy.

Wherever you are, you still have to take yourself, your eyes, your vision, your curiosity (or lack thereof) and your attitude.

Good, watchful, sensitive photographers make great pictures everywhere, not just in exotic places.

While it is easier to interest ourselves and others with pictures of famous or glamorous places, great storytelling images can be found anywhere there is light—even in our homes.

I cannot tell you how many times I have been sitting and watched either early morning or late afternoon light crawl across a room or window sill, temporarily revealing a piece of a world I otherwise would have missed.

With every moving, magical inch of light, a new, beautiful, often surprising composition is revealed. It’s all new!

Because the angle—even the intensity—of the sun’s light changes during the time of day and season, we never see exactly the same picture. In other words, there is something new under the sun—the scenes offered that change by the minutes, hours, days and seasons.

If you have time on your hands, choose one interesting scene—a composition in your house or yard that receives different amounts or strengths and direction of light at different times of day. Watch how the light changes, and make a series of pictures documenting this incredible taken-for-granted light and life of a day.

A cross perched in the corner of a window sill, a shadow moving slowly across a room, open shutters—these common scenes become temporarily alive with a passing kiss of sunlight.

Another challenge is to see the picture and record it without moving any piece of it. You move, change angles or lenses if need be, but do not touch the components of the compositional scene—not even to move a curtain. Nothing!

This is an invaluable exercise in seeing and composing the natural, the given, the untouched visual gift with your camera.

Too often we get so busy doing—like eating without chewing—that we forget to see and appreciate light, which is the source of our livelihood, our adoration, our avocation and our very existence.

We don’t need to spend dollars (or euros) to travel to far-away places to make interesting and meaningful pictures. We just have to slow down and discover the world we are blessed with and bathed in.

Photography is not about gear or travel. It is about appreciating, seeing and challenging oneself to make a picture that somehow captures and communicates to others what you saw and felt.

Challenge yourself to see your home before you try to see the world.

David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer who grew up in rural California. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the U.S. and taught at three universities. For more information, visit

Six Tips for a Comfortable Bike Ride

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

Shifting a multispeed bicycle is an acquired skill. Some consider it an art. For optimal smoothness and efficiency, take your time when shifting gears. Let each speed take hold before moving to the next. Shifting too fast may lead to the chain jumping gears or disengaging altogether. Also, try to anticipate changes in speed, such as uphills, downhills and changes in road surfaces, and time your shifts accordingly.
© Brian A. Jackson

May is National Bike Month. What better excuse to get on a bike and enjoy one of Florida’s myriad biking hotspots.

Follow these tips to stay comfortable and maximize the fun.

  • The bike frame should fit your frame. On a properly sized bicycle, you should be able to straddle it and stand flat footed, with daylight between you and the bike. Generally, there should be about 2 inches of clearance.
  • Match your tires to the surface you ride most. For roads and paved trails, the best options are slick or semi-slick tires; they cause less friction and provide a steady, more comfortable ride on smooth surfaces. Knobby tires are best for dirt, gravel and off-trail riding.
  • Find a seat for every backside. Just because a bike comes with a particular seat does not mean you are stuck with it forever. A new seat is easy to install. Find one that fits your contours and provides the level of comfort you desire.
  • Add cush to your tush. Wider seats, cushioned pull-over seat covers and gel-filled seats are popular comfort options. For example, Cloud 9 cushioned seats are popular with recreational riders. Check out the company’s offerings at
  • Beat the heat. You can work up a sweat on a Florida bike ride. To stay cool, wear a helmet with lots of ventilation. The key is to find one that provides good protection, as well as optimal air flow.
  • Just add water. Last but not least, always carry a full water bottle. If your bike doesn’t accommodate a water bottle, consider a hydration pack. One advantage of a hydration pack—such as a Camelbak or Platypus—is it allows you to carry more water for longer, hotter rides.

The Keys to Hot Fishing
Everyone knows Florida is the fishing capital of the world, and the crown jewel of Florida fishing is the Keys. That’s because there is always something in season, even during the sweltering months of summer.

Spring is perhaps the best season to fish the Keys, in terms of the variety of fish in season and runs at their peak. It is optimal for tarpon, blackfin tuna, sailfish and several other species.

Sweat the Salty Stuff
Perspiration and saltwater are the bane of multi-tools. They promote rust and corrosion. Generally, there are two ways to confront the problem. First, select a multi-tool that is corrosion resistant. Second, maintain it regularly. After sweaty, salty use, rinse the tool with fresh water, dry it and oil it with a light coat of machine oil. Make sure to get into the moving parts. Remove excess oil by wiping it with a dry cloth or paper towel.

Special Days in May
National Bike Month.
May 4: Bird Day.
May 16: Love a Tree Day.
May 27: Sunscreen Day.

Show-and-Tell Time
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication, we will send you $25 for one-time use of the item. When sending a photo, identify people and pets, and tell us the story behind the picture. Email your submission to

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

Flashback! Experience Some Nostalgia

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

Silver Moon Drive-In Theatre opened April 14, 1948, in Lakeland, Florida. It features two screens that usually show first-run movies seven days a week.
Photo courtesy of Visit Florida/Scott Audette

In the mid-1950s and late 1960s, drive-in theaters were popular for date nights and family entertainment. Times change, and the charm of sitting in a car with a scratchy speaker hanging off a partially rolled-down window has taken a back seat to multiscreen theaters, 3-D and IMAX.

You are in luck if you crave a throwback experience. A handful of towns in Florida still offer drive-in movies:

Many have gone digital. Instead of speakers, you can listen to the audio through your FM radio.

Drive-ins often show first-run movies at a fraction of the cost of indoor theaters.

Tampa’s Fun Lan Drive-in and its sister attractions in Fort Lauderdale and Lake Worth ( show movies, and offer swap shops, farmers or flea markets on certain days of the week. Each has multiple screens. The Fort Lauderdale location has carnival rides.

Not interested in a film? Sometimes it is just fun to browse the daytime vendor booths. You never know what bargains you will find.

Family Vacations
The number of family vacations is on the rise, according to AAA, which reports travel sales in Florida are up 25 percent from 2016.

Whether for a long weekend, a week or longer, more people will be taking vacations in 2017. And they will be taking more of them—three or more. That is up from one or two in previous years.

Where will you head? The most popular vacations are road trips, visits to national parks, theme parks and international destinations. Cruises also registered on the survey.

Say Cheese
If you are getting or renewing a passport, here are some tips about your passport photo:

  • Take off your glasses. As of November, glasses cannot be worn in passport photos.
    Make sure the background is off-white or white. Avoid wearing a white shirt.
  • Wear something from your normal wardrobe; head coverings or hats are not allowed unless you wear them daily for religious reasons.
  • If you smile, be natural; a neutral facial expression is preferable.
    Print the photo on regular photo paper; matte or glossy is acceptable.
  • The photo must be square: 2 inches by 2 inches is standard. The head size, facing forward, should be 2 to 23/8 inches from the top of the head to the chin.
  • Many chain drug stores and warehouse clubs offer affordable—and properly sized—passport photos.

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

Capturing a Sense of Awe

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

Tourists gaze up at the most iconic landmark in Florence, Italy: the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower, otherwise known as the Duomo.
Photos by David LaBelle

I saw it at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s old city, and see it over and again at the foot of the breathtaking, 375-foot-tall Duomo in Florence, Italy: that awestruck gaze washing over so many stunned and humbled faces.

Even when anticipated, such moments are able to capture us so completely our eyes water and our skin tingles.

For just a few seconds, we are bathed in the quiet wonder of the moment.

It is during these brief moments people actually experience the glory and feel the wonder, before they try to capture what is passing through their eyes.

I am confident I wore a similar awestruck expression at first sight of each of my four children.

However brief, this is a magical time, before the visitor awakens from their temporary trance and lifts their smartphone camera to make a record of the sight, or before they awaken and feel compelled to kiss in the shadow of the majestic site.

There is a phrase used when shooting film called the “latent image.” It is that hopeful time between the moment the shutter is pressed and negatives or prints are processed.

Essentially, latent means the hidden or concealed, but existing. I have always loved that thought, that state.

It might be a stunning sunrise or a spectacular sunset that stills us, wrapping around us in a reverent silence.

Or it can be coming face to face with a beloved celebrity that temporarily paralyzes us so much we are afraid to breathe, lest our breath pushes away the moment.

As a primarily documentary “moment” photographer, these fleeting capsules of authentic, unrehearsed emotion are what I hunger to witness and capture.

I have learned during these “trance” times that if I keep my distance and move slowly, the entranced are so focused with what fills their eyes they see neither me nor my camera.

While you can never plan for what you will feel when you see a breathtaking sight, you can prepare yourself to capture that sense of awe on the faces of others—especially if you have scouted the site and know where people are most likely to get their first glimpse of majesty.

The wonderful thing and difficult challenge about shooting authentic human moments is there is never a do-over. You cannot ask someone do to a thing again with the same expression.

There simply is never a second first time.


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

Exploring Far Afield: Tips for Rural Visits

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

Rural settings let visitors slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures. Photos by Lori Russell

Looking for some country fun? Plenty of online resources are available to plan a rural getaway without getting your hands dirty.

For an overview, begin with state tourism websites. You can find them by searching by state name. At, and, search for agritourism attractions by location and activity, or try one of the suggested trip itineraries.

Connect with regional visitor associations within a state to find exceptional food and farm experiences in the area.

A quick internet search by location and activity will yield everything from u-pick operations to wedding site venues, corn mazes to pumpkin patches. Most farms and ranches have websites with information about their activities, hours and rates.

Check out the local chamber of commerce or social media sites such as Facebook for current blossom, foliage and fruit availability dates in addition to seasonal events or festivals.

On small farms, the person who leads a tour may also tend the plants and feed the animals, so call ahead to arrange a visit—especially when traveling with a large group.

The U.S. Farm Stay Association provides a list of working farms and ranches with lodging at Accommodations and activities vary by location. Some cater to adults, and others welcome families. Go to the farm or ranch’s website or call directly to find out what a typical day and stay is like. Rooms or cabins for rent in a variety of rural locales can be found on (vacation rentals by owner) and

When choosing a dude ranch vacation, the size, location, accommodations and activities matter. A stay at a ranch with 10 guests differs from one with 100 people. Location determines the riding environment—from mountain trails to open pasture to desert. Is a swimming pool, TV or internet access important? Choose accordingly. The Dude Ranchers’ Association ( maintains a list of more than 100 all-inclusive working, traditional and resort dude ranches in the U.S., with offerings for riders of all ages and experience.

Before packing up and heading out on an adventure, remember that farms and ranches often are in remote locations where access to gas stations and ATMs is limited. Public transportation or ride-sharing services such as Uber or Lyft are rare or nonexistent. Cell service and GPS signals can be erratic. Fill up the gas tank and bring written directions and a map when traveling to a rural location.

Function trumps fashion when visiting rural landscapes. Washable clothing and comfortable, close-toed shoes are the dress code for most activities.

Safety is an important consideration on a farm or ranch, especially when traveling with young children or someone with a physical limitation. Depending on the tour or activity, ask about accessible pathways and instructions about livestock, landscape, equipment, and other hazards on and around the property.

Word of mouth is still one of the best ways to find out about agritourism opportunities. When visiting a business, ask about other attractions in the area. Rural business owners work together to promote tourism in their communities. They can recommend new attractions before they are on the map, or less- publicized places that are worth a visit.

Most importantly, slow down and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the rural lifestyle. After all, it is why you came.