Facts to Inspire

March 14, 2012

I’m feeling somewhat uninspired so far this week, so I’m looking for something to capture my attention and maybe motivate me to plan my next Florida exploration. Fortunately there are many ideas out there.  And many of them start from such lists as this one, compiled by the Fizber real estate agency.


  1. Greater Miami is the only metropolitan area in the United States whose borders encompass two national parks. You can hike through pristine Everglades National Park or ride on glass-bottom boats across Biscayne National Park.
  2. Saint Augustine is the oldest European settlement in North America.
  3. The name Punta Gorda, which means, “fat point” when translated from Spanish. The moniker was given to the city because a broad part of the land in Punta Gorda juts into Charlotte Harbor. The harbor itself is somewhat unique, as it is the point where the Peace River meets the ocean.
  4. Orlando attracts more visitors than any other amusement park destination in the United States.
  5. New England Congregationalists who sought to bring their style of liberal arts education to the state founded Rollins College, the oldest college in Florida, in Winter Park in 1885.
  6. Cape Canaveral is America’s launch pad for space flights.
  7. Florida is not the southernmost state in the United States. Hawaii is farther south.
  8. A museum in Sanibel owns 2 million shells and claims to be the world’s only museum devoted solely to mollusks.
  9. The Benwood, on French Reef in the Florida Keys, is known as one of the most dived shipwrecks in the world.
  10. Safety Harbor is the home of the historic Espiritu Santo Springs. Given this name in 1539 by the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto. He was searching for the legendary Fountain of Youth. The natural springs have attracted attention worldwide for their curative powers.
  11. Niceville is home to the famous Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival celebrated the third weekend in October.
  12. The United States city with the highest rate of lightning strikes per capita is Clearwater.
  13. Gatorade was named for the University of Florida Gators where the drink was first developed.
  14. Young aviator Tony Jannus made history on January 1, 1914 when he flew the world’s first scheduled passenger service airline flight from St. Petersburg’s downtown yacht basin to Tampa.
  15. Dr. John Gorrie of Apalachicola invented mechanical refrigeration in 1851.
  16. Miami Beach pharmacist Benjamin Green invented the first suntan cream in 1944. He accomplished this development by cooking cocoa butter in a granite coffee pot on his wife’s stove.
  17. Neil Smith and his brother of Montverde developed the first Snapper riding lawn mower.
  18. Key West has the highest average temperature in the United States.
  19. The Saint John’s River is one of the few rivers that flows north instead of south.
  20. The largest lake in Florida is Lake Okeechobee.
  21. May 20, 1970 Florida lawmakers passed and sent to the Governor a bill adopting the moonstone as the official state gem. Ironically, the moonstone is not found naturally in Florida…nor was it found on the moon.
  22. In 1987 the Florida legislature designated the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) the official state reptile. Long an unofficial symbol of the state, the alligator originally symbolized Florida’s extensive untamed wilderness and swamps.
  23. Miami installed the first bank automated teller machine especially for rollerbladers.
  24. Ybor City was once known as the Cigar Capital of the World with nearly 12,000 tabaqueros (cigar-makers) employed in 200 factories. Ybor City produced an estimated 700 million cigars a year at the industry’s peak.
  25. Plant City, the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World, holds the Guinness record for the world’s largest strawberry shortcake. The 827 square-foot, 6,000 pound cake was made on Feb. 19, 1999 in McCall Park.
  26. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge is a cable-stayed concrete bridge. Opened in 1987 the bridge coasts through the clouds at 190 feet above water. Its bright yellow support cables spread from the two center pillars. The structure gives drivers unobstructed view of the water during the 4.1 mile trip over Tampa Bay.
  27. Nearly 80 percent of the states intake of sweet Atlantic white shrimp is harvested in Amelia Island waters. Two million pounds of shrimp are delivered to Fernandina docks annually.
  28. A swamp such as the Fakahatchee Strand in the Everglades functions in three major ways. First, its vegetation serves as a filter to clean the water as it makes its slow journey southward. Secondly, it’s a major habitat for wildlife and plant life. Finally, it actually prevents flooding by slowing down the flow of water after heavy rains.
  29. DeFuniak Springs is home to one of the two naturally round lakes in the world.
  30. The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens at Delray Beach is the only museum in the United States dedicated exclusively to the living culture of Japan.
  31. Fort Lauderdale is known as the Venice of America because the city has 185 miles of local waterways.
  32. Fort Meade is the oldest settlement in Polk County. It dates back to 1849 when a settlement grew up around the United States Cavalry fort during the Seminole Indian Wars.
  33. The Fred Bear Museum in Gainesville is a tribute to the accomplishments of Fred Bear a promoter of proper wildlife management and the founder of Bear Archery Company.
  34. The Hawthorne Trail a part of Florida’s Rails to Trails program and attracts many outdoor enthusiasts to walk, cycle, or ride horseback through its 17-mile length.
  35. Just north of Haines City is the Baseball City Stadium the spring training home of the Kansas City Royals. Haines City is known as The Heart of Florida.
  36. The city of Hypoluxo’s name comes from the Seminole expression water all ’round — no get out.
  37. Islamorada is billed as the Sports fishing Capital of the World.
  38. Key Largo is known as the Dive Capital of the World.
  39. Marathon is home to Crane Point Hammock, a 63.5 acre land tract that is one of the most important historical and archaeological sites in the Keys. The area contains evidence of pre-Colombian and prehistoric Bahamian artifacts, and once was the site of an entire Indian village.
  40. Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West was built between 1845 and 1866. Controlled by the Union during the Civil War, the fort was the home base for a successful blockade of Confederate ships that some historians say shortened the conflict by a full year. The fort also was active during the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II.
  41. The first graded road built in Florida was Old Kings Road in 1763. It was named for King George of England.
  42. During the 1991 Gulf War the busiest military port in the country was Jacksonville. From this location the military moved more supplies and people than any other port in the country.
  43. When first completed in 1989 the Dame Point Bridge became the longest cable-stayed span in the United States, the longest concrete span of its type in the Western Hemisphere, and the third longest cable-stayed bridge in the world.
  44. The longest river sailboat race in the world is the Annual Mug Race. The event runs 42 miles from Palatka to Jacksonville along the St. Johns River.
  45. The Olustee Battlefield State Historic Site commemorates the largest battle fought in Florida during the American Civil War.
  46. Venice is known as the Shark Tooth Capital of the World. Collecting prehistoric sharks teeth has been a favorite pastime of visitors and residents of the Venice area for years
  47. The Florida Museum of Hispanic and Latin American Art in Coral Gables, is the first and only museum in the United States dedicated to the preservation, diffusion, and promotion of Hispanic and Latin American Art.
  48. The Pinellas Trail, a 47 mile hiking/biking trail connecting St. Petersburg with Central and north Pinellas County, is the longest urban linear trail in the eastern United States.
  49. Titusville, known as Space City, USA, is located on the west shore of the Indian River directly across from the John F. Kennedy Space Center.
  50. Florida is the only state that has 2 rivers both with the same name. There is a Withlacoochee in north central Florida (Madison County) and a Withlacoochee in central Florida. They have nothing in common except the name.

A New Year, A New List

January 4, 2012

When it comes to making and keeping New Year’s Resolutions, I’m no different from most others. What starts out as a great intention often gets lost in my day-to-day living.  So, this January, I’m not going to overpromise myself.  Here are a few ideas I’m tossing around for this blog in 2012.

1.  Revamp “The List.”  It’s time to step back and discover what it is I’m trying to accomplish with this list, and in what format I want to organize it going forward.

2.  Art Therapy. I spend a lot of time in the Florida outdoors, now it’s time to add a little more culture. Fortunately Florida provides plenty of opportunities to do just that. One artist I plan to learn more about is Salvador Dali, with a visit to the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. 

3.  Panhandle Explorations. I’ve been all over the state, with the exception of the Panhandle. A trip to Tallahassee, Panama City, Pensacola and others are in order.

4.  Everglades.  I still haven’t entered into the famous swamplands of Florida. This may be the year that changes.

5. Florida Reads. I want to discover writers with Florida ties, and unique writings about Florida itself.

Even with the best of intentions though, it will be the surprises along the way that will undoubtably make the best memories of the year.

Clove Oranges: A Christmas Treat

December 21, 2011

Way back in the day I prided myself on being a good Brownie and Girl Scout. To this day many of my fondest memories of childhood stem from the things I did, and the things I learned while in these two great organizations. We were always making something, from cards to macrame plant holders to pottery.  And at Christmas time I particularly remember making Clove Apples.  The scent would linger for days.

I haven’t thought about those clove apples in years but recently, while cruising the internet, I somehow came across an article on making Clove Oranges.  Now isn’t that just the Florida way?

Here’s how to make a Clove Orange to hang on your Christmas tree (per Home Made Gifts Made Easy):

You will need an orange, thin colored ribbon (enough to wrap around your orange twice and a bit more),and cloves.

Clove Orange Instructions

Step 1.
Wrap the ribbon around the orange, twisting at the base, to divide the orange into quarters.

Step 2.
Feed the ends under the piece of ribbon at the top of the orange.

Step 3.
Tie a simple overhand knot to secure the ribbon in place.

Step 4, 5 & 6.
Now start pressing cloves into your orange.
You can also make pretty patterns on your orange with cloves. Try making stars, hearts and more!

Once you’re finished, hang the clove orange on your tree by tying it on with the extra ribbon, and enjoy the spicy Christmas aroma!

Alternatively, decorate several oranges (or clementines, mandarins, etc) with cloves and display them in bowls around the house. This will add a beautiful aroma to your rooms at Christmas time, and looks great too!

Flamingo Mermaids, Flip Flop Lights and Fish Made Out Of Shells

December 14, 2011

Christmas in Florida can be traditional, but there’s always one house in the neighborhood that leans more towards a Florida Christmas. On their lawn you’ll find Santa sporting a swimsuit, surrounded by pink flamingos wearing Santa caps.   

As for me, I’m game for a few nautical touches to my indoor decorations, such as these lighthouse ornaments.

And this fish made out of shells.

But I won’t go overboard.

Flip-flop string lights aren’t too bad but I’m just not Floridianized enough for them just yet.

I’m definitely never going to be ready to add this flamingo mermaid. It’s just wrong on every level.

And the pink flamingo and palm tree string lights? NOT gonna happen. EVER!

Florida Gift Brainstorming

November 30, 2011

Now that I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving, I can now turn my attention to Christmas. And for that, I’m doing a little brainstorming for Florida related gifts.  So far my ideas include:

  • Florida Hikers Gift Basket (Florida Hikes guidebook, Waist pack, hat, sunscreen)
  • Oranges from a Florida grower like Harvey’s Groves
  • Books set in Florida such as Swamplandia by Karen Russell or To Have and Have Not, Ernest Hemingway’s only book with a Florida setting
  • How to Do Florida television show, Season 1 and 2 on DVD

A recent email circulating promotes gift buying from local businesses, right here in America instead of adding to China’s riches. I’m all for that. And Florida offers a lot of possibilities, such as:

  • Surfing lessons
  • Day of Deep Sea Fishing
  • Daytona International Speedway tour tickets
  • Salvador Dali Museum book and tickets

With a little imagination, the possibilities are endless.

Florida Needs A New Song

November 9, 2011

After tossing and turning for hours and hours last night, I finally gave up and made my way to the computer.  For some reason I started wondering about the Florida State Song.  So what better way to cure insomnia than with a little trivia.

In 1913, Florida My Florida was adopted as the state song. True, it befitted the times, with lyrics such as:

 The golden fruit the world outshines
Florida, my Florida,
Thy gardens and thy phosphate mines,
Florida, my Florida,

In country, town, or hills and dells,
Florida, my Florida,
The rythmic chimes of the school bells
Florida, my Florida,

Will call thy children day by day
To learn to walk the patriot’s way
Firmly to stand for thee for aye
Florida, my Florida.

Yet, digging a little deeper, you find that the melody of the song is taken from another state song, Maryland My Maryland.  This is hardly acceptable for an independent Florida.

In 1935 the Florida Congress, in its infinite wisdom, replaced Florida My Florida  with The Swanee River,  otherwise known as Old Folks at Home, as the state song.  I understand that the song’s composer, Stephen Foster, is a cultural icon of sorts, but the guy never even set foot in Florida, much less visited the Swanee River.  It’s even reported that the only reason he used Swanee in the song was because its cadence happened to fit nicely in the music he had already composed.  It was an afterthought, not an inspiration. I say our state politicians at the time were caught up more in celebrities than state patriotics.

Obviously it’s time for a change.  Florida needs a new song.

A quick look around netted three Florida-themed songs presently out there.

One, Florida by Patty Griffin, quickly falls out of contention when it starts with: 

A couple of young girls went sailing down A1A
Into the arms of Florida, sailing down the highway
Singing their heads off, protected by the holy ghost
Flying in from the ocean, driving with their eyes closed

The next find was that of a song entitled Moving to Florida by the very mature sounding group Butthole Surfers. Their brilliance starts out like this:

Well, well I been movin’ down to Florida.
And I’m gonna bowl me a perfect game.
Well I’m gonna cut off my leg down in Florida, child.
And I’m gonna dance one-legged off in the rain

I braved one more find, which was Florida by Mofra.  At least this one makes a statement, with lyrics like this:

Now skyscrapers and superhighways
Are carved through the heart of Florida
Building sub-divisions while the swamps are drained
Makin’ room for people and amusement parks

It’s like watchin’ someone you love die slow
Yeah, they’re killin’ her one piece at a time
I know some fools who think I should let go
But they never seen Florida through my eyes

Florida I know you’re out there hidin’ from me
You get harder and harder to find
Everyday she keeps slippin’ away
Florida, please don’t fade on me now

I’m hoping there’s something better out there. Or at least someone willing to step up and write something better.

Florida needs a new song.

And I need some sleep.

Guns, Lasers and Virtual Simulation

October 26, 2011

Back in February 2011, a press release announced that the retail store Gander Mountain in Lake Mary (just north of Orlando) was to be  the very first Gander Mountain store in the country to open a state-of-the-art civilian firearms training facility.  Claiming to have highly skilled instructors, a live fire range, and virtual reality simulation technology to knock your socks off, I was intrigued enough to buy a  45 minute session through Living Social. So, before it expired, we headed to Gander Mountain Academy in Lake Mary to give it a try.

Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol

After watching a short video on gun safety, Matt and I went our separate ways with our own instructor. My patient instructor, a former SWAT sniper, first took me into the simulated firing range where he taught me how to stand, and how to shoot a Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol. I’m not entirely new to guns. For the past 10 years I’ve owned a 38-Special, which I bought shortly after a man attempted to enter my apartment one night as I returned from a class. Even though I trained using that revolver, and received my North Carolina concealed carry permit, I never felt really comfortable with it. The Glock 17 is a different story. It fits.

After shooting a few rounds and getting used to the gun, we headed over to the Pro-V SIM 300 Virtual Simulator.  Here I was surrounded by screens where people appeared from behind closed doors or around corners. Some carried babies or cell phones, others carried guns or knives. You had to decide in a split second where they were and whether to shoot or not.  Although at first I did take out a few innocent people, this was by far my most successful, and favorite, part of the night.

Next up was the PRO-V SIM 180 virtual simulation. Here you were to “pop” nine different bad guys (targets) as quick as possible. Although I cut my time in half the second time around, it didn’t even come close to comparing with my sniper instructor who can do it in under 4 seconds (probably with his eyes shut too). Maybe with a little more practice…

To round out the experience, we moved on to the live range, with a real Glock 17, with real bullets. Donning eye and ear protection, I slammed bullets into the target at 5 feet, and 15 feet out.  Other than the new belly button I gave it, I hit the chest almost every time. Of course, I didn’t realize until later that the target was a hostage training target and I had obliterated the hostage. Did someone forget to mention this to me?

The results of my live range firing.

This wasn’t exactly a Florida only experience since new training academies have opened in both Wisconsin and Texas this year.  But Florida’s was the very first such experience in all the land, and that’s gotta count for something.