Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Dali Museum - St. Petersburg, FL

I made the short drive to The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg this week.  The museum houses the private collection of Salvador Dali paintings collected by A. Reynolds Morse and Eleanor Morse from Cleveland, Ohio. When the collection became too large to keep in their house and business offices, they looked a new place to showcase them.  They found a new home in St. Petersburg.

As an artist, Salvador Dali was not limited to a particular style or media. The body of his work, from early impressionist paintings through his transitional surrealist works, and into his classical period, reveals a constantly growing and evolving artist. Dali worked in all media, leaving behind a wealth of oils, watercolors, drawings, graphics, and sculptures, films, photographs, performance pieces, jewels and objects of all descriptions. As important, he left for posterity the permission to explore all aspects of one’s own life and to give them artistic expression.
I enjoyed all the paintings, but two stood apart from the crowd. Oddly enough, they are nothing alike at all.  One very simple and the other tremdously complicated and detailed.

Basket of Bread (1925) and The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1969-1970) 

I'm no art critic to be sure, but I think those two paintings demonstrate the vastness of Dali's work and the diversity of his interests.  In the beginning he studied the masters and by the end of his career he had become one of them.

If you visit the museum, I recommend taking the time for a guided tour.  It will cost you no more than a few minutes of time and, if you're like me, you'll gain a lifetime of appreciation for this wonderful and complicated artist.

To read more about the artist what better way than to read his diary?  It's available in the museum gift shop and on

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road (Movie Tie-in Edition 2009) (Vintage International)This morning I finished reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy.  It was a movie too, but one that I haven't seen.  After reading the book, I think I'll pass on the movie. 

The book is on many "great American novel" lists and I agree that it deserves a place on those lists, but it's a depressing tale.  Death, anarchy, apocalypse, cannablism...McCarthy covers it all. 

The narrative is excellently descriptive, though most (if not all) of the expected punctuation and quotation marks they teach you about in high school and college English classes are absent.  The book is not organized in the familar chapter structure either.  It's one long chapter from page 1 through page 289.  That was a distraction for the first few pages, but I got used to it.

I could go into more details, but I'm afraid I might spoil it for someone else.  It's the kind of book you need to experience for yourself.

Would the book have been a best seller without being an Oprah Book Club selection?  Would the movie have been made with her endorsement?  It's hard to predict, but of course it didn't hurt.

Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Modern Library)McCarthy is known for his reclusiveness and refuses most interviews.  Here's a rare interview he granted Oprah Winfrey.  After her endorsement that inevitably led The Road to a huge "best seller" status, I think he owed it to her.

I'm going to give McCarthy a break for a few months, but I'll be adding Blood Meridian to my long term list of "greatest novels" to read. 


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Manatees at the Ellenton Outlet Mall

I snapped these interesting manatee photos at the Prime Outlets in Ellenton, FL with my cell phone camera.  They're not the best quality photos, but it was pretty spur of the moment.  The sculptures look much better up close.  They also seemed to be pretty popular with children.  We saw several posing for parents while we were there.

I did a quick Google search tonight to learn more about the sculptor, but I haven't found anything yet.

Friday, August 27, 2010


Although I rarely do, when I go to the local big box retail store, I normally get-in, get-what-I-came for and get-out, but today I walked back into the area where they keep the games.  I was looking for mahjong, but simply couldn't pass up the $2.95 box of double six dominoes

Cardinal Double 12 Color Dot Mexican Train Dominoes in TinWhen I was younger, my brother received a set of dominoes for a gift and we played it quite a bit, but I haven't played a standard game of Draw Dominoes or Block Dominoes for several years.

I had no idea the game had so many variations. Double Six, Double Nine, Double Twelve, and Double Fifteen stood out as separate sets of dominoes.  Did you know there's even a Pro Domino Association?  There have even been games televised on ESPN.  Who knew?  (It must have been at night when I was sleeping, because I stay pretty in-tune with what's airing on ESPN and I definitely missed the dominoes.

The PDA hosts tournaments throughout the country and promotes the sport to increase interest in the game. From :

The PDA has established a leadership brand in scope with other recognizable professional sport and game authorities. We have created a competition infrastructure and maintain stewardship over the game in the worldwide community of domino players.
Dominoes: Basic Rules & VariationsThere's an entire book dedicated to the variations of the game including games like chicken foot, cyprus, matador, fortress, and Mexican train.  I know from talking to my niece and nephew that are recent college grads, Mexican train is becoming more and more popular on college campuses.  You can learn more about these variations of the game at

If you don't have a set of dominoes, you can even play online.  Play online Mexican Train here.  For a game that dates back to at least 1120 A.D., it's come a long, long way.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Is College Tuition Really Worth the Price?

Been There, Should've Done That: 995 Tips for Making the Most of College
A book written by Suzette Tyler
I followed a link from to an article on about the value of a college education. With college freshmen leaving home to begin their higher education this month, the discussion is quite timely.

I feel pretty lucky.  I graduated from a small private liberal arts college in the midwest with a 4-year degree and later I attended graduate school finishing 3 courses toward an MBA - all without spending any of my own money for tuition.

With the cost of college rising some people have been priced out of top tier schools.  My own nephew is facing a similar situation. He's worked hard to earn high marks and is almost certain to finish in the top 1% of his high school class of several hundred students. Most would assume he would be destined to one the biggies -- Vanderbilt, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, know the ones. He's qualified right?  But, without a scholarship for the full amount of tuition it's not very realistic.

Is a degree from one of those schools really worth the price of an average home in a middle-class neighborhood?  Is it even worth half that amount?

Even tuition at my own alma mater has skyrocketed.  It was $9,000 a year when I attended (on full scholarship), but is nearing $15,000 a year now.

Is a medical degree from Yale that much better than a degree from the University of Ohio-Dayton?  I ask this because my own orthepedic surgeon who performed double knee surgery on me last year graduated from the latter.  I am no less happy with the results of the surgery.  Would a piece of Ivy League paper help me walk better?  I doubt it. The arthritis damage is already done. There's only so much repair that can be made.

What about a business degree from one of those top tier schools? In a bad economy does it really make a difference?  I read a recent magazine article about a Cornell graduate that is working as a landscaper and living with his parents.  Really?  $140,000 in tuition costs to mow lawns? I think he could have got the lawn mowing job for the $25,000 he could have spent at a lesser regarded state school (I say jokingly).

Here's my take...

After working in the corporate arena for more than 20 years, I subscribe to the line of thinking that says, "It's not what you know, it's who you know."  I've seen it again and again.  I've seen many jobs filled via personal referrals. Granted, not all jobs are filled this way but many are.  In my personal experience, transcripts and the college you graduated from are after thoughts in the hiring process. As an example, I obtained my dream job after college via a referral from the house mom in my college fraternity house. Her nephew worked for the brokerage firm.  The school I attended didn't carry nearly the weight and influence that her personal recommendation did.  I no longer work in that field, but even as a college history major I now work as an analyst and supervisor in the financial services field. 

My college degree had very little to do with my current position.  The main qualifier is that I have one.

And what about graduate school?  I have many friends with MBAs that do not earn more money as a result.  I lost interest in committing the time and money toward it and stopped pursuing the advanced degree.  It's a decision I don't regret.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Like many people, I've got a stack of books that I've purchased because I saw them listed in a newspaper article, watched an interview of the writer on television, or read a blurb here and there somewhere on the Internet.  Lately it seems my stack of books is growing faster than my ability to read them and if you recall an article I wrote a couple of weeks ago titled How to Read 12 Novels a Year in Your Spare Time, I've tried to re-focus and re-commit to reading. 
The 2010 "Finished Stack"

This morning I finished reading the last 120 pages of The Help by Kathryn Stockett, which is the first novel in my 12-in-12 attempt that started on August 1st.  There's a section of our local Sunday newspaper that lists the Top 5 New York Times Best Sellers for Hardcover Fiction and this book has been on it for several months.  I picked it up a couple months ago and put it in "the stack". 

The book is 451 pages, but don't let that keep you from reading it.  It might take an extra day or two to finish it, but it's worth it.

The HelpThe Help reminds me a little bit of Mudbound by Hillary Jordan, another book that is set in Mississippi.  Whereas Mudbound is an in your face account with more agressive language, The Help is somehow softer.  Both books deal with civil rights issues from the perspectve of women living in Mississippi, with the time frames separated by three decades.

The Help is written in the voice of Aibeleen, Minnie, and Skeeter.  Aibeleen and Minnie work for two of Skeeter's best childhood friends.  After returning from college at Ole Miss, Skeeter begins to understand that she no longer identifies with her friends the way she once did and she comes to realize that it's because of the way they treat their maids.

I was bracing for a harsher, edgier ending - maybe even violent - but in the end Stockett took a higher road.

Read more about Kathryn Stockett on her website.

And if you have 4 minutes, here's a video interview Katie Couric did with Kathryn Stockett that provides a little more background on the book and the author.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Step Right Up, Step Right Up Folks...Get Your Fancy Camera Right Here

So I'm surfing around tonight on a few new websites I read about in the newspaper today and I ran across Far Beyond the Stars. The author, Everett Bogue, writes and promotes minimalist living. (He used to work for New York Magazine.) 

As is typical with me I was trying to do several things at once, so I didn't make it past the front page of the website tonight, but a one-liner in a recent article caught my eye:
Nikon and Canon want you to believe that you’ll be a famous photographer if you just buy one more camera lens.
How true this statement is.

But if  you buy a $1,200 camera and $600 lens from one of those companies, will it help you take photographs like Clyde Butcher, the well known Florida landscape photographer? Will you be the second coming of Ansel Adams?

I think I read somewhere that Mr. Butcher uses a camera that hasn't been popular with mainstream professional photographers since sometime around the 1930's, but would anyone argue with me when I say that there hasn't been a landscape photographer since Ansel Adams that takes comparable pictures? O.k. maybe some would argue, but hopefully I've made my point.  It's not the camera, it's the craft, artistry, skill, dedication, and perserverance of the person behind the view finder.

And just for fun, can you pick out which of the following photos was taken with a Canon and which one was taken with a Nikon?



Give up yet? 

Let's try one more.


Was A. the Canon? Or was it B.? Was C. the Nikon?

Give up?

D. Sony - With an inexpensive $180 lens.  All of the Above.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Florida Drivers

We've all seen them. You might even be one of them.  I hope not.

I'm sure you know the ones I'm referring to...those guys and gals that weave, zip, and zap in and out and back and forth changing lanes faster than Jimmy Spencer changes hair pieces. You may have guessed it by now, but I am not a fan of aggressive driving. It's just not worth it.

Does it really get you there faster? Not usually. If I had a dollar for every time someone passed me on the interstate and then slowed down in front of me I'd be wealthy.  Maybe not that wealthy, but I wouldn't need to spend my own money to buy my afternoon snacks from the vending machine for at least a few weeks. 

I mean really?! 

Did the lady in black Cadillac Escalade really need to pass me so she could get in front of me and slow down 10 mph so I almost run into her rear bumper and bump draft her off the road? 

And, did the guy in the blue Honda Accord need to cut me off so close that I could literally count the pimples on his oily forehead just before he slammed on the brakes to turn onto the exit ramp, creating the need for me to hit my brakes hard with both feet?

Did the lady in the beat up Toyota Camry need to accelerate hard and almost hit my front end as she slipped her 15 feet long car into a 17 feet opening ahead of me just before we come to a complete stop at the next traffic signal?

Is it really that necessary? Worth it?

Reasons not to drive aggressively:

1.  It creates excessive wear and tear on your vehicle. 

2.  It hurts your gas mileage.

3.  It wears out your brakes.

4.  It actually increases your stress level.

5.  It endangers other drivers.

6.  It increases the chances of accidents.

7.  The guy you just cut-off just might be your new boss!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hillsborough Recycling Program

Hooray for Hillsborough! I don't have the figures for Pinellas County, but according to a mailer I received in my mailbox this week requests for recycling bins increased 552 percent during the first three months of the "Famous Bins" campaign. YTD 2010, more than 7,200 households have received bins. To learn more or request your own curbside recycling bin, visit .

Blue bins are for newspaper, magazines, catalogs, unwanted mail, office paper, corrugated cardboard, paperboard, and paper bags.

Green bins are for plastic bottles, plastic jugs, glass bottles, glass jars, aluminum food containers, and beverage cans.

According to the literature I received, almost 30,000 tons of material has been collected via curbside recycling and more than 150,000 tons of yard and wood waste has been collected. Wow! Eighty-percent of the material is yard waste, twigs, branches, grass clippings, etc.

With a little creativity and minimal effort, I believe nearly 90% of the yard waste could be recycled locally in the home. A compost bin, pile, or worm bin is a great way to get started.  Red wigglers can help the county reduce costs for trash disposal and recycling.

In my house it's become a game to see how much we can compost with the worms and then return to our yard as a nutrient rich compost. Our grass loves us! It's never been healthier or greener.

Let me know if you need help or suggestions.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Family on Bikes

It doesn't really have a connection to Florida that I know of, but this week's edition of Parade has a story about a family of four biking from Alaska down the Pan American Highway to Argentina. Hooray for the Vogels!

I'm a pretty good planner. I can make a savings plan and save up for a new TV or a new car, and I think I'm doing o.k. saving for retirement, but I can't really imagine all the preparation that must go into planning a 2 - 3 year bicycle journey through winter, summer, rainy seasons, desert heat, mountain snows, and the possibility of hurricane winds.

Into Thick Air: Biking to the Bellybutton of Six ContinentsThe Vogels have documented their trip from beginning to current day and their photo page really helped me better understand the level of planning required.  From the Getting Ready section:
We spent a whole year preparing for this journey. In addition to simply planning where we would go, we had to fix up the house for a renter, get our finances in order, get all our equipment together, and do a gazillion other things!
Thinking about planning your own cross-continent bicycle journey?  How about a Florida to Alaska trek?  If you think the Vogels might know a thing or two about good bicycles suited for the journey, you might want to check out Novara Randonee.  They go for about $850-$900.

The Vogels have an entire section on their website covering financing an extended trip.  Based on their experiences, plan to spend about $70,000 for a three year bicycle trip.  Of course, if you're not willing to "rough it", that figure will likely increase tremendously.

I've enjoyed reading the blog about the family travels.  Here's one of my favorite articles: Life Doesn't Come with a Moneyback Guarantee. I look forward to following them for the rest of the trip through Bolivia and southward. 

Want to read about a bicycle tour of six continents? Try Into Thick Air by Jim Malusa.

With my knee surgeries, bicycling is out of the question for me, but a Florida to Alaska motorcycle trip is definitely in my future.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Florida Home Brewing Equipment

I started making my own beer a few years ago.  I don't drink a lot of beer, but I enjoy the process of making it.  It reminds me of those science projects kids do in gradeschool.
Carboy Homebrew Kit for Home Made Beer

This morning we drove over to Pinellas Park for a quick visit to Beer and Winemakers Pantry.  They have a lot of the little things that make home brewing easier.  The also offer mail order.

I needed a new 3 piece air lock, carboy stand, some new bottle caps, and some more 22 oz. bottles.  I also picked up a copy of The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papazian.

I've accumulated a little better equipment over time, but I started out with a basic beer making kit and then added a 6 gallon carboy later.  You don't need a carboy to make beer. You'd be surprised at the quality of beer you can make in two food grade 7 gallon plastic buckets.  Some people use the carboy as a secondary fermenter, but it works well as a primary vessel too.  The glass allows you to see the magic that happens when the yeast does it's thing.  My next purchase is definitely going to be some type of copper coil immersion chiller.

If you live in the Tampa area and are interested in wine making, Beer and Winemaker's Pantry offers free classes on the first Saturday of the month.  (We signed up for the September class.)

If you've read this article and started seeing dollar signs via selling home brewed beer to your friends and neighbors, please become familar with the federal and Florida State Law.  It's legal to brew beer at home in the Sunshine state, but illegal to sell it "on the side" without a license and under federal law it's illegal to brew more than 100 gallons a year for individuals 21+ and 200 gallons a year for married couples 21+.  If you'd like to learn more about beer laws in various states, check out this article on

If you're looking for home brewing supplies and Busch Boulevard is closer for you, try Southern Brewing.

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park

Here are some nice pictures taken in the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park by Sandra Friend, author of 23 books and creator of Florida Hikes Blog and Botannical Florida

For those unfamilar with the Fakahatchee Strand, it's located in Collier County near Copeland and Immokalee.  The park is home to many exotic flora including the famed Ghost Orchid. Well known Florida Photographer, Clyde Butcher, has a large collection of photos taken in the park. We were lucky enough to see some of them this winter during an exhibit at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, FL.

They don't compare to Mr. Butcher's photos (and they are from a different location), but here are a few photos I took during a visit to nearby Corkscrew Swamp earlier this year.

You can see some of my other photos at Florida Nature Photo Blog.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Peanuts, In Florida? Yep

Have you ever eaten a Payday candy bar?  You know, the ones with all the gooey peanut goodness.  Yes? Then you may have eaten a Florida peanut.

If you've ever driven through rural Georgia near Commerce or Columbus or Albany, you probably know that Georgia farmers certainly grow a lot of peanuts, but what about Florida? 

I stumbled across this interesting video recently that provides some insight into Florida peanut farming. 

I hope you find it interesting. I certainly did.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How to Read 12 Novels a Year in Your Spare Time

According to a 2008 news article reporting on a survey by the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) , reading in America is on the rise. The article explained that a NEA survey found a reversal of a 2002  trend stating that adults are were reading less literature.  From
Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Paperback - Mar. 5, 2002))

...nearly 47% of all adults in the U.S. read a work of fiction not required for work or school in 2008, with the number of Americans who read a book growing by 3.5 million...

This is an encouraging sign, because a 2004 article from the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) website explained the results of a 2002 survey found adults reading less.

I've been taking my own unscientific, informal, seat-of-the-pants survey for the past several weeks.  My results turned out somewhat different than the NEA findings. The co-workers, family members, and friends I talked to almost unanimously agreed that they'd like to read more novel length works, but they find it hard to find the spare time to do so. After thinking about it for a while, I think I've found a solution.

Suppose you have goal of reading 12 novels in the next 12 months.  This is a modest goal for some, but a challenging goal for others.  I'm personally somewhere in the middle - sure it's possible but I'm unsure that I can make the personal commitment to make it happen. That's why I've developed a strategy that will virtually insure that I do it and it boils down to a simple goal:  Read 12 pages per day.

Sounds simple right?  Here's how it works:

Goal12 novels in the next 12 months
Average novel length350 pages
Total pages in 12 average length novels: 4,200
365 days divided by 4,200 pages = 12 pages per day

I hear you.  You're saying, "I don't have time to read 12 pages every day."  Sure you do. It's easy.

Do you watch the local news?  Well, if you skip the local news and spend the time reading a book you can find hidden time that you didn't know you had.

How about lunch?  If your lunch break is 60 minutes long, simply eat lunch for 24 minutes and read for 36. See I told CAN do it.

And if you're looking a list of books to read, I've got that covered too. Well, actually Amanda does. Books of Amanda Land, a Florida book blog, provides reviews and summaries of popular books in a series of regular blog posts.  Amanda recently wrote an entry about 50 Books to Read Before You Die, the theme of a book mark she purchased from Barnes & Noble.  It's possible that you've read some of the books already (I've read 5), but I'm guessing you will find enough books that you haven't already read to keep you busy for the next 2 or 3 years.

I've already got The Lord of the Flies and The Catcher in the Rye on my nightstand.  How about you?

Lord of the Flies, Educational EditionThe Catcher in the Rye