Saturday, September 25, 2010

Shopping Local

I empathize with local restaurant businesses that confront the challenge of competing head to head with franchises on a daily basis.  When eating out in restaurants I prefer to eat at local, non-franchise establishments when possible. Today I stopped by a new cafe that recently opened in Apollo Beach.

It was an obvious copy-cat hybrid version of Panera Bread and Starbucks. Tilework and new flooring helped set it apart.

The restaurant's debit card processing machine wouldn't accept my payment.  The clerk was nice and allowed us to go ahead and eat with the promise that she would try it again when we finished eating.  She blamed it on the Internet connection.

We ate our lunch and 20 minutes later the clerk tried the card again, but it still didn't work.

My wife walked over to the grocery store to an ATM to get cash.  Since this was not our bank's ATM there was a service charge.  In the end our $15 lunch cost us $18.

The thing that sometimes sets the local businesses apart from the franchises is their willingness to do the right thing in instances like this, so I expected the owner to offer a discount to offset the $3 cash advance fee.  Doing so would have insured our return for future visits, but the owner chose not to offer a discount or an apology. In fact, he even suggested that we leave a tip. Unbelievable! It was his faulty debit card equipment that created an inconvenience for us and he had the audacity to suggest that we pay even more above and beyond the cost of the meal that was already priced significantly higher than a similar meal at Panera Bread or Starbucks.

I'm willing to pay more for locally owned, because more money stays in the local economy, but the locally owned business should exhibit the same professionalism the franchise companies provide if they expect to compete long term.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Bird of Paradise

These specimens at the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo are the biggest and best I've every seen.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Florida Botanical Garden Gazebo

I've never been a big fan of architecture photos, but since my 300 mm lens is no longer operational and I haven't got the funds to replace it right now it looks like I need to warm up to architecture. It's difficult, if not impossible, to take bird photos with anything much less than 300 mm with 400 - 500 mm more realistic for smaller birds.

On this trip to the gardens, we dodged rain showers and overcast skies.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Making California Wines in Florida

Most people know that you can't grow California grapes in the Florida heat, but they might not know that it is possible to make California style wines in Florida. How, you ask? Pardo Wine Grapes to the rescue.

The Home Winemaker's Companion: Secrets, Recipes, and Know-How for Making 115 Great-Tasting Wines
This Tampa family has been bringing California grapes and juice to Tampa for decades. Home wine making hobbiests drive from as far away as Port Lucie to purchase grapes and juices from this family run operation.

A lot of people make wines at home by using grape juice concentrates, but it's not the only way. If you plan ahead, it's possible to make wine from freshly pressed grapes right here in Florida.

More details from the website:
You can order refrigerated buckets of freshly pressed grape juice shipped from California ready for you to ferment. This juice is not a concentrate or a sterile pasteurized product. It’s the juice of freshly pressed grapes, refrigerated to retard fermentation and shipped to Tampa. Renew a tradition practiced by your ancestors or start one in your family. Make 5 gallons or a barrel, it’s up to you.
If you want to make a traditional style wine, but want to learn the basics first there are several 4 week wine making kits available.

Tampa Photo Blog

Finding Tampa is a photo documentary from a "new to town" perspective.

The recent photos of The Italian Club Cemetery are very introspective.  I've driven by the cemetery a few times during my travels, but somehow these photos convey it in a way that you don't see from behind a steering wheel.

Likewise, simple junkyard photos become interesting when photographed in certains ways and from certain perspectives. Here's an example from a recent posting titled Largo: Auto Salvage Yard Part 2.  I also enjoyed the sign from Part 1.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Florida Music

Although I enjoy a wide variety of music styles I'm biased when it comes to Florida music.  I'm partial to rock music. Here's a list of my favorite Florida bands and performers:

Lynyrd Skynyrd - Jacksonville - Best known for Sweet Home Alabama.

Molley Hatchet - Jacksonville - Best known for Flirtin' With Disaster.

The Outlaws - Tampa - Best known for Green Grass & High Tides. Henry Paul later formed the country band known as Blackhawk.

The Allman Brothers Band - Jacksonville - Best known for Whippin' Post, Midnight Rider, and Ramblin' Man.

Bellamy Brothers - Darby (Pasco County) - Best known for Let Your Love Flow and Redneck Girl.

Derek Trucks Band - Jacksonville - Husband of Susan Tedeschi. My favorite is Down in the Flood.

Susan Tedeschi - Jacksonville - Best known recently for Angel From Montgomery. Wife of Derek Trucks.

Money Saving Tips

My wife and I are going to implement a money saving strategy I have read about at various times during the past few years in a variety of sources. It goes like this:

Instead of using debit and credit cards for purchases, switch to cash.

So here's what we're going to do....

We stopped by the ATM tonight and picked up $50 for me and $25 for my wife. Whatever is left over at the end of the week goes toward savings. Next week we start over again with $75. Interesting game, no? Yes. My wife added a wrinkle to kick it up a notch...if I spend more than $50 for the week (i.e. I come home with no cash), then I have to take my lunch via brown paper bag one day the following week.

I'm a competitive person and this sounds like just the kind of challenge I'll enjoy. Wish me luck.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Live Local, Buy Local

I recently started reading The Small- Mart Revolution by Michael Shuman.  I started as a skeptical, but open minded reader, but by Chapter 3 I'd become a full fledged enthusiast/fan. 

The Small-Mart Revolution: How Local Businesses Are Beating the Global Competition (BK Currents (Paperback))For the most part, I am guilty of not taking local options into account when making my daily purchases. I eat at franchise chain restaurants, shop at malls and big box stores, online, and via mail order.  Let's face it, it's a matter of convenience.  Boot up the computer and in three or four days you can have the latest and greatest on your door step.

Buying local is not just a shopping priority. It's banking, healthcare, and entertainment.  You can get a mortgage through a local bank. You can find a local doctor and dentist. You can turn off the TV and get your entertainment via local lectures, sporting events, festivals, and fairs.

Mr. Shuman has assembled an easy to use checklist for implementing these ideas and incorporating them into your daily living. 

Still not convinced?  I urge you to read The Small Mart Revolution for more facts and figures like this one:

According to Shuman's book, studies have shown that spending $1 at a chain book store puts $13 back into circulation in the local economy, but spending that same $1 at a locally owned book store puts > $40 back into the local economy.  Want to reduce local unemployment? Make buying locally a priority.

You can get started by printing out The Small-Mart Revolution checklist today.

The High Cost of Eating Out

My wife recently walked into the living room where I enjoy sitting in my recliner and made the following statement pronounced as a question:

Wife:  Guess how much we've spent eating out this year through 8/31/10?

Me:  Too much.

Wife:  $3,100

Me:  I knew it was too much, but that is entirely too much.

I'll qualify this amount a little bit.  In 243 days we averaged $12.75 per day for food.  During the work week I eat out 99% of the time and the other 1% of the time I skip lunch completely.  My wife takes her lunch from home 99% of the time and she eats out for lunch on rare occasion.  We took a couple of driving vacations to Fort Myers/Sanibel and Miami/Delray Beach.  It's almost impossible not to eat out when your on a driving vacation.  But, I'm embarrassed we've spent that much eating out.  I need an action plan.

I was flipping through some magazines yesterday and ran across a nice suggestion about cutting back on spending by instituting "no spending" days. 

Example:  If you have $1,500 in the budget and the month is 30 days, spend no more than $50 a day or you'll be over budget. 

How to turn this exercise into an effective savings tool:

Designate 5 "no spending" days each month and you'll have $150 extra at the end of the month.  Designate 10 "no spending" days each month and you'll have $300 to save, put towards other purchases, or to pay down debt.

Some, including my wife, have suggested taking my lunch in a brown paper bag, but I can't do it.  I work hard and need some "away from desk" time during the day. Besides that, I dislike stale bread or bread that is soggy from mayonaise or mustard. 

I think I'll start by limiting my evening restaurant meals (generally more expensive) to once per week and my lunch time meals to restaurants that offer money savings coupons.  We're also heavy debit cards users and rarely carry cash.  I predict we will save a bundle by using cash more versus debit cards. I've got a long way to go, but it's a definite start. 

Care to share your own ideas?

The political blog, Steve Schale: Observations on the Land of 27 from one of its leading political strategists is receiving a lot of focus this weekend based a prediction he made in a recent article (Sorry Charlie) regarding the Florida Senate race.  If you like reading about Florida politics from slight Democratic slant, this blog is for you.

More from the About Steve section of

Steve is a Florida-based political and communication strategist and principal manager of Schale Strategies, LLC. Steve has extensive experience in all levels of Florida politics and is one of the best regarded strategists in the Sunshine State. In 2008, the St. Petersburg Times called him "one of the savviest and most effective political strategists Florida Democrats have seen in ages." He's also been named one of Florida’s “100 Movers and Shakers” by Florida International Magazine and one of the ten most influential Democrats in Florida by Politics Magazine.

For me (and I suspect many others like me), the bitter back-and-forth that is so prevalent in political television advertisements is growing old.  It's two-sided and it's a little dissapointing. I would rather see the candidates sharing their new ideas, thoughts, and approaches that will help the State and its' residents. I'm not so much interested in what has been done last week, last year, last decade. I'm more interested in next week, next year, and next decade.

How 'bout it candidates?  Let's hear your new ideas.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Citrus Lens

The Citrus Lens photo blog has a lot of nice Florida themed pictures of places to go and see.  We've actually been to most of the major places featured on the site, which makes me feel like I haven't missed too much during my almost 8 years of living in the Sunshine State.

One of my favorite series of photos focuses on the Florida Botanical Garden in Largo.  Linda and I visited the gardens a couple of years ago.  There was a special event being held in the parking lot and after checking out all the booths we decided to tour the gardens.  It's a fantastic place.  The photos on The Citrus Lens kind of make me want to visit again sometime soon.

We spent our first 4 1/2 years as Florida residents in Casselberry, FL and visited Church Street Station numerous times - usually on Sundays.  The Citrus Lens has several nice photos of The Station. I especially like the train picture.  I don't remember the train being there when we visited. Maybe it's a more recent addition?

And finally, if you're thinking of purchasing some photo equipment to start capturing your own unique images of this tropical paradise there's a My Gear section on the site that can offer you some suggestions. 

Here's a few of my own suggestions at various price points:

Pentax K-7 14.6 MP Digital SLR with Shake Reduction and 720p HD Video with DA 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AL Weather Resistant LensSony A900 - High end professional level "full frame" dslr 

Pentax K-7 - Medium end hobby level dslr offering more control versus "point and shoot". It also offers 720p HD video capability.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH20 - Inexpensive camera with some medium and high end features including movie recording.

I use a Sony A700, that is now a discontinued model.  It's a 12.2 megapixel camera with built-in anti-shake capability.  It can use just about any of the older Minolta lenses that were very, very popular in the 1980's.  And, if I can ever save up enough "extra" money there are some killer Sony G-Series lenses built specifically for Sony that can bring out the best in digital photos. 

If you'd like to see more Florida pictures, please visit my Florida Nature photo blog.

Friday, September 3, 2010

50 Books to Read Before You Die

You may recall a post about my goal to read 12 novels in 12 months that I made a few weeks ago.  I referenced a blog by Amanda Land and her post about 50 Books to Read Before You Die.

Lord of the Flies, Educational EditionI've already marked The Road off my list and I'm currently reading Lord of the Flies by William Golding. The book was written in the 1950's and according to Stephen King, Lord of the Flies changed his life.  It's another one of those books that are assigned by high school English teachers, but somehow my high school English teacher didn't assign it to me.  If I recall correctly the book was on the reading list, but we weren't allowed to read it for credit in the college prep classes.

I'm currently reading Chapter 3 and the life change hasn't occurred for me yet, but since there's 190 pages to go I guess I still have some time.