Thursday, July 31, 2008

Favorite Florida Thing: Weeki Wachee Mermaids (and Kevin Smith)

Two of my favorite things. Director Kevin Smith and Weeki Wachee mermaids. An episode of Kevin Smith's roadside attractions (now this is a fun roadtrip buddy!) recently featured Florida and some of our most unusual places to visit. See it here.

Weeki Wachee is one of my absolute favorite Florida places. If you like it too, or if you just want to learn more, visit their website. They have a great archival photo section. Classic stuff! They have just released their 2009 calendar with photos by photographer Andrew Busso, for sale on their website for $19.95. It makes a great Christmas gift for the Florida (or mermaid) lover on your list.

Also, pick up the book by Betsy Carter, Swim to Me.

The state of Florida recently purchased the historic Florida attraction to save it from closing and to preserve the sensitive springs and environment there. That makes the mermaids state employees, as our local newspaper columnist Mark Lane recently pointed out (see his Flablog in my bloglist). Imagine the job description for Weeki Wachee mermaid.

Weeki Wachee Mermaid. Reports to Sr. VP of Aquabeauties, Department of Underwater Entertainment. Responsibilities include: Training daily in underwater choreography, dance, and gymnastics. Performing in both dry and wet environments before an audience behind glass 5 days a week. Underwater ballet in a variety of restrictive and sparkly costumes, including tail. Daily maintenance of the mermaid mystique and projection of proper mermaid attitude and hospitality. Daily photo sessions, autograph sessions and meet and greet for children, adults and groups.

Qualifications: Minimum 18 years of age. Strong swimming skills required. Ability to hold your breath underwater for 60 seconds while smiling and eating bananas. Physical fitness and healthy body type necessary. Must love audiences, frolicking with fish, cool spring water, wearing swimsuits and mermaid tales. Beauty pageant experience a plus. Aversion to tube breathing or alligators need not apply. Preference given to Florida natives with proof of birth certificate and ladies with first names ending in “Y” or “I.”

Apply in person.
Low pay, great benefits.

Always strange Florida

Why is that everytime Florida makes it into the national news it's for something completely strange? You almost never see a story out of Florida make the national news scene for something like a Florida scientist coming up with a cure for some obscure disease or a Florida entreprenuer designing the newest high-tech gadget or a Florida educator producing high performing students. No, we're the state where Anna Nicole Smith overdoses, the shark bite capital of the world, where alligators end up in people's kitchens and we have an unusually high number of stupid criminals.

This week alone we've made national news for shark bites, the University of Florida was named the #1 party school (again!) and we've been a daily story for one of the worst examples of stupid criminals I've ever seen - the mother who can't seem to remember what happened to her 2-year old who's been missing for a month. Oh, and less I forget, "Boy Band Mogul Lou Perlman" who's in a Florida jail for fraud, turns informant and becomes an integral part of the state's case against a suspected cop killer.

There's a reason why the authors Carl Hiassen and Dave Barry have been such a success. They don't even have to make this stuff up. It writes itself. That's why you can buy not just one but three different books on Amazon right now about "weird Florida".

Over the years, Florida has made the news for some of the strangest, hardest to believe stuff you've ever seen. Here's just a sample of some of the strange but true news items out of Florida off the top of my head in recent years.

  • A man is found naked and lifeless in the Shamu tank at Sea World by staff early one morning. It is assumed the man hid in the park until after closing then disrobed and decided to swim with Shamu. It is undetermined if the man drowned or if the Orca had anything to do with his ultimate demise.
  • Some jackass is hospitalized after a night of drinking when he makes a bet with friends that he can kiss his pet rattlesnake. He's bitten but expected to survive.
  • Nasa Astronaut Lisa Nowak is jailed after attempting to kidnap her married boyfriend's new girlfriend at a Florida airport.
  • A 15-year-old boy stole a transit bus in Orlando and drove it about 12 miles, picking up passengers, collecting fares, driving the speed limit and making all the right stops before police arrested him.
  • Teen girls are arrested for kidnapping and beating a fellow classmate and cheerleader after they film the beating to post it on YouTube.
  • An Orange County sheriff's deputy was in uniform and sitting in his marked patrol car when a man walked up to him an asked if he wanted to buy some cocaine. The deputy said yes, the man pulled out a bag with cocaine and the officer arrested him. Another man in Tampa doubted whether the crack cocaine he bought was real, so he asked two uniformed Tampa police officers to verify. They did. It was. He was arrested.
  • Polk County deputies had to rescue a 45-year-old man who was naked and high on crack from the jaws of a nearly 12-foot alligator.
  • After State Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, was arrested and charged with grand theft, a television reporter showed up at his office. Instead of a "no comment," Siplin ran out the back of the building and was caught on tape climbing over a fence to reach a getaway car. After his conviction on the felony charges, Siplin filed a bill to restore voting rights to felons.
  • Stupid criminals in West Palm Beach picked the wrong guy to rob. Illusionist David Copperfield was walking to a tour bus with two assistants after a West Palm Beach show when four armed teenagers demanded valuables. The assistants turned over several hundred dollars. Copperfield had a wallet, passport and cell phone in his pockets, but when he turned them inside out, they vanished, using magic and slight of hand to prevent being robbed.

Serial killers. Where should I start? Florida must hold some sort of record on this one along with Texas and California. We've had Aileen Wournos, made famous not only because she is one of the few female serial killers in history but also because Charlize Theron won an Oscar for her performance of the recently executed Wournos in the movie Monster. Ted Bundy, several Lifetime movies on this guy. Gerald Stano, Gerald Schaefer, Danny Rolling. As I write this, Daytona Beach police are swabbing the mouths of those arrested or even pulled over for traffic violations in an attempt to find a DNA match for a serial killer on the loose (the "needle in a haystack approach to crime fighting").

Don't even get me started on politics in Florida. This year, when State revenues are plunging, foreclosures are at an all time high, the unemployment rate is rising steadily, our illustrious legislative leaders dicked around on issues like forcing teens to pull up baggy pants, outlawing "truck nutz", forcing women to have ultrasounds before abortions, a bill to allow "alternative theories to evolution" be taught in our public schools (read creationism!), and again with the state song, state pie, etc. Apparently, our legislative leaders still can't "find their ass with both hands" as my Southern Pappa so delicately puts it.

There's a reason why I didn't title this blog entry "Just when you thought it couldn't get even weirder here."

Raising a Marketing Whiz

Since she uttered her first word my daughter has been negotiating. While it drives me crazy when she starts trying to negotiate with me over everyday things such as eating her dinner, doing chores or taking her bath, I've always said that with her propensity for negotiating and always angling to make a deal with everyone, she's going to be a marketing prodigy.

I work in public relations, advertising and marketing, so I can spot a talent for the business. This morning she reached a new milestone in her marketing prodigy. Now remember, she's 9.

As I sat sipping my coffee and going over the paper, she and her friend were upstairs in her room playing and listening to music. I noticed that their "play" had turned into running a radio station where they were selecting songs, introducing the songs "announcer style" and planning their playlists. I did the same thing as a child only I had a radio and a tape recorder the size of a breadbox as my instruments of imagination, not an IPod and Karaoke machine.

Then all of a sudden the music stopped and I hear my little Mini-Me say to her friend "We only have 100 people listening to our station today. That's the same number as yesterday. What can we do to get more people to listen to our station?"

Um, I don't know her friends says.

"Well, right now, teenagers are listening to our station, right?"

Uh, yea. I guess.

"So if we got more kids to listen to our station then the parents would listen and the grandparents would listen so that would mean more people were listening to our station."


The music switches to a Miley Cyrus song and I hear Mini-Me say in an announcer voice, "Right now we're gonna play a little Juice Box for all our young listeners out there. Enjoy!"

At the age of 9 she's working toward building a more expansive demographic and increased audience size for her imaginary radio station? At this rate, I'm going to end up working for her one day.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Back to School Shopping Scars

My Baby Daddy (ex husband and father of my daughter) is an editor at the local newspaper and recently reached out for assistance on a Back To School article he was writing. He was looking for a family who wouldn't mind a reporter tagging along when they did their back to school shopping and asked if I'd e-mail my friends and contacts soliciting a victim, er family, for their article.

I sent a blast e-mail out and got a few private responses from friends who didn't think chronicling their back to school shopping for the (local) world to see would be such a good idea. But the best response came from VOR (my friend who I refer to as my Voice of Reason).

"Oh, yeah.... I can see it now.... the camera zooms in on my face just as my patience is running thin when my 13 year old daughter, who is barricaded in a dressing room and trying on what must be the 50th outfit of the day, exclaims for everyone within a 5 dept. range that, OMG Mom!! No one would EVER wear this to school! OMG!!! After 5 hours of serious shopping (after all school shopping HAS to be done all in one day, there's a rule) her blood sugar level is dropping almost as fast as my money is disappearing out of my wallet. Oh yes, that would be one of our finest hours...."

I actually stopped by the mall yesterday while my daughter was away visiting my parents for a few days to pick up a few items of clothing for my 9-year-old Mini-Me. At this age, she doesn't give me too hard a time about clothing and let's me choose most of it, which apparently will stop when she turns 13, according to VOR.

As I was checking out, a woman about my age with three daughters between the ages of 6 and 12 came into the store. The girls all began judging the clothes, what was cool, what was not and what they wouldn't be caught dead in. Of course, I noticed nothing on the "sale" rack was deemed suitable for dress by the living. As they left the store, the salesgirl said to me "Not a good idea to bring the girls with you shopping. They never want the least expensive or most practical items."

"Why do you think I left my daughter at home?" I replied.

"You're smart." said the salesgirl as she rang up my purchase for items picked exclusively from the sales rack.

Making Memories

I got a call last night from my daughter, age 9. She's spending a couple of days with my parents, whom she calls Mimi and Pappaw (it's a Southern thing). They took her to a fishing camp and outdoor ranch a friend of theirs owns for a couple of days.

"Mom, I fished with Mimi and Pappaw today and caught a million fish!!! And I got to drive the four-wheeler all by myself and I get to drive again tonight and I'm really, really looking forward to it!"

I don't think I've heard this kind of excitement apart from Christmas in a long time. It thrills me to no end to see my daughter have so much fun with her grandparents, but what excites me even more is the memories she's building of her time with them.

When I hung up the phone last night, I couldn't help but smile. She's going to remember these few days with Mimi and Pappaw for the rest of her life. This kind of family bonding, memory making and generational love is so often missing in families today. I am so fortunate, as is my daughter, that she has grandparents in her life that not only love to spend time with her, but treat her as if the sun rises and sets on her lily white butt. Of course, she is the ONLY grandchild. Say what you want about grandparents spoiling grandkids, but I don't have too many memories of this kind of unabashed love and enjoyment emanating from my grandparents.

I do remember the first time I ever went to Walt Disney World. It was 1974 and my mom's mom and her husband took me to the newly opened amusement park. I'd never seen anything like it, but most of all what I remember is that my grandparents made a special trip to pick me up and take me with them while my infant sister stayed home with my parents. I felt really special to get to go with them without the rest of my immediate family in tow and I'm sure I shined under their undivided attention.

I know there are many kids being raised by grandparents these days and I know most grandparents love their grandkids. But from the moment my daughter was born, my parents changed. My dad, who never held me as an infant (according to my mom), would come to my home nearly every weekend after my daughter was born and just sit and hold her. He would walk straight in the house and it didn't matter if my daughter was sleeping or if someone else was holding her, he'd take her and just sit and hold her for an hour or more.

I haven't always had the best relationship with my dad (an understatement). I do know that my parents struggled when I was growing up both financially and with their marriage. Raising kids is hard, especially when you live paycheck to paycheck and don't have a lot of help from nearby family. So I think my dad and my mom have relished the second chance they've gotten to be the parents they always wanted to be with my daughter, and in a way with my sister and I now that we are grown.

I went through some real depression and the breakup of my marriage within the first 3 years of my daughter's life. I wouldn't have made it without my parents' help, especially when it came to my daughter. My mom would drive from her home an hour away on Friday, pick my daughter up from daycare and take her back home where she and my dad would care for her for the weekend when I had to work. And they loved every minute of it. Since before she was born, my parents have kept a room in their home outfitted especially for her. First it had a crib and changing table, a high chair and all the playtoys she'd ever want. Then, as she grew, they outfitted the room with a single bed, toybox and dresser. They even had a swingset in the backyard (which I didn't even have at MY home) just for her.

My sister, who only recently married and has no children, said a few months after my daughter was born, "Well, I guess we're out of the will. She's going to get everything." I think she's right.

But I wouldn't have it any other way.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Camping Escapades

I just got back from spending a 4-day weekend at Disney's Fort Wilderness Campground. I have some good things and some bad things to report.

First the good. Everyone had a great time! We enjoyed swimming, especially sneaking over to the Wilderness Lodge pool which is much bigger, has a slide, a waterfall and a pool bar! Something for the kids and mommy, too! We also discovered a second pool at the Wilderness Lodge called the springs pool. It has jets that shoot bubbles to the surface making it look as if the pool is spring fed. We enjoyed this pool the most because it was cooler, less crowded and more shaded. But what probably made it great was that we got to enjoy the pool amenitities of the $400 a night resort while paying less than $100 a night at the campground. Bonus!

Everyone in the family took their bikes to ride this time. We have rented a golf cart to motor around the resort in the past, but this time I thought we all could use the exercise (and I needed to save money). Whatever happened to walking? I mean our campsite was maybe two blocks from the main pool area and yet many campers felt they needed to jump in the golf cart to get there. We actually walked to and from the main entertainment area and we even walked one night all the way to the beach area to see the fireworks. And we all lived to tell about it. Although after a long, hot day, the walk was a little much for my youngest who fell down a few times from sheer exhaustion. Tears ensued. But I had no trouble convincing her to go to bed that night. Bonus #2!

Another good thing our newest members of the family joined us for the camping trip. My sister got married in April and her husband and his 16 year old son joined us while my sister worked. In fact, Zach (our new cousin), loved getting to hang with my teens for the weekend. Lots of positive family bonding. Bonus #3!

We were all having such a good time on Sunday that I asked my husband to take an extra day off from work so that we could stay overnight and leave on Monday. To my utter shock and surprise he did. He almost never takes an unscheduled day off. And he's not even a big fan of the Disney campground (it's a little too "nice" for his outback tastes). The extra day/night gave us a chance to take the Disney bus to the Downtown Disney area for dinner that night giving me a night off from campground cooking. Bonus #4! Which leads me to the bad news.

Despite the fact that the campground was not full (read crowded) the Disney folks seemed to be having some transportation issues. Now I know it is not easy to manage a bus fleet of over 300 buses but getting stuck on a bus for an hour and a half for a ride that should have taken half an hour is not so "magical". Part of the allure of staying on Disney property is not having to drive, pay for parking (that is if you can find it) when you want to visit other parts of the property. But getting stuck in a bus so cold you could hang meet for an extra hour of my precious vacation time was certainly not among my list of "A Year of a Million Dreams." Deduct 1 Bonus Point!

Did I mention that the campground was not crowded? Now we've been coming to this campground for nearly 4 years and I learned quickly that you needed to make your camping reservations in advance - far in advance - at least 4 months if not more. So I had made our reservation back in April and yet I would say about one quarter or more of the spots this weekend were empty. That's good if you don't like crowds (which I don't) but that's bad for the Florida economy. I mean if Disney's tourism is slow, imagine how slow the rest of the state must be! This doesn't bode well for our state in the coming year. In the last 10 years, Florida's tourism has taken hits from hurricanes and wildfires. Now the gas prices and economy are wreaking mother nature like havoc on our state's most valuable resource. Deduct 1 Bonus Point!

Speaking of Mother Nature, it was the kind of weekend only a native like myself could survive. The heat and humidity were at record levels. All you had to do was stand outside and you'd break into a sweat. Then most afternoons we were pummeled by raging thunderstorms which left the campground a soggy mess. We had to be flexible and take advantage of the outdoor things in the early part of the day and plan for some inside rest time in the afternoons. Good thing I brought lots of snacks and some extra towels and sunscreen! No Bonus Point Deduction due to the fact that I'm native!

All in all, it was a lot of fun. And if you're reading this might I suggest you come to Florida for vacation? You won't have to fight the crowds and you can make last minute reservations. It's the perfect time to spend some money in the Sunshine State!

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Don't you just love Karma! It is so rare these days to see someone actually reap what they sow. But I had a great Karma experience last week and it made my day a little brighter.

I was taking my daughter to summer camp. It was mid-morning, clear and sunny day. A typical laid back summer day. Until some jerk blew his horn at me and flipped me off as he zoomed around me in a broken down piece of junk Jeep.

Now I can't imagine what I could have done to anger this gentleman so much. I had just turned my gas guzzling truck onto the bridge toward the beachside. I had obeyed all traffic laws. I had not cut him off. I had not been dawdling 10 miles under the speed limit. The only thing I could possibly have done to cause this road rage is wait until the light went green to turn right into traffic. I guess I could have tried to dart out into traffic while the light was still red since it is legal to make such a turn at the light. But the light was about to turn and I didn't see the need to gun the tanker and suck down even more gas in my vehicle.

Then it happened. Karma! As he flew past my truck blowing his horn and cussing me, he reached up to flip me off and knocked his sunglasses off his head. They tumbled up and over the top of the jeep and as I looked in my rear view mirror, I saw them run over by a car behind me. Beautiful!

Mr. Road Rage sped to the bottom of the bridge where he made an illegal u-turn on red and backtracked over the bridge. I guess he was going back for what was left of his sunglasses.

I continued on safely, noticing that this gorgeous summer day got even better!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Ladies Weekend

I recently had the privilege of spending a long weekend in Delray Beach with several ladies and had my faith restored in humankind.

Wondertwin invited me to take part in the girls trip. It was just us girls. No husbands, kids or significant others. No chores. No work. Just relaxing, shopping, and talking. Lots of talking.

There were six of us all together and I only knew two, but you would never have known we weren't all lifelong friends. In fact, the way we got along so well was not only refreshing, it restored my faith in adults a wee bit. Between road rage, the daily news, bad behavior in a stressful workplace and the summer hijinks of my husband's ex wife, I had begun to think that adults could no longer behave rationally. Not only did all of us get along great and have fun, we managed to discuss everything from family, kids and hobbies to the state of the economy, how to make a Mohito and bikini waxes. Let's just say everything was open for discussion. And no one argued or got their feelings hurt. Imagine!

Wondertwin had warned me in advance that there were no rules for the weekend. The trip was all about doing what you want, when you want and how you want. There was no pressure to hang with the rest of the group the entire time and you didn't have to go along with every plan made. The understanding was that everyone was invited but no one had to come as plans were formed each day.

We came from different parts of the state and were of varying ages. One was a musician, one a designer, one a computer programmer, three were in public relations. Two were married, the rest were single. Some had kids. Some had pets.

One thing we all had in common is that we all were listeners of NPR. I noticed throughout the weekend that one by one each woman referred to NPR in recounting a story or in discussing an issue. Not that it means anything. Note to NPR executives, if you're reading this, you would do well to cover more "women's issues." We seem to be a strong demographic for your marketers. How about exploring issues like why women's bathing suits cost so much when there's so little fabric and start a movement banning pantyhose.

This trip provided an opportunity to discover something new about myself. It seems that I may be the only women left on earth who has never taken a "girlfriend trip," much less taken a trip like this on an annual basis. I took a trip with my sister and mother on a cruise once, but apparently traveling with family doesn't count as a girlfriend trip. This revelation was like discovering self-tanner spray for the first time. You mean you don't have to lay out in the hot Florida sun, sweltering in the humidity until you're nothing but a giant sweat puddle and incur skin cancer to get a tan? You can just spray it on and go? Who'd have thunk?

All these years - my entire life- I've only ever vacationed with my family or my husband. Well, now that the scales have fallen from my eyes, it's going to be a whole different game. Have spray tan and girlfriends will travel!