Swamp Cabbage Festival: part two.

Last week, I discussed the origin of the Swamp Cabbage Festival in LaBelle, Florida.  Today, I am just wandering around town after the Saturday parade. Click on photos to enlarge.

A three dollar bet on the armadillo race can win you either six dollars or an armadillo hat.  The race proceeds go to the Rotary Club’s LaBelle High School Scholarship Fund.

Of course, there’s food.

If you have a steep hill, you might want this lawn mower.

For mowing steep slopes

The auto show had a bit of everything.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For my Boston friends: yes, the trees have leaves and the grass is green in February in Florida. 🙂

Posted in Travel Logs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

“Eat a tree.” Swamp Cabbage Festival: part one.

LaBelle is on the Caloosahatchee River, part of the Intracoastal Waterway System.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Have you eaten “hearts of palm.”  When we worked in the District of Columbia, it was often served in salads.  But for some reason, I have rarely seen it in a salad in Southern Florida.  That is odd, because it grows here — but then, maybe not.  Wild trees die when harvested, and Florida’s wild Sabal palmetto, the state tree, is protected by law.

Hearts [or heart] of palm comes from the inner core, the bud, of certain palm trees like the Sabal palmetto, but most edible hearts of palm come from domesticated varieties in Costa Rica that have multiple stems.

The vegetable looks similar to white asparagus, is fibrous and somewhat crunchy.  But it has a very mild delicate flavor.  It is rich in nutrients including vitamin C, protein, iron, folate, manganese, and fiber.

And as you guessed reading the title of this post, old Florida “Crackers” called it “swamp cabbage.”  A Swamp Cabbage Festival T-shirt read “Eat a tree.”

A business in LaBelle

LaBelle, Florida, the county seat of Hendry County, has just 4640 people.  The county has under 40,000.  In 1990, there were just 2700 people in the entire county.  They were mostly farmers and ranchers.  I don’t know how many were around in 1966, but they decided to have a party.

Today the party attracts more visitors than LaBelle has people.  It all starts at the end of January when a “Miss Swamp Cabbage” is selected.  Then on the last Monday of February there is a street festival, followed by an “Old Timers Dinner” on Thursday.  Friday is the first rodeo night.  Competitors for the Swamp Stomp 5-K and bass tournament both checked in at 6:00 a.m. Saturday.  Later Saturday, there was a parade, entertainment, more rodeo and a dance.  Sunday had more entertainment.

The latest parade fan.

Of course, many vendors sell everything from farm equipment to food of every sort, including — you guessed it – swamp cabbage.

Despite its popularity today, more than tourists are on the street.  The parade still honors a “pioneer family” each year.  This year it was the Rodriquez family who started farming in 1935.  Migrants who settled in the area and farm-workers are still a large percentage of the crowd.

LaBelle still caters to ranchers and farmers.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hendry and Glades Counties are small but well represented.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Real cowboys [and cowgirls] live here.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Participants come from all over the area.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

P.S.:  Check out small town parades here and here and Swamp Buggy races here.

Posted in Travel Logs | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

With a name like “Ding,” he was a Darling: Sanibel Island, FL

Recreation of Ding Darling’s office

J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge has 35 species of mammals, 60 species of reptiles and amphibians, 102 species of fish and 272 species of birds.

The refuge is one of 560 in the National Wildlife Refuge System.  Visitors to the 7,608 acres have many options.  One can hike, go birding, use a canoe or stand-up paddle board.  There are boat rentals, fishing guides, free lunchtime naturalist talks, nature and sea life cruises, exhibits, tram tours, bike rentals, free walking tours and naturalist lectures, a weekly lecture series and a film series.  Whew!  Or you could just find a spot to sit, be quiet and watch.

Snowy Egret

The first wildlife refuge was Florida’s 5-acre Pelican Island in 1903.  Jay Norwood Darling, nicknamed Ding, led an effort to block the sale of a parcel on Sanibel to developers and later persuaded President Harry S. Truman to sign an executive order creating the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge in 1945.  The refuge was renamed for Darling in 1967.

Younger readers who grew up with television and the Internet might not appreciate a time when newspapers were the most influential political voices in the nation.  Particularly influential were editorial cartoonists.  Darling drew over 15,000 political cartoons.  He appeared regularly in magazines and was syndicated in over 140 newspapers.  He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1924 and 1943 [no, we were not around then either].  He served on government commissions and as head of the forerunner of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  He is credited with creating the first Duck Stamp program which provides funds for wildlife conservation in the U.S.  Other countries now follow his lead.

Great Blue Heron

The refuge includes bays, ponds, seagrass beds, marshes, and West Indian hardwood hammocks.  There is even a Calusa shell mound created by the pre-Columbian First Americans.

Parking and the Visitors’ Center exhibits are free but there is a charge for the tram tour and to drive the approximately five-mile long Wildlife Drive [Currently $5 per vehicle or $1 per pedestrian or bicycle].

Multi-colored Tourist Birds

Alie’s physical problems keep our ventures into the refuge pretty sedate: a drive and short walks.  But there is so much to see, we enjoy it every time.  On our early visits, we often saw Wilma, a crocodile.  Somehow she made it to Ding Darling from the southern tip of the Everglades and decided to stay.  There are plenty of alligators, but until she died in 2010, she was the only crocodile that far north. Perhaps we were fond of her because she liked to get away too.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Try to visit at low tide as we did to see birds feeding.

P.S.  That snowy egret is very white despite foraging in muddy water.  I learned today there are many factors.  The feather cell structure has a tight weave.  They comb and clean themselves with their beaks and comb-like structures on their third toe.  When they preen, they also transfer oil from a gland to the feathers and a white dust that acts like Teflon to repel dirt. 

Posted in Travel Logs | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Go mom! Synchronized Figure Skating

We first heard of synchronized figure skating when the 2018 Eastern Synchronized Sectionals were held at Estero, Florida’s Germain Arena.  We were to meet another couple for dinner, but decided to stop by for a couple hours in the afternoon just to see what it was all about.

There were seven divisions competing: Juvenile; Intermediate; Junior; Collegiate; Novice; Intermediate; Adult; and Masters.  We saw “Open” Collegiate, Masters and Adult skaters perform.

There was not a big crowd.  Tickets were inexpensive, and ours were free.  Someone coming out gave them to us, which we told the attendant who said it did not matter.  Most spectators were team members and their families.  We took seats close to center ice near an injured skater and her mother.  They were happy to explain what we were seeing.

U.S. Synchronized Skating has three sectional championships leading up to a national championship.  All are sanctioned by U.S. Figure Skating, but they have not hit the big time.

Open competition, is just that: open to all competitors.  We were not seeing the best.  They were there to get experience.  Some were there just for fun.

We were confused.  Teams seemed to be of every age and size.  But indeed, that is true.  “Preliminary” skaters are on a team of 8 to 16 skaters all under 12 with the majority under age 10 the preceding July and skate for two minutes.  Similar rules apply to the other divisions with “Open Masters” being a team of 8 to 16 skaters with all over 25 and the majority over 30.  I guessed several of the skaters we saw were over 60 and possibly over 70.  They skated two and a half minutes.  Those teams wishing to move to the National Championships had similar restrictions, skated to longer programs and had previously passed “field tests” on basic maneuvers and formations.

The following is copied from the U.S. Figure Skating website:

  • BLOCK- A formation in which skaters line up one behind the other in more than two straight lines forming a block or formation. The block moves on the ice utilizing the entire surface.
  • CIRCLE- A maneuver in which skaters are linked and rotate with step combinations in a circular motion. Skaters can skate forward or backward trying to hold form for a perfect circle.
  • INTERSECTION- An intersection is a required element for the synchronized team skating short program and a common synchronized team skating formation. It is any type of maneuver that incorporates movement of one part of the team through the other part of the team.
  • LINE- A formation in which the skaters are arranged in a single line, side by side. For the synchronized team skating short program, the line must extend across the ice surface width and travel the full length of the ice.
  • WHEEL- A formation in which skaters form lines that are connected and rotating from one central point, similar to the spokes on a bicycle wheel.

The “Masters” were clearly there for fun,  Our “guides” told us they were often parents who, bored attending their children’s practices year after year, formed their own teams.  This was confirmed when a shout came from the stands, “Go Mom!”

Synchronized Figure Skating hasn’t reached the big time yet, but yes, they too have Olympic dreams.  Had we not had a dinner engagement, we would have stayed to see the real competition that evening.  We admit it: we are easily amused.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Posted in Travel Logs | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Epcot proves me wrong.

Walt Disney envisioned Epcot as the “Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow.”  But with his death, it became just another attraction in the Disney parks system.

The large dome seen is “Spaceship Earth” and contains a historical exploration of innovation.

“Future World East” and “Future World West” were to focus on modern science and technology with a view to the future, although they too have an amusement park feel.


Paths open out to “World Showcase” where exhibits reflect the culture and history of the U.S. and ten other countries: Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Morocco, France, United Kingdom, and Canada.  Each country exhibit features a film or amusement ride reflecting mostly American stereotypes of that country.  There are many places to eat and buy souvenirs, also reflecting U.S. preconceived images.

But perhaps I am too harsh.  Most visitors have not had the good fortune to travel as we have. We haven’t been to mainland China or Morocco, but otherwise have seen the real thing.  Arriving when the gates opened at eleven and wanting to see the fireworks at nine p.m., I was sure we would have more than enough time to do everything we felt like.

Day of the Dead exhibit

That is not to say the park isn’t fun.  We visited many years ago and were looking forward to seeing it again.  But our expectations were low.

As the title suggests, we had a great time and ran out of time.

Here is a quick synopsis of what we did.

In Future World East, we played with color, testing our ability to produce a desired color.  After looking at super-magnified images of items like a butterfly’s wing – the cellular structure is amazing, we used “rope magnifiers” [sort of a lens on a flexible tube that reveals images on a monitor].  We looked at the items they had on display and then turned the magnifiers on our own bodies – which may not have been a good thing.


I rode through “Test Track by Chevrolet” which was a bust both as a ride and education until it burst out of the building on a track as fun as most roller coasters.

We looked at art as described in last week’s post.

We took a boat ride in Mexico: If you have been to a Disney park, think “it’s a small world” in serapes and sombreros.

We rode “Frozen Ever After” in Norway, a boat ride based on Disney’s film Frozen.  It was so poorly done, Walt must be groaning in his grave [perhaps an idea for a Disney haunted house].  Note, if you are seeing something based on a popular Disney film, be sure to use a “fast pass” to shorten your wait.

I did enjoy the three hundred and sixty degree film showing the sights of China.  It had been updated since we last saw it and went way beyond the mandatory views of the Great Wall, terra-cotta army and Forbidden City.

Similarly, I enjoyed the film on France which showed much more than the Eiffel Tower.

“Figment” of “Imagination”

We went back to the Chinese pavilion to see a mind-boggling performance by acrobats before rushing back to Future World West where I had memories of the days when “Imagination” was sponsored by Kodak and featured a dragon called “Figment.”  It was closed, so we went on a ride based on Finding Nemo.  Unlike the Frozen ride, it was done well with 3-D images, but what we really enjoyed was its huge aquarium.

I had to drag Alie away from the fish to see the fireworks display: Illuminations: Reflections of Earth in the center of the World Showcase lake.  I love fireworks.  These were excellent fireworks augmented by huge bursts of flame whose heat could be felt across the lake.  Furthermore, a giant revolving globe moved out under the fireworks.  On the various continents were projections of people and animals from those places.

We were there in January, and it was not extremely crowded.  In fact, by the end of the day, the aquarium viewing areas were nearly empty.

We had free tickets, but the promotion was unconnected to Disney, so I have no qualms saying, we could have easily filled another day.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted in Travel Logs | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Art at Disney World

Epcot International Festival of the Arts

Click on photos to enlarge.

We took advantage of a couple free tickets to visit Epcot in Disney World.  By chance, we were there for the “Epcot International Festival of the Arts.”

Some decades ago when we still lived “up north,” we often chose to visit Alie’s parents on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday in mid-January.  Disney World was not as crowded as it is the rest of the year.  I suppose the people at Disney observed that and created this “arts festival” to draw in more people.  In any case, there were more people this time.

Have your photo taken posing as a famous painting.

It seems there is an art festival in some Florida town on almost any winter weekend.  But the only similarity between those arts festivals and this one was the art is displayed on sidewalks in canvas booths.  It appeared to me this art was the same as is normally sold in Disney souvenir shops.  Nonetheless, we can’t help having a good time.

In addition to the art for sale, they had daily workshops [for a charge] on subjects such as drawing, animation, cartoon portraits, calligraphy, etc.

Lon Smart, Creative Concept Artist

There were also two free seminars each day.  We caught a question and answer session at the end of one called “From Concept to Creation” and wished we had heard more.  Lon Smart, a “creative concept artist” discussed his work.  He said when someone came up with an idea, whether for a ride or just the theme of a restaurant, he would illustrate the concepts for any portion of that idea including decorations.  He said he did not have to worry if his concepts would work; that was the job of the engineers.  He defied the audience to discover how Disney made his dragon fly.  But only about one out of

Ready for a seminar

10 of his illustrations every becomes a final product.  Most of his work is now done on a computer.  Not only is it faster, it is easier to change.  He said one downside for him was now his deadlines to produce an illustration keep getting shorter.

In response to one question, he replied, yes he hides an image of Mickey Mouse in everything, but he tells his bosses where it is.

The same Odyssey Festival Showplace where Smart spoke had an interesting display of Disney posters showing both their evolution over time and how they varied in parks in other parts of the world.

It may not be “fine art,” but the people at Disney through creativity and skill have certainly made their craft an art.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted in Travel Logs | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

An alternative to the mouse: Orlando, Florida

One of the many jobs I held while a student was operating a shooting gallery in Hershey Park in Pennsylvania in 1962.  The things we older folks remember aren’t necessarily better, but I did like the way the park operated then.

There was no entrance fee.  There were picnic tables, and one could bring one’s own food and beverages, although most bought from concession stands.  One paid by the ride, or in our case, the chance to shoot.  There were free concerts at the band shell, and it was a pleasure just to walk beneath the trees along the stream.  One did not need money to enjoy the park.

Now most amusement parks do not charge for individual rides, but there is a hefty fee just to enter.  They would never think of allowing you to bring your own food.

A lower cost alternative

We enjoy Disney World and have been there many times.  We went to Epcot on a recent visit to the Orlando area.  But I often wonder how young families can afford the hefty entrance prices let alone to feed the family while there.

Just down the road in Kissimmee is a much less elaborate [and much less innovative] but also much less expensive alternative.  Old Town Kissimmee is an amusement park and outdoor mall right next to Fun Spot America, a larger amusement park.  Neither charges an entrance fee.

Lights radiate in a kaleidoscope of color on the side of the Ferris wheel near the Old Town entrance.  Close by is the Sky Coaster, one of those crosses between a bungee cord and a sling shot that throws customers more than 300 feet into the sky.  Next to that, passengers revolve on a wheel that mimics the G-forces in a NASA centrifuge.  An arcade, haunted house, and The Great Magic Hall are down main street — and there is a shooting gallery.

Of course, there are souvenir shops and restaurants.  There are also free concerts, movies and shows.  We were there on a cold [for Florida] January Saturday night and saw their regular “Classic Car Show and Cruise.”

Fun Spot America has a roller coast that mimics the old wooden coasters.  There are bumper cars, a carousel, arcade and midway.  There are go carts on spiraling tracks.  There are kiddie rides.  There is ice cream and funnel cake. There is much more.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Click here for more information on Old Town and here for more information on Fun Spot America.

P.S.  A bit of history for young people who do not understand how much things have changed for the better:  Hershey Park was never segregated.  In 1962, bus loads of blacks from Washington, D.C. and Baltimore came every week to enjoy the park.  De facto segregation was still the rule in President Kennedy’s Washington.

Posted in Travel Logs | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments