“Gathering of [not so big] Giants:” Cape Coral Florida

A jet takes off in less than 600 feet.

Our Internet service will be problematic during April, and I apologize if I am slow to respond to comments.

Seventy pilots flew more than 100 planes and helicopters off a 600-foot runway — radio controlled model planes and helicopters, that is.  As it is 2018, a drone filmed from above.

The Cape Coral R/Sea Hawks Flying Club  has 300-plus members, one of the largest clubs nationwide.  Among the members are retired military, commercial and private pilots who often also own a real plane

A World War I “dog fight”

They use a 600 by 60 foot asphalt runway which was repaved and re-striped by the city last summer.  There also is a parallel grass runway, a lake for float planes and an area for helicopters.

The 24th “Gathering of the Giants”  is a radio- controlled air show  with many different types of planes from jets to vintage warplanes using gas, turbine and jet engines.

A pilot I met said this was just a “fun show” not a competition.  The challenge is to have a successful flight:  the pilot must control for  wind, clouds, and technical/mechanical issues.

A national competition will be held in Lakeland in May.  He said a panel of three judges will judge planes first from 20 feet away, then close up, and then while flying.  The goal is to create the model as close to the real thing as possible including flying characteristics.  They do not want a model plane that flies better than the real one.

Another pilot told me they sometimes have “dog fights” during which ribbons are attached to the tails of the competing planes.  Competitors then try to cut the ribbons on the other planes while avoiding having their own cut.  Crashes happen.

While I watched, there were up to four craft airborne at any time, usually for six to seven minutes.  None crashed, but one failed to make it off the runway.

The Candy Bomber

During the noon hour each day, a “Candy Bomber” flies over the grass field and drops candy.  Children, escorted onto the paved runway by an adult, are then allowed to run out and collect it.  It was a big success.

There was a five dollar suggested parking “donation” and a Valient 30-cc ARF plane with a 9-foot wing span was raffled.  A portion of the proceeds are donated to the $1500 Mayor’s Scholarship Fund.

Click on photos to enlarge.

P.S., the real local “sea hawks” are ospreys, and a local high school’s nickname is “The Seahawks.” 

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“Scene” on the way; images that caught our fancy.

Blogger Curt Mekemson wrote he laughed at my photo of the stool bus.  Funny or peculiar scenes often provoke a laugh but frequently go by too quickly to photograph.  Here are some that we caught over the years.


Click on images to enlarge.

Truth in Advertising:

There seems to be a theme here:

Some things just catch my eye:

Two jeeps:

Is that a jeep following that jeep?

No lifeguard on duty: 

Please don’t feed fingers to the horses:

Exit only:

St. Louis Cemetery, New Orleans – Exit Only

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Husband Day Care Center: Tarpon Springs, Florida

After lunch with a group of friends in Tarpon Springs, we decided to walk along the docks.  We did not take full advantage of the many things the city offered, but it was great to just enjoy people-watching on a beautiful Florida day.

Husband Day Care

The town of about 24,000 is said to have the highest percentage of people with Greek ancestry in the U.S.   Farmers and fisherman settled the area in the late 1800s, a town was platted in 1887 and a railroad arrived in 1888 catering to wealthy people escaping northern winters.  Greek immigrants arrived in the 1890s to work in the sponge fishing business which at the time employed men from the Keys and Bahamas using hooks.

Greeks began diving for sponges in the early 1900s, and it quickly became a major business.  A red tide algae bloom created toxins which killed off most of the sponges, and the men switched to shrimp.  I imagine the growth  of artificial sponge production did not help either.  But the sponges recovered, and a small sponge-diving industry continues today.

Greek sponge diver influence is everywhere.

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We sometimes joke the entire country is shaking and everyone settles down to Florida eventually.  Naturally, Tarpon Springs caters to tourists and winter residents as a major source of income.

The Sponge Exchange Marketplace has a variety of shops.

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Trip Advisor lists many things to see.  There are the sponge docks.  St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral was already closed when we got there.  There are parks and beaches.  Boat tours take you out to sight-see and learn about sponge fishing. There is the Tarpon Springs Heritage Museum, Replay Amusement Museum, Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art, Stafford House Museum and the Konger Tarpon Springs Aquarium, and Spongeorama is on the dock along with many restaurants and shops.

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As we so often say, we will just have to go back and see more.

A variation on the theme.

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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.

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

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“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.

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Hendry and Glades Counties are small but well represented.

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Real cowboys [and cowgirls] live here.

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Participants come from all over the area.

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

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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. 

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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.

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