Sunday, August 28, 2005

Ripple Effect of Hurricane Katrina

Last year, Florida took a beating from four named tropical storms; three of which I needed to be concerned with. I stocked my safe room (my bathroom) and hunkered down accordingly. Having come out unscathed and now living in Florida's panhandle, I thought I was out of harm's way when it comes to hurricanes. Not so.

Peter called today to give me a brief update on the status of Flamingo Lodge in Everglades National Park - a place that has been part of my life for at least 10 years. And for anyone who has ever visited the Everglades will know, it's a place and an attitude that sticks with you.

What Peter reported was not good news. The Park Service didn't have them evacuate (which is strange, since I went through MANY evacuations while living there, including four in one year) since the storm developed quickly and was projected to cut directly west across the state. The staff stayed in their rooms and trailers and as the sound of the freight train came in and the wind intensified, many evacuated from their trailers. Good thing because when the sun rose, the day revealed that most of those trailers, RVs and employees' cars were gone, along with the employee pub - washed away into Florida Bay.

He said that the resort lost five out of six houseboats, the marina docks are torn up, the store is in disarray. The Lodge rooms are flooded as well as the cottages. Garbage dumpsters that were behind the restaurant were carried by the six foot storm surge about 1/2 mile across the street and now sit in the Coastal Prairie. Garbage cans and grills from the campground that sits on Florida Bay have been swept about 1,000 yards by the waves. Amazingly, the windows did not blow in, which probably saved many of the employees and their belongings.

He said it will be months before the resort is open again. The staff can return once electric and potable water has been restored. The staff are all fine, physically. Mentally, one can only imagine what they've gone through considering their lives swept away in a matter of minutes.

It makes me sad to think of this destruction. Because although I didn't necessarily have the best of times while living there, but many good memories that sit with me.

Peter will send me some photos later in the week, I'll try to post some when I return. I leave tomorrow for the first hurricane preparedness seminar the office is sponsoring...

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Oh, the Irony

Since the first week of work I was tasked at planning a series of hurricane preparedness seminars throughout the state. Having finalized all locations, distributed the brochures, posted on the web, reservations taken, the first seminar - scheduled for this Monday, has been postponed due to the projected path of Hurricane Katrina! Oh, the irony, I love it!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

New York City: Here I Come (Again)

OK, I'm really excited about this. While IM-ing with ZeldaMae last night, she told me about the New Yorker Festival begin held Sept. 23 - 25. It's "a public discourse of arts and ideas." All sorts of writers (Stephen King) and journalists (Christiane Amanpour - no Anderson Cooper, though - damn!) and other members of the arts world (Mikhail Baryshnikov and Ric Ocasek); of course, writers from the New Yorker, too.

I redeemed some miles for a first class flight and will be staying in a hostel (ironic, I know) - I'm looking to make this a cheap and cheery weekend, which it will be. I dropped one of my sisters a line (because I don't have the other sister's email!) to see if she wanted to come into the City that weekend. It would be fun if she did.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

When I Was First Bitten

It was more than the travel bug that bit me when I was very young, it was the adventure bug, too. When I was five, we moved next door to where my father grew up. Across the street from him lived his childhood friend, Pete Willis.

I remember Mr. Willis didn't live there after we moved in across the street but his parents did. He traveled the world and brought us back treasures from Africa, such as wooden-carved animals and colorful beaded necklaces. My parents (or one of my sisters) have the wooden stools he brought back, too. When he would return home, he and my father would talk of tales about a panther that was hidden in Mr. Willis' barn. I found it hard to believe but a bit of me hoped it was true.

Later, he traveled to the Middle East where I believe he was in Iran during the 1980's and later Afghanistan. I never understood what this burley, bearded man did to travel to these exotic places and at first thought it was odd that he was the same age as my father but not married and didn't have children.

Eventually, a woman moved in across the street, a doctor from Thailand. I was interested in her, too, because she was single, no kids. I remember eating some kind of jello-canned-cranberry-textured stuff that tasted like sulfur. I did not enjoy the taste one bit but enjoyed her sharing herThai culture with us.

Meeting these people piqued my fascination with learning more about the world.

As I got older, I was a slave to 80's music, especially the British Bands (Duran Duran, Culture Club, U2 (I know, they're Irish)) and dreamed of traveling to England and Europe. In high school, I remember one of the neighbor kids asking why I wanted to travel to Europe when I hadn't explored the United States. That summer, my family and I made our first trip west of the Mississippi for a week in Wyoming, including Jackson, Cody, and Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park. Here, I fell in love with the west.

Upon graduating high school, I made it a goal to return to Yellowstone to work. The second summer following graduation I ran into my high school track coach who asked what I was up to. When I told him my plans of working in Yellowstone the following summer, his reply was something like, "yeah, right, whatever."

He didn't believe I could do it and I did. For six summers and one winter I did. In a strange way, that "hiking path" led to my current "career path." Since then, I've traveled to Europe, Canada, Cuba and Japan as well as extensively throughout the US. It's a big world and I've merely made a dent in seeing it.

I often think about these people who came along in my life who questioned what I wanted to do, what I wanted to see. Travel off the beaten path isn't for everyone but it's for me, in my own way. Because my wants and desires were different from theirs, I feel as though I was viewed differently, when in fact, there's nothing "wrong" with me.

Right now, I'm strategizing either for Russia or Iran next spring or summer, visiting my "Russian sister" or tagging along with a friend to her homeland of Iran.

Things I Did This Weekend

This weekend was fairly low-key. Besides being sick (following my first road trip with my new job), I took it easy by unpacking, visiting the Caribbean Festival downtown, setting up my PC AND sewing machine and making some necklaces (pictured here).

I tried to write some poetry, too, but couldn't get anything to come together. I've been so empty of negative emotion and unable to cry that I thought poetry would be another avenue to express what I'm feeling. It's as though when I get a negative or depressing thought and feel myself spiral into a pit of sadness, the negativity/depression is repelled away, like two magnets coming together. Those two magnets never touch but you can feel the repulsion as you try harder to make them meet.

I also contemplated the fact that "blue" is a truly underrated color. You don't hear of the "perfect blue little dress" or a song called, "The Lady in Blue." It's actually a very complementary color on many people, especially those with blue eyes.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Finding My Way In Nashville at the Gaylord Opryland

Weary travelers with confused looks and wrinkled maps are common sites on major city streets, say, Manhattan. One doesn't expect to see tourists with looks of frustration and weariness within a resort trying to find their room , unless they are staying at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville.

It's quite impressive that nine-acres of lush landscaping complete with a winding river and waterfalls are housed within a climate-controlled glass dome. I imagine it being a modern Biosphere 2. But unlike the Biosphere 2, the inhabitants could find their way within, and even (controversially) out of the dome with ease. Not so at the Opryland.

I had heard that the Opryland had a very confusing layout. Being navigationally challenged myself, I was curious as to how complex it could be. Little did I know that accepting my room key and map was like accepting a challenge. Something like "The Amazing Race." My smuggish road warrior instinct kicked in upon deciding that if families who travel once a year could navigate the maze, I certainly could do so.

I navigated fine through the first atrium only with minor barriers. Some tourists were taking pictures of a walking plant and wouldn't move so I inadvertently rolled my suitcase over Pa Kettle and knocked over Ma Kettle's sweet tea. I drudged on to be tripped up by the two mini-escalators that seemed to go no where.

Despite directional signs, the Opryland management is aware that getting lost is an issue (although, I don't recall seeing a "lost and found" nor a "lost child center.") because there are plenty of Opryland staff dotted within the complex to assist wary travelers. Of course, it would be real hospitable if they carried trays of lemonade or water, but I deviate...

With the assistance of a proper Southern gentleman, he walked me to my elevator where I finally reached my resting point. I missed most of the conference sessions because I could not find my way to the conference area nor to the specific meeting rooms. But, I did find my way to the evening events, which included performances by Donna Summers, BJ Thomas, Phil Vasser and LeeAnn Rimes (pictured above).

Despite being a tad overwhelming, the Opryland's staff does Southern Hospitality right to make every guest feel welcome. But next time, I'll be bringing a GPS. A trail of bread crumbs doesn't work - the staff cleans it up too quickly.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Wired - 24/7

I returned to the office today with a little surprise vibrating on my desk. Something I've dreaded and never liked touching. A Blackberry. The office decided it's time for us "worker bees" be connected to the Mother Ship 24/7.

I like to think I have some knowledge of technology but I've avoided the affectionately nicknamed "Crackberry" (for those of you who don't know - it's called this because it's addictive). The positive is that it's a phone, email, Internet, AIM and organizer (among other things) and can be used for personal use. I no longer need to haul my PDA, 2 cell phones and laptop. I just can't figure out how to turn it off.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Nashville Fling


*3 parts Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey
*1 part cranberry juice

Stir in one (1) fear to conquer and pour over five (5) ice cubs. Drink once every 30 minutes for two hours and gain the confidence to conquer the world.

OK, four drinks give me a little courage to conquer some fears and don't let me loose control of myself. Tonight (this morning) I danced ON the bar at Coyote Ugly, alongside some twenty-somethings. Amazingly, it was a liberating experience. And no, I did not leave my bra behind...

Friday, August 12, 2005

These Boots Were Made for Flyin'

After more than a month of vacationing from my road warrior status, I hit the road again tomorrow for Nashville. Over the next four weeks, I think I'm traveling every week except one. I can't WAIT to go through airport security! Despite efforts to have consistent security processes across the US, every airport is different. And when traveling in Europe, a whole other ball game. I'm sure more tales will be told from this venture, stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Midnight Motion Pictures

The whole concept of dreams fascinate me. Not the kind where you hope for something then it comes to fruition, but those that happen during the REM period. I often wonder if they are premonitions or just avenues to live out our dreams and wishes. Or, a way to vent our frustrations and confront fears.

And what does it mean when there are recurring people in our dreams? Especially people who you haven't consciously thought about in years suddenly appear in your personal, late night motion picture. Or recurring themes - for years I've dreamt of exploring beyond my parent's woods and discovering a castle with cemetery. Is it because I always wondered what was beyond the borders?

Or emotions - I've had dreams of varying intensities. Usually following the ending of personal relationships, I have a dream that brings me closure and allows me to move on. But what happens when I don't have that dream bringing me closure?

I have felt intense sadness in a dream and thought I was crying but woke up laughing. Last night my dream dealt with frustration and disappointment and when I awoke, my body was extremely tense. The dream disturbed me and took me an hour to go back to sleep and dream about venomous river otters...

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Eye of the Beholder

I admit. I'm a sucker for art, especially folk and pop art. While driving down the road in Tallahassee, I past a junk-yard looking place with a sign that read "American Folk Art Museum and Gallery." I stopped and met Missionary Mary L. Proctor, artist and owner.

She's being painting and creating for 10 years, following the death of her grandmother, aunt and uncle - who left her what started as a junk yard. She paints on doors, shutters, metal siding and anything she can get her hands on. She gave me a tour of the grounds. She's pictured with one of her earlier works.

She paints whimsy and emotion into each piece and incorporates buttons, soda cans, dollar bills, anything she can get her hands on, into the work. Each creation is bright and authentic.

Her main inspiration is God along with her grandmother and others who come in and out of her life. Mary's personality is as colorful as her artwork, each bit having a story. We went into one room where a rat sat on top of one her works and listened in. She proudly showed me her creation of all 42 US Presidents in which she crafted for Tallahassee's Spring in the Park celebration along with a book for each President but was told she could not exhibit the pieces because it contained President Andrew Jackson. The City had received a threat against Mary if she exhibited because of that piece.

She pointed out a tower of bicycles. Those bikes ended up there because people did think she was crazy and began tossing old bikes onto the property. She stacked them up to create a tower with a cut out of the Statue of Liberty holding a baby. She said it signifies that women keep the United States together and bicycles represent individuals. Even though not in perfect condition, we keep going and will triumph.

Sadly, she said not many of the locals stop and visit her gallery. She's waiting for some wealthy benefactor to come along and help clean up the grounds and provide a proper venue to display her work. I plan to see Mary again and she's worth meeting while visiting Tallahassee.

Now I See

Last week I felt like crap. I was tired and had to drag myself out of bed each morning. My whole body and mental state felt run down. I attributed it to the busy weekend I had earlier, but after 8 and 9 hours of sleep each night, I still felt horrible.

I had an eye exam yesterday and my blood pressure was measured. The top number was 25 points higher than it was 2 months ago. This explained why I was feeling miserable. After having my pupils dilated and driving around town like a freak (because I had to wear a black, plastic sheet over my eyes and under my glasses - but, it look very "80's-band-like") I went to the drug store and paid out of pocket for my medication that I haven't been taking. Long story but it has to do with changing jobs and being cancelled by my previous insurance - although I signed up for COBRA and the new one doesn't kick in until October.

I also attribute it to the natural stress of relocating and starting a new job. As my friend Barb, who now lives in Petrified Forest National Park, pointed out a couple of months ago, with all the life changes that have happened to me within the past year, it's natural for my stress level to be high.

I stocked up on soy products and other "healthy" eating options and maybe it's a state of mind, but I'm feeling better.

Friday, August 05, 2005

What Does It All Mean?

Today in the office, a journalist asked if there was a scientific reason why Florida sunsets are so vibrant. According to Florida International University there is a scientific reason. The ocean light is suspended by salt particles and water vapor reflect and causes brilliant sunsets. As for the top 10 locations for a Florida sunset? Anywhere looking west.

Then I went shopping alongside the mall-rats, feeling worse about myself. I had intentions of buying a DVD player - so I could watch my pilates DVDs on a TV screen vs. my laptop - since I have room to stretch out, but ended up purchasing two movies ("Like Water for Chocolate" and "Eternal Sunshine"), no clothing and no DVD player. The advantage about living in a college town is that "things" seem a bit more affordable. The disadvantage about living in a college town is that you're surrounded by young twenty-somethings and are reminded of the laws of gravity. *sigh*

Arriving home, I had a bizarre package waiting for me. It was a padded envelope with the return address of the place where my mail used to go. The gal there opens my mail then forwards the "real" stuff to me. In this week's envelope was a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. No note. No clue. Nothing. So, I don't know if the shipping gal just decided to send me some ears or if someone mailed them to me and she threw the envelope away. Very strange. At least now I have a matching set!

And will they or won't they? I'm confused. Last week Bush stated he didn't have an answer when the troops would return from Iraq, only when Iraq is ready (paraphrasing). A few days later, while Bush is vacationing in Texas, there's talk that the troops will begin pulling out in the spring - about 20,000 of the 120,000+ that are stationed. Yesterday, following the al-Zawahri video, Bush said the US will stay in Iraq and complete the job. (Could he be a "flip-flopper?" Nooo, Republicans wouldn't do that!)

What is the definition of complete anyway? The fact that we went in and destroyed Iraq and captured Hussein, that completed something, didn't it? And all the lives affected directly and indirectly by the war. The Iraqi and Afghan lives - lost and changed. Those State-side who physically lost loved ones while others lost loved ones in other, non-tangible ways.

Our government seems to offer a support network for Iraq and those Americans directly impacted by the war. But what about the rest who are going through a transition due to an indirect impact of the war on terror and are not receiving assistance from the government - a government that caused the change - when will the transition be complete? Of course, maybe it all doesn't matter.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Nuthin' Much

Well, I have nothing much to say right now, my mind feels like mush. I'm really enjoying my job but I work a solid 8 hours (plus break), balancing assignments. A new project is to plan 10 meetings throughout the state between now and October and have it complete by next week. At least the days fly by.

I was asked today what my weekend plans were and I replied, "I don't know."

The air was sucked out of the room by the questioner as she gasped with surprise.

What I need to do is just get organized. Both mentally and physically. For the past few weeks I haven't done that, focusing on story deadlines. I need to go through my email inboxes - 90 emails to sort through - that's why I haven't responded to most everyone! And find some storage units for my place, like bookshelves, filing cabinet, etc. so I can put away my "stuff."

I do want to share this little piece that I picked up in the daily news clips (what this has to do with Florida tourism, I have no idea). While working in Yellowstone one summer, I had a fascination with llamas so this story caught my eye. Enjoy!

Llamas Scare Austrian Drivers

Monday, August 01, 2005

Showing Up is 90% of the Work

Or that saying goes something like that. Upon realizing that I want to be a writer when I grow up - OK - I AM a writer already, I want to live off my writing - the competition is a mixed bag. A lot of writing is just plain bad, but, those people are actually writing and doing something. They are following through. And that's the problem with perfectionists, we wait until what we want to do is perfectly laid out from the vision in our mind and nothing ever gets done.

I've been busting my "fingers" to get my stories about Japan finished this week and sent them off to the editor Saturday and last night, to make deadline. She thanked me then sent out a generic email extending the deadline and that some people who offered to submit something haven't done so. I don't understand why people say they will do something then not follow through. If they can't do it, just explain why!

I found a grant for travel writers and I think I'm going to apply. All they can tell me is, "no." (Although, I think they just wouldn't respond since it's via email). The granter is looking for fresh ideas on destinations to visit and looking for ideas. I have a couple ideas on destinations I'd like to visit that have very little information written up about them (of course, there could be a reason for that). I'll see what happens.

I know I need to catch up on all sorts of adventures over the past few weekends, but here's a rundown of what's been happening:

*Visited Sarasota over the weekend - it was a LOT of time in the car. Those five hours are getting longer. BUT, it was good to see everyone and grateful for everyone's hospitality.

*Price I paid for fuel yesterday:

Sarasota $2.37
Lake City $2.49 (!!!!)
Tallahassee $2.22

*After five weeks of living without a paycheck, got my first one, yippee! Other income I took in last week:

$5 for taking an in-mall survey.
.14 (yes, that's fourteen cents) from American Express for some anti-litigation thing and foreign currency.

*My water bill for the month: I was concerned about utilities and was cautious about conserving when possible. The bill was $6.23. Don't get grossed out, I did take daily showers and washed my dishes accordingly. Guess the cost of living up here really is less than Sarasota! AND - if I take two in-mall surveys a month, I'd have enough to pay the water bill AND maybe a Starbucks frap.

*Filed and buffed my fingernails on the drive down to Sarasota. Realizing that's probably not a safe thing to do, I picked up Spanish language CDs for the return trip and intermingled the lesson with the Brazilian Girls' CD (only one of them is a girl, by the way - The Beatles weren't bugs!). I made it through lesson 4 and realized I still know a lot of Spanish.

*One time I felt old this week: Asking the music person at Best Buy for the Traveling Wilburys CD - She had never heard of them.

Gotta go do the laundry thing, until next time...