Bottoms Up as Five to Try Ends with December Antics

Happy New Year, everybody! Who doesn’t love this time of year…fresh starts, new challenges we finally agree to tackle. I’ll be doing the same as everybody else, including here on this blog – more blogging this year (I’ve made this promise to myself and to my faithful subscribers!)  And I’ll also be launching a new creative exercise for the new year shortly…look for this soon, soon, soon.

But before I completely move my focus to the 2012 fun ahead, I still have one more Five to Try to reflect on for December 2011! The month started out strong with a visit to a local theater venue that was “new to me” but then, like everyone else, I lost sight of time with holiday tasks, gift shopping, Christmas card preparation and more, and before I knew it – December 31 had arrived. I quickly determined that this called for a Five to Try marathon of sorts, and what better night to do so than New Year’s Eve with a cocktail-a-thon — four drinks I’ve never made or tasted before. Woot woot! This would be a fun challenge, albeit potentially one that I might forget about by morning.

Five to Try for December #1 – The Studio @ 620

I had always wanted an excuse to stop by The Studio @ 620, having heard so much about the arty hot spot as a positive, collaborative arts forum for theatergoers, visual artists and poets. I had even referenced the place in a previous 83 Degrees e-zine article based on feedback from others whose opinions I valued and trusted. I finally had an opportunity to check out the venue for myself. Little did I know, the event would be standing room only for some folks attending.

On December 1, 2011, the Tampa Bay Plays group (a recently formed non-profit theater festival organization focused on supporting local playwrights and performers) hosted Tampa Bay 60:25, 60-second plays by 25 local VIPs.

Performed by a half-dozen of some of our area’s most charismatic, adaptable and in some cases, hilarious actors, these 25 “plays” were supposed to last just one minute in length (though most lasted much longer…tsk-tsk!) and ran the gamut from poetry and glorified stand-up routines to sketch performance and full-fledged mini-productions written by known and not as known figures around the Bay area. We witnessed clever pieces from Creative Loafing Editor-in-Chief David Warner (who it turned out I happened to be sitting beside) and local children’s entertainer Shana Banana with her daughter Gracie Grape to poignant shorter pieces by popular Tampa social media personality Miss Destructo, an enthusiastic, pro-buy local piece by founder Ester Venouziou and heck, even a contribution from St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster. Like anything with 25 contributions, there were high points and low points in the work but the overall message was strong – clearly, Studio @ 620 understands the importance of supporting local arts and judging by the packed room of supporters and lack of nearby parking that resulted, the St. Pete community does, too. I’m not sure how many people traveled as far as this writer from Pasco, but there was definitely a real feeling of support and enthusiasm in the room that I found encouraging (sometimes moreso than the work on the stage frankly). But the talented performers kept things fresh, light and fun, and I’m glad that I had a chance to be a part of the debut of this event at the popular venue, though I would like to return some time to check out a smaller, low-key art showing or production.

Five to Try for December #2-#5 – New Year’s Eve Cocktail Marathon

I make no secret that when it comes to drinking, I’m a full-fledged WIMP. Beer, wine and the occasional 7-up and Seagram’s 7 are about the extent of my drinking resume. I’ve tried a handful of old standby drinks (like margaritas, strawberry dacquiris, Tom Collins, mojitos, sloe gin fizz and others), but generally speaking, quite green about cocktails – typically before and after I try one! Do you know I actually had my first martini ever just a few years ago? And I’m in my forties! Unusual, I know. (I haven’t had one since, by the way…)

So this time around, my goal was to find four drinks that were really old-timer drinks – something that may have shown up in a 1940s Hepburn-Tracy flick. And what better source for old fuddy-duddy drinks then…tada…drum roll, please…

A really old bartender’s manual. Circa 1971! Yep, that’s right. I was one when this baby was published. Perfect for the job at hand.

Every hour on the hour starting at 7pm, I was set to try a new drink – though at 9pm I was in the middle of a really bad movie and decided to double-dose it at 10pm instead. My first cocktail – Bees’ Knees – ever heard of it? We’ve all heard the old corny expression, “Oh he’s the bees’ knees,” an equivalent of the much beloved and just as retired “gee, he’s swell.” The ingredients:

How to make a BEES’ KNEES:
1 jigger gin (this translates to 1 1/2 ounces)
1 teaspoon honey
Juice from 1/4 lemon
Shake with ice and strain.

The result: Ugh. While I did taste some of the lemon, I didn’t even notice the honey (I wonder now if it even slipped off the teaspoon!) Certainly tasted the gin though. I was too busy looking for a fire extinguisher to put out the rumbling inferno in my tummy. Drank two sips and to the sink drain it went!  One good development: hands smelled quite lovely following the removal of the lemon guts after my hubby juiced it into the cup.  I think my stomach is still burning from this one. Imagine if I finished it. Oy.

So 8pm arrived, and I knew that meant Cocktail Time. Round 2? A Manhattan – the ingredients:

How to make a standard MANHATTAN:
1 jigger whiskey
1/3 jigger sweet vermouth
Dash of bitters (okay, I didn’t  have bitters for any of the drinks tonight, so hopefully this didn’t have a huge bearing on results)
Ice optional — stir and drain. (Suggested to serve with a cherry – but none present. Oh well…)

The result: this one truly had bite. I’m discovering that unless there’s some kind of sweet element to an alcoholic drink, I want absolutely no part of it whatsoever. And for me, this one had not a damn thing going for it! Two swigs and it was hanging out with the yet unminced leftovers loitering in our garbage disposal.

At 9pm, I was absorbed in my final movie viewing of the year (well, not exactly – more like absorbed in the Papa John’s spinach alfredo pizza leftovers as we watched a horrible final flick of the year – Red Riding Hood – avoid this Amanda Seyfried vehicle at all costs, and just watch Once Upon a Time instead!) So I knew this meant I would have to swing double duty at 10pm but I was ready and rested. (See, I took a nap during the boring film about two-thirds of the way through it…) But I saddled up to the kitchen and prepared for Cocktail #3 — The Cowboy.

Never heard of it? Me neither. But when you hear the ingredients, you’ll know why.

How to Make a COWBOY (the cocktail not a gunslinger):
2 jiggers Whiskey (yeah, that’s right THREE OUNCES of the stuff…dear god)
1  jigger Cream (we went with regular whipping cream as opposed to either extreme – half and half or heavy whipping cream)
Add shaved ice, shake and get ready for the hoe-down.

The result? What do you think? Really. How could this possibly taste good? I don’t know what I was thinking. There’s no sweet element included. Maybe if I had tossed in a little Cool Whip it would have helped, but even my prediction that the cream would dull the whiskey was waaaaaay off. This one hit me like a speeding train. Two sips and I knew I’d never make it to 11pm let alone midnight if I drank all of it. And why the hell would I anyway? Ugh, awful…

The final moment had arrived – the fourth cocktail I had decided to try in the spirit of New Year’s Eve and Five to Try. It was time for what surely would be the one pleasant-tasting drink of the night, right? Another beloved old-timer drink…the Whiskey Sour.

How to make a standard WHISKEY SOUR:

1 jigger Whiskey
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Add  ice, shake and strain. (I didn’t have the orange slice or cherry handy for garnish.)

The result: why, why, why did I do this activity again? My husband had promised me that he had tried this drink years ago and enjoyed it. What on Earth had he done differently then because this drink was simply dreadful. There was no sugar anywhere upon my tongue but merely the sour characteristic amplified eighty-fold! Yes, I took my obligatory second sip, and felt a slight numbing buzz sweep over me after what became my seventh and eighth nasty sips of the night, but I didn’t enjoy it. I’m sure our sink basin was fairly intoxicated by the end of the night, though.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, we toasted to the new year with my good old-fashioned high-balls and these were sweet, tasty and yes, I did empty my glass. Twice. I slept quite peacefully that night knowing that I had finished my annual creative exercise with a bang and was armed and ready for what the new year might bring!

Cheers to you, everybody – wishing you all good things as we set out to conquer our challenges, tackle our to-do lists and discover our dreams. I’ll have another fun (non-alcoholic) creative activity coming to this blog very soon. So stay tuned and have a beautiful new year!

And if you want to see scenes from this potent potable mayhem in action, click here for a video recap from the evening.

And remember: don’t try this at home, don’t drink and try while operating any kind of a motor vehicle and don’t, don’t, don’t try any of these drinks unless you enjoy pursing your lips and experiencing flames running down your esophagus, in which case, if you do, bottoms up!

November Five to Try, Part I

Time once again to look back on a month of Five to Try… new places, new experiences and new recommendations for others (and in some cases, not so much). Hop on for the November Express as I look back in words and pictures highlighting these adventures.

Five to Try for November #1 – Selmon’s

This was an interesting visit. You see, a lovely gesture presented me with a generous gift certificate to try this restaurant though I knew all-too-well that I would probably not find much for my culinary leaning. No, there isn’t an abundance of vegetarian cuisine abound at Selmon’s ( but it was a nice, pleasant atmosphere as I had anticipated (much like its namesake).

When the hubby and I visited the Palm Harbor location during a week-long staycation on our actual wedding anniversary, we were greeted by a cordial host who then led us to ironically the EXACT same table where I interviewed Mr. Selmon himself just three and a half months earlier, only weeks before his death. (Isn’t that a bizarre coincidence?) Our server, a young enthusiastic chap visited us promptly, and we were off and running – I with my trio of similarly-looking mushy non-meaty sides…

…smashed potatoes – yum-my!, cornbread casserole – okay, and classic coleslaw-ick-nothing classic about it in my book) and hubby with the ultimate carnivore comfort food: a meat loaf sandwich.

But not before we happily gnawed on some de-lish fried green tomatoes, which for me far surpassed my main course of sides. I had heard wonderful stories about the delicious desserts but did not partake (sadly).

I’m glad that we had a chance to finally visit this popular sports-themed family bar and eatery, but as for vegetarians, I think I’d direct you to Chili’s for its awesome black bean burger instead. Or maybe just pop in to Selmon’s for a beer and those fabulous fried green tomatoes. And stay for the chocolatey dessert I didn’t get to drown myself in. Sigh.

Five to Try for November #2 – Dunedin Fine Art Center

I’ve been promoting this little community gallery and arts education center for years through my content work with Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine and my former days as an editor/writer for Skirt! Tampa Bay Magazine. But up until November, I’d yet to stop by the Dunedin Fine Art Center ( for myself. After our Selmon’s adventure, we decided to head into Dunedin for a day of exploring the marina and park, plenty of fresh air and popping in and out of stores. But we started that visit at the arts center I’d heard so much about.


I had no idea we would be visiting them in between exhibits – so we stopped by only to learn that its recent circus-themed exhibit was now closed and being torn down and the establishment was working on getting ready for its big annual Christmas ornament sale to be held later that next weekend. (Boy, good timing, as always, huh? But we also know how to make our own good time. See for yourself!)

 Yeah, I’m hanging out with the clowns on the wall. Where else would you expect me?

This was the interesting outdoor exhibit on our walk up to the entrance. But we scampered inside and checked out the one exhibit that we were able to visit and loved what we found on display — artists showing pieces from unusual perspectives and in some cases using regular household items to create some intriguing work. Check these out.


Those are pencils. Cool, huh?


We continued to walk through the rest of the center where we were able to sneak in…including the recently launched kids’ area (couldn’t miss this baby when we stepped in the room!)

We enjoyed viewing little personal pieces from local artists who simply demonstrated their enthusiasm through art for those things they loved most – nature, music, life.


Finally, we visited the museum store but walked away sad and empty-handed with none of our signature souvenirs we long to purchase when we visit our little tourist stops – a fridge magnet, golf ball or Christmas ornament. Sigh. It’s not like we wanted a damn thimble or shotglass. Puhleeze. Oh well.  

If you happen to be visiting the beautiful Dunedin area, be sure to pop by the DFAC and see it for yourself but don’t forget to leave a little donation in the glass box, okay? Community art champions like this center need support from folks like us in the community, so do your part.

Part II of my November Five to Try experience continues tomorrow…stay tuned!

October Five to Try Mini-Me

Those of you following me regularly here on the blog know that I’m engaging in one of my annual traditions of a regularly scheduled creative exercise. Last year, it was a photo-a-day blog – one taken every day to represent that day. It was much more difficult than it sounds here, believe me! For much of this year, I built a short story one-paragraph-a-day from scratch with no roadmap planned beforehand until I wrapped it up in September — out of necessity. It was just time. The no roadmap concept came through in the quality of the writing, admittedly, but it was an experiment, as all of these creative activities are meant to be.

Another creative activity of mine this year has been a monthly Five to Try experiment – to try, do, go to FIVE new things, places, activities, etc. every month, in an effort to get myself out and about and out of the rut that I and so many other folks I’ve met fall into when it’s simply more comfortable to stick with the familiar.

October ended up yielding just two new things. Last month, was a short version, too, though not for lack of trying. I’ll finish off this year attempting five every month but it’s led me to an aha moment for next year. Even though I’ll be concocting some new exciting creative exercise for myself next year – and I’ll be coming to you for suggestions soon, so stay tuned! – I have decided to make this Five to Try a recurring blog feature. In other words, unlike my photo-a-day experiment, this personal dare to myself to get out of my comfort zone once in a while and try, learn or do something new will not have an expiration date – it will continue, but because I really do want to keep the process organic, it will no longer be Five to Try next year but simply Dare to Try. And I’m not putting a quantity on it next year – if it leads to two new things – great. Ten new experiences – great! You’ll hear about all of them as I do them but without any confines pushing me when it doesn’t come natural or time doesn’t allow. Still, I’m glad that I put this process into play this year because I’ve not only gained by the experience – I’ve heard such wonderful feedback from many of you who have told me that it has inspired you too to get out there and visit those places and try those activities you’ve always talked about but never ventured out to before…until now.

And that’s why I’m also issuing this dare to all of you to join me in Dare to Try starting right now. Forego the familiar restaurant you know you love for the new one you’ve only heard about. Order the dish you’ve been eyeing but avoiding because you know you like that other one instead. Visit that museum you’ve been talking about but have yet to check out for yourself. What has it been – five years now you’ve been saying so? Then, get your proverbial ass over there, and that’s an order! You’ve always said that you wanted to learn how to make pottery? Then sign up for a class! Dare to Try something new. It doesn’t have to mean skydiving, a hot air balloon ride or climbing a mountain, although all of those qualify, too. It can simply mean checking out a new candy bar that you’ve heard about but had not yet sampled. Look at every new experience with as much interest, excitement and willingness to learn as you would a new hobby or skill set. Stay enthusiastic about everything you Dare to Try.

Speaking of new candy bars, let’s give our little rundown– and I do admit, LITTLE – for October Five to Try. (Rest assured, a busy November already will more than make up for a lackluster October!)


Five to Try for October #1 – Hershey’s Air Delight

First of all, you need to know two things about me. Number one – I love chocolate. And number two – I mean I really love chocolate. When I was about five years old, I fell in love for the first time. It was with an absolutely phenomenal candy bar that was called Choco-lite. Does anybody else remember that candy bar? It doesn’t exist anymore, but when I went to Europe on a humanities study tour at age 19, I not only discovered Heineken beer (and a little too much of it, I might add – as well as a horrible combination of Coke and Vodka), I also discovered Toblerone candy bars which for me, have come the closest to resembling this glorious candy bar from years past.

So when I first saw the light, bubbly, charming chocolaty family sailing through swoops of airy chocolate in the Hershey ads about this new candy, I was intrigued. So this was Hershey’s Air Delight?

Could this be a return to my youthful obsession? The other obsession…besides my unnerving infatuation with Parker Stevenson aka Frank Hardy of The Hardy Boys and Andy Gibb.

 So here it is, folks. In all its light, airy beauty.


Yes, it was smooth, creamy and quite tasty. I enjoyed it immensely.

It didn’t hurt that I hadn’t really had a candy bar since maybe early January. (Weight Watchers point calculating tends to dissuade you from even walking down that aisle at the grocery store…)


But here’s the painful realization: apparently these candy bars are not selling. How do I know this? Because it was like finding the lost ark trying to locate one of them in the first place! Then, when I did, they were being sold for an insanely low discount price at a drugstore which can only lead me to two conclusions: one, they aren’t the hit I was hoping they would be and two, I’ll probably find them in a Dollar Tree soon.

Oh, Hershey’s Air Delight. You bountiful, beautiful chocolate sensation, you were fun while you lasted, but something tells me that we probably won’t cross paths again. Thank you for the many moments of chocolaty goodness and Weight Watchers points you gave me, but we must bid adieu. Boo hoo.

Five to Try for October #2 – Café Hey

After my fiasco last month trying to check out a local vegetarian tradition that ended up closing its restaurants to go catering-only (Grass Roots), I was a tad skeptical to give it another go elsewhere. I had heard great things about veggie options available at a downtown Tampa establishment and met up with a fellow writer pal of mine for lunch. Cafe Hey.

First, I was told it was Bohemian by other friends previously, and they weren’t kidding about that. I half expected to see Allen Ginsburg rise from the dead right there in the café. Now, that would have been worth a column in itself.

I gave it a go with the VLT – the vegetarian or actually VEGAN equivalent to the BLT with a few strips of Vegan Bacon instead of regular bacon and they even used Vegannaise on it which I had never tried before either, all fascinating to me since I am not vegan but vegetarian instead, but hey, if you can make me a believer, I’m always willing to go that route when it’s possible.

I LOVED the sandwich. Very tasty. Highly recommend it! On the other hand, there was the iced Chai tea latte, which I didn’t think was possible to make poorly. They managed to tank in that department. I can’t speak for all of their coffee and tea products, but I found this drink positively hideous. Oh well, they can’t all be winners. Next time, I’ll go with my original thought and simply order a bottled water. Hard to miss there.

Not sure if I will be a regular visitor at Café Hey – it was a bit cramped, very busy when we met up and for my friend’s order, they were very slow on getting the order out to her (I ordered after her yet received mine at least five to ten minutes sooner!) However, I will add Café Hey on my growing list of “specialty dish” places – local restaurants where I find a particular sandwich or salad rocks my world and it might be a great place to pop in just to pick that up and then take it to a park to devour. So Café Hey does earn points for the sandwich! But maybe just a neutral on ambiance. I think for that kind of place, I much prefer the vibe of The Bunker in Ybor City. And they have a drool-inspiring vegetarian sandwich and one of the tastiest iced Chai tea lattes that side of the Hillsborough River.

Of course, the best news of all – is that I tried a new place. I never regret that, even when something goes amiss. It was still a new place, a new experience and a chance to catch up with a good friend, and for that, you can never go wrong!

Stay tuned…later in the week, I share some of my Anniversary Staycation week adventures which have already garnered four new Five to Try activities/places! More details soon! And as for you, my friends, time to get your own fanny out there and DARE yourself to try something new today!

So Long, September Attempt at Five to Try, Part II

When I last wrote, I had shared a little bit about two of my Five to Try experiences for the month and now we move on to what I expected to be my most intriguing and scaaaaary experience of the month. I would be wrong about that.

 Five to Try for September #3 – Historic Tampa Ghost Tour

 Let’s put it out there right now. I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t believe in spirits, actually. But I am fascinated with history. I do believe in theater. And I was completely willing, open and ready for a night of spooky speculation that might question my beliefs.

Well, I didn’t actually get that.

Thankfully, the weather was BEAUTIFUL. Remember when we experienced our first cold front in September and how gorgeous that weekend was as autumn weather made an unexpected arrival about six weeks early? That was the weekend we went on this nighttime outdoor trot through downtown Tampa as the infamous Ghost Tour of Tampa began.

Our guide, her name escapes me now – that’s how memorable she ways – forewarned us of a few basic rules and tenets of the tour.

There would be no indoor sightseeing (which took the wind out of my sails since I thought we might get a chance to return to Tampa Theatre but step inside and see it in a new light…), the guide was NOT responsible for our safety (aha, typical attraction CYA announcement – got it!) and she shared with each of her trusting guests that oh, by the way, she liked to walk through intersections against the light.

I thought it was interesting that she led with the I’m-not-responsible-for-your-safety disclaimer and then proceeded to announce that she would be putting our lives in danger for the rest of the evening.

The ghost tour was less spooky and more a matter-of-fact delivery of accounts throughout history that reported ghost sightings or weird out-of-the-ordinary experiences. It would have made low-key theater veteran Hal Holbrook proud. But there were no theatrics whatsoever, and this to me was a little disappointing. I thought perhaps our guide might camp it up a little – after all, she had a Stevie Nicks vibe going on with the dark, draping garb.

But alas, she had nothing that exciting to say and even less exciting a delivery to say it. I’ve heard the St. Pete tour is a bit more lively and interesting. Certainly our Tampa history is quite vivid and intriguing and after starting near the outside of Tampa Theatre, we made stops in front of UT…ooh aah…

…in Curtis Hixon Park along the Riverwalk, Lykes Gaslight Square Park, and then traveled our way over to this lovely little place.


Spooky trees, huh?

Anyway, our guide was nice enough, but for me, it just wasn’t the eerie experience I was expecting. But I say if the weather’s nice and you like history, go and enjoy, but do not expect anything animated or spooooky or even a little bit creepy. Just some old legends, a looooooong stroll (ours lasted nearly 2 hours) through downtown streets,  and some serious jaywalking! As my brilliant husband so poignantly pointed out, the scariest part of the tour is crossing the intersections against the light. And let me tell you: in downtown Tampa on a Friday night, that can be pretty scary…

I will say this: the adventure does make me want to try out something similar the next time I visit another big city with plenty of history. Our good friends who joined us suggested places like Boston or Philadelphia might be particularly interesting – and I completely agree! Certainly New Orleans is known for its colorful Graveyard Tours which I’ve never gone on before but I’m sure are more interesting than this, too.

I’m not telling you to not go on the tour, because I really believe you should know everything there is to know about the city where you live, but just know what you’re getting before you go so you’re not disappointed.

And wear comfortable walking shoes.

Five to Try that I Tried to Try for September #4 and #5 – Grass Roots Organic Restaurant and The Glazer Children’s Museum

 So you’ll notice my heading implies that I don’t have any others to report on for September. That’s because I don’t.

You see I had plans to go to both of these places this month and even went so far as to show up at the first location, but here’s what happened.

Grass Roots Organic Restaurant officially closed their dining doors – at both locations – and now offers only catering services. (Leaving me in the dust with my Half Off Depot gift certificate for $20 of food for $10, I suppose…lucky me.) So that plan of trying a new vegetarian establishment in the area fell through for September.

 Then there’s the Glazer Museum and this one, I wasn’t happy about. I always love to try any new museum in the town where I live, and that includes a children’s museum. I want to see what all of these big sponsorships and donations create, I want to see what the area’s children are learning and how they’re learning it, I want to enjoy beautiful architecture and design, I want to explore the child in myself because no matter how old I become, I’ll always see that same gawky 12-year-old in the mirror. And  I also wanted to see if maybe it might be the kind of place that my grandson might enjoy but to see if it would be worth it beforehand.

 So my hubby and I planned to take advantage of a special the museum was running in September in honor of its first birthday but for a limited time. Five dollars admission for anybody through a particular day…until we learned something.

 Unless you have a kid with you, adults can’t go to the children’s museum.

 HUH? Say that again…

 Here’s the link to those “rules” at the Children’s Museum. Read RULE #1.

Now, I understand in this world of more kiddie porn and pervs running among us than ever before (at least that we know of now), that you might not want child molesters loitering at the local kids’ museum which is why I assume this rule was established. But tell me this: can’t you require folks without kids to show a photo ID of some kind like their driver’s license so you have on record who was at your museum? And don’t folks without little kids who may want to go possibly have friends with kids or grandkids they may want to bring back at another time? Or heck, maybe they even have MONEY they could potentially donate to your museum…do you REALLY want to exclude anybody from coming just because they’re childless?

Aren’t there other ways that a museum could enforce and regulate who comes in than simply not allowing folks to patronize a place because they arrive without being equipped with children?

Can you imagine Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo or MOSI not allowing adults in the door? Granted, they may have other activities and exhibits to appeal to people of all ages, but just imagine if you couldn’t pop in to the zoo or the aquarium for that matter because you didn’t have a child with you. How silly would that be? Honestly, it doesn’t even sound like the most savvy business decision for that matter.

Okay, I’m done with my rant.

So Grass Roots, I’m sorry that I didn’t get to meet ya. I’d heard plenty of great things about you, but I guess we’ll never know if they were 100 percent true.

And Glazer Museum, such is life. I guess I won’t be seeing you anytime soon, either.

And thankfully, with October here and this beautiful weather already here to accompany it, there will be plenty of new things to try (and let’s also hope that they either haven’t closed up yet or prohibit me from going…)


 Now get your own fanny out there and try something new this week… a new restaurant, a new museum, a new recipe, a new hobby…give it a go! You’ll be amazed at what you learn and what you can share with others, too.

So Long, September Attempt at Five to Try, Part I

It’s officially the halfway point of October and guess what? I’m writing about my September Five to Try (a name that’s not exactly fitting for September, but I’ll explain shortly). This creative challenge has been much harder than some of my other creative experiments I’ve taken on the past couple of years – taking a photo every day…writing a paragraph a day for a continuing short story throughout the year, which I tackled and completed last month, a little prematurely but simply out of necessity for the sake of the story.

Squeezing in “new” experiences hasn’t always been easy and this month, I even had two of them fall apart completely due to outside forces that apparently didn’t feel compelled to let me “try” them.

So I bring you, the late but always insightful look (okay, maybe not always but my intentions are sincere) at September Five to Try…better known as Three to Try and Two I Tried to Try.

Five to Try for September #1 – Yogurbella

I love a tasty treat, though typically there’s chocolate involved, but I’ve been trying to find lower fat means of incorporating yummy fruit-related fare into my dessert vocabulary. Lo and behold, I found Yogurbella at International Plaza and its de-lish Berry Bella smoothie.

First, a reminder – I don’t receive a damn thing in compensation from places that I go to and compliment, so please remember that. Likewise, I’m not afraid to let a place have it for not living up to my expectations (read my Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches review from July for proof of that.) So I first want to say that the crew over there at the Yogurbella shop at International Plaza are some of the nicest, friendliest ladies you’d want to meet. And for an inexperienced yogurteur like me (yes, I just made up that word), they were helpful and patient. I also appreciated them letting me hang out in their establishment for about 90 minutes as I awaited a networking meet-up and did my story planning on their wifi. And I’ll do anything to avoid a Starbuck’s (always my main objective).

The Berry Bella is one of their most popular smoothies, made with mixed fruit, primarily strawberries – yum, my favorite! – and of course, their delicious frozen yogurt…and apple juice (take that, Dr. Oz). It is superb! It’s very refreshing and filling, not exactly cheap, but worth every single deliciously slushy swish down the windpipe.

 I will be returning there again, I’m sure of it. And if you go sometime soon, be sure to chat with the nice women who run the place.

 Five to Try for September #2 – My first Democratic Club meeting

Okay, I didn’t actually join, so it may also be my last, but I’ve always wanted to go to some kind of event such as this and given I live in Pasco County, where I’m convinced there are exactly four Democrats living here that I’m aware of (my husband, me, and my friend Kim and her husband), I really didn’t think there even existed any form of a Dem club out this way in GOP land. Sure enough, I found it and best of all, it gave me an opportunity to see one of my local idols. Sigh. Rob Lorei.


Now, if you don’t know Rob, then I assume that A) you don’t listen to WMNF; B) you’re not a big PBS viewer either; and if you’ve lived in the Bay area for a good 15-20 years, C) you’re clearly living under a rock tucked under Ballast Point Pier somewhere.

 Rob’s cool. If Joe Maddon, skipper of my beloved Tampa Bay Rays had a PBS show, he would in fact  evolve into the one and only Rob Lorei.

 It turned out that I learned of an speaking engagement by the host of my nerdilicious news favorite “Florida This Week” on WEDU Friday nights at 8:30PM and Sundays at noon. Unfortunately, I’m usually at home on Friday nights watching it, because I have no life, but that is a conscious choice…remember that! Yeah, that’s right. It’s a choice.

Anyway, Lorei was scheduled to speak at the West Pasco Democrats Club meeting in early Sept. so I thought – hey, this is a great time to try out my first Dem Club meeting and see a local news celeb in the process. I quickly realized upon arrival that apparently all of the Dems are on the western side of the county and that they’re all about 20 years older than me (and I’m being kind here). It was fun at age 41 to still feel like the youngest person in the room. It’s been a while.

I appreciated some of the thoughtful questions and insightful observations from some of the members. They cut their meeting short and we skidaddled, too, but it was just wonderful to be surrounded by some likeminded folks. I’ve become quite used to being the odd duck on the perimeter of a conversation where in most classes I don’t even speak the language and since I’m not a fan of confrontation, typically a quiet odd duck at that. Here, you felt like if you wanted to, you could speak your mind and even if you didn’t quite agree with each other, folks would be willing to listen to their opinion. I’m glad we went but most of all to get to see Lorei in live action. (Here’s a story about his visit to the club meeting.) I had hoped to meet him afterward and didn’t get the chance but if anyone knows him and wants to send him this link, I’d certainly appreciate it. I really just wanted to tell him this:

Rob, thanks so much for being one of the good guys out there in the community, helping the rest of us stay up to date on critical, relevant information that not everybody wants us to hear. Thanks for looking out for us. Thanks for always being professional, direct with your questions and asking those things that all of us have been itching to ask the powers that be. Thanks for showing what a real journalist is supposed to look like.

And with that… we move on to September Five to Try #3… next time, when my September experience continues…stay tuned!

August Five to Try Finishes with Live Action Fanfare

How shall I end the sultry month of August Five to Try? Let me count the ways. I know… how about trying an activity that I’ve never done in 41 years and something that has become particularly popular in the past year or two? Hmm…

Five to Try for August #5 – My First Ever 3D Movie Experience

Okay, I would not be completely honest if I said that I’ve never experienced 3D. After all, I’ve been to theme parks and sat in special attractions which involved 3D movie technology. But up until this creative experiment, I have never gone to a theater and experienced 3D as a full-length feature. Being the “gleek” that I am,  the live concert film of one of my favorite TV shows seemed like the perfect opportunity for a Five to Try. It also didn’t hurt that I have an odd and somewhat disturbing fascination with all things Warbler (okay, I’ve got a bit of a schoolgirl crush on Blaine- there I said it…are you happy now?)

So I set out to see Glee: The 3D Concert Movie, the live action musical explosion which transports the perky show onstage before a live audience. There was only one problem: by the time I finally got out to the theaters, the film was playing at only three movieplexes in the entire Tampa Bay area. Yikes. This called for a trek to Citrus Park.

Initially, I was afraid that 3D and my vision wouldn’t get along so well. After all, I am notorious for carsickness and have experienced progressively worse vision from year to year as my eyes wear down from overuse at the PC. But I’m all for any excuse to don Blues Brothers glasses.

And surprise! I actually liked it. And best of all, no nausea, dizziness or weeble-wobble sensations. (Hurrah!) Well, only when I heard the amount of the ticket for a matinee 3D film ($11.50? Are you kidding?!)

I’m not exactly sure that the Glee cast concert was the most necessary use of 3D for a picture. I really don’t need to see Brittany busting out of her barely there bikini top in her Brittney Spears homage or Arte busting a “Safety Dance” move with legs and arms flying in all directions towards me.  I would guess that a film like Titanic or Avatar would be incredible to watch in that format. But a concert film? It sounded goofy to me when I heard Justin Bieber was popping off the stage, and it was just as goofy for it to be Rachel and Finn, too. But at least they didn’t make my ears bleed like the aforementioned moptop boy wonder. I will admit that 3D is definitely fun to watch – some serious eye candy but for some serious cash.

This is definitely not a new hobby I can afford to adopt.

While I was watching the film, I occasionally slipped off the glasses to watch the documentary portions which did not incorporate 3D technology, as the filmmakers introduced real-life gleeks who shared life-changing experiences that they attributed to the impact of the show (yeah, they hit us over the head a little bit with that one but it was sweet). I was really surprised how much of the film featured 3D. I think I was envisioning the 3D films of way back when which used 3D effects scattered throughout the picture but not as something running continuously throughout the movie.

I have been an avid poo-pooer of the entertainment takeover that 3D technology holds over today’s feature films but perhaps I overreacted. In the right context and the right setting, it’s pretty mesmerizing stuff. And that’s coming from the squinty, half-blind chick in awe sitting way up in the back of the theater with her contraband bottled water and snack baggy.

But if I have any plans at all to see another 3D movie in the near future, I’d better start saving my pennies now…

Double Your Five to Try Pleasure in Pinellas

Recently, the hubs and I took a mini-vaca in the Tampa Bay area after deciding that (a) we didn’t want to go far enough to need a rental car, (b) we weren’t willing to spend any of our vacation time sitting in an automobile for any length of time that exceeded a typical episode of “Big Brother,” and (c) we really, really needed to see a body of water up close and in person. Landlocked in Central Pasco, we live in a world where going to the beach is quite the endeavor and one requiring serious planning and a lot of gas in the tank, so we’re lucky if we even make it out to the Gulfshore once a year. (My followers in Pinellas are probably fainting right now.)

So when we decided to take a closer-to-home vacation, it sounded like a great opportunity to sneak in a few Five to Try activities, and that we did…

Five to Try for August #3 – The Chihuly Collection

I have always been fascinated with handblown glass, since I was a little girl watching the glass artists at The Shell Factory create their masterpieces down in North Fort Myers, Fla., just up the road from where I grew up as a kid in Naples. Many years later, I discovered the work of glass artist Dale Chihuly when I first spotted one of his works high above me as an elaborate chandelier at one of my favorite Biloxi casinos. The fact that I was even looking up when all I could think about was the roulette wheel was a feat in itself.  Then,  while working for skirt! magazine, I learned about the future launch of this creative fella’s collection of beautiful work in a St. Pete museum. It wasn’t until recently that I learned about the team approach behind many of his most acclaimed installments.

Just before we headed to the Chihuly Collection in downtown St. Pete, I checked the site online for info about hours and photography/video, and sure enough, I learned that you cannot take any pictures or video within the museum. I find this fascinating since unlike an archive of old paintings which could legitimately be impacted by flash photography, I find it hard to believe any of the glass pieces would be destroyed if I ran my little Flip or we snapped a few photos. But such is life.

So unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of vivid images I can share with you… only a few from outside the museum (if you can really call it that).

The pieces we saw inside were beautiful. The items on display outside, eh. Nice but not that attention-grabbing. 

I did sneak in one photo as we sat and watched a pre-tour movie alone and boned up on Chihuly 101. Rule-breaker that I am. Yeah, that’s right, I’m a rebel.

Pretty pieces, huh?

I think my biggest surprise of all was how quickly we were done at the collection. I’m not sure what I expected, but generally when I go to an art gallery or museum, I’m typically there for anywhere from an hour to two hours. We hooked on to a tour in progress to learn more about the artist and the way he went about his art, which was interesting, but had we not done that, I do believe we would have been finished exploring the small space in 30 minutes. We even walked back through the gallery not once but twice after joining the tour. And while I loved the pieces on display immensely, I think we did this more to get our money’s worth than for aesthetic reasons.

So be warned – if you love Chihuly’s work, go forth and enjoy. But whether you are familiar with his impressive array of work or not, go in with far more realistic expectations than we did. You basically have one beautiful central room with three or four gorgeous chandeliers, another three or four smaller alcoves of specialty series, a mesmerizing room of what on the surface appears as a large scale display of colorful marbles (but wait until you hear the story behind these beautiful pieces) and finally, a gorgeous glassy garden display that will truly knock your socks off.

All beautiful and worth a closer look, but I’m telling you – I’ll be surprised if you don’t find yourself, like us, wanting more… so “five to try” at your own risk with this in mind.

Five to Try for August #4 – The Pub at Indian Shores

Checking out glass art makes a tired blogger hungry. We had planned to eat in downtown St. Pete but it was far too early for lunch since our Chihuly Collection stop turned out to be a shorter visit than we anticipated, so we instead headed toward the beach. And after much searching up and down Gulf Blvd., we honed in on this quaint little place: The Pub in Indian Shores, Fla.

Now, keep in mind that we had two dilemmas as we searched for a place to eat: (1) – I’m a vegetarian so often my menu choices can be limited and (2) – Larry doesn’t eat seafood (and neither do I anymore), and up the coast, that tends to be the specialty – burgers and fish dishes. So I knew our hunt was going to be a difficult one, but after checking out the menu outside, this one looked promising. We skidaddled inside.

Most of all, we just wanted a nice comfy place to get out of the sun but still feel like we were in seaside mode.  And even better if it included sweet tea.


Our next order of business: tasty food and for me, most importantly, something vegetarian. Vacation means fun, so though I was still tracking Weight Watchers points, I knew I wanted something yummy and most likely, not in the online WW database. We ordered a side and this great, big, beautiful bounty of onion straws showed up…we approached carefully, dug in and never looked back.

And no, I have no idea how many points they were, and frankly, I really didn’t care. Would you?

After not finding anything beyond a basic salad, I inquired about the chef altering one of the existing chicken wraps into a veggie-only. The place was so accommodating and created this little beaut for me. I think it included about every vegetable they had in the building. But I wasn’t complaining.

We couldn’t have been happier with this place! The food was tasty and it was served quickly and as you can see, abundantly. The service was impeccable and that view, well, it was exactly what we needed and the whole point of this trip.

We were wanting a chance to get away, put hard work and other responsibilities aside for a few days and simply enjoy some time together in a peaceful, pleasant setting.

The Pub was a great way to get things off to a hearty, happy start. I highly recommend!

August Five to Try Begins…with Words and Music

Thankfully, I’m blogging my August Five to Try activities before September has come along, so already I feel like I’m improving at this little creative exercise I have assigned myself.

As I write this, I’m embarking on a little mini-vacation, away from writing deadlines and away from to do lists (a feat that in itself is hard to believe) and best of all, with peace of mind that my doggie who suffers serious separation anxiety is most likely completely oblivious of our disappearance since his true favorite person, his big brother Brandon, is watching over him and the house for a few days. I hope he even misses us at all…

But we have bigger fish to fry…metaphorically speaking, that is, since I’m vegetarian and Larry doesn’t like seafood. We have more Five to Try activities to enjoy, and these I will be blogging about soon, so stay tuned for that. For now, let me catch you up on the first half of the month and two very different activities – one which opened my mind and ears to the kinds of venues available for concerts to enjoy, even when I don’t really know the acts that well, and the other, which opened my heart to the possibilities within my career.

 Five to Try for August #1 – The 2011 UNF Writer’s Conference

Let’s preface this first one by noting that this heading could read the 2011 Marshall Fuddrucker Writer’s Conference. The significance here is not WHO served as host but that I attended my first ever writer’s conference, WHEREVER. Earlier in the month, the University of North Florida’s continuing education program hosted hundreds of us on campus for this three-day affair (August 5-7, to be exact). (Nice campus, by the way). Here was the view from the little building where all of our programs were held.

I attended only the first day which focused on a series of three workshop tracks with the remaining two days designed to offer critique workshops for writers to bring their work before a small group of fellow writers and moderators who would then discuss the good and bad points of the work. This concept completely scared the hell out of me, and I was thankful that I didn’t have anything to present. I heard back from one other writer who attended, and she indicated her group was fairly brutal. So glad that I didn’t partake in this added “bonus” of the conference…there are enough battle scars on the self-esteem collected over the years. I’m simply not at a point for group evaluation of my work yet. I hope to get to that comfort level someday but it certainly isn’t now.

I began writing my first book earlier this year only to quit after less than 30 pages, because I didn’t give it the time and energy it deserved, and I don’t think I completely knew what I was writing – was it fiction? Was it autobiographical? Could I make it fiction based on semi-autobiographical info? Possibly. But that didn’t happen. Instead, I just stopped. So my investment in this conference was to light a fire under my butt and get charged up again and educated in the process, and that I did.

Anyone else out there in a creative role may relate to this: I find myself spending all of my time and energy on others’ creative projects, understandably to keep the roof over my head. However, by the time any free time comes along, the last thing I feel like doing is writing for myself, yet I know that this is where I need to focus my efforts in the long run. I struggle day to day with that battle of taking on and completing new client assignments to make a living yet leaving some time to begin building my own independent writing products, whether it’s a new book or series of books or a platform of another kind. So my hope by attending a conference such as this was to introduce myself not only to greater knowledge about the publishing and e-publishing industries, and that I did…in just a matter of a eight hours. I also went to remind myself of what I could be doing and what I hoped to be doing long-term in my career.

The conference offered specific tracks for doling out information, as I imagine most of them do, with two focused primarily on fiction (with one of these which seemed to concentrate more on elements of writing and the other on specific genres) and the third track was more focused on non-fiction and the business behind publishing – every workshop I took fell into this category which is why in the course of one day of workshops, I saw just two rooms – the main ballroom for the opening and closing sessions as well as lunch and one training room, for which I kept trying out new seats from each class to the next for a slight change of scenery.

Some of the topics I learned about included how to create better query letters for publishers when pitching books; a closer look at bookseller marketing events with a Barnes & Noble representative (and yes, I kept my undying love for and their stock completely on the DL here); the art of building a platform as a writer; and a guide to e-publishing (truly the most eye-opening of all of my classes). Throughout the course of the day, I gained a greater understanding about the writer-agent-wholesaler-publisher relationships, as well as pitch books and the e-book industry. For me, meeting up with people who had already become published authors and learning about (and in some cases from) writers who shared their own personal journeys and mistakes they made along the way was not only helpful from a practical standpoint, but inspiring. I left feeling like I was about to explode with information, creativity and determination. I’ve already decided that I’m attending a full day of workshops at another three or four-day writer’s conference later this fall a little closer to home, in Winter Park. Of course, by that point, I am counting on the fact that I will already be deep into that first writing project.

Okay, I know what you’re wondering. Have I begun writing yet? Truth? No. But guess who has a date with her journal this afternoon on a S. Pinellas beach to begin fleshing out the various story ideas which came to mind while I was attending the conference? The time is here. The locale is right. I think mentally I’m in the right frame of mind to get real about the writing that I know is inside of me that I haven’t even begun to excavate. September is a month that will bring with it some changes, and changes that could free up a little of my time. I finally understand and accept what it is that I should be doing with that time. So I guess I got my ROI from the conference…

Does this sound familiar to you? Whether it’s writing or some other activity that you’ve put off long enough – is there something you need to be doing but you’ve kept postponing, maybe because it was easier not to go there but in fact it is where you should have been all along.

Get traveling.  I’ll start if you start.

Let’s hold each other accountable.

Five to Try for August #2 – Concerts at Carrollwood Cultural Center

Granted, this next Five to Try activity was by no means life-changing, but I will say this: it has opened my mind to give venues a shot which I might otherwise have dismissed. Everyone who follows me here on this blog knows that I’m quite familiar with the Carrollwood Cultural Center. I took a 6-week painting course earlier this year which I blogged about and loved, and I’m a regular visitor to the place monthly as a member of Women in Networking Tampa Bay (their Carrollwood chapter hosts its meetings there at its nearby studio). But I had never seen a production or concert at the venue before.

I’d certainly heard plenty of rehearsals during my painting class days. Can’t begin to tell you how many times those of us were in the classroom painting quietly and began to hum along to “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” as the group just outside our door practiced for their Broadway tribute show. But an actual concert? Surely, this venue which on the surface reminded me more of a really nice high school or college theater stage production setup would not have the acoustics to support live music.

Man, was I wrong.

Larry and I made plans to meet up with friends at the Center for its folk music festival “A Blessing and a Curse.”

Now before you start having visions of A Mighty Wind or old PBS Peter, Paul and Mary or Kingston Trio live shows where the average age in the audience is 70, let me point out a few things: the headliner act for this evening was Have Gun, Will Travel, a group of young men gaining greater attention and speed on college campus stations and which recently scored a feather in their caps when the PBS show “Roadtrip Nation” plucked the festival title song (a rousing, toe-tapping number) out of obscurity and started using as its main theme. (And now I hear that Chevrolet will begin to use it for their commercials, too…good going, guys!)

Have Gun, Will Travel were joined onstage by Rebekah Pulley and Ronny Elliott, who each took to the stage for 30-minute sets before them. All three acts reunited at the end for an inspired rendition of The Band’s “The Wait.” (Click here for a sample.) They were also available for meet and greets after the concert, too, an opportunity you could only enjoy in a quaint, intimate setting in a venue such as the cultural center.

I won’t bore you with opinions of the artists themselves, because this is after all a blog about trying new things, not hey-Chris-vent-about-your-favorite-and-least-favorite-musical-acts. I will tell you that I went to that concert to see Rebekah Pulley, and I left a bigger fan of Have Gun, Will Travel (and am already intent on buying their two albums!)

But the venue… wow, looks can be deceiving. What I saw from the walkway as we approached the seating were what appeared to be nice office guest chairs that you might see lined up along the wall in a waiting room. Instead, what I discovered was an extremely comfortable, cushiony spot to rest, even for those big-butted among us (and on behalf of all of us, I personally say thank you) And this was a good thing, too, because the concert lasted not one, not two but nearly THREE hours! These three acts held nothing back from putting on a great show.

The acoustics? Again, I had low expectations, as it appeared to be just a cut-out seating area between two hallways of arts classes. But I underestimated the shape of the space and the sound system. I was really impressed with how good the acoustics were and in such an intimate setting. For most of us to be that close to the artists, we would expect to go to an Ybor City bar or nightclub and then, all of the background elements, clinking bottles and chattering to go along with it might take away from the clarity. But in this setting, the sound was crystal clear…pure…and that totally supported a more quiet artist like Pulley and gave a storyteller like Elliott, a great environment to work with – almost as if he had invited a small group of his friends to tell them about this woman he once knew or vent about Fabian and Frankie Avalon (And don’t get the man started about Dick Clark…)

If you haven’t gone to the Carrollwood Cultural Center before for a production or a concert, because like me, you doubted the venue for being able to pull it off – wipe away those preconceived notions and give it a shot. I really did go in with an open mind – it didn’t hurt that my concert ticket cost just $12 (as a non-member, too!) For twelve dollars, I was thoroughly entertained, very impressed with not only the artists but the venue itself and can’t wait for the next great concert opportunity to come along so I can check it out for myself.

Five to Try for July…Make That Three!

Okay, I suck.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, the blogging can continue.

I made a pact with myself that I would continue this fun creative experiment Five to Try every month, and then July came along.

Yeah, I know it’s August and I’m talking about July, but hang with me a little longer here.

You see, I had every intention of trying five new things in July – really I did. And then a few things happened called dental work, dental work, and oh yeah, dental work. The sad part is the adventures in teeth are not yet over (oh goody) and resume most likely later this month (want to join in the fun?) but what these lively times have meant is hard to articulate. Let’s just say a lack of interest in interacting with the human species for various blocks of time. Yes, that about covers it.

So I am here in nearly mid-August reporting to you that I do not in fact have a Five to Try to blog about but rather a Three to Try for July! That doesn’t take away from the three I’m here to tell you about – each deserves a little write-up of their own but why not tag team all three of them here since we are after all just a wee bit behind… 

Five to Try for July #1 – Pioneer Florida Museum & Village (Dade City, FL)

I’ve lived in Pasco County for over 16 years yet never visited this cool blast from the past. If you haven’t been, schedule a visit in the fall when the weather’s a little cooler because much of your exploration will be conducted outdoors or in and out of non-air conditioned buildings, so you will appreciate this first tip immensely. Trust me.

I have been promoting events at the Pioneer Florida Museum within my calendar listing work for a few local magazines yet always embarrassed that I had never been to the place myself. For families with inquisitive kids who do appreciate seeing historic buildings and furnishings, this is definitely the place to bring them. Apparently, the museum grounds cover 21 acres. You will not be walking all of this, rest assured, but you should definitely dress comfortably and wear durable, closed-toe shoes because you’ll be covering varied terrain.

Pioneer Florida Village is comprised of 12 different buildings spread out with a clearly marked path – you are provided a map as well which doesn’t hurt. And you’ll have an opportunity to see turn of the century or early ‘20s or ‘30s structures, walk within them and check out the many artifacts you’d likely find inside – such as the Lacoochee School of 1926 and its many school desks and chalkboard…

the Mabel Jordan Barn with a huge collection of farm equipment, carriages, wagons and more,

or the Enterprise Methodist Church – pews, pulpit and all. Some folks start to lose themselves a little when they get out there in front of the local folks behind that pulpit. Larry…watch it…


From steam engines and their impressive cargo…


…to packing houses and the story their early marketing told…

…there’s plenty to see. Best of all, you can go at your own pace, and hang out to meet the locals…

dawdle where you want to have a little fun…

…and remind yourself what a different world this once was and how much easier things are today…


It’s a great value for families – just $6 for adults and $2 for kids 6-18 (five and under are free). I highly encourage you to check it out – but again, maybe as a fun fall or winter activity or early in the day if you go at this time of year so you’re not passing out along the way. We did not heed our own advice and tackled the village on a hot summer day after 3 p.m. (and yes, to answer that question you may be asking  right now, we ARE in fact out of our minds a little…certainly moreso after being in the heat and humidity for the 90 minute trek).


But if you’re even a little curious about history, check out this great local gem we have among us right under our noses!

Five to Try for July #2 – Powerstories Theatre ~ Girlstories

I had been hearing about this person named Fran Powers for a while and finally decided to do a little research and eventually interview the creative woman for Tampa Bay Skirt! magazine. What I learned what that this woman not only had a heart of gold and the greatest mission in the world – but she had put together the perfect vehicle to do it. Her goal – to help women find their way to telling their own story through the powerful tool of theater and with young women, this tool could be especially helpful in building self-esteem and confidence, two things that many of us could say we lacked during our tender, hypersensitive teenage years.  Through her nonprofit Powerstories, Fran and her team have gained a following and even the attention of the White House (now that deserves a woot-woot if you ask me!)


So when I heard that there was a special Girlstories production set for late July, I knew that I wanted to finally see this program for myself—in action. The group performed July 30-31 at the Shimberg Playhouse inside the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Tampa in a production called “The Dream We Dare.”

Twenty-one girls participated, each sharing a personal story on stage and the lesson they took away from it – some from life-changing experiences like family struggles or physical challenges to common battles we all experience like crushes oblivious to our feelings or friends that unexpectedly grow apart.


I will admit: when the production began, I was a little worried that I would be having flashbacks to an “Up with People” homage yet as the production progressed, it soon became apparent that this is about more than the songs being sung, set design or props: this is about finding a truth – a personal truth, something dwelling on your mind, getting to the heart of that truth, and putting it into words. And what makes us better for finding it and what benefits we take away from it and on to the next experience, well, those are just little bonuses.

What impress me most was the fact that these young girls, all in 6th through 8th grades, have reached a critical point in their lives and a much deeper understanding of themselves than I could have ever hoped for at their age, and I attribute that to the encouragement of people like Fran and her colleagues and the support of their families and the community.

I’m thankful for the existence of programs like Girlstories (and its counterpart for the rest of us more “mature” women, Powerstories). So, thank you, Fran, for making this happen. (That’s Fran at center below following the production…)

Powerstories has an upcoming production from its adult women program called “Shevolution” scheduled for later this month (August 27-28) at the Shimberg again. Tickets are $20. If you’re able to make it, I highly urge you to check it out for yourself.

Five to Try for July #3 – Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches

After I caught the Girlstories production, I thought to myself, ‘hey, self – this would be a good opportunity to try something else new. How about a late lunch?’ When I realized that the little vegetarian joint in downtown Tampa that I had planned to try did not have Sunday hours (note to future self: check website first!), I decided to go simple, and what’s simpler than a sub sandwich? As a vegetarian, this doesn’t normally afford me many options beyond, well, vegetables and cheese on a sandwich, and I love my Subway veggie on whole wheat, but I remembered the whole point of Five to Try – to take myself out of my usual, everyday, same old thing and try something new. So I found myself at…

Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches for the first time ever. And here’s what I learned about this particular Tampa franchise (and I will leave off the address for fear that these sandwich makers will come and find me and make me eat another sandwich, and this time one with meat!)

Apparently, Jimmy John’s subscribes to this mathematical formula: vegetarian = sprouts. Why? Because any vegetarian option smothers the sandwich with these nasty wanna-be weeds. When I placed my order, I specifically said, “Please, no sprouts. Don’t like those at all.” The young man repeated it back to me and nodded his understanding. And of course, when the sandwich arrived, it arrived like this.

Yes, those are sprouts at the bottom being yanked out callously by me without any remorse.

Of course, my favorite part of the customer interaction was when I innocently inquired if they had fresh mushrooms available to add to the sandwich. The cashier matter-of-factly replied, “Yes, mushrooms WOULD be nice to have, but we don’t have them” (emphasis on the WOULD). Hmm, I thought. Is he politely agreeing with me or do I detect a slight snarkiness in that response? Seems he could have just said “no.” It would have been shorter and clearer. Or the polite Southern version of that “no, sorry we don’t.”

 I asked if they could cut my sandwich in two, and as you can see, they followed these instructions well, too.


When they called out for the customer who had ordered the veggie sub (with sprouts, they neglected to say), I chuckled a little because I was the only person in the whole place. I asked another young man working behind the great big hidden mystery sandwich making cavern where the napkins were located. He grunted a little and pointed toward the drink machine. “Over there, next to the drinksk,” he muttered. I looked and still did not see them. “I’m sorry, I still can’t find them.” He moved a few steps closer and pointed to the pile.

The pile was located on the other side of the counter, a few inches below the counter and just off of the food preparation area. Yes, of course, I would look there, where you, my well-spoken caveman friend, are working, because that’s where any customer should be extending their hairy arm and dirty hands to reach for some napkins. How foolish of me.

I ate in the car, angrily. Why did I come here? Here was a perfect example of why I don’t try new places…blah blah blah…negative talk, negative talk… chomping on my flat, boring sandwich (sprouts manually removed, of course). And then it hit me. Aah, but that is precisely the point. What if – now go out here on a limb with me – what IF, I had gotten the absolute best service imaginable and the absolute best sub sandwich I had ever tasted, just imagine if that had happened.

 True, it didn’t. But if it did, just imagine how happy I would be that I stepped inside that restaurant.

Okay, but that didn’t happen. I had popped into a fast food joint instead, and I don’t  know if the quality of food was strong enough to even warrant the glowing term “joint.”

But though this particular experiment may have gone awry, I stay true to the purpose of this adventure for 2011. Trying new things, new places, new things to see, do and try. You can’t find your next favorite thing if you didn’t try it the first time, can you?

I laugh a little about the tagline for Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches.

World’s greatest gourmet sandwiches.

Ha. Yeah, right. And maybe all vegetarians live and die by sprouts…in a parallel universe, um, but not in this one.

Thumbs down for this Jimmy John’s experience. But thumbs up once again for Five to Try. And that my friends is a wrap for July’s creative experiment.

Aah, a wrap. Maybe I should have tried that instead. Hmm…

Wrapping Up June 2011 Five to Try

Holy cow, it’s July already!  Once again, I’m updating my Five to Try about a week into the new month but that doesn’t take away from the celebration. June finished off with some tantalizing Thai, a “touching” experience and a new way to pay it forward.

Five to Try for June – #3 Thai Sweet Basil

I love Thai. If someone wants to introduce me to a Thai restaurant that’s new to me, you won’t have to twist my arm. Just say when. So when my friend Michele Northrup, aka Ms. Saucy Queen herself of Intensity Academy, suggested that I meet up with her to give it a go, it was a no-brainer. I was there. The place? Thai Sweet Basil, 3875 Northdale Blvd. in Carrollwood.

Of course any new Thai restaurant visit requires checking out THE signature Thai dish…pad Thai or for me specifically, pad Thai tofu.  And theirs?

Delicious. I had to ask Ms. Saucy Queen to take this pic to truly capture how GENEROUS the portions are and yummy! I enjoyed a plentiful second lunch from the dish, too. I was so excited to add yet another delicious Thai option to my map – so far, I’ve got S. Tampa, Carrollwood, Tampa Palms, Port Richey and New Tampa covered. Now if only I could find a good Thai restaurant in the Wesley Chapel area…hmmm… suggestions? 

And I will also say that I liked the atmosphere at Thai Sweet Basil, too… comfortable, relaxing, pretty decor.

This picture from their website gives you a little idea of that nice vibe. And let’s just say my digestion appreciates a nice, friendly vibe.

I wanted to pass along some info, too, about a great fundraiser that Thai Sweet Basil is hosting today (Sunday, July 10) from 5-8 p.m. If you love delicious Thai cuisine and in particular, CURRIES, you’re not going to want to miss this — it’s a fundraiser benefiting a neighborhood family whose young son is battling leukemia. Fifty percent of the proceeds from today’s special Sunday event will benefit the family directly and another 25% benefits the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Check out the details here in this calendar listing from skirt!

Five to Try for June – #4 Rays Touch Tank

I’m embarassed to say that after all of these years of going to Tampa Bay Rays games – even when they were still Devil-inflicted – I’ve never taken the time or initiative to stand in the long lines and wait for a chance to touch a ray in the popular Rays Touch Tank. I thought I’d never get around to it. Enter the 2011 Five to Try experiment. As Romeo Void would have you know, never say never.

Late last month, I attended a networking event with the University Community Hospital Foundation’s networking group  HEAL (Health  Education & Leadership) which involved a tour of Tropicana Field, an informative presentation about being safe while staying active this summer from the USF Department of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, and of course, my favorite part of all – a Rays game (yea!) The Cincinatti Reds were visiting. It was quite the game, and we even pulled out a victory!

But during the tour, we had an opportunity to visit the Rays Touch Tank, something I had never done in the many years of going to Rays games.

 I saw this as a perfect opportunity to TRY something new!  So I decided to take off the watch and prepare for a different kind of Rays action.

Meet my friends, Longo…

And Zorilla!

Okay, no, they didn’t actually call them this. Those are my names. If I’m going to stick my hand into a tank with stingrays, even if the tour guide does tell me that their stingers are removed and that they can’t hurt me, I’m still going to have to name you to feel comfortable with this endeavor.

And I can honestly say, it was rather cool. The guide mentioned that they might actually seek out our dipped-in hands and come to greet us, and sure enough, that’s exactly what Zorilla here did… I lowered my hand deep into the water and it aimed right for my hand (freaked me slightly, yes) and rose up to the surface to meet me, as if to say, ‘hey, pick me up a soft pretzel and some Dippin’ Dots, will ya?’ The touch was smooth, silky, surprisingly soft – not slimy or coarse, as I had imagined.

I can now officially say I’ve touched a ray. And lived to tell about it.

Now I’m working on its counterpart – touching a Ray. Johnny Damon, here I come…

Five to Try for June – #5 Mentoring

I didn’t expect that when I was having a conversation about writing with a new friend Carol that it would lead me to my fifth Five to Try for June but sometimes the unexpected can be quite rewarding.

I’ve never formally been a mentor. I’ve always contemplated doing something like this but was never really sure for what age groups or in what capacity. In the same week, two mentoring opportunities presented themselves where I unexpectedly found myself in a role encouraging others to pursue their writing, offering tips for how to explore their creative ideas and serving as more of a cheerleader and soundboard than anything else. And here’s the most fascinating part… I really liked it.

I felt so tremendous afterward – no, it didn’t lead to a revenue opportunity – no, it didn’t allow me to check anything off of my existing project list. But it warmed my heart to hear a person say afterward that I helped them find clarity, that it helped them understand why they were doing this project.

I know that indirectly I’ve tried to be a helpful friend/consultant to plenty of friends I’ve met along the way through the media and networking, and I suppose in its own way, I’ve been dabbling with the barebones of mentoring but in one week’s time with two very different people in two unique situations but both aiming to do the same thing – tell their tale through words – I felt like I got to play a part in helping them out of the gate for their important personal journeys. I don’t actually know if either of these people will formally publish their works or if the final “products” will simply be recordings of their self-discovery along the way that they will keep solely for themselves. But for me, the unexpected opportunity to help someone connect with their story was all the rewards this lowly copywriter needed.

And that wraps another month of new experiences…July is already here with plenty of great adventures to come, which you’ll be reading about very soon. 

How is your summer shaping up? Are you making the time to visit new places, try new hobbies, meet new people and who knows maybe even stretch some different creative muscles? Don’t lose sight of an opportunity to step outside this Sunday and see it for all of its possibilities. They really do deserve your presence.