‘Good food makes people happy’

‘Good food makes people happy’

Sanibel Secrets

Sanibel chef opens his home to a variety of animals

Published in the Sanibel-Captiva Islander July 8, 2015 issue

The backyard of Dave Krajnak’s home, which began as a sanctuary for many animals recovering from an injury, has become a forever home for many varieties of birds, turtles and iguanas over the years.   

He said he developed a love for animals as a young boy growing up in Wisconsin due to the proximity of farms surrounding his folks home. Krajnak said his wife Blanche’s, love of animals is partially why many of the animals were adopted, because she fell in love with each one as they took care of them.

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The couple worked with CROW for many years helping rescue animals – and on occasion provided a foster home for them. A number of their African sulcata turtle’s, the third largest tortoises in the world, came from CROW.

Krajnak said they purchased their first sulcata from a reptile fair in 2002 before additional tortoises joined the family as rescues. Two of them were found after hurricanes, and one was found walking on the island.

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The backyard has been turned into a sanctuary for the tortoises, providing ample opportunities to walk into huts Krajnak built to provide shelter. The yard, which is now sand, also gives the tortoises the opportunity to dig when they are feeling dehydrated.

He said after it rains, the tortoises flip mud onto their backs from the water that forms into puddles to stay cool. The tortoises also fling dry sand onto their backs, again to stay cool.

The tortoises eat eight or nine cases of romaine lettuce a week, which is a good water source for them. They also eat vegetables like zucchini and squash, as well as prickly pear.

Toby is the couple’s biggest sulcata tortoise, weighing in around 275 pounds.

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Others that share a smaller portion of the the backyard include the red foot and yellow-foot tortoises.

Cuban, blue rhino (otherwise known as a blue iguana), and regular iguanas can be found in large cages right off the back porch of his home, all ranging in size from small to large, and have many levels to enjoy in their habitat.

Krajnak said after you work and spend time with the iguanas, they become tame, which affords him with the opportunity to hold them when wearing gloves.

In addition to the reptiles, many songs can be heard while visiting Krajnak’s home from the cockatiel’s, a ring-neck parakeet that was found at Jerry’s Food’s, finches, and an African gray parrot. Two conure also call the Krajnak’s their home.

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He said when they took in Ricky, one of the two conures, he had no feathers and his skin was completely irritated. After drinking fresh water, the feathers started to grow back.

“When you get to know their attitude and activities it creates trust and it helps,” Krajnak said of the birds.

When Krajnak is not taking care of the animals, he is spending time at The Lighthouse Cafe, where he became the chef almost 26 years ago in 1989.

“I love playing with food,” he said. “Good food makes people happy.”

As the chef, Krajnak takes on the task of creating five or six specials a day for the “board” at the cafe. For dinner he creates a chef menu, often including a variety of available seasonal fish.

In addition to creating menu items at the restaurant, Krajnak also spends time preparing food for catering jobs, many of which are done through the restaurant. Often Blanche, who works at the bakery at Jerry’s Foods, helps with catering by baking desserts for the party.

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One of his longest catering gigs happened in 2004 when Hurricane Charley impacted the area. He cooked and prepared food alongside his wife for 11 straight days. What started off as serving 40 people ended with more than 100 by the end of the 11 days.

The idea sprang after the restaurants on the island were having a hard time keeping the food fresh without electricity. When that food started going bad, Sysco Foods began dropping off food to use.

The couple cooked food for such entities as law enforcement, Florida Wildlife and marine patrol during the cleanup effort.

A tent was erected and a table was set up, so the food could be served buffet style.

The menu included such meals as steaks, potatoes and corn to barbecue pork, beans corn on the cob and corn bread and sloppy joe’s, coleslaw and German potato salad.

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Many times Krajnak was escorted in by Scott Ashby of the Sanibel Police Department because of the standstill traffic on the island. He said the sirens were turned on and as he drove onto the causeway everyone began clapping and boats started to come in knowing there was good food to be enjoyed.

Mangos topic of Community House potluck dinner

Mangos topic of Community House potluck dinner

Mangos topic of Community House potluck dinner 

Published in Sanibel-Captiva Islander July 1, 2015 issue

The Community House came alive Wednesday night as individuals drifted into the facility with dishes in hand to share with others during the Wednesday potluck dinner and presentation by FruitScapes Owner Steve Cucura.

The large round tables filled with smiling faces as individuals caught up with friends and introduced themselves to some of the new faces that graced the center.

As attendees filled plates high with a variety of appetizers, entrees and desserts, they also had the opportunity to taste four different kinds of mangos that were at each table – Tommy Adkins, cogshall, nam doc mai and kent.

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FruitScapes owner Steve Cucura began his presentation by giving an overview of the history of mangos, which are indigenous to India. He said mangos do not have a big production in the United States and they are hard to import because of the time it takes to ship them into the states.

“I’m from Virginia originally and I grew up tasting mangos in the grocery store and hated them,” he said. “I tried them one time and I never ate a mango again when I was living up there. I thought that was just how mangos were. Mangos are not an American produce. They only grow it in Florida and very restricted areas in California.”

In the late 1980’s Cucura was introduced to the mango again after visiting with a friend in Sarasota, who had a mango tree that grew a variety of 15 different kinds on one tree.

“I thought it was pretty extravagant having so many different varieties on there,” he said.

After Cucura tried a mango fresh from a tree he became hooked and traveled to India where he was introduced to more varieties.

“They have selected and kind of human engineered better varieties,” Cucura said of mangos that started in India thousands of years ago.

From India, the mangos traveled throughout the tropics before being introduced to Miami in 1880. Mangos do well in Florida because the weather is similar to that of India. Cucura said in India they have a drought for eight or nine months and a monsoon season for two or there months, which is very similar to Florida.

“Our climate mimics the India climate very well,” he said making the mango tree the easiest fruit tree to grow in Florida.

The mango eventually made its way to Pine Island when groves were established in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The mango is significant to Pine Island because the land is cheap and there are not too many tourists because there are no beaches, he said

Cucura said the north end of Pine Island is the best place to grow mangos because it is south of Charlotte Harbor, which holds all the heat during the winter time.

Mangos only ripen during the summer because once the temperatures drop below 70 degrees they no longer go through photosynthesis. He said mangos need both heat and moisture to produce a fruit.

The peak mango season falls between the beginning of June to the end of August. Cucura said they have about 80 varieties of mangos that will ripen one week after another with July 4 being when the ripe mangos overlap the most.

Cucura also shared information on how the mango tree was initially grown, compared to how it is grown today at his nursery in Bokeelia. He said when producing fruit an individual has to take all the seeds from the tree and grow them, which usually amounts to 1,000 trees.

“Some of them will survive and some of them will not. Some of them will wind up making a lot of fruit and some of them will not,” Cucura said. “Some of them will be a sweet fruit and some of them will not. You go through and select and narrow it down to one out of the thousand seeds that you planted.”

The mango that bares the best smelling leaf typically is among the chosen plant because it means the fruit will have the most flavor.

“Any mango that doesn’t have a stronger smell in the leaf is eliminated almost at birth,” he said.

Mango trees typically grow between five to eight years before they bare fruit because of the juvenile period they go through.

However, mango trees at Cucura’s nursery are grown under different circumstances. Although he grows mango trees by seed, he cuts the top of the tree off when the seedling becomes about a foot in height. Once the top is cut off, Cucura then takes a branch from the mother plant and grafts it onto the seedling.

The process is similar to surgery due to the tree being wrapped up and bagged before being placed in the greenhouse for a couple of months, so it grows and recovers and becomes a clone.

“The root stock is still the seedling, but the top that gives you fruit is a clone of the nam doc mai and it will give you fruit even if its only this tall,” Cucura said showing his hand mid waist. “A grafted tree will give you fruit right away even if it’s small.”

The tree, which is one of the most salt tolerant fruit trees, does not take much care to keep alive. On average it grows two to three feet a year. He said the best way to take care of a mango tree is by placing mulch around the trunk to replace some of the nutrients that are depleted during the fruit baring process.

The next potluck at the Community House will be held on Wednesday, July 22 featuring nutritious summer salads from Executive Chef and The Sanibel Sprout Co-Owner Nikki Rood.

‘Powerful message’

‘Powerful message’

Human trafficking highlighted in exhibit at Phillips Gallery

Published in Sanibel-Captiva Islander June 24, 2015 issue

Numerous paintings created by area youths, and some adults, will cover the walls of Phillips Gallery through the end of July. The canvas paintings all share a similar, powerful message about human trafficking and its effects.

The gallery, at BIG ARTS Center, 900 Dunlop Road, is open from noon to 2 p.m. Monday and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. On Wednesday, July 22, at 3:30 p.m. Human Trafficking Awareness Partnership, Inc. will hold a special reception featuring a short program and light refreshments at the gallery.

HTAP Executive Director Nola Theiss said the July event will display the students paintings from Resurrection of the Lord Catholic Church, Our Mothers Home, Pine Manor Association, Lehigh Acres and Bonita Springs Boys and Girls Club in the center of the gallery .

“We will also invite the other organizations which have hosted ARTREACH programs over the last five years,” she said of The Heights Center and other Boys & Girls Clubs. “We are also interested in having community members. We especially invite Zonta, Rotary, St. Michael’s and the Congregational Church members who have supported ARTREACH.”

"People don't know how prevalent human trafficking is because it happens 'beneath the surface.' This octopus represents how predators trap their victims and take them into the darkness that's human trafficking." Our Mother's Home 2014

“People don’t know how prevalent human trafficking is because it happens ‘beneath the surface.’ This octopus represents how predators trap their victims and take them into the darkness that’s human trafficking.”
Our Mother’s Home 2014

One of the many paintings that will be featured during the Wednesday, July 22, event was created in 2014 by youth of Our Mother’s Home titled “Beneath the Surface.” The brightly colored octopus’ tentacles have a firm grasp around a different fish that all have human faces. “People don’t know how prevalent human trafficking is because it happens beneath the surface,” the description reads. “This octopus represents how predators trap their victims and take them into the darkness that’s human trafficking.”

The ARTREACH program has expanded, Theiss said as a result of the biggest human trafficking case taking place in Florida in March when 17 traffickers were arrested. She said a good number of the victims were from Lee and Collier counties.

The case broke, Theiss said, when women victims of the violent crime sought help for custody of their child. She said when the stories of the victims were found to be similar, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement became involved.

“Six victims have been identified and they are all in recovery and have jobs,” Theiss said.

Thirty-percent of children are trafficked by family members, she said, and 11 percent are sought out by strangers who offer the child something they feel they do not have or give them compliments.

The ARTREACH program began in February 2010 as an effort to help spread what kind of dangers are associated with human trafficking, as well as raise awareness of the crime. The program is offered for youngsters 8 and older over a five-day session where they spend time creating a canvas collaboratively depicting what they learned about human trafficking.

“We are telling the kids they can have an impact because they are big,” Theiss said of the canvas paintings. “They are creating actual art.”

Three or four children work together on the same canvas, which many times include a border representing a message that is told within the main masterpiece.

Theiss pointed to a painting at the gallery with feet outlining the canvas sharing the message that human trafficking has a never- ending cycle of running away and the hand within the painting represents never being able to get away.

ARTREACH began with three programs the first year and grew to 10 programs last year. The program, she said, has touched the lives of immigrant and first generation children; foster; African American; Haitian; Latino and domestic kids.

“All those groups need special attention,” Theiss said.

She said they feel it is important to also protect domestic kids who are U.S. citizens because they are also placed in situations where human trafficking can take place. Theiss said the scenario can stem from a simple conversation that is led with the question, “are you here by yourself.” The question, Theiss said most times leads to further information shared and an invitation to meet for the second time.

Each of the at-risk youngsters participating in ARTREACH receive a kit of basic supplies that they can take home. They also walk away with a large post card that has pictures of them working on the canvas, a reproduced image of the final canvas painting and an interpretation of what the painting means.

The facility that hosts the program, also receives a banner with the image the kids created.

Theiss said they recently received a grant from the Bob Rauschenberg Foundation, which awarded HTAP with the opportunity to hire an art instructor and a curriculum director. With an art instructor, she said they can now teach the kids some simple tools to become better painters.

HTAP began on Sanibel because Theiss wanted to build awareness on the topic of human trafficking while getting the community and kids involved in spreading the message.

For more information about HTAP, visit www.humantraffickingawareness.org.

‘We embrace this’

‘We embrace this’

Bubble Room to be featured on Food Network television series

Published in the Island Reporter June 24, 2015

A few months ago a director, producer and food stylist spent 10 and a half hours filming every nook and cranny of the Bubble Room Restaurant for a new show on Food Network, “Craziest Restaurant in America.”

“They shot every inch of this place,” Bubble Room Manager Stephen Peach said, adding that they also talked to many customers and their staff.

The Food Network contacted the Bubble Room and asked if they were interested in being featured on the television series, which he said they could not turn down.

Bubble Room Restaurant Manager Stephen Peach and General Manager Rachel Peach.

Bubble Room Restaurant Manager Stephen Peach and General Manager Rachel Peach.

The restaurant was approached for their orange crunch cake, a yellow cake layered with an almond brown sugar crunch with orange cream cheese icing and bubble bread.

“Of course we accepted,” he said. “It’s nice to get attention to our area. It’s another opportunity to get us noticed. The island is built on tourism . . . the more the better.”

Rachel Peach, Bubble Room general manager said it was a really cool experience having the filming crew at the restaurant.

“It happened really quick . . . within two weeks (they were) here shooting,” she said after they received the initial phone call.

The series, “Craziest Restaurant in America,” which is hosted by Graham Elliot has already aired three shows “Too Hot To Handle;” “Eat at Your Own Risk” and “Big, Bigger, Biggest.”

The Bubble Room will be one of five restaurants featured in the “Weird, Weirder, Weirdest” episode airing at 10 p.m. Wednesday, June 24.

“We embrace this,” Stephen said of the “Weird, Weirder, Weirdest” themed episode.

He said a food stylist made their three dishes orange crunch cake, bubble bread and the some like it hot shrimp dish look pretty for the episode.

“Everything was perfectly placed,” Stephen said.

He said they wanted to add the staff’s favorite dish, some like it hot shrimp, because it’s a seafood dish that offers an “islandy” appeal with its tropical fruit.

Although the couple does not know how they rank among the top five restaurants, Stephen said they have seen some commercial’s advertising the episode, which features one of their servers lighting the flaming cheese with a chicken hat on his head.

Katie Gardenia opened the Bubble Room 36 years ago with 24 seats. Rachel said Gardenia lived on the top floor and the restaurant was located on the bottom floor.

“Slowly the Bubble Room kicked them out of their house,” Rachel said because of its popularity.

Now the restaurant has 156 seats on three floors.

Rachel said the Bubble Room is returning to its original roots with the help of Gardenia. She said Gardenia recently came back and did the artwork for their menu, which now features six new dinner items, as well as helped in redecorating the 1930’s Macy’s display room featuring Santa’s workshop.

“We enjoy having her in and around the building,” Rachel said, adding that it’s been a cool experience to get to know Gardenia and hear about the Bubble Room’s history and the island.

‘It bloomed and I was hooked’

Exotic orchid blooms on Sanibel

Published in the Sanibel-Captiva Islander June 17, 2015 issue

The coryanthes cacrantha orchid, which has a nickname of the "bucket orchid."

The coryanthes cacrantha orchid, which has a nickname of the “bucket orchid.”

Joe Salatino was pleasantly surprised last Wednesday morning when he walked outside and noticed his exotic orchid in bloom for the first time since planting it more than a month ago.

The coryanthes cacrantha orchid, which has a nickname of the "bucket orchid."

The coryanthes cacrantha orchid, which has a nickname of the “bucket orchid.”

The Sanibel resident found a grower in northern California after researching the coryanthes cacrantha orchid, which has a nickname of the “bucket orchid,” online. He said he wanted to take a chance and see if he could get it to grow.

The bucket orchid is a native of South America and has a scent similar to licorice.

“This is the most complex, interesting and beautiful orchid I have ever seen, or grown,” Salatino said.

Joe Salatino holds his bucket orchid.

Joe Salatino holds his bucket orchid.

Once the flowers bloomed, an euglossini bee, which is green in color, began flying in and around the “bucket orchid.”

“It opened and the bees started showing up and pollinating,” he said.

While living in southern California in the 1960s, Salatino used to drive past an orchid greenhouse with a sign that read “exotic orchids of the world.”

One day he finally decided to stop and the owner showed him around the greenhouse that expanded more than an acre and explained every orchid to him.

Six months later he returned to the greenhouse and stumbled across the cattleya orchid.

“I was stunned of how beautiful the orchid is,” Salatino said.

He was given instructions of where to place the orchid in his apartment, as well as how to water and take care of the flower.

“It bloomed and I was hooked,” Salatino said.

Soon after purchasing his first orchid, he came across a book that read “welcome to a journey that many people begin and few finish,” on the front sleeve.

His journey continued in Dallas, Texas, with more than 1,000 plants in his greenhouse. Salatino now has 175 plants on Sanibel at his home. He designed an outdoor space that fits into the environment where the orchids either hang or sit on a table.

Salatino said a lot of the orchids have different needs, some which are specific nutritional needs. A number of his orchids are kept shaded with a fan pointing on them because they strive better in cooler environments.

Once the orchid is placed in the best climate, Salatino said you can pretty much leave them alone.

“I love to find exotic orchids that are challenging to raise and get them to bloom,” he said.

The hobby that began in 1975 has brought a tremendous amount of joy to Salatino and his family and friends.

“It’s a wonderful hobby to share,” he said.

Salatino is a member of the American Orchid Society, Sanibel-Captiva Orchid Society and Southwest Florida Orchid Society. While living in Texas, he won many awards for his orchids and provided speeches to further educate others about the flower.

“Orchid people are pleasant and we have a mutual love for these plants,” Salatino said. “It’s a very peaceful hobby.”

Captiva panel debate sewer over septic

Captiva panel debate sewer over septic

Published in Sanibel-Captiva Islander June 17, 2015 issue

Conversations continued at the Captiva Community Panel last week regarding how viable it would be to change from septic systems to a sewer system on Captiva.

Captiva Community Panel members Dave Jensen and Jay Brown, among others, began discussions as part of a committee, which led to inviting Lee County Assistant County Manager Doug Meurer to the June meeting.

“Doug’s visit in June was a starting point to begin the process of fact finding, so a well informed discussion of the pros and cons of a sewer system can be held,” Ken Gooderham, Captiva Community Panel administrator, said.

In order for a change from septic to sewer to occur, Meurer said, a technical engineering consultant would have to take a look at what kind of system would work best for Captiva. From there, he said a plan would be formulated on how to move forward with the project.

“From start of design to completion of a project, it would be at least five years,” Meurer said if Captiva were to move forward with a sewer system.

Although specifics have not been explored yet, Captiva has the option of hooking into a pipe that runs into the City of Sanibel’s sewer lines.

Meurer told the panel about two possibilities that could be used for Captiva, a gravity sewer line or a vacuum system.

The gravity sewer line takes waste flow out of a home into a pipe on the street. The water runs downhill in a pipe that typically reaches a certain depth before entering a pump station to be taken to a different height.

The vacuum system, which Meurer said is more suited for an island, is a smaller pipe line that draws water through with a vacuum.

Some figures $10,000 to $15,000 were shared as examples of how much it might cost to implement the change in utilities for each homeowner and business owner.

“Every community is going to be unique,” Meurer said. “It depends on equipment and distance the pipes have gone to determine the cost. Whatever the cost of the project, single family units would pay the same assessment. Businesses would be assessed on the amount of flow they generate.”

There was also information shared regarding three different mechanisms Captiva may be able to use to implement a sewer system.

Meurer said the community can self impose an assessment necessary to build the infrastructure for a sewer system through the Municipal Services Business Unit.

“When established, there is a petition that goes out,” he said. “Fifty percent, plus one homeowner, has to approve the establishment of that business unit.”

Another option would include an existing utility company taking over Captiva for their service area. Meurer said he is looking into this option to see if it would require more than approval from the board.

The third option would fall under Captiva establishing their own utility system that they would manage. This option is also being further researched.

Meurer shared an example regarding when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection could step in and issue a consent order to mandate a change. He said the Keys were having some water quality issues that were determined to be a concern about health and the well-being of residences, so a consent order was issued.

Discussions were held during the meeting that there are no requirements for septic tanks to be checked on a regular schedule for homeowners. Businesses on the other hand, are required to have their septic tanks checked.

Gooderham said the panel had looked at ways to regulate septic systems on the island, or at least ensure they were being maintained properly.

“However, since septic systems come under the purview of the state Department of Health, the county is reluctant, or even unable, to support adoption of any meaningful regulations to spur and document maintenance efforts in county rules,” he said.

Captiva began discussions about a sanitary sewer system in the 1900s and the Captiva Community Panel had its first conversation in 2004 due to plans of expanding the City of Sanibel’s treatment capacity by adding the Wulfert plant, Gooderham said.

In 2007, further discussion was had after a small treatment plant on the north end of Sanibel began having problems, which resulted in closures of beaches on both islands.

“At the same time Captivans were debating whether to pursue underground utilities, electrical lines, so the option of a larger project that would include sewer lines was discussed,” Gooderham said.

With the closure of the beaches, the panel decided to look further into water quality issues on the island. A two-year analysis was conducted by SCCF of island water quality for near shore and groundwater.

Gooderham said the study found that the near shore pollutants spike was tied more to rainfall than island population. He said the study also revealed that septic systems still accounted for the highest contribution of nitrogen to the overall load.

“Slowing runoff from the island could offer great possibilities to improve near shore water quality, but the nitrogen introduced into the ecosystem from septic systems, even those functioning properly, was a pollution contributor,” Gooderham said.

In both instances, public support was not sufficient, he said, which resulted in the issue not moving forward.

“As part of a community survey done in 2013 by the panel to help set priorities and issues to be pursued, sanitary sewers again popped up as an item of interest in an open-ended array of choices,” Gooderham said. “The interest was reinforced in community workshops held in 2014 as part of the ongoing Captiva Plan update.”

The language of the plan began taking shape, which triggered the panel to begin setting priorities for its next efforts that were addressed in spring 2015. Gooderham said short, medium and long-range priorities were established at the May 2015 meeting.

Another chapter starts

Another chapter starts

At 6 a.m. I slowly crawled out of bed as my alarm woke me Monday. Pure excitement washed over me as I got ready for my first day as the new editor of the Sanibel-Captiva Islander.

I was leaving to go to work. I was heading to an office where I would be working with others. My streak of working only out of my home doing freelance work came to an end that morning.

The hardest part of Monday was saying goodbye to my little puppy who I have spent pretty much every day with since we adopted her in April 2014. The look she gave me as I closed the garage door made me smile as memories flooded of the time we have spent together. My heart broke a little knowing that she will now spend a good portion of the day alone.

The goodbye with Jason carried me through the jitters of my first day. He always knows the right thing to say at the right moment. His excitement shined through his sleepy words and his sweet smile as he looked into my eyes. For the first time in two years, I was the one who kissed Jason goodbye, wishing him a good day as I left and went to work.  As I walked out of our bedroom, a smile swept across my face.

It’s true I have the support of a beautiful man. A man that has continued to share how proud he is of me through my career changes over the past almost six years.

That morning reminded me of a day in September 2009. I moved back to Fort Myers from Arizona a few months prior and began a job search. After a few months, I found a listing for the Cape Coral Daily Breeze and went in for an interview. I was at Jason’s place when I got the phone call . . . I was hired as a new reporter for the paper. The excitement he shared with me that day was beyond supportive. A memory that still makes me smile.

The sky was blue with typical Florida temperatures engulfing the car as my drive to work began before 7 a.m. earlier this week. It was the most relaxing 40-minute drive. As soon as I crossed the toll for Sanibel my shoulders relaxed and my back hugged the seat a little more as I took in the view of the water. Cars were already parked along the causeway as another beautiful day unfolded. I stopped where no other cars were parked next to the water, took a picture and breathed in the salt water before continuing my trip to the office.

First day at Islander

I did it. I was offered a full-time position, a position that will allow my passion of writing to continue.

The same smile I had after walking out of our bedroom surfaced again as I opened the door to the office. It remained as I introduced myself to Craig who I am replacing.

We shared information about ourselves before diving into the responsibilities I will be taking over come Monday morning.

I honestly felt like I was home again. As I sat in his office, soon to be mine, the passion of my craft consumed me. I am faced with another challenge . . . well opportunity . . . of making another newspaper into a great weekly sharing the news and stories of the island.

One of the true beauties of this career is the endless opportunities it provides in getting to know, fully diving deep into the character of a community. Although I grew up in Southwest Florida and have spent time on Sanibel, I really do not know the community well. Now, working on the island I have the opportunity to really get to know what makes this area a destination for so many.

My first day sped by relatively fast. It was absolutely perfect. That smile remained throughout the entire day. I was introduced to people, got some leads on stories and had the opportunity to see some of the beautiful island.

That night Jason, Lucy and I went to Fort Myers Beach to embark on one of my favorite past times. We stopped at Publix and I ordered us subs before we headed to our destination. We used to eat dinner on the beach while watching the sunset before we left for Tennessee.

Before we left the house it started raining, but since we live in Florida we ran to the car and hoped for the best. It rained on and off the entire drive to the beach. We ended up eating dinner in the car waiting for the showers to finish.

Fortunately the rain stopped and an incredible sunset covered the night sky.

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That night was the first time Lucy truly got to experience the beach. Although she was extremely hesitant of the water, Jason and I eventually encouraged her to get her feet wet.

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It was a perfect ending to a perfect day.

The next few days were just as successful as the first.

There is truly no better feeling than working in an office with others who have the same passion as mine. It’s nice to be surrounded by others, instead of being isolated in my home interviewing people over the phone.

Another perk of working on Sanibel came to fruition Thursday night on my way home. For the first time since Jason and I started dating we work in the same area. So, before I left the island I stopped by Jerry’s where he cooks and said hello.

With our hours, most of the time we only get to see each other at the end of the day, when I’m falling asleep on the couch waiting for him to come home.

Although it was a brief visit, it was great to see him.

With a smile on my face I began driving off the island when a rainbow caught my attention. The water began calling my name, so I decided to stop on the causeway and get out of the car. The weather was perfect at that moment as my hair started flying in every direction with the wind coming off the water. I stood there taking in the scenery, smelling the salt water and listening to the wave’s crash against the shore. I probably stood there for 15 to 20 minutes.

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As I climbed back into my car I was completely relaxed as I drove the rest of the way home. It was at that moment that I truly felt grateful for the life Jason and I have. At that moment I began thinking about my journalism career here in Southwest Florida.

Since September 2009, my editor Val has taken care of me. I have gained heaps of experience as my duties change as a new position opened.

When I shared I would be moving to NE Tennessee in 2013, she kept me on as a freelance reporter. A phone call sharing that Jason and I were moving back to Florida offered her word in keeping me busy with freelance work until something full-time popped up. Val kept to her word. My workload tripled for the Cape Coral Daily Breeze as a freelance reporter.

Last week my world changed when I received an email from Val asking me to call her. That phone call, which led to a meeting in her office, was another promise kept.

I love what the beginning of this new chapter has offered so far. I’m excited to fully dig in next week when I no longer have to shadow the editor who is here now.

I firmly believe that our move back to Southwest Florida was meant to be. I continue to feel myself relax while the stress diminishes.

This week, although has worn me out, has been one of the best week’s I have had in a long time. I’ve met some really nice people, have seen some beautiful places and have contributed articles to a newspaper that will soon be filled with my byline.

More than a month ago

It’s hard to believe I returned to Southwest Florida more than a month ago. I have spent a great deal of time with family and friends since returning, something that was hard to live without for almost two years.

One of my new favorite routines happens every Saturday. I spend the week looking forward to my early start that morning.

In an effort to train for my third 5K race, which took place on Memorial Day, I ran with my mother and younger sister Maureen, who were also participating in the race with me. I was so excited to recruit two people to run with me, especially since it was Mom and Maureen’s first race. I’m happy to say I beat my best race time by more than three minutes that morning even in the awful heat. Mom and Maureen finished before me making their first race a memorable one. Although we did not cross the finish line at the same time, it was encouraging to know that they were running the same race with me. I kept my pace going and am happy to say I finally ran the entire 3.1 miles without stopping, making it truly an awesome achievement.

Every Saturday, we meet at Maureen’s house to run along McGregor. I still cannot put into words how much that first run meant to me. I have spent the majority of my time running by myself, or with my puppy Lucy. To run with other people, well it felt incredible, even if we all are not running at the same speed. Even though the race is over, we still meet every Saturday morning. Yes, it’s still a highlight of my week. This past Saturday as I pulled up to Maureen’s house, I saw Dad standing with Mom and Maureen, which made me smile. Our running group is expanding . . . I love spending that time with family first thing in the morning.

As I sit here and reflect on some of the highlights of my time back in Southwest Florida, a trying time, a time that kept me apart from Jason for 47 days already seems like a lifetime ago. I smile when I look back. I smile because of the strength we both had during the time he was in Fort Myers and I was in Kingsport. I smile because that is now a distant memory.

The best feeling in the world is being in the same state, the same city and living under the same roof again. Now we are back to our old routines, some that I love and will never grow tired of . . . a kiss before he leaves for work that is accompanied by have a great day.

I am now a firm believer that the heart grows fonder when you are away from your loved one. I have seen a new side of Jason that I cherish since returning. Our relationship is stronger than before. Jason’s affection and expression of how he feels comes more often making me feel even more loved.

For the first time in a longtime, I really feel like I am home. That feeling is not just because I am living in the area where I grew up surrounded by friends and family, but I am living my dream once again.

As a freelance writer, there is good and bad. I absolutely love the freedom of making my own schedule. I enjoy working from my home having the luxury of walking into my kitchen to grab a snack or cook lunch. I also love having the opportunity to be in the same vicinity as my one year old puppy.

What I was lacking did not show its presence until I moved back to the Fort Myers/Cape Coral area.

I am now spending more time out in the community, interviewing people face-to-face, making my passion for writing truly surface once again. There’s something special about living in the same community in which you work. I did not know how much I missed that interaction until the first assignment my editor gave me took me out into the community.

My passion is in full force again. My passion of writing has taken on another dimension.

Our move back to Southwest Florida was one of the best decisions we have made, especially because of the opportunities that we have found. Jason and I continue to grow as a couple, I’m writing more for editors I truly love working for, I’m spending my weekends with Mom once again and my best friend is only 30-minutes down the road.

Although our lives have been enriched with so much beauty here, I still find myself thinking of Tennessee. I miss the mountains. This past week it hit me pretty hard. Oh, how I miss the pure beauty of that state.

The hiking, getting lost in the woods, is what I miss the most. The clarity the hills and mountains gave me was truly special.

‘These are our schools, yours and mine’

‘These are our schools, yours and mine’

State of Our Schools: Lee students rising to the challenges faced today

Published in Cape Coral Daily Breeze May 29, 2015 issue

Superintendent Nancy Graham

Superintendent Nancy Graham

Although students today are faced with rigorous expectations to prepare them for a competitive workforce, School District Superintendent Dr. Nancy Graham told those in attendance at the State of Our Schools – Partners in Education breakfast Friday morning that students are rising to the challenge with great success.

With this year’s State of Our Schools theme of “Star Wars” The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools President and CEO Marshall Bower dressed as Yoda and Graham dressed as Princess Leia.

Superintendent Nancy Graham and The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools President and CEO Marshall Bower.

Superintendent Nancy Graham and The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools President and CEO Marshall Bower.

“The summation of what I know . . . Star Wars goes like this – there are good guys and one really bad guy dressed in black. So, I had to ask myself how in the world do I relate all that to education,” she said. “Yoda has very few words to say. And when he says them, they are received as profound and lasting.”

Graham’s speech was broken down into seven lessons shared through Yoda.

Her first lesson, “you must unlearn what you have learned,” touched upon the difficult tasks with which educators are faced. Graham said most people have gone to school and many want to serve as local experts in running a school.

“Though it is comfortable for us to relate current life to our own experiences, it would be really helpful in the case of public education for individuals to unlearn or at least suspend personal experiences and see education for what it is today,” she said. “Heavily legislative, often politicized and insufficiently funded.”

Public education has changed in terms of requirements for high school graduation. Graham said years ago students completed their high school math requirements after finishing algebra one.

“You all know those same folks never had to pass a standardized test or end of course exam in math, history or science,” she said. “It’s likely in most cases those same people are reaping the benefits of a well-lived professional life. But today, none of those same people would be able to earn a high school diploma based on the current requirements facing our freshman class, the class of 2018.”

This year’s senior class had to earn at least a half credit of online courses to receive a high school diploma.

When adding rigorous, challenging and prescriptive academic expectations to life experiences of students that are already faced without a stable family unit, homelessness, poverty, English as a second language, neighborhood violence, mental illness and physical or emotional abuse the chance to become a kid may never come, she said.

Through all of those difficulties, Graham said there is a positive note. In 2014, Lee County achieved the highest reading learning gains in its history; performed above the state average in points earned for the state grading system; improved the district grade and this year’s high school graduates earned a combined $50 million in scholarships.

Her second lesson was titled “difficult to see, always in motion is the future, which focused on predicting what students might need to be prepared beyond their kindergarten through 12th grade education.

“As today’s educators, we are charged with preparing our students for the workforce. A workforce full of jobs yet to be defined,” Graham said. “This is the new way of work . . . preparing the future for the unknown. This is why we must focus on teaching our students how to think and problem solve. To look at math and science and literature from angles and many lenses.”

The future for the students is why the district focuses on STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – as well as STEAM, because Lee County also includes the arts in its schools. Comprehensive high schools, which allow students to earn diplomas and industry certifications, are also offered to prepare students for the workforce.

Graham said the district also invests in such student leadership programs as JROTC, where Lee County ranks as the second largest in the country.

Another lesson, “truly wonderful the mind of a child” spoke to the district’s responsibility of acknowledging the minds they reach through relationships and programs to nurture students.

“You think Yoda stops teaching just because a student does not want to hear – a teacher Yoda Is” shared information about the teachers of Lee County.

Graham said next year the school district will employ just under 6,000 teachers, 2,000 of whom have a master’s degree or higher. She said it is no easy task to hire and retain the best talent because the School District of Lee County is the biggest employer from Tampa to Miami.

“We are back to a growth pattern of an additional 1,500 to 2,000 students a year,” Graham said. “We are projected to be in that mode for the next 10 years.”

The lesson also shared information about the newest career opportunities for teachers. A teacher leader spends part of their day teaching and the other half coaching other teachers, which Graham said has been successful.

Grants through the National Education Association have also helped in closing the learning gap in Lee County. What started as assistance for 10 schools, will have reached 30 schools in 2016 with the grant.

“When 900 years old you reach, look as good as you will not,” highlighted the capital budget funds decrease. Graham said the combination of lower property taxes, reduced impact fees and reduced funding from the state in the past five years resulted in $656 million loss to the district’s capital budget.

“As a district and a community, we can no longer pretend the losses have no impact as we face a growing number of students,” she said. “These are our schools, yours and mine. Our schools need to be maintained while new schools will ultimately have to be built to house the children that we know are coming.”

Another lesson titled “Try no. Do or do not. There is no try,” shared the importance of partnerships and their involvement.

“All in means more than just writing a check . . . though we are grateful for your financial support. In this partnership all in is about being an advocate of our schools, correcting misperceptions when you hear them or sharing the positives when others may want to be negative,” Graham said. “All in means we make promises to one another and we keep them.”

Some of those promises include a balance budget without using reserved funds; measurable three year strategic plan; nationally credited school district ; increase learning gains among all groups of students; at least one school counselor at every school; 325 fewer required tests; forward movement with technology including the start of one-on-one devices for students; C to a B district and on the way to becoming an A district, as well as continuing to work with the community to keep its vision.

She closed her speech by asking the audience to “pass on always what you have learned.”

“The more who know more the better and stronger the partnership becomes among us,” Graham said. “Our doors are open to you as we move forward and I encourage you to visit our schools. I will personally take you.

‘Total disbelief’

‘Total disbelief’

Veteran from the Cape wins boat raffle

Published in Cape Coral Daily Breeze May 29, 2015 issue

Frank DePace

Veteran Frank DePace won the 2015 Wounded Warrior Anglers boat raffle. 

A charitable drawing likely sent a Cape Coral resident reeling as his name was drawn from 4,000 raffle tickets at the Olde Fish House Marina Saturday, making him the winner of the 2015 Wounded Warrior Anglers boat raffle.

The reality of his win hit home Wednesday morning as he signed the papers for his very first boat at Fort Myers Marina.

“Every day I’m coming back down to earth,” Frank DePace said. “It’s just unbelievable.”

He won a 2015 NauticStar 2110 Sport Bay with 150 horsepower four stroke and magic tilt trailer.

Fort Myers Marine General Manager Colinda Helveston sits with Cape Coral resident and veteran Frank DePace on his brand new boat. Also pictured: Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and President Dave Souders, Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and Vice President Judy Souders and Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and Treasurer Tate Hutchinson.

Fort Myers Marine General Manager Colinda Helveston sits with Cape Coral resident and veteran Frank DePace in his brand new boat. Also pictured: Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and President Dave Souders, Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and Vice President Judy Souders and Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and Treasurer Tate Hutchinson.

Tate Hutchinson, Wounded Warrior Anglers co-founder and treasurer, said he could not think of a better person to have won the boat. He said he thinks a lot of people were in tears the night the name was drawn for the boat raffle.

“It was awesome to see a fellow soldier that was there to win it . . . it was pretty awesome and fantastic,” Hutchinson said.

DePace joined the Army in 1966 and served until 1981. He said since he was going to be drafted anyway, he elected to be enlisted giving him the choice of which branch of military to join.

“It was an experience of a lifetime. One that I will never forget,” DePace said.

He and his wife, Marsha, moved to Cape Coral on May 1, 2014 from Connecticut. He heard about the Wounded Warrior Angler organization after meeting President Dave Souders and Capt. Jim Conant at Pineland Marina

“They invited me to come to attend one of their meetings. I did and have been there ever since,” DePace said, who is now a member of the organization. “Being a veteran myself – I fought in Vietnam – it’s an organization that there is a lot of camaraderie and a lot of the individuals know how you feel and we care about each other. It’s a great organization.”

As a way to contribute to the organization, he purchased six boat raffle tickets never thinking he was going to win. When his name was called Saturday evening during the 3rd annual Redfish Shootout in memory of Spec. Michael Plath, he was in “total disbelief.”

Hutchinson, who takes his 10-day yearly vacation around the tournament’s schedule, said the boat raffle is the center point of the organization’s fundraising efforts throughout the year. He said the proceeds from the boat raffle allow the organization to hold the Warrior and Caregiver Retreats, as well as helps pay for a boat to raffle off the following year.

In addition, Hutchinson said the boat is also “wrapped,” portraying the military and all the branches of service, which excites people that were in the military and still are in the military.

DePace said Fort Myers Marine hopes to have his boat ready next Wednesday. He hopes to put the boat in the water that day or Thursday.

Fort Myers Marine General Manager Colinda Helveston sits with Cape Coral resident and veteran Frank DePace on his brand new boat. Also pictured: Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and President Dave Souders and Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and Treasurer Tate Hutchinson.

Fort Myers Marine General Manager Colinda Helveston sits with Cape Coral resident and veteran Frank DePace in his brand new boat. Also pictured: Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and President Dave Souders and Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder and Treasurer Tate Hutchinson.