The Peacock Project: A Personal Thank You For Inspiration

John Michael Thomas holding the poster for The Peacock Project you will see in Local shops.

John Michael Thomas holding the poster for The Peacock Project you will see in Local shops.

You may have heard about The Peacock Project in Winter Park. But just in case, this is an Eagle Scout Project undertaken to ensure a friend will always be remembered, be remembered for what she LUVed, where she LUVed being. Elizabeth Buckley was just 13 years old when she passed away on New Year’s Eve 2012. Her friend, John Michael Thomas, has undertaken The Peacock Project in an effort to bring a spectacular peacock fountain to the rose garden in Central Park in her memory. I’ve had a few conversations with John Michael about this effort and each time I come away more in awe of him, this effort. He asked me if I thought we could let Adam Young of the band Owl City know how much his song, ‘Shooting Star’ means to him and has helped him dealing with her loss. I suggested he write a letter, which appears below. It is completely unedited, just as he wrote it. Below also you will find the video John Michael made honoring his friend Elizabeth, which played at her memorial service, featuring the song by Owl City.

It is an honor just to know this young man, to witness the depth of his sincere caring and commitment.

* * * *

Dear Mr. Young,

My name is John Michael Thomas and I am 15 years old. I am with Boy Scout Troop 62 in Winter Park, Florida. I am hoping this letter reaches you because you need to know that your music made a difference in my life.

On New Year’s Eve of 2012, my longtime friend and classmate, Elizabeth Buckley died from an inoperable brain tumor. She was 13 years old. This event changed my live dramatically and I felt as if all hope was lost. It made me realize that bad things do happen to good people. I did not know that an event like this could be so painful and it was hard to make sense out of what happened. It was not suppose to happen to someone so young. It was not fair. It was not suppose to happen to someone so generous and full of life. She was such a good person and example to everyone who knew her.

We received the news about Elizabeth’s passing on New Year’s Day. I love Owl City and I usually listen to your music to cheer me up. That day I was listening to your album The Midsummer Station and I heard your song “Shooting Star” for the first time. I felt very emotional. It reminded me so much of Elizabeth and how bright her life was and how she impacted so many people. It made me realize that even though her life ended in this world her spirit will live on all around us. I have to believe that her short life is for a bigger purpose. My faith told me that even though she left this world and all seemed to grow dark, I had to smile and go forward because that is what she would want. I would make her live on in my heart and in the lives of others. It is now time for her to shine, brighter than a shooting star. The song was both happy and sad for me.

All of the sudden I had an idea and decided to make a slide show for Elizabeth’s reception with “Shooting Star” in the background. It turned out beautifully! (You can see the video below). The song really helped me make sense of things even though I was still angry with God. I had a hard time excepting the truth but your music brought me peace. I know her spirit of love will live on and that she will continue to inspire all who knew her.

So, I just wanted to thank you and let know how much you impacted me and my life.

As time progressed I had to come up with an idea for my Eagle Scout Project. I felt that I needed to do something to honor and remember Elizabeth so that her spirit soars on all around us. I wanted people 20 years from now to remember her and what an extraordinary person she was.

To cut a very long story short I am raising funds for a bronze peacock fountain that is going to go in the center of the rose garden here in Winter Park, Florida. Elizabeth loved peacocks and loved the rose garden. I am thinking about inscribing on the bronze plaque in front of the fountain to read : In honor of my friend and classmate Elizabeth Buckley. “It is time for you to shine brighter than a shooting star.” I hope that is something that is ok with you. I think this can inspire other families to know that when their child looses their battle with a childhood illness, that they will shine on in the hearts of those who love them as well. In fact, they are the brightest stars in the galaxy! If you would like to read more about her or the project see the link below.

Thank you again for composing this song. I hope this letter reaches you.

John Michael Thomas

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The Winter Park Farmers’ Market: 35 Years A Local Family Affair

A large magnet of the Winter Park Farmers' Market logo from the early 90s, now on a refrigerator in the offices of Earl Wilson Tropic Decor in Apopka

A large magnet of the Winter Park Farmers’ Market logo from the early 90s, now on a refrigerator in the offices of Earl Wilson Tropic Decor in Apopka

I knew of the Winter Park Farmers’ Market before I’d ever visited Winter Park. A delightful neighbor in Fort Lauderdale spoke so fondly of Winter Park, told us we should check it out. The Farmers’ Market made her best of-list, as she reminisced of eating bagels there on Saturday mornings, of wearing her sweater sets and boots there in the winter. Memories are about the details.

Now here for almost 8 years, as a Local I see the Winter Park Farmers’ Market as something which gets better with each visit. Those Saturday mornings provide opportunities for deals on Local plants and produce, but there’s also a LUVly energy, a spirit of community which is priceless. You’ll see people you know, meet others, a Local meet and greet like no other.

The list of those who LUV this weekly Local gathering spot is surely very long, but other Winter Park Farmers’ Market lists are very, very short. There’s one which comes down to one man.

Earl Wilson was one of the original Winter Park Farmers’ Market vendors from that first Saturday morning 35 years ago, is still there today. The Market is different things to different people; for Earl, that includes life changing experience.

“I was growing plants in my backyard, selling them. I lived in Orlando and I would go down south and I would buy palms, set them up on the street corner. I was 24 years old, you know, and I was doing it in my spare time because I was working full time,” Earl tells me this week at his offices in Apopka. “I worked for a dime store – McCrory’s 5 & 10 – and I wasn’t making enough money for a wife and a child. So I thought I’d do this on the side. And then my Mom handed me this thing and said, hey look, they’re going to open up a farmers’ market in Winter Park. You oughta check that out. I said I will, I will. And that’s how hit started.” Life-changing,? “Oh yeah, it was. It put my face in front of people and it opened up a lot of doors for me.”

An 80s t-shirt celebrating The Winter Park Farmers' Market.

An 80s t-shirt celebrating The Winter Park Farmers’ Market.

Taking on an entirely new career, I’m curious how he did it. We rely so heavily on the internet now, but there was no internet in 1979. “You ask a lot of questions. You go around and look, you retain the knowledge. You visit nurseries and you see what they’re doing,” he tells me. “That’s how I did it. You know, I actually grew up with – my family was farmers in South Carolina. In the summer I would go and spend a summer on a hundred acre truck farm in South Carolina. So I knew about picking peanuts and pulling watermelons and that type of thing. And I LUVed growing plants. When I was a kid in Winter Park I would grow pumpkins in my backyard and take them around at Halloween and sell them in a wagon, knock on peoples’ doors and say, ‘Hey, you wanna buy a pumpkin?’ Instead of cutting peoples’ grass I was selling them pumpkins.” He takes me around the office showing me aerial shots of their continual growth over time, now with approximately 100,000 square feet of greenhouse space.

Earl speaks fondly of his childhood in Winter Park, tells me of walking the Dinky Line, how Fleet Peeples allowed him and a small group of friends to jump from diving platforms which used to exist at Rollins College along Lake Virginia. He attended Brookshire Elementary, Glenridge Middle School and Winter Park High. He sells plants at the Farmers’ Market, but also does yard maintenance for over 350 homes in Winter Park each week. And if you don’t see what you want on a Saturday, more than likely he can get it.

“We grow seasonal flowers, some woody ornamentals,” he says, explaining “woody ornamentals” are plants like podocarpus and azaleas. “And we go all over the state buying flowers. We have a truck in Homestead every week, a truck in Delray Beach every week. We go all over the place.”

The Earls of the Winter Park Farmers' Market . . . from left, Earl, Poppy, Early and Quattro.

The Earls of the Winter Park Farmers’ Market . . . from left, Earl, Poppy, Early and Quattro.

I joke with him about a now ENORMOUS Chinese fan palm we bought from them six years ago, obviously from the Jurassic era. He humors me answering some of my gardening questions, ones about bamboo, about plants which never go to seed and where they come from. “Well, the original, God,” he proclaims and we both laugh.

When I arrived at the office a small black dog, Diamond, quickly began high pitched barking. Ad we talk in an office he attempts to scoot her out, shuts the door a few times. She manages to come right back in the room each time. He tells me “That’s my daughter’s dog. C ‘mon, Diamond,” as he removes her again. I’m not buying this dog isn’t at least somewhat his, as he brags about her being able to climb trees and she seems determined to be with him. His scooting her out the door is unconvincing to both me and the dog.

The first markets in 1979 included a few vendors outside, but the rest were all indoors, he says. He says it’s a lot different now, including that the parking lot is paved, shows me a matted photo of the a puddle-filled Winter Park Farmers’ Market from more than 20 years ago.

“When they renovated the market they said we’d really just like to have food inside,” he says. “And I said, okay, that’s fine. They let me pick what I wanted on the outside and that’s what I did. And I set it up more so that you walk through everything instead of a table where I’m standing behind. I wanted the customers to come in and walk through everything.”

A scene from the Winter Park Farmers' Market in the early 90s.

A scene from the Winter Park Farmers’ Market in the early 90s.

I then ask a question which provides a stunning answer. What time do you get started each Saturday morning? “We leave at 2:30 in the morning.” He says this so matter-of-factly, as if I should have anticipated such an answer, continues, “and it takes us until seven to get it all set up.”

Do you go to bed at all? “Yeah, I go to bed about 8 o’clock.” No partying that night? “No we don’t party on Friday nights. Saturday – if you can stay awake – you can. In the beginning it was just me and my wife running it. And I had a smaller truck. So I would have to work Friday night, and take two loads to the farmers’ market, come back to my house, load my truck and then go to bed. But I wouldn’t really go to bed, because then I would never get up. So I would lay on the living room floor.”

These days Market efforts are mostly facilitated by son ‘Early’. There are now four Earls total, Senior is ‘Poppy’, Earl, his son Earl who they call Early (which so fits his Saturday morning schedule) and Early’s son, ‘Quattro’. “I started back doing it last year,” says Earl. “So I go and help them at least three weekends a month. All the cops and the 7Eleven that we stop at, they can set their watch on Saturday morning to us as we have a line of trucks going down to Winter Park.”

Their “convoy”, as he calls it, includes three 24 foot box trucks and another 14 feet. Trucks are loaded all day on Friday. They rise at 2 a.m. Saturday morning and hit the road at 2:30. I say it all sounds like an amazing undertaking to do each week and Earl tells me it’s all about “logistics”.

I joke about the feeling of déjà vu they must get and he laughs. “And we don’t care what the weather’s like. We’re ready to go.” He talks of a few weeks ago when it rained all day, the fewer number of vendors who participated that morning. “Everyone didn’t come,” he said. “But we were there.” I consider the amount of time and effort involved, the ease with which weather can change significantly over such periods.

“You never know,” he says. “It’s never a complete failure. People know you’re there and they come looking for something.”

I ask if he has a favorite memory from the Market over these 35 years and he soon responds, “I would have to say the first day. I mean, I was happy with what I did. And it was something I thought was going to be worthwhile doing. That would have to be my favorite day. From then on, it’s just been great. It really has. It’s just a little business, but the people I’ve met, the things I’ve done, the jobs I’ve gotten from it, it’s just a great thing.”

Commemorating 72 years of marriage, Earl 'Poppy' Wilson Sr. and his wife Dorothy, last September.

Commemorating 72 years of marriage, Earl ‘Poppy’ Wilson Sr. and his wife Dorothy, last September.

Earl’s father came to work with him around 25 years ago after retiring from McCrory 5 & 10 himself. Early “did something else for a while, but came back. When we was real little we’d make him get on the top shelves of the trucks and push the plants out.” He talks of his oldest daughter, “she’d go with us at 2:30 in the morning and we’d make her a bed on one of the tables and she’d sleep on the tables while we were setting it up.”

Moments later Earl’s wife, Cookie, enters the room. They just celebrated 36 years of marriage, and she was there with him from the first days at the Farmers’ Market. “As we started a family,” she says, “I said how about I stay here and do all the watering and you get up at 2:30 in the morning and go to the market? Getting up at two o’clock in the morning is what almost drove us apart!” We joke about that for a bit, laughing.

Last year Poppy and his wife Dorothy celebrated their 72nd wedding anniversary at the Winter Park Farmers’ Market. Karen Ford, an original vendor herself from 1979, now oversees the Market for the city, and Ron Moore, who went to school with Earl and also now works for the City of Winter Park, were there with cake and punch. Adjacent to the wheelchair ramp at the south end of the building there is now a bench paying tribute to that occasion. Poppy is 92, and still going strong, to understate it.

Earl brings up my question about favorite memory again, and says it’s been funny that all three of their children have been born on Saturday. “All of my children were born on Saturday,” he laughs, including one in which he seriously dropped his wife off at the hospital on his way to the Farmers’ Market. Says Cookie, “I’m in the truck and I yell: My water broke!”

Earl dropped her off and continued on to the Market. “I had all these planets, you know, I had to get them to the market,” he says, laughing. Later that day their doctor “came down to the farmer’s market to tell me I had a boy.”

The Winter Park Farmers’ Market has truly been a family affair for them. “We’re all involved in it now.”

I joke if Quattro is being prepped for his future role, has a burgeoning pumpkin business of his own. “He comes out here and walks around. That’s what you’ve got to do first, pull that weed and smell that flower, that type of thing. He LUVs to smell flowers – he’s just so little, you know. But yeah, he LUVs to smell flowers, run through the greenhouses.”

Diamond doesn't disappoint, scales a nearby tree like a squirrel!

Diamond doesn’t disappoint, scales a nearby tree like a squirrel!

As I leave and we say our goodbyes I’m determined not to say anything about tree climbing dogs, as I want to see if Earl will bring it up. He does, of course, and laughs, takes great pride in watching Diamond, who was found abandoned in the Ocala National Forest, literally scurry up more than six feet of the side of a tree, find her footing and then continue on up along branches. I laugh, as Earl stands there proudly.

A few years ago I coined the phrase Parkpreneur to describe all the people who make Winter Park special, unique. Earl Wilson is without question such an individual.

Join us tomorrow as the City of Winter Park, Winter Park Farmers’ Market fans and vendors celebrate 35 years of this wonderful Local tradition. Come out and meet Earl and his family, spend some time with your friends and neighbors.

Congrats, Earl, and Poppy, and Early, Quattro, Cookie . . . Wilson family. And THANK YOU, for the early mornings, the tireless commitment you’ve made to Winter Park’s Saturday morning ritual.

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Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves, Helping Others Do It As Well

So much that’s good in life, I think, is arrived at after lots of eraser marks.  Great ideas and efforts are rarely perfect out of the starting gate.  But when they’re truly believed in, have a LUVly sense of purpose and commitment behind them, the people who were inspired to start them keep at it until they find the best way to make it happen.

I met Lynne Martin a few years ago as I was writing a column focusing on Locals for the Winter Park Maitland Observer.  At that time she was part owner of Artistree Gifts in College Park, an artist cooperative that began with space in Infusion Tea on Edgewater Avenue.  Artistree Co-op became Artistree Gifts and had just moved into a space all their own, begun including indigenous crafts from Honduras, a country much of her family had traveled to on mission trips.

Full-time retail at Artistree took a lot of time, and while that specific effort was folded, the intent and desire behind the effort remained, was destined to see another day.

Lynne Martin & Julie Lawson at the Winter Park Farmer's Market facility, site of this coming Monday's For The Love jewelry line launch.

Lynne Martin & Julie Lawson at the Winter Park Farmer’s Market facility, site of this coming Monday’s For The Love jewelry line launch.

“We’re not tied down by full-time retail,” Lynne, an Artist who works in clay, tells me now, speaking of their re-tooled effort, sitting beside sister Julie Lawson, an Artist who paints and designs jewelry.  “We’re able to be more creative in how we approach the whole thing.  But it’s still accomplishing – we feel like we’re accomplishing more actually – our goal.”

That new effort is focused on jewelry, an effort specifically providing opportunities to the women of Honduras.  It is aptly called:  For The Love


“What we’ve found in Honduras is that 70% of the families which are poor, the head of the household is a woman,” explains sister Julie.  “So if we can effect change with the women, we can change the country.”  They’ve partnered with a Honduran-based group with the same mission; and, are now going about using their own Artistic talents and experiences to create opportunities for Honduran women.  They now help train the women to develop jewelry making skills.

To most of us Honduras is a Central American country somewhere around the equator.  We know it’s warm, tropical, many of us probably understand it’s part of that ‘third world’ group of nations we hear about, designated so to explain average living conditions, the general state of development throughout the country.  For Lynne and Julie, though, it is much, much more.

Julie and her husband first traveled to Honduras on a mission trip in 1999.  Much of what they did that trip was medical in nature, traveling to villages with a group performing minor surgeries, dealing, as Julie says, with anyone who complained of aches and pains.  “On the last day of that trip we met a little girl waiting to be seen by the doctor in hopes of finding a cure for her heart defect,” says Julie.  “She was twelve when we met her but she looked about 6.”  The girl had been coming to see mission groups like their’s each year, as Julie says, “hoping for a miracle.”

Such conditions, she says, are often fixed at birth in the United States.  “It’s honestly a medical mystery how she had lived to be twelve.”  Julie talks about moving six weeks into the future and “miraculous happenings” which didn’t simply change the girl’s life, but actually gave it to her.  Lynne injects that it was Julie’s efforts working the phone once she returned home, less miracle.  Her efforts ensured “one of the best physicians in the country was willing to do his part for free,” as so much else. 

For The Love launches this coming Monday at 6 o'clock at the Winter Park Farmer's Market facility.  Join us!

For The Love launches this coming Monday at 6 o’clock at the Winter Park Farmer’s Market facility. Join us!

“It was all just beautifully offered,” says Julie.  “So the week before Thanksgiving she had open heart surgery and went from being a very blue little girl – I don’t mean emotionally blue, but physically blue – to being in great health.  She is now 25, doing well.”

For Lynne, that early connection to Honduras came via her husband, Michael, who passed away in 2011.  Her efforts with Artistree Gifts were largely inspired by his love for the country and its people, her desire to continue his efforts of helping them, “continue his mission dream, buy items there, support  Artisans there.  But we found we wanted to spend more time with the actual mission and less time in retail.  This (For The Love) is more closely related to what his dream was in reality.”

For The Love will begin with approximately one hundred individual styles of jewelry being designed here in their Winter Park studio and made by the women trained in Honduras.  The effort kicks off this coming Monday evening, with an introductory show at the Winter Park Farmer’s Market facility.  The line will include necklaces, earrings, bracelets and cuffs, made of pewter, recycled glass, the native Honduran Lenca pottery beads.  Prices range from $18 to $100.

While past efforts were focused on indigenous designs, “we wanted to offer more opportunity than just the seasonal tourist market,” explains Lynne. “Which the tourist market for them is actually the mission market, because you have short term missions which go in there in the summers and do everything from visit orphanages to building houses to putting in water systems.  And we actually participate in that.  We actually take groups in the summer and build houses, give people clean water, take food out to the very poorest of the poor communities.  But we felt that this was a way we could make ongoing change.  You know, we’re not just giving them fish, as the saying goes, we’re teaching them to fish.”

The line focuses on four groupings of jewelry:  Fine Things, Natural things, Honduran things, and Trendy things and every penny raised goes into the program in Honduras.  “As their skills progress, we then make our designs a little more difficult, to use those skills,” says Julie, who shows me numerous examples she is wearing.

The event will feature live music, food and wine.  “It’s going to be a great shopping experience,” says Lynne.  “It would be a great date night.  It would be a great mom and daughter event, a great after work the girls come to shop.  And it is right before Mother’s Day.  And we have such a variety, there’s something for every Mom.  It’s a great way to give a gift while also giving back.”

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Something Local To LUV

My goal is to celebrate Local, all that includes . . . promoting Local small businesses in the mix.  I want to introduce more Locals to Local small businesses offering products they'll LUV.

My goal is to celebrate Local, all that includes . . . promoting Local small businesses in the mix. I want to introduce more Locals to Local small businesses offering products they’ll LUV.

I hear it all the time from small businesses:  I have to see results from the money I spend for marketing and advertising.  I say I understand; and, I do.  You should never spend money on anything which does not provide you at least an equivalent return, leaves you wondering.  I try to provide the businesses I work with a significant bang for their buck.  I hope it’s obvious:  I enjoy – you could even say LUV – celebrating our community, including Local small businesses in what I do, appreciate the passion which has led them / you to do what you do, the passion and work required to keep it going.  I do not take lightly any small business person’s faith in me, do not take it for granted, do not feel entitled in any way.  If I ever show up simply expecting a check, show me the door and tell me never to return.  Working with you is an honor I seek to earn, deserve going forward.  I try to make what I do fun, entertaining, as I promote our community AND gain new exposure for businesses with which I am partnered. 

What I do is a little different, celebrating all I LUV and enjoy about this wonderful community, the small businesses I work with as part of it.  It’s a unique concept from what’s out there, requires a lot of additional time on my part.  But it’s fun to me, and I believe my efforts are appreciated not only by the small businesses I assist, but by the Locals who LUV this community as I do.  You’ll find me not just posting during the week, but nights, weekends. 

I don't sell anything.  I share my enthusiasm for businesses, for what they offer, hoping others will be enthusiastic about them as well.  A few recent examples of successes.

I don’t sell anything. I share my enthusiasm for businesses, for what they offer, hoping others will be enthusiastic about them as well. A few recent examples of successes.

An advertising major at UNC Chapel Hill and a marketing enthusiast, I know that the BEST promotion for anything is done in a positive and entertaining manner, repetitively over a period of time.  I see my efforts for each individual business as a mini campaign, highlighting their strengths and personality.  Social media to me is amazing and wonderful because it EMPOWERS individuals to make what you want happen all by yourself, or with little help.  Phone books are irrelevant, and print media struggles.  One time ads in any publication may or may not produce any results whatsoever.  The best marketing and advertising is now done online for many reasons, including the ability to take viewers directly to more information about what you do.  It also involves our friends, our neighbors, can provide an immediate personal endorsement from others which is priceless.  Social media puts real opportunity within easy reach, via your laptop or smartphone.  YOU can do it.  When you’re out and about in a restaurant, at a concert, a public event, what do you see people doing CONSTANTLY?  Yes, they’re on their phones.  YOU can reach them there, anywhere.  This is all new in the last 10 years.  It’s an AMAZING time to be passionate about truly serving customers, communicating with them.

Social media can be, should be FUN.  I use the most dynamic, interactive platforms to celebrate Local . . . you and your business right along with it!

Social media can be, should be FUN. I use the most dynamic, interactive platforms to celebrate Local . . . you and your business right along with it!

The challenge then is time.  You’re running your small business and anyone who has ever had one understands the time commitment, the energy required.  You do not always have time to do all the things you wish, and to do them well often takes much of it.  Want to network?  I have a FREE facebook page which is dedicated to that, with other Local small business people just like you.  Want new customers?  Social media can make it happen.  But there are a few things to consider, no matter your strategy.  What tools do you use to reach them?  What is your message?  Are you attempting to connect with existing customers or reach new ones? 

Multiple businesses or sellers under one roof?  I have a special offer for you, the businesses you work with under your one roof!

Multiple businesses or sellers under one roof? I have a special offer for you, the businesses you work with under your one roof!

This past Christmas I worked with a variety of small businesses, including them in my facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Tumblr postings.  In the last month I’ve been using Foursquare in very different ways, see that as a required staple in that basket.  I’m also getting into I Heart It.  Each social media vehicle is different, offers different benefits.  Because I do a variety of businesses there are additional opportunities for a business to find new Local customers, for Local business fans to discover new businesses they have not frequented previously.  The mix offers new possibilities for all involved.  It works and I have seen the results occur right before my eyes again and again.  With over 8,000 followers, the possibilities should continue increase all year.  It’s fun.  It’s positive.  It’s all about Local.  And I believe it’s the best advertising / marketing deal you will find ANYWHERE.  If you use any other business or organization to expand your social media reach, compare us.  Social media that’s been around a while is like taking a glass bottom boat at Silver Springs, a window into the soul of the business or group, telling you what they are all about, for better or worse.

Last week I was told of a Local business person who had agreed to pay $1,500 PER MONTH to someone to increase his Twitter presence.  Twitter can be great for increasing awareness of you, your business, but I would be surprised if anything is ever sold from a Tweet.  Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Foursquare are far superior platforms for promoting anything you offer.  Having said that, let me say that I do not want to SELL anything.  My goal is to promote Local businesses and Locally offered items I am enthusiastic about, hoping others will be enthusiastic about them as well, want to check them out.  In college while working at The Gap I was called a good salesperson and I saw it as an insult.  It’s semantics, I guess, but I do not respond well to a heavy sales pitch, withdraw when any is given.  I think most consumers now feel likewise, being pitched too much Viagra, etc. on television.  I seek to be the OPPOSITE of such approaches, a celebration of supporting Local businesses, of what that can and does mean to our community.

I truly do LUV Winter Park and working with small businesses, those which can react quickly, be nimble and focus on their customers.  I will offer other opportunities this year to get involved in what I do, but there will be nothing approaching the value I am offering here. I will be rolling out other pieces included in this offer in the next few weeks . . . . special benefits for those who are on and around Park Avenue, others for those who are not.

Let’s celebrate Local together this year. Let’s meet to discuss . . . E-mail, phone 407.539.3977, or message on facebook to ILuv Winter Park. 

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La Pasion for Food at The Bistro

I’m not a cook.  But I’m an adept eater.  At my house, I am sometimes put in charge of chopping.  It’s either that or cleaning up.  I’ve often said I will make as much mess making a tuna fish sandwich as my other half will preparing an elaborate meal.  I don’t have a passion for cooking.  He does.

New Chefs at The Bistro on Park Avenue, David Jones (left) and Edward Hollingsworth.

New Chefs at The Bistro on Park Avenue, David Jones (left) and Edward Hollingsworth.

That’s what you want when you eat out, hope for when you go to another’s house for dinner, someone who enjoys cooking.  We’ve been re-watching early episodes of Dexter and Sgt. Angel Battista on a recent episode talks about “la pasion”.  Passion sounds especially passionate in Spanish.  That’s what I want in a cook . . . passion, excitement for and a LUV of preparing food.

The Bistro on Park Avenue has recently had some personnel changes, brought in two new Chefs, David Jones and Edward Hollingsworth

Before I’d really met both, I’d had the opportunity to observe them, see them at work, interacting with others in the restaurant.  Just seeing them at work I found them friendly, engaging, eager to provide ideas.  Over time, and as we talked recently, I’ve seen that excitement for cooking in both of them.  It’s the sort of thing you can’t teach.  It’s either there, or it isn’t.

Recent special, lobster ravioli ala vodka.

Recent special, lobster ravioli ala vodka.

David, from Syracuse, New York, went to culinary school in Melbourne, Florida, was a sous chef at four different restaurants in New York City and on Long Island, was head Chef for two restaurants in the Orlando area previously.  “I LUV to cook,” he says.  “My favorite thing to do is mostly sauces.  I LUV doing any kind of fish, to steak.”  Favorite sauce?  “You know, I really couldn’t tell you off the top of my head.  I have so many different ones that I do.  I LUV doing mostly cream sauces, butter sauces.”

Novice to cooking that I am, my frame of reference sometimes comes from what I see on television.  I ask them what they think of reality television shows dealing with food and get some mixed signals.  David says he’s an Iron Chef fan, but they both talk about most reality television shows – food-oriented included – are light on reality and mostly processed filler.  David observes, “Those aren’t really chefs on there anymore, wearing shorts and tank tops.  It’s like what the hell.”

With the abundance of shows they joke a bit about other chefs they’ve known who’ve been cast, one who was such a nightmare in the kitchen.  Edward came close a few years ago, and his previous job as a professional magician came in handy.  “That’s what got me through all the auditions,” he says.  “And when I got to the point of this one audition – I mean, it was such a long day – they said, okay can anybody just tell a joke or do a magic trick?  I said, yeah!  So I did a couple of coin tricks and they bumped me right up to meeting with the producers.  But at no point during the entire audition process did they ask me to cook.” 

Edward attended Le Cordon Bleu here in Orlando and graduated in 2003.  “I LUV to cook.  That’s where my passion is,” he tells me.  He was a professional magician for 18 years, but confides, “I always said that if I was able to go back to school, it would be to culinary school.  So when I was able to do that, that’s what I did.”  He previously was Chef at Galopin, and Executive Chef at Loft 55 in Downtown Orlando, until they went with more of a nightclub concept. 


While David is fond of sauces, Edward’s favorite dishes to cook involve fish.  “I don’t like to eat fish, really, I’m not a seafood eater, but there’s so much you can do with it, with the chutneys and the sauces, the sauce itself.  And you can make it look really pretty on a plate.”

He speaks of a recent special they did with rainbow trout.  Adds David, “I actually got a compliment from a regular here, he came back and told me it was the best fish he’d ever had in his life.  He came back like three different times.”

“We’ve gotten a lot of compliments lately, especially the specials we’ve created,” responds Edward.

Back in the reality TV vein, I ask who will win if we have a skills challenge, one chopping onions or the like.  They look at each other, agree as they answer basically together.  “I think we’re pretty close on that stuff,” says Edward.

Adds David, “Speed wise, I would think me, but accuracy would be him.”

“We balance each other out very well,” Edward adds.

I’ve seen that ying and yang thing to be true in my stops at The Bistro.  They complement one another, yet share the same enthusiasm. 

They are presently working with owners Erika and Hugo Boesch to develop a new menu, revamping some dishes, bringing in new ones, all with a consistent focus.  As we talk I mention some of my favorite foods and each gets excited telling me of a dish they’ve prepared or a favorite Local eatery which they believe has the best of that style, ideas for the new menu and restaurant.

It’s that tasty la pasion thing again; and, I’m anxious to sample more of it in the future.

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Weighty Issues

I’ve developed a bit of a reputation, it appears, for being happy go lucky. LUV that.

But that doesn’t mean I do not have strong opinions. In fact, there are people in this community who can tell you from experience I not only do have strong opinions, but can become quite vocal about them.

In America in 2013 it’s easy to find people who say they “don’t do politics”. That surprises and dismays me, no matter how many times I hear it. What is “politics”? I joke a bit that it is the ultimate euphemism, a word which manages to encapsulate anything and everything worthy of being cared about in life. If that’s an overstatement, I believe it is not by much.

Do you care about dog parks? There’s recent proof that gets “political”. Marriage? Chickens? Commuting? Parking? Toys? Food? And so on. If I can’t point you directly to said issue in developing or existing legislation – the eggs (sometimes rotten) resulting from politics – I can assure you there will never be more than one degree of separation. The abdication of politics to others is, in my opinion, to leave all that is important in life, how you live that life, to others. Does anyone really want to do that? I hope not.

Winter Park history is worth preserving, yet we cannot always go to such lengths to do it.

Winter Park history is worth preserving, yet we cannot always go to such lengths to do it.

All that being said, yes, I understand the desire to avoid “political” discussions. Unfortunately, our society has evolved – used loosely here – such that real debate of substantive issues is difficult to facilitate without at least one party coming away offended, mad. Issues of real consequence should be thoughtfully considered and debated, not only by elected officials, but by an involved citizenry. Our feelings and sensitivities too often have us leaving weighty issues to be decided by others. That is often to our own detriment, that of our country, of individual communities.

Just over a year ago as I was making the rounds of various holiday events I was struck by a comment I heard several times: How do you stay so positive? You hear that once and you forget it. But when you hear it several times from multiple individuals in a short period of time, you take note. The catalysts for the comments were the pieces I’d been writing in the Winter Park Maitland Observer. I’d simply been writing about positive Local stories, Locals, this wonderful community. I was surprised by the comments initially, but came to understand the comment was coming from Local residents who have certain concerns about Winter Park, that their own voices were not being heard, they were apprehensive to voice them.

That ability to debate weighty issues and come away friends, shaking hands with all parties focused on what’s best for the community, isn’t always what it should be. Yeah, I’m stating the obvious here. I’d be a big hypocrite if I said I’ve always done such well in the past. I have not. I have much to improve on and dare I say Winter Park ‘leaders’ have much they can improve on as well. Is it not everyone’s desire to see the community evolve in a way best for all residents? Surely, each would claim that to be the goal. So, substantive debate should be easier than it has been shown to be.

New Year’s Eve I received a message from friends on facebook inquiring about my possibly running for city commission. Others have inquired about same over the last month, having heard I did what is commonly called “pulling papers”. Yes, I did do it, back around the first of December.

I’d never before considered holding any Local political office, but Patrick Chapin, head of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, asked me back in July if I was considering doing so. The question came from out of left field, surprised me. I said no and meant it. But the more I thought about the question, the more I thought maybe I should. I am strongly anti- “career politician”. I like the idea of the reluctant candidate, yet someone who would do it with all their energy, would be pro-small business, pro-historic preservation. Would I vote for me? Yeah, I think I would.

But I do NOT want to hold political office. I LUV being Winter Park’s self-appointed head cheerleader. Yet, I want more people who are NOT politicians, who do NOT want to be politicians, of whatever degree, to serve in office. Citizens serve other citizens, their communities. Politicians, I believe, serve power brokers, those people who have funded them seeking to achieve specific objectives. I consider myself to be very much a Libertarian. I have difficulty placing faith in government, organizations, groups. Those entities have disappointed me time and time again in my life. I believe in PEOPLE . . . . individuals you can get to know and understand, who operate based upon principles and morals. I can easily believe in principled and thoughtful individuals who work for government, even though I often have much disdain for government itself.

Development is a sign of a vibrant community.  But how we develop demonstrates what we see as important in our community.

Development is a sign of a vibrant community. But how we develop demonstrates what we see as important in our community.

The reason I “pulled papers”, primarily, was to ensure substantive issues in Winter Park receive their day in the public discourse. It was nice last year for Winter Park not to be divided by a discussion of important issues; but, absence of an election means issues which deserve public attention and scrutiny, real discussion, are less likely to receive just that. I am among those who believe Winter Park has important issues before it which deserve a community-wide discussion. So, honestly, I pulled papers to ensure that happens. If no one else was to step forward, I was prepared to do that myself.

I am happy to say I know someone who is in the process of filing. To my knowledge, he’s not held elected office before and I know for certain, if elected, he would not view this as a lily pad opportunity . . . get elected to this, move on to Tallahassee or Washington, D.C. later. That is important to me, as I want someone focused on Winter Park, what is best for Winter Park, not courting potential donors for future campaigns to move on, seeking more power.

I have heard numerous times since the Capen House issue arose that “Winter Park will not be governed via e-mail.” When I heard that I was stunned by such condescension. I spend a lot of time listening to and sharing the concerns of Local residents via facebook and other social media. Citizens in this community, just as others around the country, are BUSY . . . raising families, running businesses, volunteering, attending Local events, LIVING. They do not always express or have time to share their opinions face to face. That does not make their opinions any less relevant or meaningful. As an elected official, you do not have to respect every opinion. No one could ever manage such as that. But as an elected official, one representing a community, you must respect that they have a right to share their opinion, and you then have an obligation, I believe, to listen to it when done in a reasonable manner. If not, you are not fulfilling a very basic function of your office.

There is no place I have ever lived that I enjoy calling home as much as I do Winter Park. This is a wonderful community, with many special characteristics which are worthy of protecting as we move into the future.

Weighty issues deserve discussion. I am happy to know they will have their day this go around.

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Art To Uplift

I remember a video I used a lot during team building classes I taught about 20 years ago.  There was a video we showed about paradigms, those funny absolute ways of doing things we often establish in our heads, within society.

Over time, they often change because someone dared to challenge what was supposed to make perfect sense, dared to move the needle, show another possibility.  I still like to color outside the borders, always have, so it resonated with me, reminded me it can be done.

There’s a Local entity I’ve been working with much of this year daring to do that with Art, the other portions of their business.  It’s a funeral home, Carey Hand Cox Parker on Fairbanks.  While it’s owned by a large corporation, they appreciate lots of things that get to the value of small, what it means to exist in such a community as this one.  And, they’re interested in changing to whole idea of what a funeral is supposed to be.

The wonderful works of Dawn Schreiner, our featured Artist in JOY TO ALL, the December exhibit at 1350 West Art Gallery.

The wonderful works of Dawn Schreiner, our featured Artist in JOY TO ALL, the December exhibit at 1350 West Art Gallery.

In 2007, after months I’d prefer to forget, my family lost my stepfather.  My brother and sister, and surely my mother, proved much stronger during that time than I.  At the end, though, I was rather surprised what we all viewed an appropriate memorial.  We were all much more interested in celebrating who he was and what he LUVed than anything else.

Celebrating the life that was lived, the person who lived it, that is now a significant push for Carey Hand Cox Parker, other funeral homes like them.  Whether your lost LUVed one was into fishing or golf, LUVed the Oscars or gardening, they’re interested in helping bring that special and unique interest, life lived into whatever ceremony you wish to arrange.  Each of leaves imprints on others, on communities, on so much we encounter and take part in during our lives.  Our absence doesn’t erase who we were or what we accomplished.  It’s a focus on what we did while here, that he or she will be missed for all the things we LUVed about them.

In that same vein, just over a year ago they began 1350 West Art Gallery.  It’s a very large and long space, with ivory walls and sprawling floors, spotlighting, a gallery space quite similar to others you may have seen.  But, yes, it’s in a funeral home.

JOY . . . the Art of children from The Arbor School in Winter Springs.

JOY . . . the Art of children from The Arbor School in Winter Springs.

I took a class in college entitled ‘What is Art?’  The likely intent was to challenge our thought processes, prompt a pattern of questioning.  I thought it a pretty mediocre class, but perhaps it achieved its objective.  With my involvement with 1350 West Art Gallery, I now find myself asking:  What is the PURPOSE of Art?

I’ve asked a few Local Artists recently, been delighted with their answers, much echoing and adhering with what I’d expected.  I do some Art-y things myself and I know what I hope will be produced when it is viewed.  As they say, there is no one answer, no singular correct one.  For me personally, I think, it’s to UPLIFT. 

The Bumble, from Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.

The Bumble, from Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.

If you are happy, I’d like you to be even happier.  If you are sad, I’d like you to feel less so.  If you seek beauty, I’d like to see you smile because I provided some.  Where ever you are, however you are feeling, I’d LUV to think something I made gave you a boost higher.

For Artists who feel similarly, this is rare opportunity, a unique one.  Imagine someone at one of the true low points in their life, trying to make sense of loss, deal with it, coming across the colorful works inside 1350 West Art Gallery.  I’ve heard the individual stories, the comfort which has been sought in the space, can imagine what impact a work of Art appreciated, there at a difficult moment, may have done for them.  Art does not have to come with a specific message to deliver a very uplifting one.  Without even trying, it can provide a sense of hope, of comfort, of promise that maybe, just maybe, things will be okay and life will go on.

I’ve been involved in Art-y things before, even here Locally.  None has ever gone just the way I’d hoped.  When starting on new endeavors, especially ones which are about hope and renewal, I can’t help but turn my thoughts to the innocence and creativity, the optimism of children.  They are all Artists, unafraid to create, to think outside the box, color outside the lines, until they understand they are not supposed to.  But children, for me, if you wish to start something new, it’s through their eyes that you can begin fresh, develop something interesting with great promise.  Start there, see where it takes you.

Kids aren't afraid to have whales wearing Santa hats.  I LUV that!

Kids aren’t afraid to have whales wearing Santa hats. I LUV that!

To that end, as I begin to help 1350 West Art Gallery put an increased focus on not just Art, but Local Art, I asked that we first go to Local school children, ask them to be our Artists, taking on the theme of Christmas and all the promise this season of celebration and renewal might provide as inspiration.  The submitted works are from the Arbor School in Winter Springs, a school for Autistic children, and a mom in Maitland with eager neighborhood Artists armed with paints and markers. Each of them will receive a token of our appreciation from Winter Park’s favorite candy store, Sassafras Sweet Shoppe.

Our featured Artist is one of my all-time favorite Local Artists, Dawn Schreiner, whose works captivate and delight, have the ability to touch the child inside us all.  Her works from favorite childhood cartoons are so delightful, each one stirring a positive emotion, time in our own lives.  Her work is magical.



In our one month exhibit, JOY TO ALL, there are also some of my own mosaics.  I hadn’t planned this, but this being the first, an exhibit I put much thought into, had wonderful hopes for, perhaps that was meant to be.

The next exhibit, focused on pets and related works by Local Artists – and looks to include the amazing John Whipple of McRae Art Studios and the delightful Gena Semenov – is in the works.  My goal for each and every exhibit is to highlight the colorful and the beautiful while also celebrating the amazing talents of our Local Artists, the power they have to uplift and comfort, to bring real joy to all.

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