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March 31, 2012

Another visit to St. Augustine, Florida

When I was growing up in California, I remember reading about St. Augustine, the oldest continuously occupied European-established city and port in the continental United States and thinking how great it would be to see it.  Now that I live in Florida, it has become one of my favorite places.  Founded by the Spanish in 1565, the city has a long and rich history and definitely is a wonderful place to visit, which is what I did again recently.

St. Augustine is located on the East coast of Florida and has a beautiful waterfront, that never fails to up-lift even the most tired traveler’s spirits, even if you have been there many times before.

Near the historic city center, is the Castillo de San Marcos, which is a fortification that was build by the Spanish, beginning in 1672, to help defend against attacks by pirates.  It is the nations oldest Fort and is a must see place when visiting the city.

The downtown area is filled with shops, boutiques, and great places to eat that is always fun to explore!

This structure was built over 200 years ago and is said to be the oldest surviving wooden school house in the country.

Not too far from downtown, is the 100 plus year old Alligator Farm Zoological Park that has every species of extant gator, and other animals, alive today!

Including this albino gator that looks fake but is very real and quite alive!

Nearby, are neighborhoods that have examples of grand homes built during the Flagler era of the later part of the nineteenth century.

Down the road lies the Mission of Nombre de Dios where the first church services were held in the new world.

The grounds include an early cemetery that makes a nice place to walk around and take a break.

This tree is also located there, which almost looks like it could talk though fortunately it did not, at least while we passed by!

There is much more to see and do in St. Augustine, but I will leave that for you to discover during your visit to this amazing and timeless place!

February 16, 2012

A Visit to the 2012 Florida State Fair in Reverse

A new perspective is gained when viewing events in a different order!

The Florida State Fair was Definitely worth the visit and I would urge you to check it out, if you are interested.  As of the date of this posting, you still have one weekend left to take it in for yourself!

The evening was unusually cold for Florida on the night of our visit.

The lights and colors always remind me of fairs past.

Interestingly, not all who came did so for recreation or escape, some came to work!

The rides were plentiful and varied.

There were also animals of all types!

The exhibits and vendors were as you would expect and appeared to be doing a healthy business this year!

A talkative Robot amused the crowd.

There were singers and dancers that did not disappoint the viewers, who themselves were variously eating, talking and watching the show.

We sighted Elvis shortly after we entered the gate, though he was a bit taller than we expected him to be!

The crowds were already gathering when we arrived and I immediately noticed the typical vendors and sights of fellow fair goers quickly blending into the experience.

Some of my best memories growing up were of attending fairs on the west coast, so I was looking forward to visiting the Florida State Fair this year and it did not disappoint!

February 2, 2012

Some of my favorite pictures so far!

Years ago, I was asked why, given my travels, did I not have many pictures, to which I responded that I just was not “into” picture-taking.  Somewhere along the way that changed and I now wish I had started taking them sooner.  I have no illusions about being particularly good at it, nor do I aspire to be a modern Ansel Adams or make half-time on Super Bowl Sunday.  I simply find them fun to take and are even better when shared!

The following represent some personal favorites that I have taken so far…

This one is a sunrise in central Florida.  I have not placed these pictures in any particular order, except maybe for the first and the last ones.

This one is of the Florida State Fair in Tampa last year.   I snapped most of these simply because l found something interesting about the scene.

I captured this picture at a zoo and what struck me about it was that the two animals really seemed to be visiting with each other!

This picture was taken at the moment that Legoland Florida was officially opened to the public last year and confetti was flying everywhere!

This one captured the final lift-off of the Space Shuttle Challenger (my first shuttle launch), which was the third to the last shuttle lift-off!

This picture was taken late at night by a very tired elf who wanted to add some cheer to the season!

I happened upon this view when in Yellowstone three Winters ago and I had to try to capture it!

This one found me on the same trip while I was leaving the park.  He was so close that I could almost reach out and touch him!

I stumbled upon this view (not literally!) while taking the stairs in a hotel in Savannah recently.

I noticed these “Whirligigs” (that is what they are called) while walking the dogs one evening.

One of my kids dragged me outside to see this a couple of weeks ago and I am glad that he did!

I hope you enjoyed the pictures because  I certainly had fun taking them!  In case you are wondering, I used a Kodak EasyShare camera to take most of them.  Also,  I have others posted here if you are interested in seeing some more;  http://bit.ly/y2SmUW

December 24, 2011

My proof of Santa!

October 16, 2011

Opening day at Legoland Florida

The weather was ideal with a slight breeze and high clouds and the traffic was light when we arrived for the park’s opening.

The crowd was not too heavy at the gate, though we still had 45 minutes to wait.

Fortunately time passed quickly with music (sorry – no Justin Bieber), entertainment, and even a brief speech, and soon the gates were opened!

The shops and restaurants were the first things that we saw and the staff were all very welcoming and friendly.

The Island in the Sky Ride was renovated and kept as a reminder of the past.

It afforded a great view of the park from 150 feet above.

There were some really cool models to see of many familiar places done in fine detail.

There are also many rides that, for the most part, had short lines.

They kept the fantastic scenery from when the property was occupied by Cypress Gardens, such as this southern belle, in Legos of course!

The gardens make for a quiet and beautiful break from the pace of the rest of the park.

Before we knew it, it was nearly closing time and we had to depart.

By the time we started to leave, the park was getting ready to close and end its first day of business.  My family very much enjoyed the visit and brought back more than a few souvenirs, many good memories, and a desire to return again, which is not a bad first day outcome for any amusement park!

August 7, 2011

A cool bridge…

Recently, I was on a trip out-of-town with one of my kids.  Nearby there was a bridge that we decided to walk across to further explore the area.

We were nearly halfway across when he said “dad take some pictures!”

I was looking in the other direction, but I quickly turned around and noticed that the bridge was opening, while we were on it!

Neither my son, nor I, had ever been on a drawbridge when it was opening.

We could feel the hum of the motors and the vibrating cables as they strained to do their work.

My son smiled a broad “this is so cool” smile the whole time!

It was then that I realized, like my son, that this was very cool to see!

Then, it abruptly stopped.

Enabling a ship floating below time to cross.

then another…

When the last one passed, it closed as it had opened and people and cars soon continued on about their journeys.

We continued on our walk both now smiling at the mundane marvel that we had just saw while walking across a very cool bridge!

July 16, 2011

Our last family vacation!

“We are going to take a vacation to Mexico” my mother told the five of us kids as we listened, most only half interested.  She said that it was going to be our last family trip together because my sister was starting college in the fall.  I do not recall the rest of that conversation as I was very young, but the outcome is permanently imprinted in my mind.

The next thing I do remember is all 7 of us piling into our brand new Chevy Impala and driving from our home in southern California towards the Mexican border, which was a couple of hours away (this was before the current problems made trips like this less desirable to take).  We crossed the border and drove to Guaymas de Zaragoza, a port city on the eastern side of the Gulf of California notable to tourists for its warm weather and many undeveloped beaches.  From there, we boarded a ferry, the Benito Juarez (I am not sure why I remember the name, but I do), headed across the gulf to Mulaje in Baja, Mexico.  However, after a few of days of fun, somehow, we missed the return ferry to Guaymas, but learned that we could take the newly completed Baja highway and be back home in a day.  This is where the trip took a really memorable turn!

We followed the directions and drove a couple of hours to the place where we were to connect with the highway. When we arrived all we could see was more dirt road.  My father checked with some locals and found out that the highway was not yet completed, but that the asphalt was only around 30 miles away.  My father had to be back to work soon and so we decided to go for it!

Unfortunately, that information turned out to also be incorrect – this was long before the days of cellphones and the Web, and no maps were available that showed the progress of the road construction in Mexico.  We continued on and, at one point midway in our journey, we ran over a large cactus that was half buried in the sand and had transmission problems.  Some ranchers were nearby and helped my father make the car drivable again (I never heard exactly how they did that with few tools and no parts).  Another time my mother was answering nature’s call when a bull started heading in her direction.  When have super-8 film of her running back towards us with the animal clearly visible in the distance!

At times we had to move large rocks to enable the car to pass the very rough dirt road.  At night, my father and brother slept on the hood of the car, while my sisters, mom, and I slept inside as we had no camping gear.  Along the way we passed a small village where my father was able to get enough gas and food to keep us going.  We also met some Americans in a dune buggy going the opposite direction who updated us on how far we were from pavement (still over 100 miles) and gave us some foul-tasting water to drink.  I am sure they thought my parents were crazy and, being a parent today around their age then, I can totally understand why!

By noon on the third day we finally connected again with the asphalt.  My mother literally kissed the pavement, which was not very clean but mom did not care (we have that on film as well)!  We ended up driving well over 200 miles on unpaved roads in the Baja desert, during the middle of summer, with 5 children, and few supplies.  Later, we learned that there were 7 species of venomous snakes in the region and the car forever after had a layer of red clay that permeated the interior no matter how well it was detailed.  This was no doubt deposited during the numerous times my brother was slow to roll up the window when wind gusts or passing dune buggies kicked up dirt and dust!

Mom and dad are gone now and that trip is just a memory from many summers past.  As mom predicted it turned out to be our last trip together as a family and it was very memorable, though not for the reasons that she had hoped.  Still, we persevered, worked together despite the occasional bickering, learned some important lessons, and have great stories to tell about it that never fail to entertain!

July 9, 2011

The last Space Shuttle launch; before, during, and after!

I had seen it live before, but this was the last one, and so we had to see it again – one more time!

Then we waited…

And took in a few sites…


And this…

And, unfortunately, also this.

We had a brief scare that was caused, or so I was told, by someone’s lunch left unattended!

We also entertained ourselves…

Then we watched as it started!

And we were rewarded with this!

Then this…

And this too!

Then fairly quickly it was out of sight!

But definitely not out of mind…

Then or ever!

We soon left as we came, people from all over.

Leaving all at once!

It was quite a morning and quite a crowd too!

It took a while, and we were a little sad, but still excited, though a lot tired, much in awe, but happy to be back home!

June 5, 2011

A summer trip to New York City…

We had an informal tradition in my family, or at least that is how I understood it, that when you were around 16, you would get to go on a trip.  The trip was usually taken alone and to someplace far away with the duration being at least two weeks.  One of my older sisters visited Mexico where she stayed with relatives one summer and perfected her Spanish that she had studied in school for years.  Two other sisters went to Hawaii for a couple of weeks where they soaked up the sunshine and my brother went to Washington, D.C. where he visited the historic sites of our nation.

Being the youngest, when I turned 16, I naturally reminded my parents about these journeys that the others took and asked where I could go.  My parents were in a situation at that time where their resources were temporarily stretched, so they tried to dissuade me from any thoughts of a trip by saying that I could go next year or perhaps the year after.  However, I was ready to go somewhere and, as my father had observed long ago, when I get something in my head I usually find a way to make it happen!  A trait that has (mostly) served me well in life and this time was no different.

The “where” was a bit more challenging to figure out as I received the message clearly that it had to be relatively inexpensive and so Hawaii was definitely out of the question.  I spent a few days thinking about it when I remembered that my brother-in-law of 5 years was attending the University of Southern California’s film school and was a graduate intern working for Paramount Pictures in New York City.  I had only seen the western United States and Mexico up to that time and had never been on an airplane, so the thought of spending a few weeks in Manhattan was interesting to say the least.  My parents probably did not think I could come up with an acceptable trip, but when I did and discussed it with them they reluctantly had to agree.

It was the early summer of 1981 and soon I was going on a plane and bound for the Big Apple!  My sister drove me to the airport, LAX, and made it a point to remind me to be nice to my brother-in-law, her husband!  Another message received.  She helped me to check in to my flight and before long I was listening to my Walkman, playing “California Dreamin'” among other tracks that I remember, while flying east alone in what turned out to be the first of many such trips in my life, though I had no clue about that yet.

Three months earlier, I was sitting in 10th grade waiting for English class to start when I looked down and found a piece of paper that set me on another related, but much larger, journey.  That paper described a test that I could take and if I passed would enable me to drop out of high school and go directly to college.  My father’s promotions had come at the cost of the family being moved several times during my childhood and most recently to California’s capital where I attended high school.  The school I attended, Del Campo High, was the same one where Candy Lightner’s daughters went the year before and one was tragically struck and killed by a drunk driver causing the grieving mother to found Mothers’ Against Drunk Driving (MADD).  It was also the same school that former baseball major leaguer and current Cincinnati Red’s Manager Dusty Baker graduated from years earlier.  To me it was a nondescript suburban holding facility for teens where I knew few people, due to the moves, and was not at all challenged by the curriculum.  So when I found the paper under my desk, I read it and happily realized I had stumbled upon, by chance, a solution to my problem.  A literal treasure map for me!  My parents saw things differently and it took some work (well, a lot to be honest!) to convince them but they came around (I probably should have gone into sales!).  I took and easily passed the test a few weeks later.  Sitting on the plane, I had time to contemplate the fact that in the fall I would be in college, at a time that should have been my junior year of high school.

In a few hours the plane landed and I was off to retrieve my suitcase.  I then called my brother-in-law who was not able to pick me up because of work, but told me how to find the train to the plane and where to catch the subway and that he would meet me at one of the stations.  I navigated the crowds and remember feeling very grown-up as I followed his instructions and eventually got off at the correct stop.  My brother-in-law was, at that time, a big burly fellow who greeted me warmly, though in looking back, I am sure that he had to be convinced to put up with me for several weeks.  We quickly hopped into a taxi for a short trip to a large brownstone building on West 67th Street, located next to a restaurant that I am sure is long gone now called “The Three Monks” or something like that.

The apartment was a studio layout that my brother-in-law was leasing from a doctor who decided to give up his practice in favor of pursuing a career in acting (I am curious to learn how that turned out!).  Not being used to apartment life at all, I remember being struck by its small size as well as the fact that it only had one bed and a small sofa, where I was to sleep.

That evening we went out to eat and walked around.  I remember thinking how alive the city was and how things were very lit up and noisy.  Everyone appeared to be in a hurry and I recall being especially struck by the sheer number of people everywhere!  Being from southern California where you drive to go places, it also surprised me that the only car I needed was a taxi and that only rarely.  This felt far more foreign to me than being in Mexico, where I spent many earlier summer days enjoying the beaches with my family.

The next morning my brother-in-law went to work and told me to enjoy the city and left. Being a teenager, I went back to sleep but soon got up and ventured out into Manhattan.  I walked around the streets and saw girls younger than me selling themselves, other people in suits or dresses headed to meetings, students rushing to classes, and tourists like me taking it all in.  Once I walked by and twice passed Flip Wilson with a fancy invitation in his hand, apparently trying to find an address.  I saw street hustlers at work and was told by a stern-faced man that I was not “dark enough” to continue farther on from where I was, so I took the advice and turned around.  I spent a lovely morning in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, with a pleasant girlfriend of my oldest sister’s, who told me that I looked at least 18, which I know was said to make me feel grown-up and it did!  I explored central park daily and took a ride to the observation deck of the World Trade Towers, which I will never forget!

Most of the time, I had lunch on the street at one of the many vendors and never tired of people watching, foreshadowing what I would do on many future trips to faraway places.  At the end of the day I would meet my brother-in-law at the building where he worked, which was the headquarters for Paramount Pictures.  I got to know the elevator attendant fairly well and enjoyed seeing the well-appointed suites, where the executives worked.  Once, I was standing next to Warren Beatty when he was talking to an executive while I waited patiently for my brother-in-law and I remember thinking how many people would love to be standing in my place!  I, of course, just wanted them to finish up so we could have dinner and explore the city some more.

At night, we would eat in different restaurants and soak up the city.  We explored the village, listened to music at various clubs, and took in the movie, “New York, New York” one evening.  I remember the movie because I thought it was very cool to be seeing that while sitting in a New York City theater!  We went to Broadway, and saw “A day in Hollywood, a night in the Ukraine” and another time caught a pre-release viewing of “Gallipoli” in an executive screening room at Paramount.

On the weekends, when my brother-in-law was not working, we watched Shakespeare in the Park, Henry the VIII, if memory serves.  We also took a train trip to Connecticut for a few days and visited a good friend of my brother-in-law, who had recently written a script that was made into a movie starring Burt Reynolds.  I remember the writer had a girlfriend that was not a lot older than me who asked if I was going to miss attending 11th and 12th grades, to which I responded, without hesitation, that I would not and meant it.  Still, that served to remind me that things were changing for me and they would never be the same again.

Several weeks passed and it was time to head back home.  As I said good-bye to my brother-in-law, I sensed that he would actually miss having me around even though I am sure I was a burden that he had not wanted.  I thanked him and hopped into a taxi and went to the subway station, caught the train to the plane, and checked myself in for the trip back to Los Angeles.  On the flight home, I spoke to a much older lady who was an executive for a perfume company and she gave me her business card.  I also listened to my Walkman again, which at one point was playing “Arthur’s Theme” that includes the refrain “When you are caught between the moon and New York City” and I smiled to myself as I realized that it had been a good trip for me.

As for my brother-in-law, John Wells, he completed his master’s degree at USC, under the tutelage of instructors like Spielberg and Lucas, and eventually became one of the producers of China Beach, ER, West Wing and others. He was also elected President of the Writers Guild of America West, started his own successful production company, and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  He and my sister eventually parted ways…

May 24, 2011

Lessons learned from a career spent working in Human Resources

My career started with a job as a Personnel Administration Specialist years ago and I have since spent the majority of it in Human Resources Management.  I have managed personnel in very large to small organizations, on four continents and across such diverse industries as medical, engineering, government, training, military, contracting, and consulting.  These have included for profit, nonprofit, privately held and publicly traded organizations.

It has been an interesting experience though like many careers it has included more than its share of challenges resulting in numerous successes and a few set-backs.  Overall I have enjoyed it and I have been fortunate to work with some terrific people and have assisted my employers in creating numerous positive outcomes in their organizations.

You would probably not be surprised to learn that I definitely did not grow up thinking that I someday wanted to be a Vice President of Human Resources or even a Personnel Administrator.  Rather, as often happens, I stumbled into the career by chance more than anything else.  At 16, I started college and was focused on a career in the hard sciences, but along the way, probably because of my age, I changed my mind several times.  After a couple of years, I realized that I needed to take a break from university life and see the world. This is when I decided to join the Army, which I probably selected after watching way too many MASH episodes on TV when growing up!

I took the Army’s career aptitude test and my scores were such that I was told that I could choose any field that “was open at the time” (the quotations are because I was told that not all careers were open at any given time). Even though I had the education, I decided against officer candidate school, as I wanted the enlisted experience like my parents.  I also knew, even at that time, that the military would not be a career for me but rather just a start to my professional life, whatever that would be.

I spent several hours with the recruiter discussing all of the “available” career options, and about half way through it was obvious to both of us that it was clearly a process of elimination.  Another couple of hours after that and I was discouraged because none of the careers that “were open” at the time appealed to me.  Finally, one of the last options that the then completely exasperated recruiter mentioned was Personnel Administration Specialist.  I was skeptical and asked the recruiter what the job entailed, to which he replied that it was an office job that involved the usual filing, typing, answering the phones, ad etc.  He also added that it included extensive interaction with people and that I would be involved in sometimes complex problem solving that goes along with it.  The last part of his response was the hook that interested me and so I signed on the dotted line, which in the case of the military is literally what I did that afternoon!

When I think back, I realize that I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into! Since then, I have counseled many, broken up fights, mediated (literally), negotiated, convinced, listened, advocated, and endured (at times) just about every situation that you can think of that could occur in the workplace and some that you would not!  These include but are not limited to; promotions, bullying, interviewing, demotions, awards, deaths, restructurings, layoffs, job offers, collective bargaining, accommodations, workplace romances, and more.  I have had to help long term employees pack up their belongings, due to a bad decision or two that they made, and have tendered job offers for very large compensation packages and have sometimes been told that it was not enough!  Job candidates have also occasionally falsified their applications and one even had associates lie to cover it up!  Unfortunately, I also had to tell family members that their loved ones would not be coming home again.  On the positive side, I have developed employees and watched as they were promoted, mentored workers, and rebuilt and built Human Resource departments from scratch that supported significant organizational growth!

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  Human Resources is about managing people at work, and all of the good, bad, and indifferent aspects that are associated with it.  It is also about equity and perceptions about what is fair and, more often, what is not.  As an organizational function it is not a glamorous job, nor is it still completely understood or fully appreciated.  It is nonetheless important, especially when you are the employee who has an issue and needs assistance or when you are a supervisor trying to get the job done.

Since you are still reading this, I am sure your question is, that is all great but what lessons have you learned from all of this Anthony and can you really distill it in a few lines, because this is a blog and not a book after all?  My answer is, and you would expect no other, that yes, I absolutely can summarize the most important lessons learned and here they are:

  1. Three or more sides are common – This is why situations must be understood based on facts.
  2. The workplace is not a democracy – This is primarily because Employers are organizations that are focused on either providing services or making goods, ideally, as efficiently as possible.
  3. Laws are not just for others to follow – This also applies to policies and work rules as well and if they are not followed the result is disorganization, which is the opposite of organization!
  4. Some people actually enjoy their work – I have met many who do, so I know they are out there!
  5. Some bosses really do care – They usually do not advertise this and are often modest about it!
  6. Indecision is a choice and it is often the wrong one to make at work – Avoiding problems on the job frequently makes things worse!
  7. People are important – I could not have spent so many years in the field without believing this!

We all have lessons learned at work, whatever field you are in, but when your career involves people, as Human Resources does, the lessons learned are relevant for everyone!

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