Sunday, December 14, 2014

Dear Santa... Please Send Books!

Just in case you're still searching for that perfect Christmas present for your favorite book addict, here's a few suggestions:

For children:

The Story of Daphne the Duck by Maxine E. Schreiber
     A beautifully illustrated and written tale about a Muscovy duck named Daphne who manages to lay her eggs in a flower pot on a fifth floor balcony in Florida. Children everywhere will enjoy reading Daphne's triumphant story. Click HERE.

Betty Tales: The True Story of a Brave Bobblehead Cat by Ruth Hartman Berge
     This children's story about a disabled cat will help children learn about diversity and disability as well as encourage them to use determination and persistence to reach their goals--just like Betty! Click HERE.

For mystery lovers:

Murder A La Carte by Prudy Taylor Board
   "...a fitting title for a book that from the first pages of the prologue pulls mystery fan readers deeper and deeper into the action, leaves romance readers aching and yearning, and avid readers of any genre—even foodaholics, drooling and hungry. The final moments of Prudy Taylor Board’s fast moving mystery novel left me gasping, and mortally afraid for our world as we now know it.” Click HERE.
Virginia B. Elliott
Author of How to Board up Your Kitchen and Cook from a Hammock and The Romantic Tomato. Former South Florida Television talk show host and frequent cooking show guest.

OR how about...

A Grave Injustice by Prudy Taylor Board
     Amazon.com says, "A Grave Injustice Corey Harris is haunted. Haunted by new relationships, haunted by old relationships, but mostly haunted by dead relationships. A GRAVE INJUSTICE is one scary read! Prudy Taylor Board turns the heat up page after page, and you won't be able to rest until you read the last word. Click HERE.

And then there's romance:

 When I Dream of You by Rosa Sophia
     This novella is set in Juno Beach (Florida) and beautifully tells the story of young Nina Archer who finally meets the man she met in a dream a year before she met him in person. Sparks fly as Nina tries to overcome past trauma and a less than perfect home life. Will she choose to leave Florida or will she stay? Click HERE.

Or history?

Pioneering Palm Beach: The Deweys and the South Florida Frontier by Ginger L. Pedersen and Janet M. DeVries
     Amazon.com says, " Palm Beach's sunny and idyllic shores had humble beginnings as a wilderness of sawgrass and swamps only braved by the hardiest of souls. Two such adventurers were Fred and Byrd "Birdie" Spilman Dewey, who pioneered in central Florida before discovering the tropical beauty of Palm Beach in 1887. Though their story was all but lost, this dynamic couple was vital in transforming the region from a rough backcountry into a paradise poised for progress." Click HERE.  
   
Growing Up in Northern Palm Beach County: Boomer Memories from Dairy Belle to Double Roads by Ruth Hartman Berge
     A childhood in Florida's charming Northern Palm Beach County creates genuine nostalgia for sun, sand and running barefoot under palm trees. Author Ruth Hartman Berge weaves memories of a boomer childhood in Northern Palm Beach County with the history of the people and the places so many loved in this glimpse into a Florida that no longer exists."

Humor with good advice?

Elderly Parents With All Their Marbles: A Survival Guide for the Kids by Pamela Carey
     Through personal memories and humorous anecdotes, author Pamela Carey shares the lessons she learned as her elderly parents grew increasingly more dependent on assistance while they remained in control of all their marbles. Funny, informative and beautifully written, this is a loving daughter's story of end of life issues everyone will eventually face. Click HERE.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Life as a Fish

My parents dropped me off on the Florida State University campus for the first time in the Fall of 1977. It was the following year I tried out for and joined, The Tarpon Club--a group of young women who donned swim suits and nose clips and dove into the water in the fabulous indoor pool at Montgomery Gym. Performances of The Tarpon Club involved music--both above and beneath the water--stage lighting and costumes. Audiences sat on bleachers above the pool for the best view. I had a blast and enjoyed pushing myself to hold my breath underwater while swimming the full distance of a large pool underwater. Most of the other moves weren't for the faint of heart, either. Try lying on your back and holding BOTH legs perpendicular to your body. Yeah. Not easy. 

The heaters mounted on the walls around the pool would blast on cold days in an attempt to heat the frigid air in the mid-1920s building. We'd change from our warm clothing to swimsuits and walk as fast as we could across the tile to get into the heated pool. The smell of old building and chlorine clung to all of us by the end of practice when we hauled ourselves out of the pool, eyes red from opening them underwater as we practiced our routines.

I had no idea how long the group had been in existence, I just liked the idea of jumping in the water and performing. Now, I hadn't been a couch potato as a kid, but the amount of athleticism required for this sport was way above anything I had attempted to that point. (Except, of course, the swim out into the ocean off of Juno Beach to earn my senior lifesaving certificate. In the years after Jaws, the movie, it was awfully scary.)

I only performed with the Tarpon Club one year, long enough to graduate from "Minnow," the term used for first year swimmers, to a full-fledged Tarpon with a silver pin to prove it. The show I swam in was "Say It In a Word." They re-used that title a decade or so later, although, I'm not sure if it had the same routines. One year really wasn't enough, but there were too many choices of things to do in college and I ended up heading in a different direction and with a finite amount of time for extracurricular activities and sigh, studying, I left the group. 

The Tarpon Club started when Florida State was still Florida State College for Women in the 1920s. Originally, the Life Saving Corp, the group evolved into The Tarpon Club in 1937 as the swimming demonstrations grew into performances. Tarpons performed in movies that were nationally aired. Members went on to swim with Esther Williams, famous for her swimming movies. And members became Weekee Wachee Mermaids, the dream career for thousands of little girls in Florida. The Tarpons won national awards and continued shows and competition until the group disbanded in 1994. 

Alums met in 2002 to celebrate the decades of swimming in Montgomery Gym pool. It was the last time, the pool would be open for a performance of any kind. In 2004, the old swimming pool was converted into a theater for the dance department.

I may have been an active member of The Tarpon Club for one year, but I can tell you it was an honor to swim in the Montgomery Gym pool and an honor to be included as part of an organization that existed on the FSU campus decades before synchronized swimming became an Olympic sport. 

I found this documentary on The Florida State University Web site. If you've got the time, watch it all the way through to see exactly what this group was about. And yeah, there are a couple glimpses of me in the pool, but I bet you can't spot me!

The Tarpon Club Traditions from FSCW to FSU (April, 2002)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Florida Needs More People Like Leah Schad

Leah Schad, 2002
A few days ago, Linda Schad, a friend of mine from high school days who knows my absolute favorite thing to write about is Florida and Florida history, messaged me with a link about her mother, Leah Schad. The comment that accompanied the message was “Your family built historic places in the county and my Mom worked at saving it.” Well, my family only built one house in Delray Beach (the Historic Hartman House), but the legacy of Leah Schad is one that will, hopefully, impact the entire South Florida area.

Ms. Schad worked on the Board of Directors of the South Florida Water Management District; was Chairman of the Florida Audubon Society and on the National Board for the Audubon Society. Known locally as the “grande dame of environmentalism,” she devoted her life to the preservation and conservation of our unique and fragile South Florida ecosystem.

The link Linda sent me led to a palmbeachpost.com article about an event held on November 22, 2014 in which a plaque in the memory of Ms. Schad was unveiled at the Nature Center at Okeeheelee Park in West Palm Beach. Why a plaque? Well, because in addition to being involved in the previously mentioned organizations, Ms. Schad was also an original member of the Okeeheelee Park Citizens Advisory Committee, and was a huge part of the development and design of the Nature Center that now sits snuggled near the northern boundary of Okeeheelee Park on Forest Hill Boulevard. It was her hands and heart that helped develop a wonderful Nature Center to truly highlight the beauty of our South Florida environment and to educate future generations about why its all so important.

The loss of Leah Schad in February of 2008 was heart wrenching for her family, but it was also a loss for Palm Beach County and South Florida. As someone who writes about little things in the history of Palm Beach County to try to bring a Florida that no longer exists alive to my readers, I hope you have the opportunity to tour the Nature Center and see what Leah Schad worked so hard to do—keep a part of our “old” Florida alive and educate future generations to respect our fragile environment before it, too, becomes something wistfully written about by people like me.

***
Okeeheelee Park is located at 7715 Forest Hill Blvd., West Palm Beach, FL 33413 (one mile west of Jog Road).  The Nature Center can be reached at (561) 233-1400. Hours change seasonally, so check their website through Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation (CLICK HERE).

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Black Friday or, um, Thursday?

1960s in Delray Beach, Florida
When my children were small, the hottest gift for Christmas was the Razor scooter. Remember those? Shiny chrome, four wheels and a handle bar? At four a.m. on a Black Friday in 1997 or so, my best friend and I were in the crowd at Walmart waiting for the plastic to be pulled off the crate of Razors. Walmart was offering them dirt cheap and only one per customer. Both of us got one and I paid her for hers so that both of my kids could have one under the tree Christmas morning.

There’s been a lot of yelling about Black Friday this year… and it’s not because everyone’s comparing the sales. This year, like last, Christmas displays in several stores went up before one piece of Halloween candy had been devoured. People complained. Most stores didn’t listen.

This year, like last, a lot of stores are proudly advertising that they won’t be closed for Thanksgiving. As far as I can see, that’s not sitting well with the public. A few paid attention to the public outcry last year and have proudly announced that their employees will be spending the day with their families and not stocking shelves.

When I was a child, everything was closed every Sunday except the occasional gas station and we survived. I remember flying back into the United States from Europe after our honeymoon and eating Thanksgiving at the hotel restaurant. I felt bad that the waitress was there and my new husband left a huge tip—to thank her for spending part of her holiday serving us.

Since this is the United States, everyone is free to shop or not. But for me? Won’t be shopping on Thanksgiving, regardless of the lengths retailers go to entice me. Some things are just more important than shopping.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you and thank you for being a part of my blog. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Carefree Days

          Although I grew up in North Palm Beach, we often drove south to catch movies. In the mid to late seventies when I was a teenager, there weren’t all that many movie theatres around. Never any of the mega-movie plexes you see now, if there were six separate screens in one building, it was huge!
          One of our favorites was in West Palm Beach along the east side of South Dixie Highway. My best friend and I drove south in her white Comet to catch the latest movies. One time we drove through the rain and flooded streets only to scream as the car decided it didn’t want to stop in the where we wanted to park and nearly hit the surrounding cement wall. Our destination? The Carefree Theatre.
       The Carefree Center, which opened in 1936, was an ice cream shop and a laundry when Elias Chalhub bought the property and expanded in into an entertainment mecca that included a bowling alley and soda fountain. The Carefree Theatre was built as an addition and first opened in 1947, decades before we slid through the parking lot in 1976. The theatre was big and cavernous. Those were the days when going to the movies meant a night of entertainment. No cell phones rang during the presentation and the guy in front of you wasn’t checking his cell for “important” text messages every couple of minutes. (Seriously? Is he a nuclear physicist the President is trying to contact to save the world? A brain surgeon on call?) We sat in the dark munching popcorn and dreaming of one day being movie stars.
          The site later became the Comedy Club where for a two-drink minimum, one could sit and laugh until one’s sides hurt. We always held off bathroom trips as long as we could because if we stood up to head to the restrooms, the comedian would attack and the entire room would turn to watch us, the victims, slink out of the room. Larry the Cable Guy was one of the locals who got his foot in the door to the comedy world through the club at the Carefree.
          In yet another incarnation, the site held live shows and concerts. Big names and movie festivals appeared until the hurricanes of 2004 (Charley, Jeanne and Ivan) when the roof of the building was so damaged, the building had to be closed. The building is still there—78 years after it was built, but no one goes in these days.
          When I find myself in a movie metroplex these days, I often take a minute or two to close my eyes and remember how it felt to sit in a padded chair in a large, dark room... the only light coming in fits and starts from the action on the screen that filled the wall at the front... the slight clacking sound that came out of the little square high on the wall behind us as the movie film ran through the projector. The smell of popcorn takes me back—at least until a cell phone rings.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Baseball and Heroes

     In Florida, it seems one is never far away from a baseball field. I grew up on Jacana Way in North Palm Beach. Within walking distance of my home was Osborne Park. Baseball fields, cement block dugouts, steel and wood bleachers and a little cement block snack bar together made our field of dreams. When we were around eleven or twelve, we were allowed to walk to the park on late summer evenings to watch our friends play Little League. We’d buy a soda and a hot dog and climb the bleachers to sit on wooden planks. After the hotdog was devoured, we cheered and screamed as our friends took their turns at bat.  There was often the smell of freshly mowed grass and despite the heat of the day, the nights always seemed to cool off just a little in time for the game. We could see flying insects as flashes in the beams from the tall field lights. The crack of the bat hitting the ball would resound off of the apartment buildings to the south.
       At the front of Osborne Park was a curved cement block wall painted white. A flag pole behind it was illuminated at night and the entire crowd assembled for the game would stand, hands over hearts, and sing the national anthem before the umpire yelled, “Play ball!”
     When games weren’t being played, the fields behind the perfectly manicured ball field were excellent spots to kick a ball or throw a Frisbee. Dugouts were great spots for long talks over a Coca cola and moon pie.
        As many times as I walked by that curved cement wall, it never occurred to me why the wall was there and what the bronze plaque on it said. I decided it was time I knew and as my readers know, when I find out something about Palm Beach County history, I love nothing more than to pass it on to you.
       I end up driving through North Palm Beach a lot, usually to meet friends who live in the area. One Saturday morning, I took the time to stop at Osborne Park. The formal baseball field closest to Prosperity Farms Road looked like it hadn’t changed much. The dugouts were still the same ones I had walked past as a child. Built out of concrete cinder blocks, they’re now painted dark green.

       On this visit, though, I walked to the curved wall at the front and read. The little park we loved wasn’t named after some random politician or early founder of the area, but the former Prosperity Park was dedicated to the memory of Lt. Ronald Osborne in 1967. Born in 1941, he was only twenty-five when he left his home on Robin Way for war. He never came back. While serving as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army, he died on December 4, 1966 of of wounds suffered in battle after serving only one year.  If you travel to Washington, DC, his name is among those on the wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  Lt. Osborne was buried at Arlington Cemetery.

     We often hurry through our lives and don’t often make time to slow down and look at the bits of history around us. I know all the years I’ve been walking and driving by that monument at the front of Osborne Park, I never slowed down to read it. I’m glad I finally did. As I stood under the flag on a beautiful, clear spring morning, I said a little prayer for the brave, young soldier who probably spent time swinging a bat at this park.

                

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Election Days

I remember going with my mother to the North Palm Beach Elementary School cafetorium (yes, that’s what it was called) in the 1960s so that she could cast her vote. I had to stand right outside the curtains of the voting booth while she did whatever mysterious things were involved in voting. I looked forward to the day when I, too, could disappear behind the curtain and, like the Wizard of Oz, flip and pull levers and switches and magically tell the world who I thought would do a better job in an elected office.

I turned 18 right after the presidential election when Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford. I didn’t get the chance to vote in a presidential election until 1980 when Reagan defeated Carter. I was disappointed that the curtained booths had disappeared somewhere between the 60s and the 80s. Plastic dividers lined three sides of a high table and one leaned in and punched holes in the paper opposite the candidate of our choice. Twenty years later, the hole punching and the infamous butterfly ballot became an issue during the Bush/Gore election when the hanging chads threw vote counts off.

These days, we take a black pen and connect the end of an arrow with the beginning of an arrow. It doesn’t feel mysterious or impressive to me—feels more like a kindergarten coloring class. But the decisions made are far more important than who to sit next to at lunch or play with at recess.

I suppose at some time in the future, voting will involve a touch video screen and candidate’s faces. As for me, I’ll head to the polls this year, same as every year since I was eligible. Regardless of your party affiliation or who you support, I hope you do, too.

Wonder if they’ll let us bring our own curtains?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Haunted Tale for Halloween

I wrote this little tale for a critique group meeting. After searching for something to write, my eyes fell on my old typewriter. Ah ha! I could write a haunted typewriter tale. But, no. It's been done and done well by masters of horror. I could, however, write one with my own spin. So what follows is my take on the haunted typewriter story. Hope you enjoy this tale of a typewriter inhabited by a dead soul with a sense of humor...



The Perils of an Antique Typewriter

Tuesday (Mac Journal)
Tomorrow’s the day I get to pick up the old typewriter from the repair shop! It was a bargain on e-bay. I paid fifty bucks for a beat-up beauty from 1888. At least, that’s the date on the metal plate barely hanging on the front of it. The repairman’s been working on it for a couple of weeks and it’s finally finished! Tomorrow, I’m going to start working on my next horror novel. It’s the sixth one based in merry old England of Jack the Ripper days and I’ve been getting e-mails from fans for months asking when the next one’s coming out. Life is good!

Wednesday morning (Mac Journal)

My newly restored Bar-Lock is sitting on my desk with my computer. It looks like a black mechanical spider next to my sleek Mac. I know it’s crazy to write a novel on a typewriter, especially an antique one, but I think I can really immerse myself in the period this way. Can’t wait to start writing about the evil lurking in the dark alleys of London!

First paragraph (Bar Lock)

He watched from the shadow, lamplight a dull flicker on the cobblestone street as the carriage picked up the young woman he had been following. The disappointment at losing his prey at the last minute…

Oh, how I love the meadow in the morning!
The delicate filigree of yellow and white arrayed in splendor
above and through the towering green grasses that part
as I wander through golden bolts of sunlight.

(What the hell? I’ll just keep going…)

The echo of his boots resounded on the stone walls of the damp, narrow alley as…

The cherry lips of my love smile as she rises from slumber
her golden hair a nimbus of curls that slip through my fingers
Ah love, I doth live to see you awaken in
the cool chill of morning.
Thou art my world.

Wednesday afternoon (Mac Journal)

I’m not quite sure what the problem is with typing my novel on this typewriter. I keep trying to type the novel and when I look up, it’s spouting poetry. POETRY! I DON’T WRITE POETRY! I write gritty horror novels. I just don’t understand. I’m taking a break. I called Jessie and I’m heading out for a beer. Maybe tomorrow my fingers, or this typewriter, will cooperate.

Thursday morning (Mac Journal)

I’ve been sitting here studying the Bar Lock while sipping my steaming coffee. The smell rising from the mug makes everything seem normal. Even the Bar Lock. It sits there on my desk, ivory keys gleaming, metal framework reflecting the bright morning sun pouring through the office window. Next to it, paper sits in a neat stack and my newly sharpened pencils fill the lopsided pot from my niece’s last art class. I’ve had three cups as I debate whether to try again. I just can’t figure out what’s going on.

Tuesday morning (Bar lock)

The fiend towered above his victim, her tattered, dirty blue skirt spread on the pavement crushed beneath his knees. He wished she were still conscious. It was so much more interesting when they were….

There once was a fine lady from Paris
Whose mirror claimed she was the fairest
Her hair in curls rose above
with two sparrows and a dove
‘til the cat leapt and she fell off a terrace.

 (Oh my god!)

…aware of what they were about to experience.  The

There once was a man from London
who tried to eat a whole hot cross bun
but it broke in two
and fell on his shoe
and the poor, hungry man left a’grumblin’.

Thursday morning (Mac Journal):

I can’t do it. I can’t write on that damn machine! Now it’s limericks. LIMERICKS! There are NO limericks in horror stories. NONE. It’s NOT DONE! I know I’ve got a prescription for valium in the kitchen. Where the hell is it??

Thursday afternoon (Mac Journal)

Ok. Much calmer now. I must have been dreaming or something. Did I write that stuff myself? Did the Bar Lock do it? Am I going nuts? Is it me or the machine? I’m going to try the Bar Lock one more time. If it does it again, it’s going to just sit there or maybe I’ll put some flowers in it or maybe I’ll just take it down to the pawn shop before it infects the Mac with whatever’s going on.

Thursday afternoon (Bar Lock)

His hands covered with blood, he stood up from his evil handiwork and…

There once was a man from Nantucket..


-The End-

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Have I Got a Deal for You!

Part of the fun of being a relatively new author is finding out just how much fun stuff there is to do! For example, I've been on Goodreads for quite some time. I first joined to get information on books I'd heard about. Then I discovered the "History is Not Boring" group. Conversations about all aspects of history and discussions about history books. Ahhh! History geek heaven!

I listed my first book on Goodreads and thought that was pretty much all there was to do. When my new book was published, I listed that, too. But, wait! Not so fast, little one...

This week, I stepped up and offered my new book, "Growing Up in Northern Palm Beach County: Boomer Memories from Diary Belle to Doubleroads" as a giveaway. Yes, YOU can join Goodreads and enter giveaways to your heart's delight - for my book as well as several other offerings! FREE!

So, come on over. Sign up and start entering--for my book as well as the others. The life of a book addict just got better! Pass the word!




Goodreads Book Giveaway


Growing Up in Northern Palm Beach County by Ruth Hartman Berge

Growing Up in Northern Palm Beach County

by Ruth Hartman Berge


Giveaway ends November 01, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.


Enter to win


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

When the Palm Beach Mall was King


The Wonderfall! http://www.africa-usa.com/pbmall/
            Before 1967, we shopped in the little stores along Northlake Avenue or downtown in West Palm Beach. I remember how exciting it was as a child to head to the Burdines store downtown.  Originally opened in West Palm Beach in 1925, the store closed in the 1930s and re-opened in the location I remembered in 1941. Nothing was as fun as going to dine in the Burdines restaurant with my mom.  There were fashion shows where models walked among the tables modeling the newest fashions while we ate meals that could have been served in any four-star restaurant.

            But in 1967, the shopping habits of Palm Beach County residents changed for good. That’s the year the Palm Beach Mall opened on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard next to I-95.  It was the largest mall in the Southeast United States.  Burdines followed in 1979. The restaurant was moved, too, but it was never the same.

            Palm Beach Mall became the “in” place to shop. We always saw someone we knew as we strolled on terrazzo floors in the air conditioning.  In the very center of the mall was one of the most unusual fountains I have ever seen. Called The Wonderfall, it was made of strands of string. Standing proudly in front of Jordan Marsh between two bridges, the strands ran from the ceiling to a fountain where the strands disappeared.  Drops of water slid down the strands, sparkling in the spotlights. We often chose that spot to sit with a soda just so we could watch in fascination.

            The Mall was still going strong when I was in high school in the late 1970s. It was still the social magnet for the county. Once we had our drivers’ licenses, we found every excuse possible to head there. It was the JCPenney diner that became our favorite place to eat.

Every Christmas season, the Mall was decorated beautifully and Santa sat in splendor. Bleachers were erected on the terrazzo outside the mall entrance to Jordan Marsh where high school choirs from all over the county took turns performing songs of the season. After the North Shore High School choir was finished performing, we raced down to Orange Julius for a slice of pizza and a soda.

            It was in the Mall theaters that we saw Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Saturday Night Fever.

            It was at the JCPenney jewelry counter that my wedding rings were purchased on what truly was one of the most exciting and fun days of my life.

            The last time I was at the Mall was in the late 1990s. No longer lined with an array of fun shops, it seemed a shadow of its former glorious self. Dillards was the first major store to close in 2008. In the years since, stores closed and were replaced, but it just never seemed to regain the panache it had in the early decades. It was 2010 when it was announced that everything but JCPenney, Firestone and George’s Music would close. The Mall would become a ghost town.  

            Now everything has been demolished to make way for the Palm Beach Outlets. The newest experience in outlet shopping opened in February, 2014. I have yet to go, but I will. I expect it to be an odd feeling--much like walking Clematis has been.

            Those of us who grew up thinking heading to the Mall was a big deal have been missing it since the renovations started in 1980.  For us, it was a tragedy when that incredible fountain was removed in 2000.

              I wonder how hard it would be to construct a Wonderfall in my living room?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Macadamia


   I had a very odd dream recently and decided it was a sign. Today, you're getting a story about a dog. It doesn't have much to do with Florida, but since it's my blog, I can wander off the path from time to time. I'm sure you've noticed me doing so, but have been too polite to point it out.

     The first dog in my life came to my family as the proclaimed ugliest puppy in the litter. I'd heard no one wanted her. Here's a picture of me at about 5 years of age with the supposedly "ugly" puppy. She was the smartest dog I've ever known and lived to the ripe old age of seventeen. I was an only child until I was almost 7 and Buffy was almost more like a sibling than a pet--a small, furry sibling. I would swear even today that she communicated better than a lot of humans I've known. When we traveled back to Florida from California by car the summer after we brought her into the family, my dad would point out interesting things for me to see along the way. I'd pop up from the back seat where I lounged on a pillow, take a look, and recline again, or should I say TRY to recline again. The dog threw herself over the pillow every time I looked out the window and wouldn't give up the pillow without a fight. It was a long trip.

     As the person nominally in charge of my household for the past couple of decades, I've made sure we've adopted several animals over the years--including a dwarf hamster my son named Thor the Assassin. I was told it was a chinchilla. Much to my embarrassment, I believed him only finding out Thor's hamster status after his death when my son owned up to the joke. 

    Right now, there are three rescue cats, one disabled, in the house. If you're thinking of getting a pet, check into local rescues and animal shelters. And don't be afraid to take a good look at the disabled pets. Betty, our disabled cat who has a condition called cerebellar hypoplasia, has proven to be an inspiration to our family as well as thousands of others through the book I wrote about her, "Betty Tales: The True Story of a Brave Bobblehead Cat." She's a funny, feisty, fierce cat with more determination that I would have ever thought possible from a little thing not much bigger than a loaf of bread.

     So I supposed you'd like to read about that dream...

     I found myself at a pet adoption event. One of those where local rescues bring loads of animals to a local pet store and hope that some of them find homes. In my dream, I saw an adorable tan short-haired chihuahua named Peanut. I decided that little male chihuahua was meant to become part of my family. I ran all over the store and made hundreds of calls until I got the manager of the rescue. She told me that Peanut wouldn't be ready to be adopted for another couple of months, but they had a female dog, about 35 pounds, who could go home with me today. I wailed, "But I want Peanut. I want to take him home and name him 'Macadamia'." 

     Don't ask me. I don't know. Dreams are weird.

    So now I'm thinking the cats might like the company. I'm keeping an eye out for a chihuahua temporarily named Peanut... I know he's out there somewhere.

(c) 2014 Ruth Hartman Berge


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Florida Air Combat

     
Northern Mockingbird By Karney Lee U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
         Connecticut has the Robin. Indiana and Illinois share the Cardinal. Florida? We have the Mockingbird. We get to share our state bird with Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. To read James Audubon’s description of this small gray bird, one would think it was a delightful addition to the bird kingdom. “They are not the soft sounds of the flute or of the hautboy that I hear, but the sweeter notes of Nature's own music. The mellowness of the song, the varied modulations and gradations, the extent of its compass, the great brilliancy of execution, are unrivalled.” See LINK.
          The bird Audubon was describing is not the bird I remember as a child.  Most of the year, we’d see them flitting harmlessly through the trees. But heaven help the unaware pedestrian during mockingbird mating season. Around April of every year, the birds pair up, build a nest and begin to aggressively attack anything or anyone that dares to come within range.
          As a child, it was my chore to walk the dog. I’d grab the leash, the dog, and a piece of rope. We’d ease out the front door and stand on the stoop, the dog anxious to get about her business. I peered around the air potato vine that circled the porch to see if I could spot the gray birds or their bright white flash of wings. As an aside, the air potato vine was introduced in 1905 and unknown to us in the early 1970s, would be considered an invasive plant by the state of Florida by the end of the 1990s. My granddad called it a billabong. Back to my mockingbird tale…
          I could hear the squawking in the tree growing in the middle of the front yard, but there were no birds to be seen. I stepped off the porch and raised the hand holding the rope over my head and began swirling it in a circle over my head as the dog and I cautiously took a step out from under the vine. I heard the angry shriek and the furious beating of wings over my head and ducked lower. With my body now as twisted as a contortionist in a circus side show, bent over with my arm swinging the rope over my head, the dog and I raced down the driveway toward the sidewalk. Still not safe, we continued past two houses before the bird gave up and returned to the nest.
          The dog and I could walk down the street and back in relative peace. But as we approached the house, the rope went into the air and the dance began again.
          My father would mow the lawn with a hat anchoring a towel draped over his head and falling past his shoulders. Except for the yard gloves protecting his hands and the grass stains on his sneakers, he looked a lot like a Bedouin traversing the desert, the mockingbirds screaming, circling and diving at his head like miniature Egyptian vultures fighting over particularly interesting carrion.
          Neighborhood cats seemed to wise up pretty quickly when it came to hunting mockingbirds. From the front porch, I could see the great hunters stalking their prey, confidently slinking across the lawn toward the tree in our front yard and out of my sight. They usually re-appeared within moments, a slash of terrified tabby running low to the ground as fast as their little legs could carry them. The mockingbirds dive bombed relentlessly until the poor cats dashed under a nearby car and sit there, eyes wide in fright. Cats usually didn’t make that mistake twice.
          In the last few years, sitting in the safety of my screened porch I've listened to the birds sing from the trees in the backyard. From my living room, I can open the front windows wide and listen and with my ever-hopeful cats, watch as all kinds of birds splash in sheer joy in the birdbath. I now have an appreciation for the songs they sing—even the mockingbird.
          But come April, I’ll still have a rope handy.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What's New?

If you're interested in meeting me and getting a signed copy of Growing Up in Northern Palm Beach County: Boomer Memories from Dairy Belle to Double Roads, here's the schedule over the next few weeks:

August 23  1:30 to 3:00 

BOCA RATON:  Meet and Greet in the book department!
Costco, 17800 Congress Avenue, Boca Raton 33487
(You need to have a Costco membership to get in the door.)

August 31   2:00 to 5:00 

DEERFIELD BEACH: "August Authors and Autographs"
Ice cream, music, used books and LOTS of authors!
The Butler House, 380 E. Hillsborough Boulevard, Deerfield Beach 33441. (Open to the public.)

September 4  3:00 to 5:00

JUPITER: Speech title, "Barefoot in History."
2014 Women in Business Annual Tea, Northern Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce.
Frenchman's Landing, 3370 Grande Corniche, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33410
Phone: (561) 630-0333. (Guests can register online HERE.)

September 12 6:00

PALM BEACH GARDENS: Meet and Greet.
Barnes & Noble, 11380 Legacy Avenue, Palm Beach Gardens. Directions and more information HERE.)


Looking forward to seeing YOU at one of these events!


Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Vanishing Fireflies

            
My fake firefly jar...
When I was a child, there were a lot of things about summers here in the tropics that made growing up in Palm Beach County spectacular. We spent days on the beach or boat. We built forts out of Brazilian pepper trees (don’t do this – they’ll make you itch). We rode our bikes across the village of North Palm Beach to the country club where we flung our sweaty bodies into the icy waters of the Olympic-size pool. We tromped barefoot through freshly-mowed grass and sat in damp bathing suits in the shade on the ground next to our parents who, also in damp bathing suits, relaxed in aluminum lawn chairs with nylon webbing. We sipped Coca Cola ® and ate watermelon while they drank ice-cold beer.

At dusk, we chased fireflies with big, glass mayonnaise jars—jar in one hand and metal lid with holes poked in it in the other. When we weren’t trying to catch them, we danced with swarms of fireflies in the backyard. Yes, danced. We were fairy princesses surrounded by flickering, flying candlelight. It was magical.

Recently, I realized the fireflies are gone. I haven’t seen them in a long time, perhaps decades. My children never got to dance in a cloud of light like I did. I went looking for answers and discovered that fireflies have disappeared from all of South Florida.

 Where did they go? Why did they leave?

There’s a wonderful website called www.firefly.org that has one reasonable, and very sad, explanation. They say that most species of fireflies are “found in field, forests and marshes. Their environment of choice is warm, humid and near standing water of some kind.” And there’s the problem. As South Florida has grown exponentially, a lot of those lovely “fields, forests and marshes” have been paved over in order to accommodate the hordes of people. The United States Census states that the estimated population of Florida in 2013 was 19,552,860. In 1969 when I was ten, it was reported to be a quarter of that, only 4,951,560. That amount of growth requires a lot of pavement.

Is there anywhere one can see fireflies in Florida at all? Yes, there is. Central Florida and locations north still have them. FloridaRambler.com suggests that Blue Springs State Park, about 30 miles north of Orlando, is reported to be a great place to spot them. It’s only a few short weeks in April, but they’re still swarming there. Best bet is to camp overnight or arrange to stay an hour after the park closes.

And for those of who might complain that I’m anti-development, don’t bother. I’m not. But I have always been in favor of balanced development. I’ve always thought the need of humankind need to be weighed against the needs of the environment and the wild animals that were here before us.

I’m not sure if there’s a way to re-create marshes and forests, but I hope there’s someone working on how to bring back the environment the fireflies need. 
            
It would be a shame if future generations of barefoot Florida children didn’t get the chance to dance in that magical flying candlelight.

(copyright 2014 Ruth Hartman Berge)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

At Last!


I've been away from this blog for a while and some of you may have wondered where I've been. If you look closely at the name of the author of the book posted above, you can figure it out pretty easily. My second book has been published by The History Press. It's been a whirlwind the last few months. The publisher told me they wanted the book in February of this year. I thought, terrific, I'm done! Well, no, not quite...

I've spent the last six months learning the intricacies of today's modern traditional publishing world. The manuscript was edited once again (for the third time) and had to be formatted a specific way. The pictures had to be in a specific form and captions and credits coordinated. Last minute corrections in a photo credit resulted in hysteria (on my part) and calm comments and action (on the publisher's part).

The book was formally published on June 22 and we had the book launch last night at the wonderful Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore in Delray Beach. Why Delray when the stories are from Northern Palm Beach County? Because it's one of two independent bookstores left in Palm Beach County and as far as I know, the only one of the two that welcomes author signings and launch parties! 

I first entered this great book shop to meet the incredible Prudy Taylor Board at one of HER author signings and my writing career accelerated faster than I thought possible thanks to her guidance. The book launch for my first book, Betty Tales: The True Story of a Brave Bobblehead Cat was held there, too, so the store has a sentimental pull for me--not to mention I love browsing and buying books! 

The launch ended up standing room only as friends, family, friends of friends, and teachers from my past and present all mingled in a wonderful crowd. The cookies and the 1960s candy disappeared (as did the wine) and everyone had a terrific time!



The beach pail with the big blue bow to the right of the picture below was the door prize and Larry Rule's name was drawn as the winner. I think he'll be passing the glitter flip flops and pink sunglasses on...

I'm grateful for all of the encouragement and support I've received from you, my readers, as well as my family and friends. Thank you.

If you missed the launch party, there are still several opportunities to join the Florida fun. I have several public speaking engagements lined up over the next few months and will share them here as the dates get closer. If you've enjoyed my little stories of Florida past, I hope to meet you at one of the events. If you've read the book, I'd greatly appreciate if you'd mosey on over to Amazon.com and leave a review.

Now that the hoopla is over, it's back to business. I'll be posting more often. If you have anything about South Florida you'd like me to research and write about, please let me know by commenting.

Who knows? Your story could end up in the next book!


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Friendship and How to Live Your Dream

Becky Young, Author, Debbie Huffman, Mimi Waddell
On the 17th of January, amazing things happened. 

The roots of that evening started way back in 1975. Yep. Back in the days of the BeeGees and disco dancing. I was in high school then and immersed in music. My teenage life at North Shore High School in West Palm Beach revolved around the choir and a smaller group called "The Choraleers."

It was in my sophomore year that a young man joined the choir. Normally, students had to spend a year in choir to be eligible to try out for Choraleers, a smaller group of more advanced singers who performed while dancing. We had to sight read the music, too. This kid went straight into Choraleers. He had so much talent bursting out of his 14-year old body that there was no stopping him. Our director, Sandy Connelly, liked to end our concerts with "I Believe in Music"--an appropriate song for students who breathed melody and talked in harmony. The newest member was invited out front to do the improvisation called for at the end. He'd dance and sing like his feet were on fire. Gives me goosebumps to remember even now, almost forty years later.

Flash forward to 2014. Now known as Kye Brackett, the remarkable kid we once knew has grown into a self-assured entertainer who has been performing professionally for decades. Who does he perform with these days? Barry Manilow. The man who wrote the musical score for our lives--a living legend. When a concert was scheduled in Sunrise in South Florida, the phone lines and facebook heated up. It was an opportunity to see Kye perform on stage with someone we all idolized.

On the 17th, we headed down to the BB&T center. There were seven of us sitting together, but we knew there were others spread out in the darkness throughout the huge audience.

The show was everything we could have hoped for, and more. Manilow's voice was just as we remembered. I closed my eyes from time to time and just listened to the beautiful words and even got tears in my eyes watching Kye perform. It's an odd feeling to see someone you performed with once upon a time succeed beyond teenage hopes and dreams. Every time Kye showed up on the jumbotrons set up on either side of the stage, we turned to each other and yelled (it was loud in there) "Look! It's Kye!" We jumped to our feet and sang along to those beautiful songs.

When the concert ended, we met with all of the other North Shore alumnae at the edge of the stage. When Kye came out from behind the curtains, there were hugs and teary eyes all around. He hurried all 17 of us around the corner. We thought we were getting out of the way of the stagehands, but Kye had a bigger surprise in store. He had arranged for us to meet and have our picture taken with Barry Manilow! The evening became surreal as we grouped together for the photo. It was a once in a lifetime moment. 


In the days since, photos and postings have flown on facebook. One of the best posts I've seen was one by Allan Hendricks, a former Choraleer and now a successful landscape architect. Allan posted, "Take what you will from this but it's lifted me up. I had the chance to see some old high school friends Friday. They are still the rock star people I knew back then. Smart, funny, easy going, talented, happy, successful, generous, charming, handsome, beautiful people. Young people, choose your friends wisely. Feeling blessed."

Allan's right. The people you chose as friends all through your life are the people who define who you become. Choose the ones who push you to be bigger and better than you think you can be. The ones who give you no slack and demand that you live up to potential are the ones you want in your life. They're the ones you remember long after life scatters everyone in different directions.

And yes, amazing things happened on the 17th. We saw someone we first met as a very young man living his dream--and ours, too. I'm so glad we were there to encourage him way back in the 70s and so glad that we were there to celebrate with him as he danced among the stars.


(c) 2014, Ruth Hartman Berge