Nancy's Notes From Florida

Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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Archive for the ‘That’s Life’ Category

Crane Point Museum and Nature Center

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 26, 2017

Located on Marathon in the Florida Keys, this 63-acre hidden oasis has nature trails, a tram ride, historical houses, and a nature museum hidden away near the highway at mile marker 50. We bypassed the orientation film to stroll down the tree-lined paths in a mile-and-a-half loop. If you’re not a walker, you can take the tram instead. We wanted to get in our exercise before the rain clouds moved in.

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We reached The Point at the end, where we came across a lovely water view of Florida Bay. Crane House is here, built for Francis and Mary Crane in 1954.

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We didn’t stop to view the Wild Bird Center that rehabilitates rescue birds as we have something similar at Flamingo Gardens in Davie. The Adderley House was the next attraction, built in the early 1900s for Bahamian immigrant, George Adderley. The white structure was made from tabby, a concrete-like mixture of sand, lime, seashells, and water. We peeked inside the bedrooms, the dining area, and the separate kitchen.

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From here, we headed back on the trail past the Butterfly Meadow and the Cracker House with exhibits and on to the gift shop and museum to cool down. The museum portion houses exhibits on native culture and marine life.

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Visit http://www.cranepoint.net for more information.

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Posted in Florida Musings, That's Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Road to Key West

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 21, 2017

On our way to Mystery Fest Key West, we took the turnpike extension south toward Homestead. Note the Mutineer Restaurant at the corner of SW 344th Street.

There’s a Starbucks in this vicinity too. From this junction, you head south. A long, boring stretch of swampland and mangroves follows until you leave mainland Florida. Or you can travel the scenic Card Sound Road that leads to upper Key Largo instead. Then it’s about a three hour drive to Key West. Right before the bridge to Key Largo is Gilbert’s Restaurant.

Traffic travels at speeds from thirty-five to fifty-five miles per hour through a series of islands. The scenic wonders will make you glad for the slower pace so you can enjoy the sights along the way. Allow extra time for pit stops and to fill your stomach. It took us five hours total from Fort Lauderdale. State parks abound if you want to stop for a swim or stretch your legs.

Key Largo is the first big island after you leave the mainland. Their inviting Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center just past Shell World is a good place to stop and use the restroom. Here also are a Publix and Winn Dixie, where you can grab a snack or use the facilities. There’s even a Starbucks, a rarity in the Keys. Full service restaurants include Fish House, Snappers, Skipper’s Dockside, Conch House, Island Grill, and Sundowners. We ate at the latter on our way home. Admiring a lovely view of the Gulf, we sipped creamy clam chowder in a bread bowl.

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Or you can take the scenic Card Sound Road instead and stop at Alabama Jack’s, if it still exists. Resorts on Key Largo include a Hilton and a Marriot. There’s a Botanical State Park at the north end. Or, if you like snorkeling or diving, check out John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park with an aquarium, glass-bottom boat tours, museum exhibits, nature trails. On the way home, be sure to stop at the Florida Keys Key Lime Products on the east side of the road past mile marker 97. Good place to pick up some last minute frozen Key Lime pies, lime barbecue sauce, salsa, and other products.

On Tavernier are a Winn Dixie, Dairy Queen, CVS drug store, Dunkin Donuts, Chevron and Shell gas stations.

Islamorada is a popular weekend retreat. Stop by Hooked on Books at 81909 Overseas Highway and browse the bookshelves. Numerous restaurants claim their fame here: Islamorada Fish Company, Marker 88, Island Grill, Hog Heaven, Pierre’s Restaurant, Wahoo’s Bar and Grille, and Shula’s 2. The Postcard Inn, Amara Cay Resort, and the Chesapeake Resort look like nice hotels. From here, it’s two hours more to Key West. There’s a Visitor Center if you need a pit stop. Tourist attractions include Theater of the Sea, a marine mammal park with exhibits, animal shows, beach, grill, gift shop; and a History of Diving Museum with exhibits and gift shop. Look for a Starbucks before Whale Harbor Channel bridge.

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Marathon has a Publix and Winn Dixie, Walgreens, IHOP, gas stations and fast food places, the Island Fish Company restaurant, along with another visitor center. There’s Crane Point Museum and Nature Center with historic home, nature trails, tram ride, gift shop; and a Turtle Hospital with 90 min. tour and gift shop. if you’re looking for places to explore. Further along on Grassy Key is a Dolphin Research Center. We made it to Marathon three hours after leaving home but traffic was slow on I-75 due to construction.

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Big Pine Key has a gas station if you need it.

We stopped for lunch at Boondocks Grille at Ramrod Key around mile marker 28 on our way south. This restaurant opens for lunch at 11am. They have good clam chowder, sandwiches and salads, and a nicer gift shop than most of the souvenir stores in Key West.

Pigeon Key has a visitor center and a Sunset Grille and Raw Bar.

When you hit Key West, you face Roosevelt Boulevard going in two directions. Heading to the left will take you to a bunch of hotels and Southernmost Point. This latter is Mile Marker 0 on our country’s east coast and is 90 miles from Cuba. The opposite direction will take you past strip shopping centers, fast food restaurants, more hotels, and into downtown.

Duval Street hosts bars, restaurants, and gift shops. During the day, stroll along and soak up the tropical ambiance. Visit Hemingway House, Truman’s Little White House, Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, historical sites, and more. Take a ride on the Conch Train. Charter fishing, glass bottom boat rides, and various other boat tours are available. Or stroll along the Historic Seaport District for a number of waterfront restaurants by the marina. We’ve eaten at Alonso’s Raw Bar and Conch Republic at Harborside, and also Schooner Wharf. Here we saw a cook chopping up fish to feed to the sea life.

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At night, check out Mallory Square for street performers and a blazing sunset. Things come alive on Duval Street in the evening, when hordes of visitors ply the cafés and bars where live singers entertain the crowds.

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We recommend our favorite restaurant, Louie’s Backyard. This historic site faces the Atlantic Ocean and is a great place to enjoy fine dining. Prices can be expensive, but if you’re on a budget, just order an appetizer or share a meal. At the Upper Deck wine bar on the second level, you can get small bites if you don’t feel like a full meal.

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Come to the Keys to decompress. With its slower pace of life, it’ll help you relax. There’s only one negative. It’s hard to leave this island and return to reality.

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Posted in Florida Musings, Food, That's Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Recent Reads – Book Reviews

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 14, 2017

Readers are always asking, who are my favorite authors? So I’ll share with you some of my recent reads. My tastes vary from romance to mystery to scifi/fantasy. At any time, I’ll be reading more than one book. I have not included the historical romances I’ve read, because these are mostly older books I have accumulated from conferences over time. They’re my comfort books that I reach for when I need a pleasant escape. You can see all of my reviews over at Goodreads. So here are the other recent titles from my shelves that I would rate at 4 or 5 stars.

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The Detecting Duchess by Kate Parker (Historical Mystery)

Soon-to-be Duchess and Victorian bookshop owner Georgia Fenchurch gets embroiled in another murder mystery just days before her wedding to the Duke of Blackford. The case involves stolen Egyptian gold, governmental diplomats, and a missing investigator. As the bodies pile up, Georgia wonders if she’ll be able to make her nuptials. Can she find the killer before the wedding bells ring, or will it be her death knell instead? Another charming addition to a delightful series. http://amzn.to/2t1oKeV

The Magdalen Girls by V.S. Alexander (Historical Novel)

This haunting story about a girl forced into servitude at an Irish laundry run by nuns is gripping in its tale of betrayal, despair, hope, and faith. Vivid historical details bring the story to life as readers suffer along with the wrongly accused young woman, Teagan Tiernan. As she fights for survival, she befriends two other girls, which makes their monotonous routine somewhat bearable. Insisting on her innocence, she never gives up the quest for freedom despite harsh living conditions, forced labor, and humiliating punishments. This dark blot on the church’s history exposes a sorry past of cruelty in the name of love and redemption. http://amzn.to/2srG7si

Honor’s Flight by Lindsay Buroker (Science Fiction)

Book two in the Fallen Empire series has Captain Alisa Marchenko and crew arriving on her home world. All Alisa wants is to retrieve her daughter, but obstacles lay in her path. Her crew members are wanted men, and everywhere they go on this imperial planet brings danger their way. Alisa finally reaches her daughter’s location, but things don’t go the way she’d planned. Her late husband kept a deep secret from her that affects her entire family. Now her quest must continue as she faces a greater foe. This series has me hooked. It’s reminiscent of Firefly and has a sympathetic heroine with a relatable goal. http://amzn.to/2srKO5E

Star Nomad by Lindsay Buroker (Science Fiction)

This first book in the Fallen Empire series finds former Alliance pilot Captain Alisa Marchenko looking for a way off the planet where she’s been recovering from injuries sustained in battle. The war is over, and the Alliance won. She needs to retrieve her daughter and move on with her life. But she can’t afford supplies even if she can reclaim the ship that brought her there. Her only solution is to take on paying passengers. Thus she takes off with a misfit group of comrades, most of whom guard secrets that could prove dangerous. Alisa and friends get into one scrape after another while each one chases their own elusive goal. Will she survive long enough to find her daughter? And why does she feel attracted to the imperial Cyborg soldier when she should fear him? Can she betray him if the time comes? Readers won’t want to stop with this one volume. You’ll want to follow Alisa and her motley crew on their next rousing space opera adventure. http://amzn.to/2rgCAZx

A Front Page Affair by Radha Vatsal (Historical Mystery)

Enterprising journalist Kitty Weeks is covering a social affair for the ladies’ page in early 1900s New York when a man is shot dead in the stables. Her assignment turns into a series of interviews of various guests present that day. Using her unique skills, she’s able to gather information on the suspects. But things become personal when a couple of Secret Servant agents implicate her father in a scheme that might have a broader reach. Wartime is on the horizon. How much is Kitty willing to risk to learn the truth? Kitty Weeks is a delightful heroine and so are the supporting characters that populate this historical mystery. I’m eagerly looking forward to the next installment. http://amzn.to/2rgTVl3

The Keeper by David Baldacci (YA Fantasy)

Vega Jane and her companions traverse the dreaded Quag in this second book of Baldacci’s famed fantasy series. She’ll need all her magical powers to survive the different levels. Each of the five circles comes with its own dangers. Challenged at every corner, Vega must rely on her own wits and instincts plus the allies she meets along the way. Will she and her best friend Delph defeat the creatures that live in the wilderness? Or will they be lost in the Quag forever? This action-packed tale will have readers rapidly turning pages and eager for the sequel. If you like quest stories and monsters, this one is for you. http://amzn.to/2t1gATQ

Really, Truly Dead by Maggie Toussaint (Mystery Novella)

Lindsey, a journalist, returns to her hometown only to find her father arrested for the murder of the town judge. The man didn’t lack for enemies. He was about to put the local shrimpers out of business by not renewing their dock lease. He owned a sleazy motel and had a mistress or two on the side. But it doesn’t look good for Lindsey’s father, who was having an affair with the judge’s wife. Meanwhile, the sheriff has his eyes on Lindsey, and those heated glances he gives her have nothing to do with the case and everything to do with romance. Can she solve the case and clear her father’s name so she can follow her heart? http://amzn.to/2t1kA6K

New Canaan by M.D. Cooper (Science Fiction)

General Tanis Richards wishes she could enjoy a peaceful life at New Canaan, her new home. But planetary defense is her responsibility, and she has secret shipbuilding facilities to expand her fleet. War looms on the horizon between three factions, and they’ll soon all head her way to gain the colony’s technology. This book is part of the Aeon 14 series and is another action-filled adventure with political intrigue, espionage, and the inevitable space battle. I’ve been hooked since book one on this series. http://amzn.to/2tlxsUJ

Duchess of Terra by Glynn Stewart (Science Fiction)

Book Two in the Duchy of Terra series finds newly titled Duchess Annette Bond as the leader of Earth, a.k.a. Terra, and a subject of the A!Tol empire. As she gathers her new government, they wrestle with how to meet the Imperium’s demands for military warships without giving away Earth’s resources. Meanwhile, Kanzi slavers build forces on the border. It’s a race against time as Annette battles to protect her planet while ceding to the wishes of her new superiors. It doesn’t help that she also faces holdouts of the old Earth resistance, and they threaten the safety of her people. With threats from within and without, Annette has her hands full. But as we’ve seen in book one, she is very capable of juggling multiple balls at the same time. Somehow Earth will survive, but they may need to find new allies along the way. This fast-paced story alternates between political manipulations and space battles. You’ll be rooting for Annette to succeed. I’m ready for the sequel. http://amzn.to/2t1j5Wp

The Queen’s Accomplice by Susan Elia MacNeal (Historical Mystery)

This installment in the Maggie Hope series seems darker than most with a serial killer on the loose in London during WWII. I’ve enjoyed these stories with espionage, intrigue, and adventure but less so this one. If I want to read about women being brutalized, I’ll pick up the newspaper. I prefer lighter fare in my reading. More interesting to me was the puzzle of what had happened to Maggie’s half-sister and to another female operative in Paris. Let’s hope the author leaves the serial killers behind in the next book and gives us a good spy thriller in France. While not as much for my taste, this story is well-written with a likeable heroine. http://amzn.to/2t1k6gS

Caught Dead Handed by Carol J. Perry (Mystery)

This first book in “A Witch City” mystery series is a delightful cozy set in Salem, Massachusetts. Reporter Lee Barrett returns to her home town to move in with her Aunt Ibby and to hopefully get a job at WICH-TV. When she’s passed on the field reporting job she wanted and is offered a role as call-in psychic instead, she jumps at the chance to get her foot in the door. Is it a coincidence that she’s just discovered the body of her predecessor drowned in the sea? And when Lee starts seeing images in a crystal ball, how does she know if Ariel’s spirit is channeling through her, or if she’s developing powers of her own? Something isn’t right at the TV station, and the more Lee digs into things, the deeper she gets in trouble. A charming debut.  http://amzn.to/2rv9VPM

The Finisher by David Baldacci (YA Fantasy)

In the town of Wormwood, Vega Jane acts as a Finisher at the Stacks without questioning her destiny until she sees the unthinkable. Quentin Herms runs away into the Quag, the bordering realm that surrounds Wormwood and where no one is ever supposed to go. The forest harbors nothing except monsters and death. Or so she’s been told. But when the town leaders lie about Quentin’s disappearance, she grows suspicious at their obvious cover-up. Seeking answers, she sneaks into the Stacks at night and discovers secrets beyond her imagination. She also acquires instruments of power and begins to question the very origin of her world. With the support of the stalwart Delph, she plots her own escape. But first she must survive a series of combat and face the wrath of the powerful Morrigone who wants her dead. Excellent world building in this gripping novel will have readers frantically turning pages to see if Vega Jane achieves her goal. The story reminded me of City of Ember that has its young protagonists seeking escape from a similarly mysterious town with nothing but blackness beyond. Or is there more? But while the concepts are similar, the worlds are each uniquely distinctive. http://amzn.to/2tlsOGj

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Pandora – The World of Avatar

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 6, 2017

We visited Pandora at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and set out to explore the world of Avatar. Our entrance into this magical land took us past a lounge that looked inviting.

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We skipped the new rides, not having fast passes and not caring to wait two hours in the standby line. It was delightful to stroll around and view the amazing flora and fauna. Disney did a wonderful job making you feel you’re on an alien planet.

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Mountains rise in the distance, past this floating masterpiece, while musicians welcome visitors to their land.

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Hungered by our journey, we entered the canteen where healthful choices tempted us. I had the chicken bowl with rice and vegetable slaw. Others in our party had cheeseburger pods or vegetable curry pods. My non-alcoholic drink, a Pandoran Sunrise, was green and tasted like melon juice.

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Inside the gift shop, you can buy all sorts of theme-related wares. It was fun to browse although we left with our wallets intact.

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It took us a couple of hours to stroll around. If you go on the rides, allow more time. You’ll still have the rest of the day free to explore the Animal Kingdom. I love the lush greenery of this theme park anyway, and the new addition adds to the allure.

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Brookside Gardens

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 18, 2017

Brookside Gardens is a fifty-acre horticultural garden located inside Wheaton Regional Park in Maryland. It’s one of my favorite spots to visit in the area. Flowers, ponds, and wooded trails make for a pleasant escape from urban congestion. We met our niece there for some quality time together.

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Bethesda has its fans. We headed on foot to the shopping district nearest the Hyatt Regency. Here are some landmark businesses.

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If you have a car and some free time while you’re in the area, Brookside Gardens is worth the visit. Also look for the Nature Center nearby. Wear your walking shoes and a hat.

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Washington D.C. Wanderings

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 16, 2017

After visiting the Library of Congress, we strolled past the Supreme Court. Here I am by the steps of this impressive building. The structure is inspiring, making you hope that justice truly is being served inside its doors.

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Across the street is the Capitol Building, always an awe-inspiring sight. The tall Washington Monument reaches toward the sky at the other end of the Mall. Having been in town before, we’d already seen many of these sites and museums.

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The buildings where our Senators and House representatives meet or have their offices are impressive as well.

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We passed patches of greenery, mini-parks with flowering bushes and graceful trees.

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Our path took us to Union Station, where we browsed the shops before taking seats in the bustling East St. Café for a leisurely Asian lunch.

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Then we took the Metro back to Bethesda.

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Library of Congress

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 12, 2017

Visiting the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. is an awe-inspiring adventure. As you climb the steps toward the entrance, you’ll be impressed by the massive size of the structure.

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Inside the Thomas Jefferson Building, we passed through a bag check and then had to figure out where to go. Everywhere we looked, the architecture beckoned. I could have stood all day gazing at the intricate ceilings, wall décor, and majestic columns.

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Look at these folks. They don’t look too happy. Maybe they’re spirits trapped in the walls.

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After we admired the Great Hall, we headed upstairs, planning to work our way down. Here are some photos from an exhibit titled “Exploring the Early Americas.”

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We saw “Echoes of the Great War” about WWI and a display called “Drawing Justice.” The latter contained paintings of true-life courtroom dramas. I never knew such a field of artwork existed. Famous trials were depicted here in vivid details.

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I liked seeing Jefferson’s library, or at least a facsimile of books he’d kept there. Some are originals and others are reprints.

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The main Reading Room drew me like a lawn mower to a blade of grass. Up a flight of stone steps, we paused on a landing where we could peer below at the hallowed halls. Researchers sat at desks while other archways led to more reading rooms beyond.

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Downstairs, we viewed the Gutenberg Bible behind its glass case.

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By now, we’d become tired and hungry, and so we passed on the other exhibits. We couldn’t help stopping in the gift shop. We left with our imaginations enriched and our wallets a few dollars lighter.

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Disney Ramblings

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 5, 2017

We visited Epcot at Disney World again for the annual Flower and Garden Festival. The colorful flower displays were as beautiful as always.

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Bypassing the crowds at Future World, we strolled around World Showcase to sample the foods in the various marketplaces. We headed right toward Canada, stopping by to get the beef tenderloin tips in a flavorful mushroom sauce along with mashed potatoes and cooked carrots. The meat was a bit chewy for my taste. Cost $6.50 for a generous portion.

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We moved on to the United Kingdom for the corned beef and cabbage which my husband ate. It’s a dish he likes at any time. Cost $5.50 per portion.

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At France, we noticed the fast-food café had moved toward the back while its former space is now occupied by an ice cream shop.

Next on the menu were the potato pancakes with applesauce from Germany. These are always good. Cost was $3.75. Dessert was the winner: blueberry buckle with pepper berry sorbet at The Berry Basket. $4.25 each. Well worth the visit!

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As if this wasn’t enough eating for the weekend, we took a walk the next day at Disney Springs. Planet Hollywood has reopened since our last visit. The dome looks a lot better without its prior garish colors. The Edison is still under construction but looks to be a big themed restaurant when it’s finished. Not much else had changed that we could notice.

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We ate lunch at the Boathouse, where I dined on this delicious crab and avocado dish. Fully sated, we returned to our condo to rest for the afternoon.

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Model Train Exhibit

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 24, 2017

My brother has exhibited model trains ever since I can remember. So when he came to visit and we noticed a Transportation Exhibit at the Plantation Historical Museum, it became imperative for us to make a trip there. The exhibit included displays by the Florida Citrus Model Train Society. Below is a replica of an early 1900’s train depot.

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The details in these dioramas were incredible. We watched the model trains go around the tracks, complete with sound effects, but what fascinated me more were the little buildings and the attention to detail.

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One display talked about train bandits and how the Pinkerton Detective Agency foiled these fearsome thieves and protected railroad shipments. Printed materials were available, such as brochures on the myths and realities of safety around train tracks and a brochure about train crossing warning signs. A bookmark I’d picked up says “Never walk or ride around highway-rail crossing gates!” and “Look, Listen and Live!” Trains can’t stop quickly, but you can. About every three hours, a person or vehicle is hit by a train. For more information on safety factors, go to Operation Lifesaver.

I’ve been on the Auto Train between Sanford, FL and Lorton, VA. I took a commuter train from New York to Washington D.C. Otherwise, after graduation from high school, a friend and I bought Eurail Passes and spent six weeks exploring Europe. We rode the trains around and stayed in cheap places where we could rent a room. I kept a journal, one of many travel journals still in my collection. Maybe I’ll share those adventures with you someday if you’re interested. A trip like that one would be impossible today. Meanwhile, would you call yourself a train enthusiast? What trains have you ridden?

 

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Wick Costume Museum

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 12, 2017

The Wick Theatre and Costume Museum at 7901 N. Federal Highway in Boca Raton offers several unique experiences. We chose to do the museum tour and lunch. First we gathered in the lobby of the museum where Kimberly Wick described the various dresses on display.

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From here we entered a cavernous hall with an exhibit titled Where Runway Meets Broadway, showcasing a range of costumes from the 1800s on up that represented the changing fashions of the times. The beautiful designs and vintage couture were fascinating.

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Next was a quick tour backstage before we headed into the delightful restaurant. The first course is a fruit cup. Then you have a choice of three entrees. I chose the stack of avocado and shrimp with salad greens. A tray of pastries followed.

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After lunch, Kimberly gave us a presentation about the place’s history. I’d had no idea their own costume designs were a worldwide enterprise. Her mother, Marilynn Wick, was an entrepreneur who started the business and grew it into an empire. I found their story as fascinating as the museum.

Before leaving, we swept through the gift shop, took a peek at the theater lobby and box office, and headed out.

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Posted in Florida Musings, That's Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

 
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