Happy Birthday, Orlando!

July 31st, 2017 is Orlando’s 142nd  birthday.  To celebrate the birthday, there was a celebration today at City Hall.   With a big birthday cake.   Also, today was the raising of the brand new city flag.

The previous flag was created in 1980, and had a decent 37 year run.  You can totally see the 1980s influence in this design:

The new flag is a much simpler design, partly because the contest to design the new flag consulted vexillologists – flag experts.  The specifics indicated that the final design should be easy to draw from memory, and so we have this new flag, designed by graphic designer Tim Eggert.  To explain the symbology, I’ll quote from http://www.cityoforlando.net/flag/:

Orlando’s fountain at Lake Eola Park is the most distinctive and recognizable symbol in the city, one that is loved by our residents and enjoyed by our visitors. The water ascending from the fountain represents the continuous flow of energy and innovation that makes Orlando a city on the rise. The six equal segments on the base of the fountain embody the city’s six commission districts. The iconic fountain is surrounded by the letter “O”, which symbolizes Orlando’s unity, connectivity and timelessness. The color yellow represents the sunshine, hope and happiness that thrive in our great city. The reflection of the “O” in the water symbolizes our careful consideration of our past and our bold vision for the future. The flag is set on a two-toned background of blue and white representing patriotism, perseverance and peace.

I arrived at City Hall about fifteen minutes before the celebration was scheduled to start, so I could get the lay of the land.  I’d never actually been inside the building before, but it was easy to find the door because the giant inflatable 142 was visible from outside.

The party was held in the rotunda just inside the main doors, underneath all the flags-  the US flag, the Florida flag, and the Orland city flag are all visible.  The other nine flags represent the countries of Orlando’s sister cities, I think.

This party had all the fixins.   There was a photo booth for instant print pictures of you against the new flag.

There was one flag to be signed by people who were at the celebration. (I declined.  I feel like this is for important local officials, and I’m kind of a nobody.)

There were party hats, cowbells, fridge magnets, and tiny flags.  The tiny flag is on my desk now.

This was the city’s birthday cake.  It was delicious and I rather wish I’d gone back for a second slice.  There was also cookies and liquid refreshment, but I don’t have a picture of that table.

There was a table to order your own flag-  I considered this for a few minutes, but decided to wait- I’m confident this flag will be available later on.

There was live music courtesy of the Orlando Concert Band.  They were pretty great!

This gives you a better idea of how many people were in attendance.  The far end of this shot is the mayor of Orlando and some officials who were there to officially raise the new flag.

The flag raising was supposed to be outside, but Tropical Storm Emily spun up off the left coast of Florida this morning, and that forced a change.  They made the best of it, though, and put a fan behind the flag to make it flap in the “breeze” after it was raised.  Incidentally, the man in the beige suit is Mayor Buddy Dyer.  I’ve seen him speak a few times now, and he seems like a pretty good guy.

A bunch of city councilmen and other local officials posed with the flag, and that wrapped up the ceremony.

But wait, there’s more!   The rain was light enough that they decided to do a less formal raising of the flag outside as well.

Once Mayor Dyer got the flag up to this height, he tied it off, and joked, “Ok, now everybody blow.”  For a day with a tropical storm nearby, there was pretty much no wind at all.

I don’t know who any of the people in this next photograph are other than the mayor, but I think this is a good example of why I like the guy-  he’s approachable and friendly, and he seems to genuinely care about the people in his city.   Anyone who’s game for a ridiculously large selfie is pretty OK, I think.

When I lived in South Florida, I couldn’t have told you the last name of the mayor.  It’s refreshing to be in a city where the mayor is so much more visibly active in what goes on with his city.

The official Twitter account of the city posted this video about an hour after the event-  if you look very, very, very carefully, you can spot me in there.

There’s also an official Flickr gallery of this event, with all kinds of high resolution photos that are significantly better than mine.  I paged through the gallery, and I found myself in only one of the crowd shots.  I was trying to avoid all of the photographers, but I guess my Batman skills are a little lacking.  Here’s a zoom of the one picture that tagged me.

It occurs to me now that I need a proper Orlando t-shirt for stuff like this.

Do you like the new Orlando City flag?

Love is love is love is love.

Since the last time I posted on the blog, I moved from South Florida up to Orlando.  I meant to do a whole post about the transition up here, but this is not that post.

This post is about the anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting.  It happened one year ago today, June 12, 2016, and 49 people lost their lives, not counting the shooter.  Another 58 were injured during the shooting.   I didn’t live in Orlando at the time, but this city has always had a special place in my heart.

There have been vigils and remembrance events all over Orlando for the last few days, but today was the biggest set of events.   Amelie and I were out running errands in the afternoon, and our route took us directly past Pulse during their afternoon ceremony.  The traffic was our first clue that something was going on, followed immediately by the presence of a fleet of news vans.

There have been people standing in front of Pulse every time we’ve driven past-  the entire site is a memorial now, with a constant flow of mourners and people leaving things behind like flowers or a small token of their memory.  Today it was jammed, of course.

Later in the day, the crowds started to gather for the big Orlando United event at Lake Eola.  I didn’t realize it until this afternoon, but the city shut down many of the streets around the Lake for the event.   A little past 4:30 in the afternoon, this is what the traffic pattern looked like downtown:

On top of that, there was rain.  Lots and lots of rain.  Once most of the rain leveled off, I grabbed my old MIX 105.1 umbrella and walked over to the Orlando Public Library to catch the last few minutes of Drag Queen Storytime.  My timing was off; this picture was just a few moments after a spectacularly photogenic twirl by our storyteller.

After Drag Queen Storyteller wrapped up, I walked the remaining block or so to Lake Eola, and wandered around the event.   This mural by Yuriy Karabash and Michael Pilato was put up earlier today- I’m not sure where the mural will ultimately reside after today.

People continued to gather for the Orlando United event- it was supposed to start at 7pm, but weather delayed it somewhat.  Still, more and more people arrived. I’m somewhere in the upper left part of this photo from the Orlando Sentinel, wearing a bright red shirt:

You can see the top of the bandshell in this next photo-  that’s as close as I was really able to get to the bandshell.  It was broadcast throughout the park over speakers all the way around the Lake, though, and Disney had put up a pair of large overflow screens so that people could watch from the larger part of Lake Eola Park on the Eastern bank.

Once the event started, I could hear what was going on, but I couldn’t see it- until someone near me mentioned that some of the local news media were streaming it live, and everyone has a cell phone…  I caught the video of a drum and bagpipe corps, and some other musical acts.

During the show, I walked around the lake so that I could get out of the thicker part of the crowd for a bit, and I was treated to some pretty spectacular views from the Northern side of the lake. The band-shell was dressed properly for the occasion…

Lake Eola’s iconic fountain was also beautifully lit in rainbow colors for the occasion.

It’s difficult to express exactly how something like this makes me feel-  I don’t know anyone who was directly affected by the Pulse shooting, but I have such strong ties to Orlando through friends and friends of friends that I see the ripples outward.

It hits especially hard because it could easily have been someone close to me.  When I was twenty-five, I lived in Orlando.  I was attending UCF for my degree, but in my down time, I went dancing.  Some weeks, I would be out five nights out of seven-  Two of those nights were Club Zen, Wednesdays were at the Embassy Music Hall, one night was at Barbarella or at Cairo, an Egyptian-themed club a few blocks over, or the Blue Room.

Most of those clubs are gone now, but this was my circle.  Except for a few cherished friends from the university, my entire social scene was based around where we could find good music.    If I had lived in Orlando one year ago today, it’s possible I would have been out, dancing.

I’m happy to see that one year later, Orlando is still strong, still loving, and still dancing.

Knaus Berry Farm (or we waited almost an hour to have a snack and it was totally worth it)

Look, I know it’s been two months since my last post and you’re probably wondering where I went and what the heck happened.  I’ll get to that, I promise.  That’s not what this post is about, though.

This post is about dessert.  Sort of.

Last weekend, Amelie and I took a drive down to Homestead, Florida, into the Redlands Agricultural District.  For those who’ve never been to South Florida, Homestead is one of the southernmost cities in the state, just north of where the Florida Turnpike and US-1 meet.  Redlands is about 20 miles south-west of downtown Miami.  If you keep going south from there, you pretty much wind up in either the Florida Keys or the Everglades.

Inside of Redlands is a place called Knaus Berry Farm.   They’re a seasonal bakery that has been run by the Knaus family since 1956.  They also have you-pick-em strawberry and tomato fields, depending on availability.  Amelie has been raving to me about this place for more than a year, but we missed their open season last year and I had to put a reminder on my calendar to check in when they opened again in November.

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Knaus Berry Farm has a dedicated following, and the line on a weekend to get to the bakery counter is often 45 minutes to an hour.   This wasn’t even all that busy, from what I understand.

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The bakery counter has various fresh basked goods, which I’ll get to.  If I had more stomachs, I would have wanted to try one of everything.

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The bakery counter is a cash-only operation, so the line actually moves reasonably quickly.

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There are separate lines for produce and for milkshakes.  The produce counter only had one person step up while we were inside.  The produce looked amazing, but we were there for the baked goods.

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This is what we went out for:  the cinnamon buns.  Fresh out of the oven, they were so, so good.  They’re also dense!  Just one of these is actually crazy filling.  Once we made it to the bakery line,  we just sat in the grass, in a patch of shade near the main building to eat one of these each.

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Since I had a family thing the next day, I also took one of their Black-Bottom Cakes.  I’d never had this type of cake before, and it was damn tasty.  I know it may be blasphemy for me to say this, but I liked this cake more than chocolate chip cookies.

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If you want to visit Knaus Berry Farm, I will offer some quick tips:

  1. Use the bathroom before you go.  There’s no restroom on site.   We were in line already, and had to duck out to go three miles away to a fast food restaurant on US-1.  Then we started the line over.
  2. Bring cash.  They don’t accept plastic here, and you’re gonna want to get more than one thing.  The prices are reasonable, but you don’t want to go all the way there and not be able to buy these delicious baked goods!
  3. Check the weather, and bring sunblock.  The line for the bakery is not covered.   The only time you’re really indoors here is at the bakery and produce counters-  the rest is basically outdoors.  Standing in the South Florida sun for even forty minutes will give most people a bit of a burn.  I’ve lived here almost all of my life, and I wore the same hat I wore to the Great Pyramid, and even I got a little pink in places.
  4. Come hungry.  Seriously, if you eat a big meal before you drive out, then you’re missing out on the joy that is these gooey wonderful cinnamon buns fresh out of the oven.

Knaus Berry Farm is open November through mid-April each year, at this location: 15980 SW 248 Street
Homestead, FL 33031
305.247.0668

You can see more reviews and photos here.

Have you ever been to Knaus Berry Farm?

Lost Photo Post: The Palm Beach Zoo

Here’s another one in a series of photo posts where I took a bunch of photographs, intending to make a blog post out of them, and then never got around to actually writing the post.

In late August, Amelie and I went to the Palm Beach Zoo.  We’d been meaning to go for a while because I kept telling her about various childhood memories of going there when it was still called the Dreher Park Zoo. The zoo was founded in the 1950s, and the name was changed to the Palm Beach Zoo in 1997.

As is my custom for zoo visits, I took the dslr camera and took a ridiculous number of photographs.  Here’s a sampling of my favorite shots.

A passing staff member took this first one:

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This is Mardi, a nine foot long American alligator.  Mardi has Leucism, which gives him his white pigmentation and bright blue eyes.

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Amelie wants to kidnap this African Serval, and to put a bow tie on it.

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This sloth is one of my spirit animals.  Excuse me while I take an upside-down nap.

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Golden Lion Tamarin.  These little guys are so fast!

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Sleepy little Fennec fox!

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This koala was wandering all over the enclosure because we got there right before his feeding time, and he knew it.  Also, I kinda feel like he looks like Bernie Sanders, right?

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There were a couple of kangaroos hoppin’ around.

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Most of the big cats like this tiger were pretty sleepy because it was a warm day.  I also have blurry pictures of sleeping cheetahs.

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This one makes me giggle every time I see it.

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I cannot remember what type of animal this little guy was.  He was smaller than a golden retriever.

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Here’s another alligator.  He thinks we can’t see him.

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Ah, the noble capybara!  He’s such a stoic fuzzy fellow!

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Parrots!

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Look, a bear!

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Bush Dogs!  They’re technically canines, but they’re small and look a lot like sand otters.  The sign said they’re active during the day and sleep at night, but these two were totally bucking the system.

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Big ol’ anteater!

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Lastly, a regular otter.  I took at least thirty or forty pictures of the otter, and this is one of about three where he wasn’t moving.    River otters are a lot like small children on too much candy, I bet.

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What’s your favorite zoo animal?

Editor’s Note:  I’m attempting to blog every day in November with CheerPeppers.  I don’t expect to succeed because life be crazy, but any blogging in excess of my previous post-free month is a win, right?

Lost Photo Post: The Orlando Eye

This is one in a series of photo posts where I took a bunch of photographs, intending to make a blog post out of them, and then never got around to actually writing the post.

Anyone who has read even a little bit of this blog has probably already figured out that I love tall things.  Tall buildings, tall ferris wheels, you name it.  I even have a tall-stuff tag for posts that involve being up high!

The Orlando Eye is one of those places that I wanted to go as soon as I found out it even existed.  I’ve been on the very similar London Eye several times now.  They were building it when Amelie and I went to Megacon in 2015, but it wasn’t quite open yet.  We planned on going on it the next time we were in Orlando, and we almost reached the location but there were thunderstorms and high wind, so we decided to postpone.

Fast forward to Megacon 2016, and we finally had time to stop back at the Orlando Eye.  I’ve got a bunch of pictures below, but first some details:

The Orlando Eye is on International Drive, not terribly far from the convention center, Universal Studios, and Sea World.

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The Eye is a 400 feet tall ferris wheel with enclosed and air conditioned cabins that rotate slowly around the ring.   It’s similar to the London Eye, although the structure and mechanisms are slightly different, and the London Eye is only 43 feet taller.

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Since July of this year, it has been rebranded as the Coca-Cola Orlando Eye.    From the capsule, you can see the Universal hotels.

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The ride is very smooth- a complete cycle takes about thirty minutes.  This view is the Orange County Convention Center, where Megacon has been held for many years.  You can just make out the Sea World roller coasters behind the Convention Center.

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This is another view from the Eye.  I honestly cannot tell which roller coasters are visible in this photograph.  I think it’s Universal Studios Islands of Adventure, but International Drive is in the heart of the biggest concentration of tourist attractions, so it could be almost anything.

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A little bit more of I-Drive, with one of the capsules visible.  The Orlando Eye capsules are heavily tinted, because this is Florida.   The view here isn’t as interesting as on the London Eye, I’m afraid.  For one thing, the Eye has no tall buildings around it to look at.  If they had built this in downtown Orlando, thirty minutes to the East, it would have had a better view I think.

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This restaurant is a short walk from the Orlando Eye.  I suspect that they did the roof lettering deliberately to attract the attention of hungry Eye-goers.   This appeals to me immensely:  I like when things are clearly labeled!

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Off in the very far distance, you can see Epcot.    This one required some zoom lens.  And, to be fair, the only reason I can tell that it’s Epcot is that Spaceship Earth is pretty distinct.

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Finally, here’s a couple of horses.  As crowded as International Drive can get, Central Florida is still covered in swatches of land that is either undeveloped or used for farming and livestock.  So:  horses!

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Have you ever been on the Orlando Eye?

Editor’s Note:  I’m attempting to blog every day in November with CheerPeppers.  I don’t expect to succeed because life be crazy, but any blogging in excess of my previous post-free month is a win, right?