This time of year an army of workers converge on Florida’s citrus groves. They race through the trees, picking oranges and grapefruit that will make it into people’s morning glass of juice. Workers get paid by the box and don’t want to miss a second.
But their encounters with thorny branches can come at a price to their eyes. Many leave the groves with scratched corneas and other injuries. READ MORE
First there was “The Full Monty”, the 1998 Oscar nominated movie in which unemployed steelworkers regain their sense of purpose as male strippers. Then came “Calendar Girls” a dramatization of the true story of a group of middle aged women who bare nearly all for a calendar to raise funds for leukemia. Now Sanibel Island firefighters are getting into the act with a calendar in which thirteen firefighters bare their chests against a backdrop of island locations to raise money for charity. As Wendy Humphrey reports it took them nearly a year to prepare.
Edison State College Professor David McGrath recalls memories of a home spun Christmas as a child.
I must have been seven or eight, when my parents had scant room in their budget for Christmas decorations. They had eight kids squeezed into a three bedroom brick bungalow, and a yellowing plastic snowman with a light socket inside his belly.
One night, the old man loaded us into the Pontiac station wagon for a tour of the festively lighted houses on the other side of town. We merged into a parade of cars creeping down the street where our Uncle Don and the other wealthy folks lived, some of whom had hired professionals to festoon their gables with hundreds of holiday lights.
I fell asleep in the overheated back seat. Then I felt the car slow, tilt, and stop, and I sat up to see our lonely snowman, glowing faintly on the front lawn.
No school in the morning, so Mom let us stay up while she boiled milk in the soup kettle and mixed and ladled out mugs of cocoa around the kitchen table. She waited till Dad escaped to the living room to watch The Honeymooners.
“I have an idea,” she said, and we stopped blowing on the cocoa in order to listen.
She was always coming up with schemes, like on the I Love Lucy show we watched Monday nights. But Mom’s plans, unlike poor Lucy’s, were usually successful, as when we made seven dollars hauling black dirt in our coaster wagon for Mrs. Remiasz’s garden; or when we sold ten cent tickets for admission to the McGrath Christmas pageant. Kenneth played Joseph, and Rosie, the Virgin Mary. I was to be the shepherd until Patrick whined about getting poked with my staff (Dad’s umbrella).
“Who wants to help make the stable of Bethlehem?” said Mom.
I froze. This was something big.
It seems she had ordered patterns for Mary and Joseph and the Magi, and several farm animals, from the Sears catalogue. They were like sections of wallpaper, except that instead of flowers or stripes, there were images of the infant Jesus and other full length figures.
Old Joe Corbett from the next block had a workshop, and she would ask him to cut the manger shapes from plywood, onto which she could glue the paper likenesses.
I didn’t know from pattern or plywood, but I stood in my chair, pleading to help Charlie with the hay and Jimmy with the evergreen boughs.
I tried to see it all in my head, when somebody suddenly knocked over my cocoa. And I knew it was a special night since Mom didn’t even yell.
That night, I lay in bed for many whiles before giving in to sleep, envisioning the parade of headlights that would surely be streaming past our house.
We worked on the stable for a week, with time lost for three days of rotten weather. Mr. Corbett’s wooden people had to wait inside our kitchen, and I remember feeling shy each time Blessed Mary watched me open the fridge.
The night it was finished, we all lined up on the front walk. We stared in silence.
The stable slumped noticeably to the left, our old ping pong table turned on its side with its roof of pine branches. The saints and animals surrounding the cradle looked cartoonish, particularly the smiling sheep. And there was way too much yellow hay, since Dad had somehow acquired an entire bale, which we spread inside and outside the stable, knee-high to the three kings.
But when Mom plugged in the spotlight, I felt goosebumps inside my shirtsleeves. It was my life’s first moment of blissful being, gazing upon truth and beauty that we had helped make ourselves.
Dad said not to walk inside, lest we knock anything over, so all I could do was dance round and round till I fell over dizzy, looking up at the stars.
But after school one day, I sneaked inside the stable alone, nestling behind the crib. It felt like an embrace, cozy and safe in the warmth of the hay, the resin-y sweetness of the plywood, and the nearness of the baby Jesus, who would never be a bad boy like me.
That was decades ago. Every Christmas since then, I recall the kitschy crèche in our front yard, how its homemade incandescence gave us ownership of the yuletide ritual, and infused us with joy.
Knowing now, of course, that it was my family’s embrace that I felt in the stable, the true miracle of Christmas, authored by my mother and father, and still giving me goosebumps this day.
David McGrath teaches English at Edison State College and is author of the novel SIEGE AT OJIBWA. He consulted his 92-year-old mother Gertrude for this story and apologizes for not being able to recall how much she paid Joe Corbett for the plywood.
The Lee County School District is looking into establishing its own health clinics for its employees. The move comes as an effort to curb the rising cost of health care.
The school district spent about $70 million last year on doctor visits, prescriptions, and medical procedures for its almost 10,000 employees. It expects to pay about 9 percent more next year.
Chief Human Resources Officer Greg Adkins says there are two ways these clinics will help buffer the rising costs.
“One is increasing the convenience for employees so they can take care of themselves sooner rather than later,” said Adkins.
“It’s also about disease management where we’re catching some chronic health condition earlier before it gets out of hand and treat it before it becomes a major disease. That’s where the real savings is.”
Lee County is not the first school district in Florida to consider the option. Charlotte, St. Johns, Pasco, and Lake County School Districts have all established their own employee health clinics.
The Lee County School District plans to make a decision on the clinics some time next year.
The women’s clothing retailer Chico’s FAS, Inc., is expanding its national headquarters with a new facility at its Fort Myers campus and creating150 new jobs.
The company’s expansion is supported by $3.26 million dollars in financial incentives from Lee County and from the state of Florida. The financial support includes funds from Florida’s Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund Program, the state’s Quick Action Closing Fund, and more than $1 million in matching funds from Lee County. READ MORE
Coyotes have made their way onto some barrier islands off Southwest Florida where they are getting mixed reviews.
The animals are not native to Florida, but have been moving down the peninsula for decades due to changing terrain. Residents of Don Pedro Island in Charlotte County say coyotes have destroyed sea turtle and shore bird nests.
But, wildlife officials give the animals mixed reviews. Florida Fish and Wildlife Biologist Gretchen Hochnedle said predation of threatened and endangered species is bad – however, coyotes are filling a niche.
“Coyotes play a bigger role in controlling populations of middle size predators, raccoons and foxes that seek out these nests of ground nesting birds and sea turtles and things like that – populations of those animals that actually had a larger detriment,” she said.
Hochnedle says coyotes are filling the niche once occupied by red wolves which were eliminated in Florida. Coyotes are not protected and can be trapped and hunted on private property.