parking meters for homeless collection, st Petersburg, florida, the greener bench blog

giving thanks, blessings, gratitude!

It’s holiday time! Is everyone else super busy right now too? I wish it were all fun stuff like Christmas decorating, shopping and hanging out with friends and family, but it’s not. Well maybe a little!

We celebrated Thanksgiving last week, and along with all of the family gatherings and food preparation comes the idea of stopping to really consider everything in your life that you’re thankful for.

I have noticed that I have been doing this more often this year. It seems to revolve around having my parents in good health and nearby and expands to being extremely grateful that I have a great partner, a good job and a safe and comfortable home.

Not everyone in St Pete is lucky enough to have a roof over their heads at night and unfortunately, like many cities, St Pete is having to work through issues relating to homelessness. One creative idea that the city has recently adopted this past month has been the conversion of a number of parking meters to collection meters for the homeless. Folks can drop their spare change into these bright yellow meters and the money will be used for various homeless programs. The city isn’t expecting a windfall with these new meters, but will be another way to assist with the growing numbers of homeless folks in the city.

Part of me wishes there would be a larger effort in terms of moving beyond quick and catchy money-making ideas and really try to work on the bigger issues of why our homeless population is growing instead of targeting folks who feed the homeless or the homeless themselves.

They’re calling it the Power of Change – I hope that’s the case. Everyone deserves a place to feel safe.

inflatable whale, great whale conservancy, blue ocean film festival, st Petersburg, florida, the greenenr bench blog

top 10 highlights – blue ocean film fest

Mind blowing! This event, which happened last week all across downtown St Pete, was incredible on so many levels.

blue ocean film festival signage on central avenue, downtown st Petersburg, florida, the greener bench blog

The city was lucky to land this film fest, which moved from Monterey, California and the idea behind it is to communicate that the ocean is our lifeblood, using the medium of film to highlight the beauty and interconnectedness and communicate the hidden reality that our ocean is in real danger and that what happens to our ocean, happens to us.

Take the art and science of film, photography and journalism and blend that with ocean conservation and sustainability and you have people like Sylvia Earle and the Cousteaus in attendance. It was HUGE! There was the film festival of course, but there were also seminars ranging from how to create marine sanctuaries, to plastic pollution and artists creating with those materials, to how to pitch story ideas for publication and film production, and tips for using Red Epic cameras with GoPros.

I couldn’t see and do everything. I didn’t even manage to hit the scheduled happy hours and black tie events. I felt like I was back at school, except everything I was learning was interesting. I simultaneously wanted the week to be over because I was on information overload and yet didn’t want it to end because all of the amazing, creative, brilliant people would go away and not be telling me stuff anymore.

Some of my highlights and things I learned..

1. I only saw a few of the hundred films that ran, but I was blown away by the movie Angel Azul and the artist, Jason deCaires Taylor, who creates artificial reefs from his sculptures. What was cool was that Marcy Cravat, the director of the film, was in the audience and talked about the movie after it was shown and how she lucked into having Peter Coyote narrate the film AND have Sylvia Earle drop in. Really makes me want to visit one of the underwater parks that his work is at to see the sculptures in person. Bucket list, for sure.

angel Azul movie, blue ocean film festival, st Petersburg, florida, the greener bench blog

2. I also have to mention, Papa Cloudy’s Restaurant, a very simple children’s short film, that really got to me with the overfishing song and the girl-like singing.

3. Babysitting the lifesize inflatable whale parked next to the Museum of Fine Arts.

4.  I didn’t get the chance to hear Sylvia Earle speak in person, however I saw her a couple of times – petite, wise-looking and surrounded by fans. One thing I know she advocates is giving up eating anything from the sea. Not only because she considers sea creatures wildlife with their own right to exist in their natural state, but because of the extreme impact to the planet from massive overfishing. I heard that for every one pound of seafood that is sold, an unknown amount is wasted – anywhere from 10-100 pounds.

5.  I had never heard of her before, but Barbara Boyle, UCLA film school associate dean, attorney, and associated with movies like the Terminator, was the best storyteller and bold character I heard during the week. After sharing a few feminist and hippie stories from her past, she told me that a person needs one of 3 things to get their foot in the movie making business – either a degree, a killer screenplay or a dynamic short film. I could’ve listened to her all day. I’m not sure if the kids bussed in from school that day appreciated her style, but I sure did!

I also liked her recommendation to Celine Cousteau in one of the sessions that the way to reach a larger audience for environmental, documentary films was to bring in Hollywood for the star power, so people around the world will pay attention.

6. Listening to the very passionate and entertaining Angela Posada-Swafford, a science journalist,  and Jennifer Bogo, editor at Popular Science, talk about the art of writing about science (take the same experience, write about it in different ways and sell to different publications based on their styles). How to get published? Be on time, be clear, be organized, be informative and be awesome! So easy, right??!!

It didn’t hurt that we were in attendance at the Poynter Institute. I’ve been dying for years to have a reason to step foot into this Frank Lloyd Wright inspired building a mile from my neighborhood.

7. Talking with the guys from the Great Whale Conservancy. Have you ever seen the Saving Valentina YouTube video?? Did you know that whales are impacted by the world’s shipping lanes? Because whales sink if they are in distress or dying, an unknown number die from boat strikes and the Great Whale Conservancy is working with other big players to potentially shift these shipping lanes away from whale migration areas. The challenge they said, is to learn where the whales don’t go, to find alternatives for the lanes.

8. I liked that Owens Corning, the glass manufacturer, was a sponsor of Blue Ocean and had a very big display and media presence to communicate the replacement of plastic with glass. The festival coordinators worked hard to make sure that there were no plastic bottles in sight and instead replaced them with water coolers and real glasses.

But of course, there is no perfect replacement. Sand (the main component of glass) is also an environmental concern, being a valuable resource that is disappearing with a global demand.

sketch for glass is life advertising for owens corning, blue ocean film festival, st Petersburg, florida, the greener bench blog

9. Right up my alley was the panel discussion of artists. I LOVED Pamela Longobardi and she felt like she was speaking my language in her manner of communicating. Pamela sees the ocean as full of meaning and a mass of collective consciousness, containing memories of every living soul that has ever existed there. She feels that nature marks the objects that end up in the ocean and she is a forensic scientist that examines and translates through her art.

blue ocean film festival panel discussion, kip evans, Danni Washington, ed Begley jr, Pamela longobardi, jj Kelley, asher jay, the greener bench blog

10. Ok, pretty much his name says it all, Andy Brandy Casagrande  IV. He was just plain cool –  an amazing cinematographer who was very down to earth and kept saying during his session on GroPros, “talking is boring, here’s another video to watch”. He covered his work on Shark Week and embarrassing stories on crashing camera drones in front of TV big wigs and how to jury rig the GoPro to fit most of your cinematic needs. Everyone in the room was super entertained by him and I just kept thinking – he’s living the life!

This seemed to be a common thread throughout the Blue Earth Film Festival. I was surrounded by exceptional people living their dreams and making a difference in the world. There was plenty to be discouraged about and deeply saddened about the state of our planet and oceans, but there was plenty of discussion about how to best communicate the challenges that we’re facing (with positivity and clarity) and how individuals can make a difference.

Amazing! Next year the event is held in Monaco and returns to St Pete in 2016. I’ll be ready!

gravestone, greenwood cemetery, st Petersburg, florida, the greener bench blog

Dia de los Muertos

Recently I visited Greenwood Cemetery, the closest cemetery to my house in nearby Roser Park. It hasn’t always been kept in the best shape, with vandals doing major damage and a lack of funding to maintain it, but it is kind of a forgotten oasis tucked away under the old oaks on busy 9th Street that border it.

I learned that Civil War soldiers from both the Union and Confederate sides were buried here. There is a historic marker showing a photo from 1900 of a Civil War Memorial dedication with cannons installed for both sides. Here is the old photo and what it looks like today.

photo of civil war veterans on plaque of Greenwood Cemetery, st Petersburg, florida

civil war cannon platform and flagpole in greenwood cemetery, st Petersburg, florida, the greener bench blog

On the day I went, there was a police car parked on the roundabout, but they drove off shortly after I arrived and I was left alone to wander under the trees and think about things.

tree in greenwood cemetery, st Petersburg, florida, the greener bench blog

 

gravestones in greenwood cemetery, st Petersburg, florida, the greener bench blog

 

tree in greenwood cemetery, st Petersburg, florida, the greener bench blog

 

flagpole in greenwood cemetery, st Petersburg, florida, the greener bench blog

 

tree in greenwood cemetery, st Petersburg, florida, the greener bench blog

 

grave stones, greenwood cemetery, st Petersburg, florida, the greener bench blog

 

tree in greenwood cemetery, st Petersburg, florida, the greener bench blog

I like checking out cemeteries, but seem to do it mostly when I travel. I find them interesting and peaceful, kind of like taking a walk in a quiet park and I can imagine how other people lived and remember people that I have loved who have passed on. This is the same idea as the Mexican holiday being celebrated now, Dia de los Muertos. This celebration isn’t part of my heritage, but I really like the idea.

rocket farm, kennedy space center, florida, the greener bench blog

scenes from a lonely space center

Like many tourist attractions in Florida, the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex has gotten a face lift. It now has a Disney feel, which not only means you end up in the gift shop after the main attraction, but there is also background music playing everywhere you go – the soundtrack for your experience. It is bold, exploratory music with lots of trumpets, and makes you feel like you are about to discover something. I think it’s suspiciously similar to the music piped in at Jurassic Park in Universal Orlando.

There is also a flow to the park, but on the afternoon I went it was a solitary experience, which I rather enjoyed. It seemed to mirror the current state of NASA, subdued and low key, even though we had a gorgeous and booming launch yesterday of yet another GPS satellite and the very sad rocket explosion 2 nights ago at Wallops.

ticket booth, entrance, kennedy space center visitors complex, florida, the greener bench blog

Explore entrance sign, kennedy space center visitors complex, florida, the greener bench blog

fk fountain, kennedy space center visitors complex, florida, the greener bench blog

international space station mural, kennedy space center visitors complex, florida, the greener bench blog

mercury capsule, kennedy space center visitors complex, florida, the greener bench blog

Astronaut memorial, kennedy space center visitors complex, florida, the greener bench blog

nasa meatball, kennedy space center visitors complex, florida, the greener bench blog

Being an astronaut is a lonely business, even at the theme park..

john glenn mural on wall at kennedy space center visitors complex, florida, the greener bench blog

astronaut cutout for photo op, kennedy space center visitors complex, florida, the greener bench blog

This post ends with the gift shop, just like in real life! And even though this place feels like it’s been worked over in the classic theme park style, I couldn’t help but feel those old feelings of true excitement of space travel and pride in our country’s accomplishments. I guess the subliminal music worked on me, after all.

gift shop, kennedy space center visitors complex, florida, the greener bench blog

space shuttle Atlantis exhibit building, kennedy space center, florida, the greener bench blog

Space Shuttle Atlantis, KSC

I was way overdue to finally visit the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at Kennedy Space Center since it has been open to the public for over a year. I got my opportunity last week to check it out and I wasn’t disappointed!

The building itself is visually striking, and the orange and gold architectural “wing” really picked up the afternoon sun and blazed away. According to the Visitor Complex information, the orange outer wing is supposed to represent the space shuttle’s launch and return, while the gray tile wing behind it represents the tiled underside of the orbiter.

Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit building, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, the greener bench blog

palm tree in front of space shuttle Atlantis exhibit building, kennedy space center, florida, the greener bench blog

Orange wings of the Space Shuttle Atlantis building, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, the greener bench blog

From miles away you can see the giant, full-size replica of the rocket and boosters, which you pass under to enter into the exhibit building.

space shuttle Atlantis exhibit, kennedy space center, florida, the greener bench blog

view of Visitor's complex from Space Shuttle Atlantis, exhibit building, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, the greener bench blog

reflection of space shuttle Atlantis in the windows of the exhibit building, kennedy space center, florida, the greener bench blog

When you arrive at the entrance you are greeted by a great quote from Carl Sagan.

the sky calls to us signage from carl sagan, space shuttle Atlantis exhibit building, kennedy space center, florida, the greener bench blog

Even the small architectural elements are sleek and futuristic.

door handles, space shuttle Atlantis exhibit building, kennedy space center, florida, the greener bench blog

sunlight reflected off of windows of the space shuttle atlantis exhibit building, kennedy space center, florida, the greener bench blog

Once inside, I was starting to get more excited rounding the corners until I got to the small, circular theatres which showed the history of the shuttle program a la mad men, 50’s style and then watched a really inspiring video montage of the shuttle through launch to landing. It was SO well done and very emotional, that by the time the movie ended, I was in the perfect state for when the curtain lifted and there was the actual shuttle Atlantis.

 

canadarm extended, Space Shuttle Atlantis, exhibit building, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, the greener bench blog

It was like seeing an old friend and really unbelievable to see the shuttle THAT close up. It’s a strange notion, but this piece of hardware, really seems to embody a living creature. From the nose and window eyes to the white, vulnerable underbelly with its worn tiles whose shape and color remind me of a giant sting ray.

Space Shuttle Atlantis, exhibit building, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, the greener bench blog

What really blew me away was seeing the worn underbelly of the shuttle and trying to imagine the extreme stress the vehicle and the astronauts experienced.

tiles on belly of space shuttle Atlantis, exhibit building, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, the greener bench blog

Winding around the shuttle takes visitors down to a lower level and allows for folks to fully appreciate it from many perspectives. On your way down, you can choose to use the slide instead of the ramp, like an astronaut in an emergency!

slides inside the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit building, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, the greener bench blog

red lights in hallway, Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit building, Kennedy Space Center, Florida, the greener bench blog

It really does feel like this building was perfectly built to house this magnificent being.

space shuttle Atlantis exhibit building, kennedy space center, florida, the greener bench blog

I fully appreciated the experience, but I really miss having these shuttles still performing.

beautiful streamers, circus mcgurkis, st Petersburg, florida, the greener bench blog

Circus McGurkis

Another year has gone by! It’s late October which means it’s time for Circus McGurkis! Inspired by the Dr Seuss book – this St Pete event has the best vibes and positive message! You can just feel it as you walk through the park and talk to everyone.

circus mcgurkis sign, st Petersburg fair, florida, the greener bench blog

Circus McGurkis, a People’s Fair, has been taking place since 1971. A project of the St. Petersburg Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Circus McGurkis was started by a dedicated group of peace activists during the Vietnam War.

Quakers carry on their programs as an expression of their belief in the dignity and worth of each person and in the power of love and nonviolence to bring about change. Quakers celebrate all of you who, with your creativity and activism, make our community a more beautiful, loving and just place to live.

Circus McGurkis features arts, crafts, music, games, and ideas with a special focus on activities for children and families of all ages and types.

peace labyrinth, circus mcgurkis, st Petersburg, florida, the greener bench blog

circus mcgurkis, st petersburg, florida, the greener bench blog

St Pete is just starting to cool down to fantastic weather in the 80s. It was sunny and breezy today, perfect for walking through the peace labyrinth and watching the beautiful streamers. I picked up some kombucha, made by my neighbor, and some pottery from Kith n Kiln – heart-shaped rattles and a Halloween ghostie. Great day!

metal sculpture of people holding hands, circus mcgurkis, st Petersburg, florida, the greener bench blog

 

baby Buddha statue, circus mcgurkis, st Petersburg, florida, the greener bench blog

 

mother kombucha growler, circus mcgurkis, st Petersburg, florida, the greener bench blog

 

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beautiful streamers, circus mcgurkis, st Petersburg, florida, the greener bench blog

 

big dog, circus mcgurkis, st Petersburg, florida, the greener bench blog

 

guitar in case and band in background, circus mcgurkis, st petersburg, the greener bench blog

 

circus mcgurkis sign, quakers, st Petersburg, florida, the greener bench blog

biologist holding stingray in touch tank at MarineQuest, St Petersburg, Florida, the greener bench blog

MarineQuest!

This was an amazing event – an educational fair organized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Institute and held at USFSP. What I think is so cool about the event is that they work hard to combine the fascination we all have with animals and the ocean with educating the public on conservation and wildlife awareness.

They had a number of “touch tanks”, filled with creatures native to Florida waters so that folks could reach in and touch the animals. The Fish and Wildlife biologists captured their animal “volunteers” for the tanks and then release them after the event is over. The stingrays were de-barbed of the spines on their tails so no one could get injured, and the spines grow back in time.

stingray in touch tank, MarineQuest, St Petersburg, Florida, the greener bench blog

I was brave enough to touch a scallop (I love their blue eyes) and pet a stingray, but that was as far as I could go!

Probably the exhibit that was the most interesting and engaging was the shark cooler. There were a number of dead sharks that were on display to touch and examine. It was sad to see these beautiful animals on ice, but the biologists explained that these specimens were either donated by fisherman who caught them or provided to them in other ways. In other words, none were deliberately killed for research.

I noticed a notch cut out of all of the dead fish we saw and the biologists said these were tissue samples made for further study.

hands on shark exhibit and display at MarineQuest, St Petersburg, Florida, the greener bench blog

hammerhead shark at MarineQuest exhibit and display, St Petersburg, Florida, the greener bench blog

hands on shark exhibit and display at MarineQuest, St Petersburg, Florida, the greener bench blog

One of the things I learned was that some fish have a second set of teeth in the back of their throats called pharyngeal teeth. The fish use the first set of teeth to bring food into their mouth and use the second set to break into hard shells to get to the food source. It was so interesting and slightly disturbing to see the cross section of the fish head and their second set of teeth!

cross section of pharyngeal teeth on fish, MarineQuest, St Petersburg, the greener bench blog

Aside from all of the hands on exhibits, there was a lot of good information on boating and fishing regulations as well as information on land dwelling animals and invasive plants.

I have to salute the biologists who do this type of work. You can tell they really love what they do and are happy to share what they know. It was a lot of work for the Fish and Wildlife crew, but it was much appreciated. Can’t wait for next year!

This incredible event, a mile from our house and so close to downtown, is the perfect example of why I love St Pete!

view of Fish and Wildlife facility across the water, USFSP, MarineQuest, St Petersburg, Florida, the greener bench blog