Meeting “The Anchor Clankers”


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“Whoa. A real G.I. Joe, that captain,” Tim Russell muttered quietly to Bill Moore as the Captain marched down the front portico steps.

Then he noticed the man speaking to a woman and a girl with white blonde hair that was almost as long as her tanned legs.

“Who are they?”

Bill glanced outside.

“They would be the Captain’s wife and daughter,” Bill answered.

The Captain got into his car, but the women lingered in the grass with a small silver Schnauzer. Tim headed towards them.

“That’s not much of a dog,” Tim said, coming down the front steps. “You must be Mrs. LeBlanc. Hi, I’m Tim Russell.”

“Hey there, you look like a real sea dog,” he said, softly, bending to scratch the mascot’s ears.

Suzette stared at him. The guy was a hunk. Streaked blond hair and super tan, he must be a surfer or a water-skier, especially with that body. She could feel the sweat starting at the waistband of her shorts and trickling down the back of her thighs.

“Yes, and this is my daughter, Suzette,” Mom answered. “The dog’s name is Skipper.”

Tim looked up from the dog and squinted at the girl.

“You’re obviously not going to school, here. Will you be at Sanford High School?”

Suzette was glad the sun was behind her. That way he couldn’t see that her face was beet red from the heat (or because she was blushing.) Not to mention five new pimples were probably forming under the sweat.

“No, my parents chose a Catholic high school in Orlando. I’ll be going there.”

Of course, her education would occur elsewhere. She figured that people who send their sons to military school want structure and a strong male influence for their children.

They did not, however, want girls.

Tim nodded. “That’s probably better for you. I’m not sure the guys at Sanford High would even speak to a girl who lives with the anchor clankers. In case you haven’t heard, that’s what they call us, here.”


– Excerpt from “The Anchor Clankers,” a novel set at The Sanford Naval Academy in Florida

The first thing you see


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Who says you can’t judge a book by its cover?

I received this email from Southern Yellow Pine Publishing: “We’re setting up a phone call conference with artist Elizabeth Babski to talk about the cover design.”
Suddenly, I’m terrified.

I think of all the books that I’ve picked up in libraries and book stores. Occasionally, a glance at the cover was all it took for me to put it back on the shelf. I understand how important cover design can be in luring readers inside a book.

Admittedly, I’m not an artist. I paint pictures with words rather than brushes. But I know that an amazing cover can capture a reader’s interest even before they see the first sentence.

Creating the right cover is an art form, which involves evaluating the book’s content and understanding exactly what will resonate with my Young Adult readers. Regrettably, Elizabeth had not been given my manuscript to read, nor had I seen samples of her art or her website. So, we chatted and I gave her the “Cliff Note” version of “THE ANCHOR CLANKERS.”

They say that you can’t judge a book by its cover. They are wrong!

I’m anxious to see her suggestions.

Colored reflection

Sore today, strong tomorrow


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My physical therapist wears a shirt that reads, “Suck it up, buttercup.”

I’ve been seeing a lot of her since I had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff.  She appears sympathetic during each hour-long torture session (most serial killers do – it’s the secret of their success.)

However, the camaraderie among other victims – er, patients – surprises me. When our eyes meet, there’s a smile, a nod, or murmur of encouragement. During brief moments of rest, I’ve had people lean over and ask, “How did it happen?” or “Did you have surgery?”

Simple gestures, yet when you’re in pain and feeling frustrated, encouragement from strangers in the same boat is comforting. Our injuries may be diverse, but our goals are clear and compelling: to be pain-free and able to move with a full range of motion.

The prospect of meeting these folks again one day in Starbucks or the grocery store (anywhere but physical therapy) appeals to me. Our shared experience creates a kind of fraternity, though our initiations were vastly different.

Our motto: It really will get better every day.


Coffee may save my sanity



The good news: Two or three cups of coffee per day could help older women retain their cognitive skills. In a recent study funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, researchers found that women who drink two to three cups of coffee daily could be at a lower risk of dementia and other forms of cognitive impairment. Hooray!

The bad news: By the end of this year, coffee is expected to hit its highest price since early 2015, driven by the global market’s first supply deficit in six years.  El Nino-related dryness in southeast Asia and a drought in Brazil damaged crops and drained supplies.

What’s a woman to do? (I’d better order another cup from the barista while I can still afford it…)


Irreplaceable items

What would you take if a Category 4 Hurricane threatened to destroy your home?

I’d spent a lifetime in Florida and read the National Weather Service suggestions: “Make a list of valuable, irreplaceable items to gather if only given 15 minutes to pack and leave.”

But when my husband decided we needed to evacuate in the face of Hurricane Matthew, I suddenly felt paralyzed. There was paperwork, of course  – insurance policies, checkbooks, an ancient marriage license – but what was truly “irreplaceable?” More importantly, what would fit in a plastic storage bin in our car?

I pulled my children’s baby albums from the closet shelf and my wedding album from under a bed. Framed photos of our deceased parents and one of my beloved grandfather were wrapped in tissue and placed on top. Without negatives, none could be reproduced and my history might disappear with a storm surge.

Four days later, I unpack the plastic storage bin (grateful that Hurricane Matthew didn’t damage my home) and I’m astonished at some of my choices. But I’ll make that list of items today and pray that I shall never need to use it.

What would you take with you?




Co-authored with architect Tom Szumlic, my book, “Sweet Beams: Inspiring everyone who lives under a new roof,” is available on

Style is ageless

Recently I overheard two twenty-something sales clerks snickering. “Can you believe that old lady asked where the junior department was?” They might have approved if she’d asked for the location of “sack cloth and ashes.”

While it’s true that women of a certain age probably shouldn’t don tiny shorts or spandex, their wardrobe doesn’t need to be dowdy. What does “age appropriate” dressing actually mean?

Women of any age can pull off the season’s hottest trend when it’s done the right way.

Just ask Iris Apfel, the chicest 95-year-old in New York (if not the world.) The fashion icon celebrated her 95th birthday by unveiling an affordable new clothing line with INC International Concepts, exclusively sold at Macy’s. The curated collection is a throwback to the mod ’60s and features around 40 styles including statement necklaces, clunky bangles, and shift dresses. With the “Iris Meets INC” collection priced from $24.50 to $199.50, it’s never been easier to dress fashionably.

Charla Krupp, author of How Not to Look Old, wants women to stop forgoing style for comfort. “I think women in America are so hung up on comfort, they walk around in clothes like they’re going to the gym,” she says. “If you dress well, you will get people to sit up and take notice.”

Iris Apfel + INC : International Concepts Lunch

Iris Apfel

Aging parents and their pets


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A stray Jack Russell terrier wandered into my mother-in-law’s driveway one Christmas and quickly made a home in her heart. Mom loved having “a furry child” by her side to keep her company throughout the day. She named the dog Joy, which is exactly what the animal brought for more than a decade, comforting Mom through the death of two husbands.
Joy – like most cats and dogs – was very in tune with her owners’ feelings. Pets sense when someone is upset or unhappy and are excellent at providing instant comfort.
She also was a great protector, barking at any perceived threat. Having a dog made my mother-in-law feel safer in her home and may have allowed her to stay there, longer.
Studies have found that owning pets provides health benefits, too, including decreased blood pressure and cholesterol. Even heart attack survivors are more likely to live longer if they have a pet to keep them company. Joy motivated Mom to go outside for walks, which also afforded her a social life as she chatted with other pet parents in the neighborhood.
Yet in addition to being a companion, pets are a responsibility. So when her beloved Joy recently died, my mother-in-law decided not to get another dog. Though having the house to herself seems a little daunting, the 91-year-old admits that she can no longer care for an animal.
Sadly, I am relieved.
Pets need as much love and attention as a child, and eventually that may be too much for an elderly parent to manage. What happens when a pet outlives its owner? Who inherits the animal? Shelters are filled with the sad, sweet faces of pets whose owners passed away. How do adult children plan for the inevitable, with pets and aging parents?



Keep those cards and letters coming


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In the days of cell phones, email and text messages, letter writing can seem hopelessly outdated. My son recently informed me of his refusal to support the greeting card industry so I should not expect a Mother’s Day card.
Fortunately, I’ve saved a drawer full of handwritten notes from him as well as from his sister:
“Mom, I feel like lately we’ve gotten to be really close and I can talk to you about almost anything.”

To their father:

“I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to have you as my dad. I hope you can come and visit me often in Chicago.”

I have no idea how to convey to my child that writing and receiving letters will always offer an experience that modern technology cannot touch. Twitter is fine for broadcasting what you’re eating for lunch, and email is fantastic for quick exchanges of pertinent information. But when it comes to sharing your true thoughts, sincere sympathies, ardent love, and deepest gratitude, words traveling along an invisible superhighway will never suffice. Why?

The impact of handwritten cards and letters lasts far longer than any text or email offered in our high-tech world. Years after they are written and sent (and even after their senders and receivers are gone), letters remain to be read, appreciated and preserved. I love seeing the familiar handwriting of my late grandmother and grandfather on old documents. Letters protect our memories in a way that technological communication cannot. They are tangible, personal and real, in every sense of the word.

Computers and smart phones may prove more efficient, but they can never take the place of this kind of sentimental history.

Letters create lasting memories.



Look for inspirational home ideas in her book, “Sweet Beams: Inspiring everyone who lives under a new roof,” available on

Comfy on a couch


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When you live a short drive from “Mickey and Minnie’s house” in Florida, you have overnight guests at least once a month. In the event of a big crowd, a few may even stay on your couch. Here are a few ways to make guests feel comfortable and welcome, even when they’re bunking on a sofa bed:

1. Replace end tables with dressers: Being able to unpack is key to feeling at home. To avoid mysterious piles of clothing in your living area, use a small dresser in place of a traditional end table to give guests space for their things.
2. Clear out closet space: Luggage can take up valuable real estate in tight quarters, so making room for your guest’s luggage in your closet helps both you and them feel better about sharing a small space.
3. Arrange an amenity area: Whether it’s your coffee table or end table, make sure your guests have useful items such as a small fan, an alarm clock and a table lamp within arm’s reach.
4. Stage a plug-in hot spot: Set up a designated charging area for phones, laptops and tablets. That way, guests can recharge at the end of a long day without having to hunt for outlets. Don’t forget to leave your WiFi password.
5. Provide bedding storage: Carve out a place where bedding can be stored during the day so that your sofa can be used while you are entertaining your guests. Try a chest, closet or storage ottoman.
6. Stock the liquor cabinet: Your guests won’t mind their accommodations at all.


Look for more inspirational home ideas in Renee’s book, “Sweet Beams: Inspiring everyone who lives under a new roof,” available on

No sunscreen necessary


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cici and hyatt entrance

Water, wildlife and magnificent palm trees…I spent an afternoon admiring the most extensive collection of Florida art in the world.
When the collection they started in the late 1990s mushroomed to the thousands, Cici and Hyatt Brown decided they wanted to share with the public 2,600 oil-and-watercolor paintings that cover a 200-year span of Florida dating back to the 1700s.
Hyatt is Chairman of the Board of Brown & Brown Insurance Agency and former speaker of the Florida House. His wife, Cici, is an avid volunteer and supporter of the arts. That support may be even more impressive than the canvases hanging inside their museum.
Working with local government leaders, the couple was able to put the new building on a wooded piece of land in Daytona Beach that the city donated. The Browns, in turn, donated $14 million for construction of a Florida Cracker-style structure which is owned and run by the Museum of Arts & Sciences. (Ever generous, the couple contributed another $10 million toward an endowment to cover operating expenses.)
I’m one of 23,000 visitors who enjoyed the collection during its first year. But the museum doesn’t only attract local residents. Art enthusiasts and scholars mingle with tourists who want to add a bit of culture to their beach travels. With Bike Week roaring to a start tomorrow, it’s nice to know that visitors can participate in cultural activities, along with traditional tourism offerings, here.
Who says you can’t mix some Wyeth with your waves?

Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art, 352 South Nova Road, Daytona Beach, FL is open Monday-Saturday: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM and Sunday: 11:00 AM-5:00 PM