Teaching Tampa Bay self-defense

For 18 years, Garret Brumfield prepared himself to fight off an attacker. Now, at Tampa Martial Arts and Self-Defense, he’s training others to stay safe.

His gym is located at the corner of Nebraska Avenue and Bougainvillea Avenue. He specializes in Wing Chun, a form of kung fu that focuses on redirecting an attacker’s aggression. This practice of countering and redirection allows anyone to learn it: men, women and children alike.

Brumfield began studying the style in 2008 under his sifu, or teacher, Justin Och. Now, he can add instructor to his repertoire, which hasn’t been the easiest of transitions.

“It’s tough, because like my sifu I have to make sure I’m showing them how to defend themselves,” Brumfield said. “There’s different personalities in the school, so I have to adjust to everybody’s personality to make sure that what I’m teaching them is correct and that everybody is satisfied as well.”

Unlike larger martial arts schools, Brumfield’s courses are smaller in size, allowing him to give more hands-on training and tips to his students. As a result, Brumfield has formed friendships with his students. Yan Gusinsky, who has been attending classes for over a year, built strong relationships with his peers.

“We’re definitely like a family,” Gusinsky said. “We do a lot of things outside of just the classroom atmosphere. We train together, encourage each other and push each other to be the best we can be.”

Friendships aside, students say they’re getting their money’s worth. They’ve not only seen improvements in their self-defense skills, but also in other aspects of life. Ruben Felix started three weeks ago and already has a different outlook on the challenges ahead of him.

“Life-changing, totally life-changing,” Felix said. “I’m more motivated to achieve anything in life. I feel like Wing Chun gave me a core to actually want to achieve all things in life. Aside from self-defense, I’m keeping fit, and I’m all around a more driven person because of it.”

According to Brumfield, Wing Chun is simplistic in style, so it is a great form to learn for beginners. For advanced students, Tampa Martial Arts provides an excellent environment to perfect techniques. USF student Ivan Koveni practiced the style for two years, but never competed in a tournament until joining Brumfield’s class.

“As a fighter, I’ve become a little more technical, a little more confident,” Koveni said. “Especially because last year we had to go to a tournament. It was my first one. I thought I would never be able to do one, and with the training, I’ve been able to get here, I had to transfer and muster my strengths and the qualities I needed to be able to get into that tournament.”

Learning a martial art is no easy feat, but Brumfield promises to deliver quality instruction that is applicable to the real world.

“The real nitty-gritty stuff is what you learn here in the gym. We do a lot of sparring, a lot of realistic self-defense here. You’re not going to learn it overnight, but it’s rewarding to learn Wing Chun.”

Newcomers can try out five classes for $25 or take one class free of charge.

 

3 places to visit on Tampa’s Riverwalk

Tampa’s Riverwalk now features three activities, all within steps from one another.

These activities include the family friendly Tampa Water Works Park, the repurposed fire station now restaurant Armature Works, and the Native American themed restaurant Ulele’s.

Kathy Slough, a resident of Atlanta, makes an annual trip to Tampa and  ensures the Riverwalk is always part of her trip.

“A group of us – we’ve been doing this trip for about 12 years. ” said Slough.

Many people like Slough enjoy spending time walking along the waterfront sidewalk. The air is filled with chirping birds , laughing children, and exciting  music.

“This, this is part of my lifestyle, it’s beautiful here,” Slough said. “We got the waterway, we got the public market, Ulele’s.”

Bikers can ride along the Hillsborough River and secure their bikes  at several bike racks along route. There are several docks next to the railings where people can park their boats or board the private water taxi that provides tours along the river for purchase.

Tampa Water Works Park is located along the Riverfront. Children may wear swimsuits and play inside a  gated splash zone. If children do not want to get wet, they can enjoy the nearby playground located next to the water activities. The pavilion is great for hosting parties, as the large grassy area is perfect for picnics.

People now have access to the new  Native American restaurant from the Riverwalk  by crossing a small bridge. The restaurant is named Ulele after a Native American princess. The restaurant cooks Native American inspired foods like the Native Sauté, Native Chili and Mahi Trevino. This resturant shares its name , Ulele, with one of  Tampa’s water springs.

Next to the Riverwalk area stands the repurposed fire station, that has been converted into a  series of restaurants all under the property name Armature Works. The restaurants combined  offer a  large variety of foods, from barbecue to Acai bowls. The current restaurants inside the station include: Astro Ice Cream, Butcher N Barbecue, Graze, Inside the Box, Union, Zukku, SwamiJuice, Hemingway’s, Cru Cellars, Ava, Cocktail Emporium, Imoto, and Surf and Turf. The Property  plans to add more variety to its current offerings in the near future.

In addition to restaurants  Armature Works includes a  fresh foods market, Heights Public Market and retail store AW Mercantile. The market offers guests the option to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the week. AW Mercantile is a retail shop that offers items that fall under the theme “rustic chic”. The shop is gaining popularity on social media with the hashtags “ #HPM” and “#armatureworks.”

All the shops  inside Armature Works have social media profiles, encouraging customers to share pictures of their experiences.

Couches, chairs and stools are available inside all restaurants at Armature Works for seating. There are benches, chairs and umbrellas in front of the building as well. The location also offers  life-sized chess and checker boards for family amusement. The area is also very pet-friendly and almost always A musician can be found nearby strumming tunes.

Armature Works is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, and from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturdays. It opens an hour later at 8a.m. and closes at 9 p.m. on Sundays.

Lakeland, one of Florida’s hidden gems

 

In just under an hour drive from Tampa, Lakeland is a city that is worth a daytime visit. The city is known for Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, an affinity for swans and an abundance of lakes.

 

Lake Mirror, downtown Lakeland. Photo by Emily McCain

The swans in Lakeland serve as unofficial mascots. You can find them as statues, in the city logo and at almost any of the city’s 38 lakes. But what most people don’t know is that the swans are local royalty.

Sleeping swan at Lake Morton. Photo by Emily McCain

In the 50s, the local swan population slowly disappeared. When two former residents heard about the swans’ disappearance, they appealed to the Queen of England for help.

Queen Elizabeth agreed to donate two swans from the royal flock living on the River Thames. She only asked that the city pays for the crating and shipping costs. $300 later, two white mute swans were on their way to Lakeland.

Today decedents of those swans can be found all around the town. One place you can visit to see them is Lake Mirror, right in the heart of downtown.

Lake Mirror is a popular place to hold events, weddings and just enjoy a nice walk. The lake is surrounded by the historic Francis Langford Promenade. The promenade is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The cobblestone promenade is named after Francis Langford, an actress and singer from Lakeland. The walk along the promenade is about a mile. It includes the community theater, a children’s park, a garden bistro and a lakefront botanical garden.

If you really want to interact with the swans, make the short walk from Lake Mirror to Lake Morton. This lake is where most of the swans can be found and where most people go to feed them.

Make sure you bring some change with you because around the lake you’ll come across a few swan feed dispensers. The city installed the dispensers to help manage what the swans are fed.

Many people like to bring white bread to feed the swans but it can be harmful to the birds in large amounts. If you don’t have change for the dispensers, you can bring things like lettuce, spinach and whole oats.

If you’re coming to town on a Saturday, start your day at the curbside farmers market. It stretches through downtown right alongside local restaurants and coffee shops.

Mitchell’s Coffee House is just a step away from the market. They’ve been serving gourmet coffee and pastries in town for two decades. You can even bring in your own mug and they’ll hold on to it for your next visit.

If you’re looking for a more eclectic atmosphere, then stop by 801 E Main. Named for its physical address, this open-air café was once a gas station. The marketplace features three distinct brands inside.

You can visit The Poor Porker food truck, where you can get coffee and beignets. You can sit outside to eat or head inside toward the Bar Calexico.

Strawberry Chocolate Beignet from The Poor Porker. Photo by Emily McCain

The bar serves local beer and specialty drinks and acts as a live music venue. While inside you can also stop in at Bearcat and Big Six trading post.

For more drinks, you can head down to Cob and Pen. The gastropub’s name comes from the local royals. A male swan is called a cob and a female is called a pen. The pub offers 16 rotating drafts and over 200 bottled beers.

Cob and Pen Gastropub. Photo by Emily McCain

The pub offers a one of a kind atmosphere. Housed in a historic Tudor home, it offers high ceilings, bay windows and a large outdoor space for lawn games.

Before leaving, make sure you stop by Florida Southern College. The college is the largest single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in the world. You can tour it yourself or sign up for one of the daily tours offered by the college.

67-year-old yoga instructor promotes a healthy lifestyle

Healthy living is a concept many are concerned with. Organic items fill the shelves and gluten-free products seem to come out of nowhere. For 67-year-old June Kittay, a healthy lifestyle involves more than just healthy eating.

“I did 25 minutes on the treadmill, then I lifted weights and I did a few yoga poses,” Kittay said about her morning exercise routine.

Her lifestyle wasn’t always as healthy. In her 20’s, she was an elementary school teacher with very dangerous habits. The effects of these habits became clear after some years.

“I existed during the week on a pack of cigarettes a day and two liters of diet soda. Fast forward 40 years later, I have osteoporosis. That’s what happens when you don’t take care of your body,” Kittay said.

A car accident motivated Kittay to bring awareness to the importance of health and fitness.

“I went into a seated fitness class and I said this is what I want to do when I grow up! So that’s what happened. I became a fitness instructor in 2004 and I’ve been doing it ever since. And I love it. I wish so many other people would do it,” Kittay said.

To keep up her promise to the community, Kittay teaches a “Yoga in the Gardens” class in the Botanical Gardens at the University of South Florida. USF student Jasmine Ehney has been a recurring visitor to the classes.

“I really like how she emphasizes nature, mindfulness and how to appreciate the trees and the earth. Things that we don’t usually notice,”  Ehney said.

The class is held every Friday at 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Students and visitors can come to the class free of cost.

People ditch homes to live in school buses

Dozens of people rolled into Sertoma Youth Ranch in Brooksville on Feb. 17 to show off their tiny homes on wheels at the inaugural Florida Skoolie Swarm.

The trend of abandoning traditional homes for remodeled school buses called “skoolies” is gaining popularity. Some want to reduce their cost of living, while others crave a nomadic lifestyle rooted in simplicity.

“It’s people who really wanted to just maybe change things up in their lives,” said Sandy Blankenship, a Skoolie Swarm coordinator. “For me, I wanted to move into a bus to simplify things.”

The idea of living with less is appealing to some people who are working, but struggle to stay financially afloat. Many of the buses are rigged with solar panels and accumulate their water from hoses and other outside sources, meaning no electricity or water bill.

“It feels good, you get rid of stuff,” said Roger Scruggs, a teacher at Florida Virtual School who lives in a bus of his own. “I still have a job, I still have an income. I just live in a bus.”

A group of “skoolies” are in Brooksville with their remodeled school buses. Photo by Zach Wilcox.

School buses are commonly purchased online or at an auction for a few thousand dollars and then renovated to support day-to-day life. Renovations include installing a bed, toilet, sink and storage space. The cost of creating a skoolie may be expensive, but for people like Scruggs, it’s worth it.

“I bought the bus for $4,000,” said Scruggs. “I’ve put in roughly $7,000 into it, which isn’t bad for an RV.”

Some roadblocks on the path to mobile living include understanding where it’s legal to park skoolies and dealing with code violations.

“Homeowners associations and zone and code enforcement, when they see a school bus in a driveway or parked at somebody’s house, they consider it a commercial vehicle a lot, and they’ll tell them that they have to move it or get fined,” said Travis Mattson, one of the skoolie owners at the Skoolie Swarm. “Some homeowners associations don’t want you to have that kind of vehicle in your driveway, and you have to get it titled as a motor home in order to legally park it there. So there is a little bit of struggle while you’re building it when you’re getting ready to go full time.”

Despite some of these struggles, many skoolie owners have found the transition to be very efficient and rewarding because they get the chance to see places some traditional homeowners never will.

“My regret is not doing it earlier because there’s so much out there to see that you just want to be able to get out and explore the country,” said Scruggs. “And this is the best way to do it.”

For people interested in downsizing to a tiny home, local tiny homes festivals are a good place to start. The next upcoming one in the Tampa Bay area is the St. Pete Tiny Home Festival.

The Lights Fest makes Florida debut

For the first time ever, The Lights Fest and its incredible lantern launch took to the skies in the Sunshine State.

Over the past two weekends, the worldwide festival made its first stop in Florida at the Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City. Originally starting in Utah, The Lights Fest now spans across the United States and Europe. Each location includes food, games and live performances from local artists across the globe. It is a celebration for family and friends as well as a way to find closure and peace. Event Director Tiffany Townsend believes the festival is a way to put troubling matters to bed.

“The Lights Fest is special because it allows people to have closure about certain things,” Townsend said. “What happened in Florida, last week with the school shooting. Some people have bought tickets just to get closure about that, and really that’s what the company is about; giving people closure, giving people hope, giving them a chance to say goodbye to loved ones, and to pray for their loved ones if they’re injured or whatever it may be. So, it’s just a really good chance for people to think about their lives and basically look back at the good things and pray for the not so good things.”

The company has made a conscious effort to be as environmentally friendly as possible. Guests are reminded to properly dispose of their bottles and cans. The lanterns are designed for low flight, making them easier to track down and properly throw away. Even if one is lost, the lanterns are biodegradable, allowing them to break down naturally. The Lights Fest has also adopted a “Leave No Trace” policy, promising to leave venues the way they arrived.

While the festival is an all-day event, its well-known lantern launch is the grand finale. Each guest is given his or her own lantern to decorate and design as they please. Many are encouraged to write wishes, prayers and personal goals on their lanterns. Once they are launched, it is a remarkable sight to see. Samuel Malachowski, who acts as the master of ceremonies during the lantern launch, knows what the spectacle means to its guests.

“The main attraction why people come is for the lantern launch,” Malachowski said. “Just like what people have seen in the movie Tangled, you know it’s something seriously amazing, and it can become quite spiritual and very emotional for people. So, that’s what brings people to the event, and we’re just trying to leave good vibes, a good atmosphere for everyone to hopefully leave as a better person.”

For those interested in the event, The Lights Fest is planning to make Florida a regular stop with four planned events annually. The next two dates this year will be sometime in the fall. Cities such as Jacksonville, Gainesville and Tallahassee have already pre-registered to host future events. With The Lights Fest now touching base in the Tampa Bay area, it is encouraged that people experience the event first-hand.

“It’s just a really good experience. I think everyone should do it at least once in their lifetime, just because it’s a cool thing to experience. Very spiritual. Magical.”

Time Lord Fest comes to Tampa

By: Zach Wilcox

TAMPA, Fla. — Fans of Britain’s favorite doctor had the chance to celebrate his legacy in Tampa.

Time Lord Fest, an annual event that brings “Doctor Who” fans from around the Bay Area together, parked its TARDIS here. The event featured cosplay, vendors, guest speakers, panels and pretty much anything “Doctor Who.”

“Standard conventions focus a lot more on the celebrities that are coming in,” said Julia Langston, a vendor at the festival. “But Time Lord Fest has so much fun stuff going on. I mean there are games, and there are crafts, and there are radio plays.”

“Doctor Who” is a British science fiction television series that has been airing intermittently on BBC since 1963. The show features an extraterrestrial doctor who crosses space and time while solving mysteries and demanding justice. There have been 12 doctors, and the first female doctor was just announced.

giphy.gifCourtesy: Giphy

Time Lord Fest was held at the event factory on Hillsborough Avenue. The location has a collection of themed rooms that add to the aesthetic of the festival.

Related image

A forest-themed room at this year’s Time Lord Fest. Courtesy: theeventfactory.com

“What we hope for is when they walk in, it feels like they’re walking into a ‘Doctor Who’ episode,” said Ken Spivey, the organizer of the event. “Then there are vendors and there are other people dressed as the Doctor, and they feel at home immediately.”

The tickets for Time Lord Fest were $25 with discounts for both military personnel and students. Partial proceeds from the event went to the Livestrong Foundation at the YMCA.

The power of the falafel

 

WordPress Post:

Falafel | Oil-Free and Vegan

Falafels

Chickpeas? I delicious creamy nutty bean that can be used in so many recipes for vegan cooking.

I love using them in this recipe. They are a great bean to use since they are not too watery when smashed. So, when baking in the oven for an oil-free recipe they crisp up well!

My love for falafels began three years ago when I went to my first veg fest festival. I loved the mixture of the entire experience. The crunchy outside and the warm soft inside was a delicious mixture of textures.

Since then I wanted to create a version that was even healthier for the body with less fat and fewer calories as well.  So, I came up with this recipe that still gives that crispy texture I want from the original recipes.

It is generally paired with a cucumber salad and hummus, all wrapped in a pita bread.

I love the added cheesiness of my falafels compared to the original stand ones.

RECIPE
Falafels, Vegan & Oil-Free

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Times:  25 minutes

Serves:  6 people

Ingredients

  • One can of chickpeas 15 or 16 oz
  • Oats 1 Cup
  • One Small Red Onion
  • 1 TBSP Fresh Dill
  • 2 TBSP Fresh Cilantro
  • One Lemon (a whole lemon)
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic
  • Salt a pinch
  • Pepper 1 TSP
  • Nutritional Yeast – Nooch (1 TBSP)
  • Cumin – 1 TSP
  • Curry Powder 1 or 2 TSP
  • Onion & Garlic Powder if wanted (1 TSP Each)

 Preparation

  1. Either measure the same amount of a can of chickpeas to your homemade cooked chickpeas or rinse one can of chickpeas really well under cold water.
  2. Chop your entire small onion.
  3. Chop your fresh dill and fresh cilantro.
  4. Into your food processor add all your ingredients (an entire lemon).
  5. Process until mixture forms a dough. May need to stop the food processor and mix once or twice in between.
  6. Line a tray with parchment paper.
  7. Form the mixture into about 1-inch balls and place onto the parchment paper.
  8. Place the tray into a 425-degree F oven.
  9. Cook for 13 minutes. Take them out and flip the falafel balls.
  10. Cook for another 15 minutes.
  11. Take out and let cool for 2 minutes.

 

Serve & Enjoy!

Tips

If either too dry adds more lemon juice or a TSP of water at a time to get a hard dough-like mixture. Or, if too wet add more oats to get soft but firm dough mixture.

You can place the falafels on top of a salad and a packed potato. You can also make falafel tacos and burritos as well. They are a great source of protein and vitamins for the body.

Nutrition: Per Serving | About 2

Calories: 45

Fat: 11.08 g

Carbs:  25-30 g

Protein:  25 g

Instagram post: https://www.instagram.com/p/BfRls4Bggnb/

Twitter post: https://twitter.com/BenfieldKatie/status/964624857882382336

Instagram Public Story

 

Local leader tells her story

 

Photo by Ashley Vedral

Oct. 16 marked the first of two days students from the University of South Florida would conduct interviews in Progress Village, Florida for WUSF, the school’s radio station.

Seated in a long, narrow room covered with art made by children, Linda Washington, President of the Progress Village Civic Council, spoke.

Washington told her own story.

She was born just outside of Tallahassee on Sept. 24, 1957, in a town called Quincy and moved to Progress Village in 1961. Washington still cherishes memories from her time there as a child.

Washington said one lady, the candy lady, had an impact on her life.  She remembed the candy lady vividly.

“Mrs. Washington was the candy lady that lived next door to me,” Washington said.  “It’s nice to have someone in the neighborhood that still provides those little sweets.”

The candy lady was a welcome sight because stores were few and far between Washington said.

“Having a candy lady next door to get a frozen cup or penny cookies, that was ideal,” Washington said.

Washington said that she was on only child for 16 years, so being able to go out in the community and play really met something to her.

Bad memories proved hard to recall but Washington shared her memory of the storm that tore through the village in the mid ’60s.

As she grew up, Washington had many ideas as to how her life would unfold.

” Well I thought was going to be a teacher for the longest because I used to play school in my bedroom,” Washington said.  “So I really thought that I was going to go to college and become a school teacher.”

Washington notes the happiest moment of her life was having her daughter. Before her daughter, she married and moved away from Progress Village, to Bloomingdale, Florida. Several years later, she and her daughter returned.

“You knew almost the entire community whether it was through church, school or just, you know, activities that took place in the community,” said Washington. “I was raising a daughter and I knew that I would have a support structure with my parents living in the community.”

Washington’s return to Progress Village occurred in a way that was almost too good to be true.  There was a home available.

“It was on a Christmas Eve,” Washington said.  “I’ll never forget it, and that’s what started the wheels rolling, like I’m going to move back to Progress Village.”

After returning to Progress Village, Washington began attending meetings for the civic council. She said she enjoyed going, as she wished to be a part of the community. Attending regularly earned her the spot of President.

“I started going to the civic council meetings, and at that time, Mr. Kemp was the president,” Washington said.  “And so, for the 2011 elections I was voted president of the civic council.”

Although she was hesitant to take on the position, because she was working full time, Washington accepted and has not looked back. Washington led the community after the storm of 2011.

“I never knew about storms like that,” Washington said.  “There was a lot of devastation, and it was all material things. No loss of life.”

Washington could recall what that storm was like.

“March of 2011, we had tornadoes that hit Progress Village, and that was a lot of damage to homes,” Washington said.  “I mean, it was pretty destructive because there were several tornadoes. It wasn’t just one that hit.”

In addition to making sure Progress Village recovers when tragedies occur, Washington also works to organize the town reunions.

“Every 10 years or so we have our reunion and that is unique in itself,” Washington said.  “This is a community reunion, where people come back and share in the memories of what it was like living in Progress Village, and that’s always fun.”

As a leader of Progress Village, Washington credits the former president of the civic council with teaching her to successfully carry out the role.

“I have to say that, our past president, Mr. Kemp has been very influential in my life,” Washington said.

Father’s death inspires USF student

via Public Domain

‘Ready, aim, fire’ is a phrase that one USF student is very familiar with.

Clay shooting is one of the many activities that she enjoyed with her father before he died.

Sarah Gimbel, 20, and her dad had a very close relationship. As her parents’ only child she was always spending quality time with them. One of her family’s favorite pastimes was driving their motorcycle. Gimbel’s father was a motorcycle patrol officer for the Tampa Police Department for 20 years. On May 7, 2016 Gimbel’s father, Howard, was killed in a motorcycle accident while enjoying an off-duty ride with her mother, Tonya.

“I was in the driveway when my parents were about to leave for their motorcycle ride,” said Gimbel, “I remember telling him, ‘I will stop talking and let you guys go. I will just talk to you later! I love you!’ just a little later was when I got the call from my cousin.”

This is when her life changed forever. Gimbel shared a special relationship with her parents. She always loved having a police officer as a father. Gimbel and her friends always felt safe when her father was around.

“Sarah and her dad were very close,” said longtime friend Sarah Berry, “She always had the best experiences with him. When she was younger she truly felt that her dad was invincible.”

After the accident not only did she have to stay strong, she had to grow up fast for her mother’s sake. When her mother was in the ICU for over a week Gimbel had to make funeral arrangements for her father and sign the paperwork. She had to do all this on her parent’s behalf.

“Since my mom attended his funeral in a stretcher and by ambulance, I stepped up and gave a eulogy in front of close to 500 -700 people,” said Gimbel, “I became a stronger person because I knew that my dad deserved that. I can say today, a year and a half later, that I would have never been the person I am today without that tragic experience.”

After the outpouring support from the Tampa Police Department and the Tampa community Gimbel wanted to find a way to give back. The idea to create a memorial foundation in her father’s honor was only part of her plan.

“Competitive shooting clays is a sport my dad got me into,” said Gimbel, “We enjoyed shooting monthly tournaments together. When my father passed I was trying to think of something to do in memory of him and that’s when hosting a sporting clay shoot came to mind. It is now the most important thing to me.”

The annual shoot is an event hosted, planned and organized by Gimbel. After her first memorial shoot last year, Gimbel donated the money to a competitive youth sporting clays team for their trip to nationals.

For the other part of her plan, she was able to create a scholarship for a high school senior entering college. Her goal for the foundation is to extend the scholarship program and give more opportunities to students that have parents in law enforcement.

“Sarah is so quick to help others and she never complains,” said Berry, “she really embodies all of her dad’s great qualities. I see his humor, positivity and dedication in her.”

Gimbel also participates in other volunteer events with TPD. The annual Tampa Police Memorial 5k is one of her favorite events. Gimbel says that this is when she truly feels her father’s presence.

“It makes me so proud to be her friend,” said Berry, “I know that her father would be so proud of all her accomplishments and of the woman she has become.”

Walt Disney World Resort’s NBA Experience’s latest update

Preview poster for The NBA Experience. Photo by: Tea Piro

As of Oct. 19, the Walt Disney World Resort has given guests an updated first look into a sports themed experience coming to their main shopping and dining destination, Disney Springs.

In June of 2015, the editorial content director for Disney Parks, Thomas Smith published an article on the Disney Parks Blog, announcing The Walt Disney Co.’s collaboration with the National Basketball Association to create The NBA Experience. The announcement came just before the 2015 NBA Finals, which brought in an American audience average of roughly 20 million.

“We’re excited to join The NBA in offering this unique form of family entertainment,” said Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “It will be a terrific addition to the world-class lineup of shops and restaurants coming to Disney Springs.”

The Oct. 19 announcement featured concept art for what will be the facade of The NBA Experience. The statement referenced the architectural design of modern basketball arenas across the U.S. as contributing factors to the design choice.

While detailed design ideas have yet to be released for the interior of the space, the venue is set to include shopping experiences, games with competitive features, a connected dining location and other interactive aspects.

“This one-of-a-kind experience is sure to be enjoyed by basketball and Disney fans of all ages who visit Disney Springs from around the world, ” said Sal LaRocca, NBA President of Global Partnerships.

On March 14, 2013, Tom Staggs, Chief Operation Officer for The Walt Disney Company, announced the transition of the resort’s shopping center, Downtown Disney, into what is now Disney Springs. The three year expansion resulted in the shopping center almost doubling in size.

The NBA Experience will be replacing DisneyQuest, an indoor interactive theme park that opened at The Walt Disney World Resort in 1998. DisneyQuest featured an array of video games that highlighted attractions found in the Disney parks as a way for guests to enjoy key elements without directly visiting one of the four Walt Disney World Resort theme parks.

In June of 2015, it was announced that DisneyQuest would close its doors the following year to make way for The NBA Experience. However, DisneyQuest did not officially close until July of 2017.

DisneyQuest demolition site as of November 3, 2017. Photo by: Tea Piro
DisneyQuest demolition space as of November 3, 2017. Photo by: Tea Piro

DisneyQuest was known for its old-school atmosphere, featuring pinball machines and other arcade-style games. While this aspect brought feelings of nostalgia to some guests, others viewed the indoor theme park as outdated. However, Walt Disney World Resort cast members noticed an influx of guests returning to DisneyQuest prior to its closure.

“People know that it’s coming to a close,” said Steve Ruffman, the General Manager of Disney Springs’ West Side and The Landing, to the Orlando Sentinel in June of 2017. “There are Disney gamers, there are Disneyphiles and there are people who are just excited that this has been part of their annual visit to Disney World. It’s now ‘a must-do’ when it was ‘a may-have-been’ a year ago.”

The NBA Experience is coming to The Walt Disney World Resort following the closure of NBA City at Orlando’s Universal CityWalk. NBA City, the themed restaurant that included NBA memorabilia, closed in August of 2015.

“Earlier this year, we decided not to renew the lease for NBA City so we could create an exciting, new concept for that space,” said Universal spokesman Tom Schroder to the Orlando Sentinel.

The NBA Experience’s new location to Disney Springs will add a significant space increase to the basketball themed restaurant. The location of CityWalk’s former NBA City restaurant, now The Toothsome Chocolate Factory & Savory Feast Emporium, offered 17,500 square feet; however, the new location at the DisneyQuest space offers 100,000 square feet.

Although the opening date for summer 2019 has officially been announced, Walt Disney World Resort guests have been voicing differing opinions in the comment sections of the Disney Parks Blog regarding a NBA themed experience at Disney Springs.

USF alumnus shares journey to citizenship

USF alumnus Carlos Estrada will be starting work at an advertising agency in New York City after a long journey to become a U.S. citizen. Photo by Yara Zayas

Imagine being wrapped up in a wool blanket, thrust into a hidden compartment inside of a car, seeing nothing but darkness and having no idea what is going on.

That is the scenario that USF alumnus Carlos Estrada, 25, found himself in when he and his mother traveled north across the Mexico–United States border in 1996.

It was this first trip across the border that began Estrada’s long path to obtaining his U.S. citizenship.

Estrada was only 4 years old when his mother decided to get in touch with members of the family who lived in the United States legally and asked for their assistance.

He explained that during this time frame, applying for citizenship started to get more difficult. President Bill Clinton signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which put restrictions on immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally.

“It was a stressful environment. I remember my mom and our driver trying to make sure that we didn’t get caught,” Estrada said. “It was really scary.”

To make sure that he was calm and not scared, his mother told him the escape was a game. She told him to be as quiet as possible. At some point during the ride, Estrada fell asleep and when he woke up they were already in Texas and on their way to Tampa.

Estrada and his mother stayed with distant relatives. The relatives let Estrada, his mother and sister, who was born in the U.S. after Estrada and his mother crossed the border, stay in a spare room at their house.

“My mom worked three jobs to help us survive,” Estrada said. “One of them was cleaning toilets, so she started from the very bottom.”

Eventually, Estrada said, he and his family began to make ends meet. They got their own apartment. Estrada said that his mother began making good money by working as a hair stylist. Estrada was also finally able to attend school.

Life took a turn when Estrada graduated high school. He had to return to Mexico since he was still living in the United States without legal permission. His mother, who had become legalized through marriage, stayed behind.

“After I graduated, I was at the end of the line on what I could legally do,” Estrada said. “I had no papers and no Social Security. I was stuck and I didn’t have a choice. I needed to do things the right way.”

Estrada said that it took him about a year to get everything ready and thousands of dollars in attorney fees to be able to appeal to the legal system and apply for citizenship. Estrada also had help from his mother’s husband, who was a legal Mexican immigrant.

“My grades also helped during the appeal process,” said Estrada. “All throughout high school, I was a straight-A student. I always tried super hard and never got in trouble.”

Estrada immediately returned to Tampa once the court granted him entry to the United States as a legal citizen. He received his full citizenship in 2016.

He applied to college and began his new life as a U.S. citizen. Estrada attended Hillsborough Community College and then transferred to the University of South Florida where he majored in mass communications with a concentration in advertising.

“I admire the fact that he was able to turn his life around, even though it seemed like the world was against him,” said Jamie Norman, a friend of Estrada’s. “No matter what happened, he didn’t give up.”

To keep himself financially afloat, Estrada worked many odd jobs that ranged from acting to plumbing and even to some real estate. He interned at various businesses and participated in school programs such as the Most Promising Multicultural Student, a program that helps multicultural college seniors connect with the advertising industry. The program even allowed him to travel to California for a company visit.

“I got the opportunity to go to Google,” Estrada said. “I never thought I would get to go there. That was so cool.”

After graduating from USF in spring of 2017, Estrada got a job offer from Green Team Global, an advertising agency in New York City. He is set to move to Brooklyn and take the position at the firm within the next month.

“Hopefully everything actually works out,” Estrada said. “I’m so excited.”

Wake and Bacon food truck to open

 

 

Gettin Klucky photo via Facebook

A local restaurant lifer is finally ready to break off on his own path and try his hand in the food truck game as early as January 2018.

Chris Daneker has spent half of his life working in the restaurent industry and always dreamed of running the show himself. That dream may be coming true after nearly a year of planning and team building. With the help of friends and business partners, Jason Harp and Chelsey Macko, Wake and Bacon is ready to roll.

“We chose to do a food truck because it’s cheaper,” Daneker said. “We’re broke with no capital to use as collateral for a larger loan.”

Daneker needed a plan to make his food truck and future restaurant a reality.

“Food trucks are mobile marketing for our eventual brick-and-mortar restaurant,” Daneker said.

Daneker and his partners have been planning for 10 months. Those plans and the subsequent business model came from his sister, an accounting major, in a project that earned her one of the highest grades in her class.

The planning includes extensive research in Bay Area counties. Wake and Bacon used this information to determine where they would plan on setting up shop on a given day.

“We plan to operate throughout the Tampa Bay area with daily stops in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties,” Daneker said. “Both counties are on the upswing as far as growth in population and economy.”

A lot of that population growth can be attributed to a younger crowd. Daneker said their target demographic is ages 21-45, so this area may be perfect.

Wake and Bacon’s business model is tied to the versatility of its ingredients. Candied bacon, Cuban bread and chicken breast are used in a multitude of ways. This maximizes profit while still allowing each entrée to be completely different.

How does Candied Heaven sound? It is a breakfast sandwich with candied bacon, Havarti cheese and two runny over-easy eggs between butter-toasted Cuban bread.

The Tummy Stix are waffle sticks served infused with candied bacon with fried chicken tenders and homemade syrup.

The menu also features the Gettin’ Klucky sandwich with fried chicken with shredded lettuce and homemade ranch pressed between Cuban bread.

Daneker may be excited to finally get started but he still understands it is an ongoing process even once you are open for business.  He wants to reach higher.

Daneker said that his long-term plan is to convert the food truck into a stationary restaurant and use the truck for catering and deliveries.

Epcot celebrates 35 years by highlighting cast members

On Sunday, Oct. 1, Epcot invited guests to celebrate its 35th anniversary with an array of special events and exclusive merchandise, while also recognizing the hard work of the park’s cast members.

Epcot, originally known as EPCOT Center, opened on Oct. 1, 1982, as the second park within Walt Disney World, following Magic Kingdom. The theme park focuses heavily on innovations in technology and various cultures from around the world. Epcot is also known for employing representatives from each country represented in World Showcase, a major section of the park.

“Walt had it right when he said, ‘It takes people to make the dream a reality,'” said Epcot Vice President, Melissa Valiquette. “From the time you arrive at Epcot, until the time you leave, it is our invaluable cast members who deliver a rich and unique experience to each and every one of our guests. Our cast members take great pride in bringing the wonders of Epcot to life each day.”

Employees from any of the various Disney resorts around the world are referred to as cast members. In particular, Epcot’s cast members were mentioned upward of 10 times during the Fountain View stage celebration that was held at 10:01 a.m. on Sunday.

“We know that these last 35 years at Epcot would not have been possible without the amazing help of our cast members,” said Walt Disney World Resort Ambassador, Brandon Peters.

The ceremony included presentations by two Epcot performance groups, Mariachi Cobre and Voices of Liberty, a cast member processional, speeches by Valiquette, Peters and Walt Disney World Resort President, George A. Kalogridis.

“As a child, I’d been glued to the TV watching Walt Disney, with his message of a fascinating future and a belief in the goodness of people worldwide,” said Kalogridis. “Now, we stand at a park that embodies those ideals. This is a place for family, a place for fun and a place for faith in our vision as a people.”

For the 35th anniversary, guests were able to purchase exclusive “I Was There” merchandise that would only be available until park closure. Retro-inspired merchandise commemorating the anniversary was also sold during the event and will continue to be available.

A 35th anniversary guide map and pin were handed to guests upon entering the park. Specialty cupcakes themed after the Norway pavilion in World Showcase, The Land pavilion and the center attraction, Spaceship Earth, were also sold throughout various locations in Epcot.

Aside from acknowledging the role of cast members, the ceremony’s speakers continuously noted that 35 years was only the beginning for Epcot, referring to upcoming attractions and restaurants.

“It has been a great 35 years, and let me tell you, we have some wonderful additions on the horizon,” said Kalogridis.”I was thrilled that we were able to announce what amounts to nothing less than an ‘Epcot renaissance’ last July at the D23 Expo in Anaheim. As our chairman Bob Chapek said, ‘This work here will be centered around a few guiding principles: We want to keep true to the original vision of Epcot, while making it more Disney, more timeless, more relevant and more family.'”

Kalogridis continued on to mention new attractions based on the movies “Ratatouille” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” that will be added to the France pavilion in World Showcase and to Future World, respectively.

The 35th anniversary of Epcot falls on the same day as the 46th anniversary of Magic Kingdom, another park within the Walt Disney World Resort.

“Epcot has always been and will always be an optimistic celebration of the real world brought to life through the magic of Disney,” said Kalogridis. “I promise you, the exciting plans we have on the horizon, will honor Epcot’s rich legacy of creativity, innovation, while continuing to exceed the expectations of our guests for decades to come.”

Taste of Spain captivates Tampa

TAMPA – On N. Tampa St., Toma Spain offers savory Mediterranean dishes and is host to live Flamenco shows, a culture which Fred Castro and his family helped bring to the community 37 years ago.

“We are one of the older Spanish restaurants here in Downtown Tampa,” Castro said. “We like to push the independence because if you spend your money in an independent restaurant, it stays within the community.”

Among the members of Flamenco shows are dancer and choreographer Carolina Esparza, who has known the Castro family for many years.

“They have similar experiences where they’ve always traveled to Spain because of their family,” Esparza said. “The food here is amazing, the entertainment that they get is amazing and yet it’s still a night out so to speak.”

The motivation for the workers of Toma Spain is simple: provide an atmosphere reminiscent of southern traditional Spanish culture.

The Flamenco show on March 25th was met with a grandiose round of applause due in large part to the performance of Flamenco guitarist Javier Hinojosa.

“Our musician [Hinojosa] is in my opinion one of the best Flamenco guitarists around,” Castro said. “We kind of traveled Spain ourselves and seen a lot of Flamenco shows and he compares with the best.”

The customers left the restaurant following the show with smiles and cheerful conversation amongst one another.

 

Students work with service organization to give back to community

 

Many students from all over Tampa Bay have joined SALT (Serve and Love Together) and meet every Monday at St. James Church in Tampa to give back to those in need.

Mina Hanna and Maggie Attia are two of the volunteers at the organization, and SALT teaches them about how they can improve the city they live in one week at a time.

“Well this is a wonderful organization as you see it gives back to the community,” Hanna said. “It gives back to the community and we see our fruits produce more fruit.”

Everything is donated from people in the community who are willing to help out.

“We also teamed up with another organization that hands out blankets and toiletries and socks,” Attia said.

SALT partnered with Blanket Tampa Bay and they have access to many necessities to share with those in need throughout the Bay Area.

People like Hanna and Attia truly see the difference that the organization makes on people’s lives every day by talking to people about God and giving them hope. SALT is affiliated with a Coptic youth group in the area.

“There used to be a guy on drugs, and his whole life was messed up, and I cannot tell you how much this organization influenced him. And now this guy is the most spiritual guy you’ll ever meet,” Hanna said.

SALT does a small gesture once a week, but it leaves a lifelong impact on some of these people that they get the pleasure of serving.

To learn more about this organization, please contact Mina Hanna at (727) 333-5318

Clearwater Celebrates Its Sugar Sand “FantaSea”

Clearwater’s Sugar Sand Festival is celebrating its fifth annual exhibition.

This year the festival included new entertainment, several nights of fireworks, concerts, and movies, as well as private DJs and the Shepherds VIP Lounge Experience.

If you are a sand fan you can enjoy the Master Sand Sculpting Competition which takes place inside the 21,000 square foot tent. Seven master sculptors will create their own artistic piece in addition to the main sculptures. Barbara Sanchez is a local visitor that has been to the Sand Festival for the last 5 years.

“I love to just come and enjoy with my family,” Sanchez said. “It is a very unique experience for the family and especially for the kids. My grandchildren get so excited with all the games they have.”

Each year the festival has a new theme. This year is the Sugar Sand FantaSea, a Magical Adventure Above and Below the Sea. As the name describes, you can find  all types of sea-themed characters, like Spongebob Squarepants, mermaids, polar bears and pirates.

Lisa Chandler, the event coordinator, said they expected 38,000 people to see the show.

“We want people to come and enjoy. We have live music, food and games,” she said. “Sugar Sand is what makes Clearwater different. It’s not only the beautiful sunsets and the warm water, but it’s people and the events we try to organize that keep people coming back.”

The tickets are $10 for adults, $6 for kids 6 and older, and $8 for seniors, military, law enforcement, firefighters and teachers. For more information visit http://sugarsandfestival.com/.

Rowdies hope to be next team added to Major League Soccer

 

  1.  The Tampa Bay Rowdies hope to be the next Major League Soccer expansion team.

    The MLS is selecting two new expansion clubs in the second or third quarter of this year, and with St. Petersburg being part of the country’s 11th largest media market, it makes the Rowdies an attractive bid.The owner of the Rowdies, Bill Edwards, plans to spend up to $80 million in upgrades to Al Lang Stadium if the team is part of the MLS expansion. The upgrade would boost the stadium’s capacity from 7,500 to 18,000.

    Stephen Cundiff, president of the Rowdies’ fan group, Ralph’s Mob, believes that the energetic ownership is what will make the difference for the team’s bid.

    “You have an owner that’s willing to spend the money to make it happen,” Cundiff said. “Any sports fan of any team will ever tell you, the one thing they want their owner to do is spend money; and we got Bill Edwards and he’s spending the money.”

    There is excitement among the fans this season as the team has moved to the United Soccer League after spending six seasons in the North American Soccer League.

    Rowdies’ midfielder Luke Boden spent time at Orlando City when it made the transition to the MLS in 2015, and knows what the team has to do to obtain the bid.

    “It was exciting times,” Boden said. “It was down to us to start winning games and trying to win championships to recognition from MLS. With the MLS hopefully around the corner in Tampa, we need to try and win something this year, and as I say, get that MLS attention.”

    The Rowdies have started a social media campaign on Twitter with #MLS2StPete.

 

Clearwater Beach Spring Break Parking

Spring break is coming up and Clearwater Beach is offering something that will make visiting the beach less of a hassle.

The beach opened Pelican Walk Parking Garage on Poinsettia Avenue at the end of January. The goal was to help with parking problems that occur on the beach.

Jason Beisel, the Public Communications Coordinator of Clearwater expects the garage to improve the flow of traffic.

“Especially this time of year with spring break… we have an influx of visitors,” said Beisel. “But what we built it for is so people have a place to park.”

The location used to be a single level parking lot, but the new garage offers 702 spaces. It also helps beach employees who had trouble finding parking for a reasonable price. Parking in the garage costs $2 an hour or $20 a day.

“Some lots around here, you can pay up to $50 a day to park,” Beisel said. “So, we have contracted with some businesses where they pay a flat fee and they’re able to park here and it helps alleviate some of the parking problems for employees.”

The garage cost over $11 million to build. Most of the money came from parking fees collected on the beach and tourism dollars. A smaller portion came from taxpayer dollars.

“It just helps the whole beach and the economy to bring people out here so they can enjoy themselves and spend money at all the different shops,” Clearwater resident Tim Lavelle said. “It’s just good for everybody.”

 

College Student Builds Own Iron Man Suits

 

A student in Lakeland has a unique way of spending his free time.

Dorian Alberti, an engineering student at Florida Polytechnic University, has a hobby of creating his own versions of the Iron Man suit. He has made 14 suits, and he is currently making suits 15 and 16.

“Well, since I was really young, and the first Iron Man movie came out in 2008, I actually started to think that I wanted an Iron Man suit,” Dorian said. “As I started to build them, my expertise wasn’t that great. As I grew up, it got more intricate and better looking.”

Dorian built his first suit when he was only in the fifth grade. He constructs the suits by himself in a shed behind his house in Madison.

“He went from using duct tape and cardboard, and from that, the suits are going to progress a lot more,” said Carlos Rodriquez, another student at Polytechnic University.

Dorian has high expectations for his future suits. He wants to include bullet resistance material, strength that exceeds human strength and the ability to fly. Dorian wants to work for a military contractor to build these suits.

“I feel like I could help a lot of other people with what I do,” said Dorian. “The more progress I make, the closer the gap gets of me being able to do that. I hope it can protect us as Americans, if I get to that point.”