The Wee Boutique in Apollo Beach has for sale everything child-related covering newborns through tweens and even maternity needs. One can easily find unique toys, books, clothing, bibs, and cribs. There are even strollers, picture frames, and dance outfits. The store features both new and used items, some made by local mothers. Circus performers and animals cover the walls, giving the place the friendly boutique feel that they strive for.
Owner Mandy Cassiano builds her business around saving her customers time, saving her customers money, and helping the planet. Much of her product is on consignment, allowing her to keep her prices competitive. When customers’ children outgrow their clothes, toys, and books, customers can return them to the store and split the profit when they sell, in essence saving even more money. Anything not sold is donated to the Hillsborough County Family Partnership Alliance, a local organization that serves foster families. Buying used products instead of new ones keeps them out of the landfill longer and helps the planet.
Mandy did not originally intend to open a store – she wanted to teach art – but three years ago she found herself taking her inheritance money and starting a business. In the time since, the boutique has doubled in size, added a small play nook, thrown mom-parties, and she has regretted nothing. Helping parents and children is what she does now.
6122 N US41, Apollo Beach, Florida
Dance At Grand Jete is a dance studio in Apollo Beach owned by sisters Amanda and Aysza. Every class is taught by one of the sisters themselves and they offer classes for anyone male or female between 18 months and 18 years of age. There are classes covering the dance styles of jazz, contemporary, lyrical, ballet, and hip-hop, as well as classes for toddlers and classes for those with special needs. The academic year runs from August to June, ending in a recital.
Aysza has been dancing since soon after learning to walk and shows no signs of stopping. She graduated from the Lehigh Valley Charter School for the Performing Arts, creating choreography pieces while there. She has attended many dance conventions and performed in many venues.
Now having moved to Florida, they’ve opened Dance at Grand Jete in Apollo Beach near the Harbour Isles development off US 41. They continue to spread confidence, fun, and dancing skills to the children in the community.
5475N US41, Apollo Beach, Florida
I visited the Showmen’s Museum in Gibsonton, Florida recently and it was awesome. It isn’t quite as good as the real thing, but with the lights blinking and the music playing it has that fair atmosphere that I miss. It even has a working Ferris wheel indoors. By the time I left, I was almost skipping down the stairs. In the days before television, movies, and video games, traveling fairs and circuses were prime entertainment. People would wait all year or longer for them. Like trains and bookstores, they hold a special place in our cultural history that will likely persist in some form forever. They kept employed many in society that would likely have had a rough time otherwise, such as midgets, giants, and those with extra limbs. They worked, lived, and travelled together. They really understood what made true entertainment in the old days. Before there were internet cat videos, people put monkeys in tiny cars and rolled them down tracks. Now that’s real entertainment!
I’ve always liked history. I don’t know why. The museum is full of it. They have a machine used to pull up the giant tent spikes when it sadly came time to leave one town for the next. It’s basically a large lever on wheels. The chains at the end were attached to the spikes and the lever pulled down. The museum also has a set of cameras from the original photo booths of the nineteenth century. There is an exhibit on a man who joined the circus in order to travel the country and spread the gospel. There is a reference library onsite and a history blog online. They cover all kinds of subjects, from food to the history of the carousel to the trucks used to transport the equipment across the country.
As chance would have it, I arrived the same time as a man who used to work in the industry back in the seventies. He had driven a long ways to check it out. He told me how he used to set up Ferris wheels without hydraulics and explained how many of the games of skill and chance worked. The place brought back many memories for him. I know how he feels. I can imagine I would feel the same way if someone were to open a fast food museum. When you learn every quirk of the equipment and how to work around the fry vat button that sticks or the freezer door that won’t close, it starts to mean something to you. This is the real good the place does, not just as a location to spend a fun afternoon, but a place that keeps alive the stories of those who worked hard to keep the show going, the dreams of every child visiting a fair for the first time, and the rich and interwoven history of an entire industry.
6938 Riverview Drive, Riverview, Florida
Written By Daniel Noe, InkDoodler.com
I visited the R&R Ranch in Lithia, Florida a few weeks ago and saw the small petting zoo. The animals were very soft and very docile. There were many rabbits, including a few “ruby” rabbits. These are albino rabbits with pink eyes. There were also guinea pigs. These were the only animals that showed any nervousness around me whatsoever, though not overly so. The rest seemed quite used to meeting strange humans (some stranger than others). Nearby was a goat, a pig, and several chickens with extremely soft feathers. I love all animals, but scorpions and sea urchins aren’t nearly as fun to pet – although caterpillars would be a nice addition (hint, hint).
The people there are as friendly as the animals (I didn’t try petting them) and they talked with me a while. The R&R Ranch was founded in 2002 by Barbara and her son Jeremy in order to introduce children to farm animals because it seemed that not many people do that anymore. Their goals for the ranch are to stay small, friendly, and personal. It is a valued place for camps, horse riding lessons, field trips, and birthday parties. In fact, there was a party going on when I got there. They also offer hay rides, horse feeding, pony painting, and have a small playground. The horses love children. More can be learned about them at the website. This is one place in Tampa Bay you should definitely visit.
9805 Bryant Road, Lithia, Florida
I visited Robinson Preserve in Bradenton recently and was rewarded with beautiful sights of a variety of plants. There are trails for bicycling or hiking across wide fields, marshes, and small wooded areas. There is a quite tall observation tower next to one of the lagoons, which is where I took the photos above from. If you have good eyes, you can see the Skyway in the distance.
The usual animals were around, including dragonflies, ospreys, ibises, fiddler crabs, and lizards. I also saw a rabbit. Something strange was going on that day with the bees. There were a lot of bees throughout the park everywhere that there were flowers. People say bees around the world are dying out, but I think they have just been hiding in Robinson Preserve. No matter where I went I could hear their distant roar. I did not know what I was hearing at first before I found them. I even saw a hive at the base of Tern Trail. I decided not to go that way. Another mysterious sound was an occasional bark I would hear throughout the park. It sounded like a cross between a honking goose, a very confused seal, and a human child screaming in mortal terror. I finally discovered that the ibises were making this noise. Every so often they would look up from poking in the mud and bark. I had never heard ibises make noise before. This is a strange place.
Along the northern edge of the park there are breaks in the vegetation separating the trail from the bay. These lead to small, secluded beaches. The water remains incredibly shallow far into the bay. I could see ibises and herons walking on the mirror-like surface of the sea as far as a hundred feet from shore. On the southern edge of the trail there is a narrow channel of water that connects the sea to the water bodies inside the park. This runs like a river when the tide comes in or goes out. I could see it branch as it cut through the trees into places where I wasn’t allowed to go. What goes on inside there?
Here are some more pictures from my adventure:
1704 99th Street West, Bradenton, Florida
In 1939 the Mixons bought a twenty-acre citrus farm and have been selling oranges and other fruit ever since. They now ship all over the country and have expanded the gift store to sell other products. Part of their land is used as a wildlife refuge and for educational purposes. Tractor-drawn tram rides are available three times a day for wildlife tours. I knew this was a place I needed to visit on my way to Robinson Preserve. Unfortunately I missed the ride, so I checked out the gift shop instead.
The gift shop is larger than most and filled with eclectic gifts and souvenirs of all kinds. Many are Florida-themed or orange-themed. There are doormats, wind chimes, soap, and purses. There are books and toys. There are local wines, including pineapple and mango wines. There are salad dressings, salsas, jellies, and countless candies. There are a wide variety of honey products, including honeycomb. They have cheeses flavored with horseradish or maple. They have crystallized ginger, sausages, chocolate-covered potato chips, and gummi centipedes (just like gummi bears, but with more legs). They even have pretzel dips that come in flavors such as Pub Beer, Raspberry, and Key Lime Honey Mustard. Inside the shop is also a café, serving pizza, subs, soups, and Cubans and other sandwiches. Of course they still sell fruit, including star fruit, pomelos, and gigantic ponderosa lemons (just like lemons, but with more…lemon). I just had to go around and look at everything. The staff was very friendly and I felt like I could just hang out there a while. I can see why it has become a popular destination. They tried to tempt me with fudge, but my eyes were bigger than my wallet. I ended up buying peppermint bark instead.
Even with everything else, oranges are still the focus of what they do. They sell orange fruit, orange juice, and orange ice cream. They even have my YouTube hero Annoying Orange. Hey!
2525 27th Street East, Bradenton, Florida
Deep in Lithia lie the 6312 acres of mostly forest that make up Alafia River State Park. This is a popular place for bicyclists. Off the sides of the mixed-use trail are countless bicycle trails. These trails are narrow, twisted, and very hilly due to the entire place having been used as a phosphate mine in the past. Mountains are a rarity in Florida and this is one place for mountain bikers to get their fix. They are rated as “epic” by the IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association).
I did not know any of this before I went and I don’t have a bike; I went for the extensive walking trails, which are shared by bicycles, horses, and also tortoises. Soon after leaving the trailhead, I rounded a corner and saw a tortoise coming from the other direction at a decent speed. Only when I got close did it take any notice of me and this was just to slow down a bit every time I moved. I completely forgot that my new phone can take video, so instead all you get is a photograph. I also took a picture of a navy blue dragonfly that miraculously held still as I approached and I saw a large spider.
The trails were a bit confusing. Even though they are marked, they are not always marked at every intersection, and there are many side trails not on the map. Most of these are bicycle-only trails, but it is not always easy to tell. After getting lost several times over I found myself near where I started. Since I was more tired than I expected that day, I decided to leave early without seeing most of the park. On the way back to the parking lot, I saw two tortoises where before there had been one. Very cute.
Alafia River State Park also has a nice campground, nice picnic spots, and fishing ponds. I’ll have to go back when the weather is cooler and I have more energy.
14326 South County Road 39, Lithia, Florida
My favorite thing about Hammock Park is the covered platform I can watch the boardwalk from. There are also several trails, a small playground, a butterfly garden, restrooms, and disk golf available. The day I went to the park the butterfly garden was still flooded from the recent storm so I can’t say much about that, though I did see a couple butterflies elsewhere in the park. From the boardwalk itself one can look down and see fiddler crabs and turtles. The playground features a pyramid of ropes that shifts around as you climb it. You haven’t lived until you’ve climbed something that moves as much as you do. The gravel fill below it I discovered was strangely bouncy. Upon closer examination I determined it was made of little bits of rubber tires. I suppose it makes for a softer landing when you inevitably fall off the ropes.
It seemed boring at first. When I first arrived, I took the trails around the eastern perimeter of the park. There were benches named after various people. There were numerous puddles and muddy spots that slowed me down. These puddles had tiny tadpoles! The larger puddles had larger tadpoles! This redeemed what was otherwise a boring area. A drier trail was completely blocked by fallen trees. I climbed around and over the first two only to be utterly defeated by the third. The only redeeming feature there was the patch of plants I found with touch-sensitive leaves. The sun was hot and there was less shade than I like. I was starting to think the park might be a dud. I was very wrong. Read More
Five Galleries: The Dunedin Fine Art Center boasts five galleries, a gift shop, the Palm Café, and a lounge area in the central lobby complete with art books, couches, and a piano. It is located on Michigan Avenue right near the Dunedin Community Center, Highlander Park, and Hammock Park. There is good parking. By one entrance is the alien machinery pictured above. By the other entrance is a long tile mural built over the course of several years by many children of different ages from different schools in the area. The center is open seven days a week and paid for largely by donations.
Thought-Provoking Exhibits: Of course, it’s what’s inside that counts. I caught them on a transition day when only two of the five galleries were open. The Entel Family Gallery hosted an exhibit called Dignity: Tribes In Transition. It was a collection of photographs of indigenous people from around the world, often in a mixture of traditional and modern dress. Pictures of people are interesting because unlike landscapes or abstract sculptures, people have dreams, thoughts, goals, aspirations, and can interact in their environments in complex ways. What were they thinking? I could not tell. There were several plaques on the walls explaining what the project was about. They referenced a UN declaration in the seventies to protect the rights of indigenous people, though I question what else the declaration might have had in it since the four nations to vote against it (New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the United States) are not exactly known for human-rights abuses (relatively speaking). Another plaque stressed the importance of learning the culture of our ancestors. It suggested that in order to know where we are going, we must know where we come from. I’m not sure I buy that argument. Another plaque suggested that trees feel pain and that Africans have somehow known this all along. The jury is still out on that. The exhibit certainly got me thinking, which I’m guessing was the point.
Pretty Pictures: The second exhibit (Harmonic Divergence) featured works inspired by music. There are two paintings that stand out to me now. At first glance, it looked like a swirl of color probably representing music was escaping from a trumpet or horn of some kind. A drum and harp floated nearby. Upon closer examination, I decided it looked more like the horn was escaping from the swirl. Do instruments make music or does the potential for music encourage the invention of instruments? I’m probably thinking too much. The other painting I liked was a borderline impressionistic scene of a man with a guitar-like object and four women in hats. There were large flowers in the background and fruit on the table. The women appeared to have their eyes closed, probably enjoying the music. It was all very colorful. The instrument itself had several regions of different colors on it. There was just enough consistency in the highlighting to discern the direction of illumination. I liked it.
1143 Michigan Boulevard, Dunedin, Florida
Written By Daniel Noe, InkDoodler.com
On the back side of Sun City Center plaza, lies Nearly New. This is where one can find inexpensive clothes of every variety packed inside. Around every corner is a great deal on something you didn’t even know you needed. There are several rooms containing goods such as clothing, bedding, shoes, books, decorative figurines, jewelry, appliances, and clocks. Outdoors on nice days along the back side of the building there can be found furniture and sometimes other items such as golf clubs or walkers. There are blouses and jeans for three dollars and chairs for twenty-five dollars.
Nearly New keeps its prices so low by using volunteer staff and all merchandise is donated. They provide value to the community in multiple ways. They provide low-price goods that help struggling families afford things they need. They provide a place to get rid of excess items for those that don’t need them. They also provide a friendly place to volunteer. Finally, the money raised funds the Interfaith Council of Sun City Center, an alliance of nine local houses of worship that grants money to various charitable causes in Hillsborough County (almost half in the form of scholarships).
Nearly New is open every Saturday from eight until noon. During the winter months, it is also open Wednesdays during the same hours. Donations can be dropped off any weekday between eight and three.
1515 Sun City Center Plaza, Sun City Center, Florida
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