Real Talk

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People, places and things with Sheryl Vieira and Salena Wilhoit

We approach life with the desire to help others, to offer friendship, care, concern and encouragement. As the saying goes, what are we here for if not to make life easier for each other? This month, the people of Sarasota and her sister islands stayed true to doing just that.

From the caregiving that Tidewell Hospice provides to those in their most critical time of life and need, to studying our waters for better living and health, to wishes provided by Make-A-Wish Foundation to children with life-threatening illnesses and their family members who need a few days of fun in their lives, our community was there to help every step of the way.

You Can Curry Love

Ann Curry recently paid a special visit here to speak at the annual Tidewell Hospice Signature Luncheon sponsored by Caldwell Trust Company and SunTrust Private Wealth among others. This is Tidewell’s opportunity to celebrate the compassionate spirit that is the foundation of their care. In honor of that spirit, Emmy Award-winning journalist Ann Curry, also an experienced caregiver, shared her personal story for the first time publicly about the care giving of her father. Most of us love our parents so much that we want them to live forever, which if really reflected upon, is quite selfish of us, isn’t it? We need to kindly, lovingly and respectfully let them go in peace and verbalize this to them. Ann did the opposite and lives with that decision every day.

Ann’s father, a career Navy man, knew he was at the end of his life. But he also knew that his family wanted him to try everything – even the most painful treatment. In his last act of love for his family, he submitted to more painful treatments in the last weeks of his life. Ann said it was very painful to watch.

She remembers asking him, “Dad, are you ready for hospice?” He said, “Yes.” And then she heard that old sailor say, “Ann, I can feel the ship turning. We are moving to face into the wind.” He was smiling broadly at some distant horizon. All in the family wished he had more of those kinds of moments, but her family wasn’t ready for hospice at that time. They so wish they were. When your loved ones get to that point in their lives, the empathy and kindness hospice gives them is the most incredible gift we can give to our loved ones; the utmost respectful end of life – ultimate caregiving.

The most adorable part of the event was her choice of attire. She wore a dress that bore the words “LOVE” on her hem, and she shared that she wore it specifically for the largest crowd for Tidewell – 800+ compassionate guests. She is as gracious and kind as they come. What a woman of strength and absolute class!

Seen were Gerry Radford, CEO of Tidewell, Denise Pope, Hayley Wielgus, Kelly and Melissa Caldwell, Tom and five-time event chair Cindy Stuhley, Jan Miller, incoming board chair, Jim Culter, Phil and Julie Delaney, Kristine Nickel, Chris and Paula Gray, Sandy Pepper, John Booth and Tramm Hudson.

Up the Creek with a Paddle

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program offers sustainable kayak eco-tours throughout Sarasota Bay in high season. Guided tour expert Brad Tanner offers various eco-tours along the Gulf Coast, where his guests discover the habitats and wildlife that make Sarasota Bay an estuary of national significance. The Sarasota Baywise Kayak Tours run from December through April.

We went on one and were lucky to witness not only Brad in action, but also two other experts he had arranged to join us. Dr. Ryan Schloesser is a Mote scientist who has been studying Phillippi Creek using an advanced automated system to track how snook use the variety of habitats this creek has to offer. The other special guest was naturalist John Ryan, Sarasota County Environmental Manager and advocate for the Phillippi Creek watershed. All three shared their knowledge, expertise and insights.

Automated systems that are completely self-powered by solar energy help assess which habitats snook prefer and garner insight to the health of the creek and how fish-friendly the waters are. Dr. Schloesser released over 1200 snook with passive integrated transponder tags. When the snook pass over the habitat at a designated station, Mote scientists know the tag numbers of the fish that were there, what time they were there and how long they stayed. Their main goal is to assess in which shorelines the snook are spending time. To date, their near real-time data depicts 130,000 data points from the snook they’ve put in the creek. Dr. Schloesser who recently spoke on enhancing snook populations at Mote’s Special Lecture Series.

Twelve other paddlers enjoyed the camaraderie, the sunshine and snook-filled creek! The late Jack Taylor, a respected marine biologist, launched the kayak eco-tour program in 2007 with a Bay Partners Grant.

Seriously Hollywood 

Seriously intelligent. Seriously funny. Seriously tall. We are speaking of Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis, one of Hollywood’s most respected actors. Her work is amazing and so are her numbers. She was here for the Ringling Town Hall Lecture Series and spoke to a crowd of approximately 1000.

Davis is a member of the genius society Mensa and is recognized for her tireless advocacy. She is the founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, a nonprofit that engages film and television creators, and soon, editors, to dramatically increase the percentages of female characters. She is also reducing gender stereotyping in media for children 11 and under, including her own children. She recently launched the Bentonville Film Festival, the only film festival in the world to offer the winners guaranteed theatrical distribution from AMC Theaters and home entertainment and digital distribution from Walmart. Now that’s a tall order!

Seen in the Van Wezel crowd were Rochelle Nigri, Sylvia Earle, Patrick Duggan, Knickole Barger, and RCAD president Dr. Larry Thompson.

Synergy and Miracles: Circus Sarasota

When Nik Wallenda recently said, “The show must go on,” he wasn’t kidding. “Synergy” was the name of Circus Arts Conservatory’s 20th anniversary production and the “synergy” of this circus has left us speechless. The show was jam-packed with amazing talent. Each act astounded us. I felt like I was witnessing a live taping of America’s Got Talent. Our jaws dropped over and over again. You expect to see Dolly Jacobs in her signature attire, but when she comes out and performs, you witness true beauty and elegance. It’s pretty special to witness in person. Think she offers lessons on how she flies like that?

As aerialist Nik Wallenda and his Fabulous Wallendas troupe/family started their performance as the last act in the show, the entire tent went silent. Everyone was holding his or her breath. We all let out a big sigh of relief once that last foot reached the platform. Afterwards, Nik shared the tragic story of the five performers that were hospitalized during rehearsals. Two are recovering and will be fine. He thanked God for the miracles they’ve received to date and asked us to continue our prayers for those still needing them. He said, “I think it’s important that you know I don’t go up there because of pride. I go up there because this is my passion. My great-grandfather said it best, ‘Life is on the wire and everything else is just waiting.’ Our family purpose in life is to bring joy, bring laughter and entertain.”

The Wallenda family has lived by three words. They are, “never give up.” They haven’t, they won’t and neither will we! On with the show and oh, what a show it was!

Opus One and Can We Get a Second?

By definition, opus is a grand-scale creative work, and there’s not many who do grand scale better than Café L’Europe owners Ron Milton and Joe Balzano. Everything was grand at their recent Opus One wine dinner and mind you, it was a Wednesday evening! Men were dressed in black tuxes and women wore their best gowns for an exclusive wine dinner. Rose petals were appropriately laid on tables, and menus were wrapped in our black linen napkins to resemble a black tuxedo jacket.

We were treated to a first course of Black Opal Caviar accompanied by 2007 Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne! I had to be careful with it being a school night for this one. Cristal was conceived in 1876 by Tsar Alexander II and it consists of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. The 2007 vintage is highly regarded and we could taste why! Our second course was a plentiful lobster thermidor. Oh my. It was a healthy size of creamy, brandy-infused Maine lobster with Gruyere crust. It simply melted in your mouth. With this course, we were poured a 2006 Opus One Proprietary Red. Silky, smooth and rich. It also went down so easily. What a great complement to this exquisite course. It is always so appreciated when the chef and winemaker truly take the time to make exceptional food and wine pairings. Our third course consisted of Carre D’Agneau (rack of lamb) from Australia with Forrest mushroom pudding and a red wine reduction. The perfect finish was a cheese trio of a raspberry Brie wheel on toast point, a Granny Smith apple Roquefort and candied pecans, which was swirled with Overture by Opus One. Tres magnifique!

Throughout the evening, guests were treated to sweet music by opera singer Joe Ryan, and Sarasota Orchestra core violinist Margot Zarzyka. And just to keep things extra interesting, one of the restaurant servers, Cassandra Calo, brought out her bagpipes for guests to enjoy! The Opus One representative graciously brought a small orchid in individual Opus One vases for each guest to take home. Seen sipping Opus at this unforgettable event were Jerry and Faye Bainbridge, Ernie and Patty Garcia, Dina and Graeme Malloch, Andrew Vac, Ramona Glantz, Dr. Burr Bakke and Dr. Jill Morris. We departed happily entertained and plumply full. When is the second?

Are You in Your Maximum Space?

What an interesting question. Why do I (Sheryl) not do yoga more than once every six months? It’s so good for our heart, mind, body and soul and I fight it. If you haven’t ever tried it, I beg you to do so. I finally experienced a yoga session with Meg Metcalf of The Yoga Shack. She was extremely experienced, mindful and down to earth. She had assistance through Tani Parkinson and Jordan Mcpherson. This session was different, all right. We were set up in front of the shark tank at Mote, for one. They didn’t seem to mind us using their space as we found ours. I’m sure the sharks appreciated when we all finally settled in and quieted our minds and gently stretched our bodies to its maximum space. Ahhhh…a beautiful Saturday morning with sun salutations and sharks.

Meg donates her time at various nonprofits every month and seeks to raise funds through a suggested donation. Some really good vibes there, people!

By the Crystal Waters of Cortez

We took a step back in time as we meandered through the charming rows of tin-roofed fishing cottages leading us to the entrance of the 35th annual Cortez Fishing Festival in the historic and quaint Cortez Village. There is lots of really fun people watching, and witnessing them celebrating this event, each other and their love of the sea, as well as all those that live in it, makes this such a unique event.

Proceeds from the two-day event go to the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH) which works to keep 95 acres of mangrove wetlands shoreline on Sarasota Bay, plus a new land parcel in the middle of the FISH preserve, safe and protected from development.

We paid the admittance fee and took immediate cover from the rain inside the Florida Maritime National Museum. While we were perusing the nautical library, singing arose from the wooden rafters and landed softly upon us. We placed our books back and followed the music into the main gallery and spotted four sailors gleefully singing – no instruments, just the tapping of their feet and their alto voices. It was The Shanty Singers, some wearing their sailor hats. We couldn’t help but smile. As soon as the rain took a break, we headed outside to the now thinned-out crowd at the festival.

Crawfish, seafood gumbo, smoked fish, steamed clams, adult beverages served in coconuts and a plethora of beer were served over and over again. Attendees enjoyed country music and bluegrass bands, face painting, boat rides, marine life talks, and area artists showcasing their nautically themed works of art. This event is a gentle reminder of the simpler days and we look forward to it every year – rain or shine!

Chamber Catches Time with the Orioles

Baltimore Orioles baseball players, community supporters, and business leaders recently indulged in baseball banter and the excitement of this spring-launched sport during the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce Spring Training Welcome Reception at The Francis. Stats, schedules and starting line-ups were discussed and jerseys were distributed to the lucky sponsors.

Seen were Sarasota Chamber’s new president Kevin Cooper, Vice President Brittany Lamont, Orioles Sarasota Vice President David Rovine, JJ Hardy, Mychal Givens, John Angelos and Dan Duquette. Event sponsors were Synovus Bank, Tableseide Restaurant Group, Sarasota Ford, Orioles players Zach Britton and Chris David, and manager Buck Showalter.

Wishin’ in the Kitchen

Make-A-Wish Executive Director Rebecca Blitz, advisory board members, event co-chairs Renee Phinney and Terri Shea-Klauber and their committee broke another fundraising record for this annual, highly interactive, sold out cooking event. A special group of caring individuals led by Tom and Linda Doan along with colleagues, friends and family presented a $56,000 check to the organization. Other funds were raised by the Hawaiian-themed luncheon by way of a chance drawing, silent auction, and a raffle for one lucky winner to enjoy a $2,250 day of spa services at The Met, a live auction and a paddle raise. A wish-receiving family said it best as they spoke of Make-A-Wish and the impact it had on their family: “Make-A-Wish granted our family a wish, but they also helped our family become a family again.” Congratulations to all, as more than $300,000 was raised to assist in granting more wishes! Those in the crowd adorned in Hawaiian leis were Susie Pelton, Sandy Albano, Beth Knopik, Phil and Kim Mancini, Susan Jones, Ariane Dart, Sally Schule, Tamara Curry, Leslie Cornell Anders, Kristiana Powers, Holly Holton, Eric Moilanen and Megan Micale.

And lastly, speaking of always lifting others up, we were both saddened by the news of the unexpected passing of the kind, humble, and sweet actor Bill Paxton. We both met him while he was here a few years ago for the Sarasota Film Festival thanks to Mark Famiglio. In remembrances of him on various media sites and social outlets, many spoke of Bill’s positivity and how he always helped others. He fit right in with our Sarasota residents. We wish his wife of thirty years and their two children love and peace.

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