Fort Pickens

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Pensacola’s Fort Pickens. Photo courtesy Northwest Florida Outdoor Adventure.

The largest of a group of coastal forts built to protect Pensacola’s harbor, Fort Pickens was constructed between 1829 – 1834 on the westernmost tip of Santa Rosa Island. The fort was named for Major General Andrew Pickens of the South Carolina militia, a Revolutionary War hero known as “Wizard Owl.” Slave labor laid about 22 million bricks in the fort which was designed to be impenetrable. Fort Pickens was the only coastal fort held by Union troops during the Civil War. In 1886, it was used to house Apache prisoners, including their chief, Geronimo.


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Inside the fort. Photo courtesy

A free 45-minute daily tour by park service rangers gives insight into the fort’s features and history. You’re also free to explore the 850-acre park. If you’re intrigued by features like casemates, sally ports, dry moats, cisterns, chambers, tunnels, reverse arches, and bastions, Fort Pickens is a must-see. And even if you’re not, the cool, shadowy brick-lined passageways and dim interior rooms whisper volumes about the people who once manned the fort and lived their lives within its defenses. I’ve never seen it in person, but there is a particular view of the broken-away edge of a brick wall that is called “Geronimo’s Profile.” It’s only visible when the light is just right.

Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier


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A favorite place to catch the sun, whether rising or setting. Photo courtesy Charlotte Aguilar.

Extending 1,471 feet (that’s more than a quarter mile!) into the Gulf of Mexico, the pier is a vivid salt-water panorama of sea life, birds, fishermen reeling in a variety of local seafood, and even a pierside restaurant and gift shop. On summer Sunday nights, if you’re there at just the right time, you can spot the Navy’s Blue Angels flying in formation along Pensacola Beach back to their home base after a weekend air show.

Most days, the pier’s Facebook page captures a morning and evening view of Pensacola Beach – so if you’re needing a Pensacola Beach sunrise/sunset ‘fix,’ here you go!

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Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier. Photo courtesy

The Grand Dame of Palafox Street

Built in 1925, Pensacola’s Saenger Theater is often referred to as “the Grand Dame of Palafox Street.” Historically, Saenger theaters throughout the South as well as Cuba and Puerto Rico immersed patrons in the opulence of French Renaissance, Italian Baroque, Neoclassical Revival, Art Deco, and Spanish Baroque/Rococo styles. If the patrons couldn’t travel to Europe, the Saenger brought Europe to them.

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Pensacola’s Saenger Theater. Photo courtesy

Why so many Saengers? Brothers J.H. and A.D. Saenger of New Orleans saw a trend – palatial atmospheric theaters showing moving pictures – and jumped out in front of it in a big way. Built during the 1920s era of silent movies, pipe organs, and vaudeville shows, these “movie palaces” still add an atmosphere of European elegance to live performances and classic films.


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Inside the Saenger. Photo courtesy

A multi-million dollar renovation in 2009 restored the elegant but aging Pensacola landmark to its original luster. From symphony concerts to Stomp!, an evening at the Saenger is an occasion to savor. For a look at upcoming local shows and events:

Dining Al Fresco

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Putting the “fresh” in “fresh food, served fresh.” Photo courtesy Brian Butler

Spotted recently in downtown Pensacola: four sleek silver Airstream trailers. They’re not just passing through, either; you can find them at the intersection of South Palafox and Main Streets. If you’re looking for a delicious outdoor dining option with out-of-the-box menus like fresh Gulf seafood, authentic Southern barbecue, a Tex-Mex taqueria, and Asian fusion, and you like the idea of people watching while perching at a pub table under a patio umbrella just a few steps from Pensacola Bay, this is probably a great fit for you. “Gouda Stuff” has a menu dedicated to grilled cheese lovers. Can you even imagine?

If you want your lunch to be a combination of great local food, a perfect heart-of-downtown setting, and breezes off the bay…call me and I’ll join you. It’s like taking an hour-long vacation without leaving the zip code. Most places are open for lunch and dinner, there’s a daily happy hour, and on Mondays, kids 12 and under eat free. Explore menus to your heart’s content here:

The Safest Woman Around

gone but not forgotten headstoneI met Bridget yesterday in a cemetery so small and unnoticed it almost looked like a vacant city lot. The headstones were scattered and homemade. In the middle of the cemetery, there was a big old live oak tree, and near the tree, a single wooden bench.

We were installing graphic panels in a wooden kiosk, panels that helped show and tell the story of the cemetery and some of the people buried there. Occasionally people passed by on foot or bicycle, greeting us politely, curious about what we were doing there.

Bridget called to us from her house across the street, and before long she was beside us, sporting plaid pajamas, a gray sweatshirt, and a cheery pink hat. She’d been keeping an eye on the cemetery and the kiosk, she told us, and she loved the idea that the cemetery’s history was being preserved.

Bridget had served in the Army, we learned, been in Germany, knew something of Homeland Security, held a degree from the local university. She was a minister now.

Bridget told me a story about Mary, who used to walk through the neighborhood every day. Bridget became acquainted with her, and they used to walk together. “Miss Mary used to tell me this was good for her mind, walking here,” Bridget said proudly. “We got used to seeing her around all the time. Folks would talk with her, and she would talk with them. She was just a common woman, in common clothes, you understand? Nothing fine or fancy about her.”

“Wasn’t till later we found out Miss Mary was from an old Pensacola family, and she had money. She never let that be what she was about. She just loved walking here, and she would talk to anybody, and we all knew her. You know what? I bet Miss Mary was the safest woman around. She wasn’t big, or tough, but nobody bothered her.”

I thought on Bridget’s words quite a bit the rest of the day. A woman like Miss Mary could have stayed tucked away in a big house in a gated neighborhood, never knowing anything of the people who lived in the communities she passed through — or around — on her way to other places. She could have kept her friends and associations limited to just people who were like her. But she didn’t. Mary’s family was successful in business, and they gave back most generously to the community that had been good to them.

And then I thought: would we do that now? Walk through an unfamiliar neighborhood, taking time to greet people and be greeted by them, not just rushing through on our way somewhere else? If it weren’t for Copper, I might not have the inclination to walk through my own neighborhood, let alone one that wasn’t anywhere near my home. But Miss Mary, she did exactly that, with an open mind and an open heart, and she found not only her way, but her place.

Just Do It

Golden Rule #31: Do What You’re Made To Do.

Of all the rules, this is one of my absolute favorites. Does this mean you’re only made to do one thing? Nope. It certainly doesn’t. It means you are wired a certain way, with specific gifts, skills, strengths, and aptitudes, and completing those circuits will complete something inside you like nothing else.

Many years ago my best girlfriend in the history of ever hand-lettered a beautiful sentiment. No idea where she got it, but I memorized it, and it has proved itself so true, over and over and over, as the years have gone by.

A woman will get only what she seeks

Choose your goals carefully

Know what you like

And what you do not like

Be critical about what you can do well

Choose a career or lifestyle that interests you

And work hard to make it a success

But also have fun in what you do

Be honest with people, and do your best

But don’t depend on anyone to make life easy or happy for you

(Only you can do that for yourself)

Be strong and decisive

But remain sensitive

Understand who you are

And what you want in life

When you are ready to enter a relationship

Make sure that the person is worthy

Of everything you are physically and mentally capable of

Strive to achieve all that you want

Find happiness in everything you do

Love with your entire being

Love with an uninhibited soul

Make a triumph of every aspect of your life.

(Author: Susan Polis Schultz)

I haul it out and think on it, especially when I struggle with whether I’m doing what I’m made to do. Mind you, I haven’t questioned that much in the last 15 years or so. I know I am. But before that? I worked as a customer service representative for a big publishing company. It had a daunting list of unfamiliar products, a phone system that screamed and flashed lights when calls were waiting, a computer system that defied anyone’s ability to navigate, and countless bright eyed college students spinning facts from scripts at dizzying speeds while administrators trolled up and down between the desks. Oh yes and hosts of angry customers, many of whom worked up a healthy head of steam while waiting on hold for almost an hour. Time clocks. Policies. Dress Codes. Headsets. It was memorable for so many different reasons, and I can still recall in vivid technicolor some of the most vicious calls.

Before that, I worked for a general practice law firm, back before computers were commonplace but mag card typewriters and IBM Personal Typing Systems…now they were everywhere! I could transcribe dictation, navigate the Michigan Court Rules, decipher the world’s worst penmanship, set up and maintain complicated client files, and file court documents with the best of them. The stories from that place! No wonder John Grisham can write so prolifically!

And before that, I sold black sweet cherries at roadside fruit stands during the summers. Great way to meet people. Get a good tan, if only on the front half of me. Weigh and display fruit. Count change. Give directions to out-of-towners. It was a grand adventure that began when I was about 14.

There were other jobs along the way, too, and even when I despaired of ever making a living as a writer, in retrospect, I know this for sure: there was no wasted time, no wasted skill. It all went into the hopper of life experience, and I use it today. Well, maybe not the mag card typewriter. But the ability to master unfamiliar equipment and programs? Yep. What about calming down upset people? Every. Single. Day. Preparing invoices? Cutting checks? Giving directions? Oh yes. Yes indeed.

The thing is, you have to get to a point where you know that you don’t have anything to prove to anyone. You’ve paid your dues. You don’t apologize…you just do what you know, and do what you are, and it is enough. It is more than just enough. It is the best and rarest thing ever. Don’t forget: you have the best job in the world — and you are absolutely qualified to do it!

How did Copper teach me this life lesson? Well, he pretty much underscored it. Life itself taught me, and life is a relentless teacher…if you don’t get the lesson one way, it circles around and teaches you another way.


Copper is all about doing what he is made to do. Copper’s registered name is Wright’s Golden Comfort. He is uniquely attuned to the atmosphere around him. When someone needs comfort, he is all over that. He leans into them. He staples them to the floor with his body. He just oozes comfort. I don’t know how he knows. But he knows. And he is the greatest comfort when things are uncertain. Turns out he joined us on the cusp of more uncertainty than anyone imagined. And he just muscles his beautiful golden way right through it and reassures us with his smile and his incredibly positive attitude. Is he perfect? No. Does he make things better? You better believe it!

Calm vs Dull

Golden Rule #30: There Are No Dull Moments. None.

How often do you hear someone say, “That’s boring!” or, “I’m bored!” Bored, like so many other things in life, is an attitude, and an attitude is…a choice.

Some things are more interesting and exciting than other things. Folding socks, for instance, is not terribly interesting. Data entry tends to make the mind want to wander. How about being caught at the railroad tracks by a seemingly endless, slow-moving train?

Trains and tracks wind throughout Pensacola like a giant zipper. As frustrating as it might be to be caught on the wrong side of the tracks when one lumbers through, I remind myself…the railroads opened Pensacola up to the rest of the country. Before they came, Pensacola was largely accessible only by water. Our beautiful beaches really were our best-kept secret. The railroads brought people in…and took people, and products, out. Everything changed when the railroads came through.

But that doesn’t really help when you’re sitting at the track with the bars coming inexorably down. What do you do? When my daughters were young, we used to count the train cars. About the time we got close to 100 cars, the train would start picking up speed and we would see the caboose rumbling along behind alllllll those cars. It actually got to the point where we didn’t dread the trains because we knew we’d get to count the cars, and check out the colorful graffiti on the sides of some of them. Double decker cars counted twice, by the way.

Because I’m convinced that everything happens for a reason, I tend not to see any moments as “dull.” I just don’t. There’s always something to study, turn over, think about, or do. Even as a kid, I found ways to entertain myself. When I was about 10 years old, I used to sit in church, pencil in hand, paper on my lap (usually the back of one of those handy offering envelopes at the ready in the pew in front of us), and write down every word I heard that was seven letters or longer. We lived in a college town, and some of those preachers really went to town with the five-dollar words. After the service, I would give the list to my dad, who would thank me, and carefully tuck it away in his jacket pocket. What was the point? Well, there probably wasn’t one. Nobody told me to do that. Did it help my vocabulary, and affect my livelihood? Possibly. It kept me out of trouble, though, because I never knew when one of those words was going to show up.

And what has life with Copper taught me about dull moments? With Copper around, there is no such thing, ever! Copper is a very busy dog. He has always been a very busy dog, from the time he arrived on the scene. I loved that his breeder kept him and his litter mates in a pen filled with cedar shavings and played classical music to soothe their little minds and impart culture as well. I’ve learned that “calm” and “dull” are nowhere near the same words, even though they have the same number of letters. We’ve learned that twice-daily walks help settle Copper’s mind and we use the term “power chewer” when referring to his habits. Copper always has the inclination to calm others down, whether people or dogs, and he’s sensitive to tension in the atmosphere. Sometimes we have to help him calm down, too, when he’s too excited. But dull? Nope. Not a single second of dull with this bright boy around!

Copper at the beach