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Big summer for Disney parks: Pandora and Guardians of Galaxy

Disney theme parks have a big summer ahead of them with major new attractions opening May 27 based on two movies, one about the Marvel Comics superheroes from “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the other about the lush alien world of Pandora from the James Cameron film “Avatar.”

The Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission BREAKOUT! attraction opens at Disney California Adventure in Anaheim, California.

Pandora – The World of Avatar is a 12-acre land opening at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

But the creative designer behind the attractions says you don’t need to know anything about either movie to enjoy them.

“This is not a revisitation of a plot line of a film you already saw,” said Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde at an event Monday in New York City previewing the attractions. “This is your opportunity to go to an amazing world and have adventures of your own. … The story is about you.”

The premise of the Guardians of the Galaxy ride is that the Guardian superheroes have been captured and riders must participate in an adventure with a character called Rocket Raccoon to free them. “It is a prison breakout story,” Rohde said. The ride incorporates multiple scenarios for resolving the storyline so that riders have a slightly different experience each time they go through it.

Guardians of the Galaxy is located in a redesigned drop tower structure that once housed the Twilight Zone of Terror.

At Pandora, there are two rides plus retail and dining components. Riders on Avatar Flight of Passage fly through the forest on the backs of creatures called banshees to participate in a tribal coming of age ceremony. Riders on the Na’vi River Journey move through the bioluminescent forest on a boat, guided by a mystical singing figure.

Rohde described Pandora as an “obsessively real” environment that “reacts to the change of day on its own.” The sounds of creatures in the forest change from day to night, and the Pandoran plants glow by night, Rohde said. Rohde took his team on field trips to Hawaii, Bali and China for design inspiration from real landscapes and cultural touchstones.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Support nearly 500 nonprofits through Give Day Tampa Bay on May 2

Give Day Tampa Bay on Tuesday, May 2 is a 24-hour, online charitable giving challenge designed to help area nonprofits get much-needed support, and raise awareness of the good work they do in the community.

From midnight to 11:59 p.m. on May 2, local residents are encouraged to visit GiveDay.org to support causes ranging from education to the environment to animal welfare to the arts. With nearly 500 nonprofits registered, anyone can find a nonprofit that’s working to create a better community in an area that matches his passions.

It’s the fourth year that the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay has hosted the event, which raised more than $2 million for nearly 600 Tampa Bay area nonprofits last year.

“Give Day Tampa Bay is an opportunity for people who want to help, but may not know how they can support local nonprofits,” said Marlene Spalten, President and CEO of the Community Foundation. “During the 24 hours of Give Day, there’s a focus on the collective power of giving and doing good together to make a positive impact on our community.”

This year, the minimum donation is $5, which provides additional opportunities for donors to give to more than one nonprofit, since donors are often passionate about more than one cause. It’s simple to give during Give Day Tampa Bay. Visit www.GiveDay.org on May 2 and find the nonprofit(s) to support from the list of participating organizations.

All donations are tax-deductible and will remain in the Tampa Bay area. Nonprofits from Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties have registered to participate in Give Day this year. All of the money donated on Give Day — less a small credit card processing fee — will be given to the nonprofit for which it is intended. The Community Foundation does not keep any money donated on Give Day.

New this year is the opportunity for donors to make a secure pledge in advance of May 2. From April 18-May 1, online donations made to an organization’s page will count toward the leaderboard and the overall event totals.

Donations from the public will be boosted with funds from corporate sponsors of Give Day, with a prize pool of nearly $50,000 that gives nonprofits the chance to win monetary awards and prizes based on their day’s donations.

WEDU PBS will stream Give Day live on wedu.org and giveday.org from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on May 2. The live web stream will include interviews with representatives from many of the nonprofits participating in Give Day, along with presentations and demonstrations.

About Give Day Tampa Bay

Give Day Tampa Bay is a 24-hour online giving challenge designed to help Tampa Bay area nonprofits get much-needed support and raise awareness for the good work they do in the community. Hosted by the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, Give Day returns May 2, 2017, with the opportunity to donate to hundreds of nonprofits operating across Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties. Over the past four years, nearly $5 million has been raised for local nonprofits, and that money has stayed right here in the Tampa Bay area.

About the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay

Founded in 1990, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay connects donors, nonprofits, community and business leaders, professional advisers, volunteers and residents to make the maximum positive impact in the Tampa Bay region. For more than 25 years, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay has been dedicated to making giving easy and meaningful for donors as a way to strengthen nonprofit organizations and build a better, more vibrant community. Since its inception, its donors have enabled the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay to award more than $190 million in grants to nonprofit organizations across the country.

Florence Snyder: Why children die: B.A.B.Y. Court works, but Florida prefers to pay for things that don’t

Planting pinwheels may “raise awareness” of child abuse, but the hard and labor-intensive work of preventing child abuse goes on in places where skilled professionals collaborate to do more difficult things.

One such place is Orange County’s B.A.B.Y. Court. There, Circuit Judge Alicia Latimore offers lollipops to toddlers and tots who have suffered the trauma of abuse or neglect. That’s the fun part. The judge’s serious, life-changing work is to closely monitor the progress of the teams of social workers who help mitigate the long-term damage that predictably follows when pre-verbal children suffer harm at the hands of adults who were supposed to protect them.

B.A.B.Y. Court was incubated at the Florida State University Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy, where “lessons learned” is more than a leaf of word salad tossed into a news release every time a child dies in “state care.” Dr. Mimi Graham and her colleagues are Florida’s head cheerleaders for evidence-based methods of “trauma-informed care.” In the hands of appropriately educated professionals, it is entirely possible to break the intergenerational cycles of abuse, addiction and mental illness that break spirits, drain public treasuries and kill children who could have been saved.

Florida’s social welfare system is stuck in the mid-20th century, where caseworkers in the trenches receive little pay and less respect from a rotating cast of “leadership teams.” Failure is not only an option, it’s inevitable in a system that hasn’t had a new idea since the Graham administration, and isn’t trying very hard to fund programs that will give taxpayers a significantly better ROI.

Judges like Latimore who preside over dependency court dockets of despair say that B.A.B.Y. Court has helped close the revolving door through which families re-enter the child welfare system. The average cost-per-child of getting it right the first time is $10,000, and right now, Orange County has room in the budget for a paltry 10 cases at a time.

The Department of Children and Families, by contrast, has room in its budget for a “communications team” that includes nine flacks and a “Creative Director.”

That says a lot about what we value. And what we don’t.

 

‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ trailer drops with an ominous teaser

Fans of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” received a foreboding message this weekend.

“Jedi must end,” Luke Skywalker says darkly in the first teaser, which premiered Friday at the Star Wars Celebration in Orlando.

Premiering Dec. 15, the movie follows Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, who had last tracked down Mark Hamill’s Skywalker, at the end of 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

The two-minute trailer shows Rey handling a lightsaber to Luke, and a brief shot of Ray using the Force, followed by Skywalker’s ominous words.

“I only know one true thing,” Luke says offscreen. “It’s time for the Jedi to end.”

In an exclusive interview with ABC News, the 65-year-old Hamill confirmed that it was indeed his voice in the quote.

“There’s a difference between teaser and a trailer,” Hamill said. “A teaser is supposed to show you dynamic images that heighten your awareness and make you want to see the trailer, but avoid all story points if at all possible. [But] I think that’s the only story point that’s in the teaser, which is Luke saying it’s time for the Jedi to end.”

Hamill admits he was “as surprised as anyone” that Luke would say something like that.

“It was as shocking to me to read what Rian [Johnson, the director of “Last Jedi”] had written as I’m sure it will be for the audience,” he said.

When asked about the possibility Luke turns to the dark side, Hamill said: “It’s possible, anything’s possible.”


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Plant butchers use charcuterie techniques, mimic meat flavor

When Ryan Bauhaus first experimented with faux meats, he fixated on recreating that taste of blood, settling on a tomato paste blend to mimic the acidic, iron flavor. For the fat, Bauhaus boiled down mushrooms until he got the desired texture similar to the fat cap on a roast.

Calorie counting, gluten banning and tofu bean patties aren’t happening at Bauhaus’ Atlas Meat-Free Delicatessen in Miami. On the contrary, there’s six ounces of peppery pastrami and two kinds of kraut on top of the Rachel on Rye sandwich. The Krispy Fried Chk’n sandwich is served with a creamy garlic aioli on a doughy pretzel bun. It’s breaded and dipped in cashew buttermilk that turns into a golden crunch when it’s deep fried, melting the house-made soy milk cheddar on top.

The world of meatless cooking has a new player: plant butchers. They’re gaining loyal followings across the country, applying techniques used with traditional meats like brining, brazing, aging and mesquite smoking. The butchers also sell handmade cheese, made with nut, soy and coconut bases rather than cow, goat or sheep milk.

Labor is intensive – a single meatball can take nearly 20 hours to make.

“Most of my overhead is labor,” said Bauhaus, who could use a meat grinder, but prefers to do it by hand.

The fare is popular among vegans and vegetarians who long for greasy comfort food, but abstain for ethical reasons. Much of the plant-based movement has catered to the health-conscious crowd that eschews gluten, fried foods and highly processed fake meats. The butchers are not to be confused with vegan restaurants that create dishes using meat substitutes. Plant butchers are out to make products similar in texture and flavor to real meat. They sell their meats and cheeses by the pounds, along with deli sandwiches. Their main ingredient, wheat gluten, also known as seitan, has an extremely high protein content and flavor profile similar to animal meat.

“There’s this riffing on the idea of the butcher shop and what it means to communities in the past,” said Chris Kim, executive chef of Monks Food Co in Brooklyn.

He disagrees with the ethics of animal slaughter but admires the skill and knowledge of butchers: “When someone comes in we say, ‘What are you looking for? What are you trying to make?'”

Kim mixes two different types of wheat gluten in his spicy Italian meatballs – a red/dark meat style and one infused with an asparagus puree. A seitan-based salami, cured for 12 hours in a dehydrator, is added for texture before the meatballs are hand formed, fried and steamed.

“We hear people saying this is the best meatball they’ve ever had. That’s really the goal. We’re not out to be the best vegan food producers, we’re out to be a great food producer,” said Kim.

His popular seitan steak includes pureed asparagus and rosemary. The seitan ham is brined and smoked, and they do a Kansas City-style BBQ seitan slab during the summer.

They sell wholesale to restaurants, caterers and individual customers and are opening their first brick and mortar shop this spring.

Everything at the Herbivorous Butcher, a brother-and-sister business out of Minneapolis, is made in small batches and hand-formed. The storefront, which boasts 100 flavors of sausage, including coconut and pineapple, has given Aubry and Kale Walch a chance to get to know the community. The siblings said they originally opened the butcher shop as a platform for animal activism and to help people know where their food is coming from.

“A lot of our customers will come to us with ridiculous things that they’re craving and we’re able to make that for them. That’s the fun,” said Kale Walch.

Betsy Born and her husband love their shredded chicken for tacos and use the ground beef for lasagna. Often, they’ll use them on a simple meat and cheese tray. Once they asked the siblings to create a beer bratwurst for a July 4th cookout.

“It was delicious,” said Born, whose husband and three children are also vegan. “My (extended) family is not vegan and they always grill out and I thought it would be nice to have something to grill out that was similar to what they were eating.”

The sibling butchers have fielded tons of requests for more gluten-free products. They currently sell a meatloaf made with mushrooms, oats and carrots and several products using a jackfruit base, but are experimenting with a substitute to make all their products gluten free.

“We’re definitely trying,” said Aubry Walch.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Ready, aim, visit: American Revolution Museum at attention

With muskets polished, flags aloft and one very commanding tent in place, Philadelphia’s Museum of the American Revolution is at the ready.

After nearly two decades of planning, the museum that tells the dramatic story of the founding of the United States opens April 19, the anniversary of the shots fired at the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775 that ignited the war.

The museum also reveals how a diverse population — including women, Native Americans, and enslaved and free blacks — helped push the revolution and shape the conversation about liberty. It does so with interactive exhibits, theater presentations and large-scale replicas, in addition to original artifacts and the occasional whiff of gunpowder.

It’s 118,000 square feet of history, but here are a handful of can’t- and shouldn’t-miss exhibits, details that surprise and small gems not to pass by:

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WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE

The museum’s marquee exhibit is George Washington‘s headquarters tent, which served as his office and sleeping quarters throughout much of the war. Sometimes described as the first Oval Office, it hosted discussions with the likes of Alexander Hamilton and witnessed dramatic moments like the 1781 Siege of Yorktown, the last major battle of the war.

It was also the subject of a custody battle.

After Washington’s death, the tent eventually passed to a great-granddaughter, who happened to be married to Robert E. Lee, the Confederate Civil War general. But Union troops ravaged Lee’s mansion at Arlington, Virginia, and seized the tent. After the war, a legal battle began over ownership of the tent, which was returned to the family in 1901.

Lee’s daughter sold the tent about 100 years ago to the Rev. W. Herbert Burk, an Episcopalian minister from Valley Forge who dreamed of creating a Revolutionary War museum. The museum acquired it in 2002.

Visitors enter a theater for a narrated audio-visual presentation that reveals the tent behind shatter-proof glass and in front of changing landscapes and seasons.

Don’t blink, or you’ll miss the shadow of Washington moving within by candlelight on the tent’s left side.

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BRIDGE OVER REVOLUTIONARY WATERS

A section of the North Bridge, site of a fateful confrontation between colonists and British regulars, gives a tangible sense of “the shot heard ’round the world.”

The Battle of Lexington Green was the first military engagement of the war, on April 19, 1775. Eight men in the outnumbered Lexington militia were killed by the British and nine wounded, and the group fell back. But several hundred minutemen later engaged the British at North Bridge in Concord, forcing a marathon-like retreat of the British to Boston.

Ralph Waldo Emerson later immortalized the first shot fired in that skirmish as “the shot heard ’round the world.”

The bridge was torn down in 1788 for a more modern span, but several pieces of the original were found in the Concord River in the 1950s.

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LIBERTY TREE

Visitors can put their hands on an actual piece of history with the museum’s 18-foot-tall replica of Boston’s Liberty Tree, the first in America. There were once 13 liberty trees — one in each of the original Colonies — where the Sons of Liberty met and plotted the Revolution.

Visitors can walk beneath the branches and read broadsides like those posted on such trees in the build up to the Revolution and period reproduction lanterns made by tinsmiths at Colonial Williamsburg will hang from the branches evoking 1766 Boston.

An actual piece of the Annapolis, Maryland, Liberty Tree is embedded on the display, and passers-by are encouraged to touch it.

The Annapolis tulip poplar was the nation’s last surviving Liberty Tree. It was so damaged by storms and decay it had to be cut down in 1999.

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MARCH INTO BATTLE

The museum’s interactive exhibits let visitors get up close to weapons and involved in a key British victory on the road to capturing Philadelphia.

The Battlefield Theater turns tourists into soldiers for a few intense minutes. Visitors are gathered in groups of 25 and are taught how to muster like a company and march together into the theater, which soon transforms into the Brandywine Battlefield, site of one of the most significant skirmishes of the Philadelphia campaign on Sept. 11, 1777.

Washington’s loss there was a key step in the British capture of Philadelphia. The floor shakes with explosions, the air fills with smoke and the smell of gunpowder and visitors are face to face with the British infantry.

The Arms of Independence section has a vast display of weapons used during the war, and includes a fife and drum. A digital interactive display that filmed each weapon in high-definition video lets visitors virtually handle each weapon — or instrument — and learn more about their uses, owners and makers.

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CHILDREN OF WAR

A trio of displays highlights the experiences of children during the war.

In a corner of a glass case that could easily be missed are four small toys worth examining. They were excavated from British Revolutionary War campsites around New York City. There’s a small, white stoneware lamb, a tiny pewter goose and a little pewter toy broom and platter.

In a separate glass case hangs a set of tiny wrist shackles likely forged to restrain a child. At the start of the American Revolution, slavery was legal in every colony. That meant all children of enslaved black mothers were also slaves.

Descendants of a Massachusetts soldier donated a newborn’s shoes that were made from a British red coat that was brought back at the end of the war and preserved through generations. Written accounts tell the story of the young man, who went off to war in 1775, rose to the position of sergeant in 1783, lost his brother in an attack that ended in a mass grave burial, and returned home to marry and have a child.

About 10 percent of British soldiers who arrived in New York in 1776 had their wives and children with them.

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If You Go…

MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION: 101 S. Third St., Philadelphia; https://www.amrevmuseum.org or 877-740-1776. Daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Adults, $19; children 6-18, $12. Opens April 19.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Showdown in Miami: Airbnb sues over vacation rental home ban

Airbnb and five of its clients filed suit against the city of Miami Friday over a controversial move the city made last month to ban vacation rental homes in residential districts.

At issue is whether and how cities can regulate vacation rental homes, a rapidly increasing part of the lodging industry in which homeowners turn their spare bedrooms or whole houses into short-term rentals to accommodate tourists and other visitors who prefer homes to hotels.

The Florida Legislature essentially prohibited cities and counties from banning them in 2011, except for those local governments that already had laws on the books. In March the Miami City Commission approved a resolution put forward by Mayor Tomas Regalado that essentially interprets the city’s ordinances, as outlined in the Miami 21 codes, as already banning vacation rentals.

That interpretation was news to Airbnb, the largest marketing company of vacation rental properties. In the suit filed Friday the company alleges the existing ordinances have no such ban, and also claims that the city of Miami is cracking down on those operating in Miami since the March 23 3-2 approval by the city commission.

No one was available at the Miami city attorney’s office to comment on the suit late Friday. The city has not yet filed an answer to the Airbnb complaints.

The Miami strategy began in 2015 with a legal interpretation adopted by the city’s zoning administrator, the suit charges.

“The Individual Plaintiffs had never heard of the City’s vacation rental prohibition before 2015, and it was not for a lack of looking. It simply was not in Miami 21,” the suit states.

The wording of the Miami 21 zoning code, the suit charges,  has no mention of a vacation rental ban, no published interpretations that it does, and that there had been no previous enforcements of any vacation rental prohibition, according to the suit.

The Airbnb suit seeks a court declaration that vacation rental homes are not probated as Regalado had maintained. It also demands that the city stop going after any owners of vacation rental homes in Miami.

Some of that crackdown has come against Miami residents who spoke in opposition of the resolution at that March 23 meeting, and Airbnb also alleges city officials are specifically targeting them, violating their First Amendment rights, the suit alleges.

“The City has recently undertaken an aggressive anti-Airbnb campaign that includes threats against individual Airbnb hosts who attended a City Commission meeting to publicly voice their support for vacation rentals in Miami. The City is now acting to make good on those threats,” the suit alleges. “Airbnb stands together with its Miami hosts in opposing the City’s unlawful efforts, and in particular stands with the brave individuals who have come forward and seek to protect their rights as Individual Plaintiffs in this action.”

Catholic Gators, nun celebrate Good Friday with Stations of Cross mural near UF

Sister Ana Galvan, of St. Augustine Church (Photo courtesy Susan Washington)

Gainesville — Braving the midday sun and heavy traffic ahead of the holiday weekend, Sister Ana Galvan, of St. Augustine Church, and Melissa Likamwa, a music education major at the University of Florida, painted the Stations of the Cross on a wall that borders a north-south corridor near the university.

“It’s a way to remind people that Easter comes with the passion,” said Galvan, who wore a bright-white habit. “It’s a way to remind them that first we need to see the whole journey of Jesus to the cross before we celebrate Easter.”

The temporary mural, on a wall that runs along SW 34th Street — a wall typically given over to graffiti of every kind — is a project of Catholic Gators, a student group. Their painting is an innovative interpretation of the Good Friday memorial, also known as the Way of Sorrows, that first entered the practices of Western churches more than 500 years ago.

The stations, which typically number 14, depict Jesus’ condemnation to die and his experiences — including encounters with the faithful — as he carries his cross, sometimes with assistance, through a busy, public thoroughfare, to the place of his crucifixion, where he is stripped, nailed to the cross, dies and is removed from the cross and placed in a tomb.

The appearance along the busy roadside of the petite nun, her hands covered in paint — as she and several students painstakingly painted the dramatic scenes — brought to mind the commentary by the noted Scottish clergyman and WWI veteran, George MacLeod:

“Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town’s garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew and Latin and Greek… at the kind of place where cynics talk smut and thieves curse and soldiers gamble. Because that is where he died and that is what he died for and that is what he died about, that is where churchman ought to be and what churchmen ought to be about.”

In regards to the 81 degree temperature on Friday, Likamwa said the weather was a welcomed change from the downpour on Good Friday in 2016, which had prevented the student group from continuing that year what, in 2015 — the first year they painted the mural — they expected to become an annual tradition for their art ministry.

“It’s just a good way to evangelize,” Likamway said. “Everyone sees it while they are driving past; at least they think about it for a second.”

Photo courtesy Susan Washington
Photo Courtesy Susan Washington

Retailers expect record-setting Easter spending

A survey conducted by the National Retail Federation is predicting record-setting Easter spending this year with a projected total of $18.4 billion in spending for the Christian holiday.

“With Easter falling almost an entire month later than last year, that means warmer weather and more people in the mood to spend money to celebrate,” said Florida Retail Federation President/CEO R. Scott Shalley.

“This is great news for Sunshine State retailers, and with more consumers spending more money, we expect stores to be busy in the days leading up to Easter.”

The prime date for Easter this year, roughly determined by the first full moon after the vernal equinox, will cause a 6 percent hop in spending over last year when shoppers spent $17.3 billion. The per-person average will also jump 4 percent from the previous year to $152.

Customers aren’t putting all their eggs in one basket, either. Nearly nine out of 10 shoppers will pick up food or candy, while 61 percent plan to pick up gifts, and half say they will buy clothing, up from 45 percent last year.

About two out of five shoppers plan to buy flowers, decorations or greeting cards.

Big retailers, like Target and Wal-Mart, can expect a big influx of Easter shoppers during the holiday weekend, with 58 percent of Easter shoppers planning to make a stop. A little under half of those customers will visit department stores, while about a quarter plan to shop small at a local business.

Online shopping is also expected to get a 6 percent bump over last year, when 21 percent of consumers made their purchases from the comfort of their home, presumably while in bunny slippers.

Overall, food will make up the biggest piece of the pie with a projected $5.8 billion in spending — and that’s not including the expected $2.6 billion spent on candy. Clothes follow at $3.3 billion, gifts at $2.9 billion, then $1.2 billion in flowers and $1.1 billion on decorations.

Of course, the holiday isn’t all about shopping. For some, it’s about family; for others, it’s about egg hunts; for many more, it’s a significant religious experience.

More than 60 percent of respondents say they will spend the holiday with family, while 52 percent stated that they would head to church. A third said they would have an Easter Egg Hunt, while a sixth of respondents say they would go to a restaurant or open gifts.

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