My End of the Bargain

6 08 2010

In case anyone has forgotten, the winter of 2009 was miserable! RVs stay toasty warm with their liquid propane heaters employed. Toasty warm,  provided you can afford to refill your tanks every week. Since we were broke, with a healthy topping of cheap, our RV did not stay toasty warm.

Somewhere in the midst of a bleak week in February, I hiked up my wool socks to close the gap of bare leg exposed by my flannel pajama bottoms that shrank in the dryer, wrapped my “warm fuzzy” blanket tighter around my shoulders and made a promise to God.

“I swear, I won’t complain about summer at all. Give me whatever heat you’ve got. Give me the blazing sun and stifling humidity over this bitter cold, and I will make the best of every moment! I promise that I will go outside and play in nature. Just please don’t give us another winter like this one!”


I’m holding up my end of the bargain. Let’s see if the big guy comes through this winter.

In the spirit of being true to my word, AJ and I went snorkeling again, last Saturday. The ideal conditions are so rare that we were compelled to take advantage of the crystal clear water and light wind.

We drove to the boat ramp in Sebastian to put in. We watched the family ahead of us as they lowered their boat and prepared to board. On this gorgeous day, surrounded by bountiful nature, I witnessed something I see all too often, and which induces more anger each time: As she walked down the ramp towards her boat, a woman took one last drag from her cigarette and flicked it down onto the pavement. In my observation, this is an acceptable practice amongst many smokers. I have called people out on this in the past, and would have done so, had I not been too far away to catch her before they motored away. I quelled my disgusted rage and realigned my state of mind in the direction of positive thoughts. I did promise myself that I would deal with this at a later date.

Advice often given  by my pal, Doug, came to mind “Seek Understanding”. So I thought to myself “I could put together an educational flyer, with visuals, expressing the crappiness of throwing your cigarette butts on the ground.” Maybe my understanding would come easier if I could help them understand. I envisioned illustrating how they get washed into the waterways and eaten by wildlife. I imagined a nice explanation of how fire works and what happens when fire comes in contact with plants that haven’t seen a drop of rain in a month. The imaginary flyer kept me occupied for just long enough to burn off some of the anger, before it occurred to me that these clowns would probably just throw that on the ground, too! Oops, sorry Doug! I did change it to “clowns” instead of what I first wrote.

Next I decided to go on craigslist and post my thoughts on the community page. That idea soon lost its appeal. It wasn’t until I started typing this post that I remembered I have my own soapbox. Approximately 10 to 15 people per day find my blog by searching keywords. So, maybe with the enticement of some pretty pictures, I can lure some of them into reading my rant. I’ll keep it short and sweet:

For the love of God, butt-chucking smokers! Put some thought into what you do with your nasty cigarette butts. I assure you that I do not want to step on them, I do not want to eat fish that have eaten toxic sludge filled cotton balls, and I sure don’t want to move because you burned down my neighborhood! Put half as much effort into how you will dispose of your butts as you do in getting the money to pay for your cigarettes and we should all be happier! End of rant.

Are you still with me? Great. Let’s look at some pretty pictures of the place I prefer to find free of cigarette butts and other trash.

AJ drove us out to the Sebastian Inlet. Conditions were so calm that we were able to go out into the ocean with our little dinghy.

AJ-Driving

Approaching the Sebastian Inlet Bridge, facing east.

SIB-from-West

The fishing pier was full. I always feel a little sorry for those people who don’t have a boat. Although, not too sorry. They are in paradise, after all!

Pier

Facing the beach and north side of Jetties.

Sebastian-Jetties

The Sebastian Inlet Bridge, looking west from the Atlantic Ocean. AJ calls those clouds “Bahama Clouds”. Pretty sure that is not the meteorological term, but it works for me.

Seb In Bridge

Back in-shore and past the sand bar where everyone congregates in the Indian River Lagoon. We like our private sand bar much better.

Sand-Bar

Our private sand bar, plush with sea grass and lots of little critters to explore.

Sea-Grass

AJ couldn’t wait to jump in the cool, refreshing water!

Squinty

Not so fast for me. I had to fight with the insoles of my water socks for five minutes!

Rox-in-boat

Finally!

Rox-in-Lagoon

Hours later, still snorkeling. All those white parts are now peeling!

Rox-Snorkel-2

These guys know how to party. They have a table, umbrella and lawn chairs on their private sand bar. I’m pretty sure they were enjoying adult beverages, too.

Sandbar-Party

One last swim before heading home.

Feet

AJ-Swimming

Another lovely day in the lagoon. Proud to say that I’m keeping up my end of the bargain!

Check back for my next post about the mystery critter we discovered during our adventures.

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This, That and The Other Thing

8 08 2009

“Week in Review” has been out the window for a while. Let’s make this a catch-up post and see what happens from here forward. I’m making no promises.

AJ and I work together auditing liquor for bars. We save the bars many times the value of our audit fees in saved profits. Despite the fact that the service pays for itself, there are always accounts who fail to realize the value of the service, or just don’t have the gumption to use the management tools we provide. (Yes, I said “gumption”). Not long ago we lost three bar owners, for a total of 5 accounts, in a single week. Since we work together and this loss was more than half of our business, it was the equivalent of one of us losing our job. We are independent contractors, but the owner of the auditing company treats us as though we are partners. He has jumped in with us and done an intensive sales push to rebuild the client base. Things are slowly picking back up, but it has been a tough road.

The reason I even mention this is that I ran out of Atomic Grow™ right about the time we had our financial crisis. The garden budget was slashed; and even though Atomic Grow™ is very affordable and lasts a long time (due to being so concentrated) I had to put my next purchase on hold.

My blog service shows me what people search to arrive here (some pretty amusing stuff, by the way), and one of the most common searches is “Atomic Grow™”. My guess is that you’ve heard of it and wonder if it will solve your gardening problems. It’s not magic, but it’s pretty darned incredible. My best results have been with plants becoming healthier and happier overnight. After a single application they start flowering and fruiting like there’s no tomorrow.

I’ve also had remarkable results with fungus. Leaf spot fungus seems to be stopped in its tracks with Atomic Grow™. “Leaf Spot” and “Tomato Disease” are two more common searches that lead people here; and I can verify that my tomatoes are still hanging on because of Atomic Grow™.  Since I’ve been out, they have gone into a steady decline. However, I think they will prove (once again) the amazing properties of this stuff, once I get back on my application schedule. I will dedicate some future post to tomatoes in particular. Aphids and other hard-bodied insects are defenseless against the direct application of Atomic Grow™. It’s not a pesticide, but it affects their exoskeleton after which they die of dehydration. Jim Shellenback of High Yield Industries (Parent company of Atomic Grow™) told me that “People get addicted to the stuff”. I agree completely, and have been anxiously awaiting the day when I could replenish my supply.

The one (and only) shortcoming of this product is that caterpillars seem to get the upper hand. I love butterflies and moths, but I do not care for most of their children! Over the summer I have fought a constant battle with Pickle Worms (Diaphania nitidalis (Stoll)), Cabbage Worms (Pieris brassicae) and Leafrollers. They do not like Atomic Grow™, but many seem to shake it off or avoid contact with it.

I have been researching bacterial control of caterpillars and was planning to get some Bacillus Thuringiensis (B.T.) to take these buggers out once and for all. Up until now I have been fighting a losing battle of smashing lepidoptera eggs, caterpillars and stems infested with Pickle Worms.

I turned over a brocolli leaf the other day and found these guys fat and happy!

Cabbage Worms (Pieris brassicae)

Cabbage-Worms

The good news is that I got a call from Rita Curry Porter at the Atomic Grow™ test gardens, yesterday. She was bursting with excitement over a product that complements Atomic Grow to eliminate insects once and for all. I have done some research and am bursting at the seams to give it a try. For now, I am going to leave an air of mystery until I have a chance to document the effects in my garden. One way or another the caterpillars will soon be gone!

AJ has been busy, despite excruciating back pain. The VA clinic assures him that his lower back damage is minimal and reversible. I don’t buy it. I get to see him suffer, and there is more going on than some minor glitch. I am pushing for an MRI and some real answers.

Unfortunately, I cannot find the photos of the process, but he tore out the old bamboo fence and built this one, using cured timber poles and a reed screen; all treated with water seal:

Fence-3

I like the way it jogs at the halfway mark. It gives us plenty of room to access the car, and additional space for the grill and smoker. He worked hard on this, and it turned out gorgeous.

Fence-2

Fence

He also finished and treated the bamboo wind chimes. They are “tuned” and sound great.

Bamboo-Chimes

It would be a full-time job were I to document all of AJ’s activities. Over the past week he has been busy building seats for the boat. To date, we have been sitting on coolers placed on the floor. This is neither safe, nor practical. The seats he built are sturdy and user-friendly. I will take some pictures of the finished product for a future post.

Making-Seats

Here is one of the seats showing the heavy-duty Velcro that holds them to the inside of the boat:

Velcro-on-Seat

Our friend Jay has a veritable orchard in his yard. We stopped by his place last week and received an abundance of mangoes, avocados and limes, all of which were delicious. Thanks Jay!

Fruit

This eggplant has me stumped. At some point in its development it became “frozen in time”. The plant next to it has produced a single, gorgeous, dark purple eggplant. Shortly after that one appeared, this specimen began to grow. It got to this size and then ceased development. The skin was streaked and had a leathery patch on the other side. When I finally plucked the thing and cut it open it had dark colored seeds, but the meat was green and smelled unripe. I don’t know what to make of this.

Bad-Eggplant

I guess I’ll wrap it up for now, as I’m on my way to pick up some more Atomic Grow™ and the exciting new miracle product.

For now I leave you with cats…indifferent, intimidating and uninhibited.

Cats





Life is Good in the Trailer Park

11 04 2009

It’s 10:28 am on Saturday, April 11.  The windows are open. The thermometer says 77 °, yet it feels like the AC is running. The sweet smell of jasmine is wafting in on a gentle west breeze.  As I sit here with my first cup of coffee (slept in until 9:45) I think about my quality of life and can’t help but conclude that life is good.

Coffee

I grew up in trailers. We were usually broke, and I started working at 12 years old to buy my own clothes, much of my own food and any luxuries I wanted, such as record albums and video game tokens.  I always swore that I would escape the stigma of poverty and rise above the “pay as you go” lifestyle in which I was raised. I did this to some degree. I moved to Florida to live with my mother and stepfather when I was 15. They were working hard, had two cars and were buying a house. They also had these magical pieces of plastic in their wallets that bought them things even when they had no cash. Wow, this was the life I wanted to live!

I graduated from high school and started working my way through college. My father and stepmother were hardworking, but they were not wealthy. I found a good-looking man who was in the Air Force, we moved in together,  started a business and we decided to buy a house. In order to get a VA loan we had to be married.  Chugging right on down the rails of the American Dream Express we shrugged our shoulders and said “What the heck”.

Young and cocky I watched the stock market and fancied myself knowledgeable about economics and human nature. Phrases like “A home is the best investment you can make.” and “The market is cyclical and based on speculation.” were prone to pepper my conversations. In truth I really knew nothing about what makes the world go round. Little did I know that my world was about to shift poles.

Within a matter of weeks my business had fizzled, my husband came out of the closet and I could no longer pay my mortgage. Luckily we had worked out an owner finance lease purchase option, so I didn’t have to default on a bank loan.  In shock because of my radical transition I began engaging in risky behavior and ended up letting a sociopath move in with me. We tried to pay the $500.00 mortgage for a short while and I soon realized that I couldn’t do this and support him (which is what it amounted to). I let the house go and moved to a cheaper place. I started delivering pizzas and waiting tables. College was now out of the picture for me, I was busting my ass just to cover my car payment and credit card bills. Due to a mis-communication with the bank my car was repossessed. Fortunately my restaurant job was two blocks away and I could easily walk to work. I picked up another table waiting job half a mile down the road and saved up to buy a bike. Since my father was a cosigner on my auto loan, he rescued the car from the bank and used it for his daily driver.

I spent a good many years partying too much and not taking life seriously. All the while my friends were getting degrees and/or starting families. I paid off thousands of dollars in credit card debt only to get new cards to start the cycle again. I lost count of the jobs I’ve held at somewhere around 30. Most of the time I had two at once and most of them I left out of boredom or frustration, but always on good terms.

Eight years ago I met AJ. We celebrated 5 years of marriage in February. We hopped on his father’s wagon and moved to East central Florida to restart his construction business. Finally, a career where I could make as much money as I liked without having to go to college. AJ and I worked together and his father was ready to sponsor him for his own contractor’s license. We stayed in a small RV while we scoped out the area for a house. I was back in a trailer park, although trailer parks in that area are quite different than the ones where I grew up. The majority of units were RVs and the park was full of transitory residents and part-time snowbirds.

I spoke to my mother and stepfather who had now bought a trailer in their park out in Colorado. Now an “expert” in the booming real-estate and construction market I told them that property values were skyrocketing and that they should buy a house. “I like living in a trailer.” replied my stepfather.  This statement confounded me. Why would anyone like living in a trailer? He elaborated “No mortgage, no property tax, no home owner’s insurance. If a tornado hits you just get another trailer and start over. I don’t owe anybody anything.”

My stepfather, for all of his laid-back tendencies is a hard working, level-headed guy and probably about as sane as anyone you will meet. When the hurricanes hit our area, right after we got the building business started, I learned an important lesson: A person’s home and their sanity are closely tied; and when they lose one, they often lose the other.

Suddenly, we saw the value in inexpensive, portable housing. For the next few years we moved around rebuilding storm damaged houses. We dealt with a number of people who appeared to have lost their marbles when their houses were damaged. Because a number of contractors engaged in criminal behavior we were suddenly the bad guys, despite the fact that all we did was help them get their insurance settlements and rebuild their homes to the highest of standards. We had to deal with people who threatened to sue us because they didn’t like the color of carpet they selected or because we discovered pre-existing conditions not covered by their insurance policy. Being treated like a crook really took its toll on my psyche and I soon began to wonder if the money made in construction was worth the stress. This dilemma quickly became a non-issue as the building bubble burst with a deafening “Pop!”.

We had lived off of savings and credit cards when we first moved down here. The money we made in construction afforded us to finance a large, used Travel Supreme fifth-wheel, a Dodge 35oo dually to pull it, an old Volvo sedan, a small Boston Whaler boat and a couple of kayaks. AJ is adamant about getting bills paid and we had the credit cards down to a manageable level. When our last rebuild customer turned out to be insane (partially due to toxic mold exposure) we spent a year trying to get her to co-operate and let us finish her house. She held our last payment and we had to initiate legal action to get a few thousand dollars. In the meantime we ended up living off of our credit cards again while we started up another business.

We saw the writing on the wall and got out of our truck payment. We actually sold the truck for a profit and paid cash for a smaller, less expensive truck.  This was a lucky break, because within a few months the roadsides were lined with trucks and humvees that the contractors had bought and could no longer afford. We sold the kayaks and kept the boat and car, since they were paid for. We have found a new, recession-resistant career and are again making a decent income.

My paradigm has shifted gradually over the past few years. Although I have never had an interest in the trappings of wealth I had always imagined that there was an “Arrival Point” at which one becomes safe and comfortable with no more financial worries. This was my ultimate goal and I bought into the lie that it is a fact of life for any smart person who works hard and makes the right decisions. In a short span we have all watched the mythical ball of yarn unravel. And at the center of that ball is reality. Through my journey of understanding and acceptance I have been called such things as a “Conspiracy Theorist” and a “Survivalist”, as though these are derogatory titles. I find it interesting to watch those, who so carelessly threw these terms around, slowly come into the realization that reality is much different than they once believed.

Your home is not necessarily your greatest investment. The government does not have your best interest in mind. There is no such thing as “guaranteed retirement”. The list goes on.

The Jasmine. Our bedroom window is visible in the background.
Jasmine

I wish I could say that I have come to my reality through wise practices and good judgment. Unfortunately, that was not the case. When all of my friends hopped into the economic hamster wheel and started running I found the latch to the cage and wandered around the house. I don’t especially recommend this. There is a big mean cat out there! But now I have returned to the cage with an understanding of what the greater environment holds while many of my peers are exhausted and still running towards that invisible goal. The difference is that that living the way we do can be frightening to so many people. They can’t imagine life without having things and giving things to their children. Many of them are dependent upon their high paying jobs while the “Layoff Monster” lurks just beyond the doors of their heavily mortgaged homes.

How can I live in a trailer? Well, it’s not even a trailer really, it’s a fifth-wheel; and it’s designed for economical comfort and utilizes every inch of space for storage and function. It is energy efficient and uses a fraction of the water wasted in most homes. It is also portable and when a hurricane looms we can pull out within an hour or two and carry ourselves and our meager belongings to safety.

No, we don’t own it outright. We are on a 15 year payment plan, but our payments are less than the taxes and insurance on an average home. Our entire income is less than most of my friends pay for their mortgage! Now that housing prices are adjusting they all realize that they are losing equity in their homes. “Equity” there’s another big lie for you. File that one right next to “Job Security”.

Over the past few years I have slowly come to realize that we can safely assume nothing about our world. We cannot trust the leaders we believe we have “put in place”. We cannot depend upon our homes, jobs or even our food to be there when we need them.

When a survival situation arrives all that anyone really needs is their health, survival skills and a community of like-minded people. Houses, cars and all the other trappings of “success” suddenly become a non-issue, if not a liability.

Speaking of community. As I was writing this post a neighbor deposited this gift in our yard. He picks up free paints and chemicals from the dump transfer station and brought us things we might use for our upcoming projects.
Gift

Wealth is nothing but an illusion. It falls into the lap of some, and they die never knowing how fortunate they were. For too many people it is a carrot that remains just out of reach. For the remainder it is something they work hard to acquire, so that they may retire to a trailer park in Florida where they can sleep until mid-morning, awaken to drink fresh ground coffee and enjoy the sweet scent of jasmine blowing through the open windows on a cool April breeze.

This is the illusion I choose until extreme survival mode sets in.