Creature Feature

6 08 2010

In my last post I alluded to a mystery creature that we found in the lagoon last Saturday.

We are both fascinated by aquatic creatures, and both aspired to be marine biologists as children. So, when AJ pointed out an interesting hole in the sand bar, we were intrigued. As we continued to snorkel, we observed a handful of these perfectly round holes. The largest one I saw was approximately 3″ in diameter.

Most interesting was that the holes appeared very deep and resembled underwater volcanoes. It was obvious that a good-sized creature had created the mound when excavating its den.

Not long after AJ and I had met, we took a trip down to the Florida Keys, where we went snorkeling together for the first time. I recently found the photos from that trip and almost had a heart attack when I saw a particular photo of myself holding a huge, live cone snail. I’ve since learned (thankfully not the hard way) that this was a terrible idea. One sting from a cone snail, and you are pretty much a goner. There is no anti-venom for the deadly poison of this mollusk. I unwittingly escaped a painful demise on that day; and have since developed a high level of respect for sea critters.

So, when we found these mysterious volcano-shaped holes, last weekend, we were cautiously curious. I did drop a pinch of sand into one hole and could vaguely make out what looked like a prehistoric monster peering up at me. It looked almost like a disfigured lobster or a strange crab. I doubted that it were either of these, though; as its body shape had to be conducive to the perfectly cylindrical excavation.

Later, AJ found a remnant of a creature near one of the holes. This led us to believe that either the resident or its prey was some sort of crustacean. If you know me at all, then you will probably have guessed that I spent a good hour or so on Google that night. I did finally ID the creature.

I’ll show you the remnant AJ found, and will give you one hint. “I am very glad I did not have the opportunity to pick up one of these bad boys.”  If you want to guess what it is, stop at the picture. I will post the answer below.

Mystery-Critter

What does this look like to you? I started by searching for crabs, because it is hinged and looks like a bizarre crab claw. To his credit, AJ had suggested what it reminded him of, but at 2″ long, it seemed large for a shrimp part. We ran the gamut from crab to lobster to horseshoe crab, but nothing seemed to fit.

Finally, I remembered what AJ had mentioned and searched “Mantis Shrimp”. Sure enough, we had a match!

I’m not positive, but it seems that we came across Squilla empusa. If you are really interested, you can search this character and find out all the sciencey stuff about him. Otherwise, here is a quick breakdown:

Mantis Shrimp are neither mantids, nor shrimp. They are stomatopods, and are related to crabs, shrimp, lobster and even the roly-polies you find in the garden.

After reading a bit about Mantis Shrimp, however, I think I’d prefer a crab pinch over the damage done by the claw AJ found. Stomatopods are distinguished by two types of claws “Smashers” or “Spearers”. Smashers have a club-like claw and use blunt force trauma to disable their prey, Spearers, well, “spear” their prey with the appendage pictured above. I can attest that this device is very sharp. This is one critter you don’t want to piss off! They are commonly known, by shrimpers, as “Thumb Splitters”, as just about every shrimper has encountered a Mantis Shrimp injury. When AJ and I were in the shrimp selling business, these primitive creatures would occasionally appear in the bags with our stock. I was fascinated enough to take a photo of one (although I cannot find it now).

Mantis shrimp make one of the fastest movements of any animal on earth. They make a “popping” sound as the movement of their claws is as fast as a .22 caliber bullet and creates a sound wave which causes the cavitation of air bubbles. The bubbles “emit light and produce heat in the range of several thousand Kelvin” as described in this article “The Science Behind Stomatopods”. Although admired and collected by some, they are generally thought to be a nuisance by aquarium enthusiasts, as they decimate the other inhabitants, and can even break the aquarium glass with their powerful strike.

As a foraging enthusiast, the trait I find most interesting is that these creatures get as large as 12″ long and are said to be delicious; with a flavor resembling lobster.

With our new found knowledge we will be aware of these feisty critters and will stay poised for the opportunity to grab a couple of them up for gastronomical experimentation.

Broiled Mantis Shrimp, anyone?





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.





Happy Anniversary, Baby!

21 02 2010

Today is February 21st, 2010. After a grueling week, I made an early night of Friday and slept in this morning until well after 9:30 am. For those of you who don’t get to spend a lot of time observing our quaint little life; let me give you a snapshot.

AJ and I typically get up in the mornings and go to work together. We ride in the car to our jobs, work and ride home. Sometimes we talk and sometimes we just ride in silence as AJ frets about money and fixing things and I think of ways to bring in more money and wonder which component of our auditing kit I forgot to load up. After work is finished we return home where we each retire to a computer and/or the TV. AJ often has some beer or wine and I usually have some wine. On other days I work the audits and AJ does the side job of driving Worker’s Comp patients to their appointments. Either way, our evenings rarely vary.

Just as in our car rides, we sometimes spend long periods of our evenings without speaking, while at other times we chatter away like the old pals we have become. Although quarters are tight, and we both often long for our own private space, there is a certain comfort in being so close. It’s hard to conceal things from each other. When one of us is feeling bad or has something on our mind, the other knows almost immediately. The lines of communication are always open. We have misunderstandings and annoyances, but those little glitches tend to get ironed out fairly quickly.

Last night we spent a good deal of our quality time talking about Carrie. Carrie is our 87-year-old next-door neighbor. Yesterday, AJ discovered that she has gone without heat or air for a year and that her water heater is also broken. She just received an electric bill in excess of $400.00 (up from the average $25.00 bill)! The best we can figure is that the space heater she has been using caused this. We try to look after Carrie, as she is completely alone. Her common law husband died years ago, and her children seem to want nothing to do with her. We take her to the store and other errands, mow her grass and fix things around her place; yet neither of us had realized just how bad it had gotten for her. Although our conversation revolved around this, we did briefly discuss the significance that February 21st holds for us.

This morning we awoke, had our coffee and headed over to help Carrie. AJ diagnosed the problems. The water heater is DOA, but the central heat and air unit was in working order. The ducts connected to the unit had become detached. We spent much of the day repairing this; including my crawling under her trailer to reattach the ductwork. Many cuts and scrapes, and much grime later her heat and air was working again. I raked her yard and picked up some trash. AJ finished cleaning up with the leaf blower while I went to the store to buy her some necessities.

It wasn’t until 4:00 pm that I remembered what today is…Our Anniversary! By this time AJ had gone to visit his friend Jay, and I was absorbed in laundry and the internet. Aren’t we romantic?

I know that our laissez-faire approach to romance strikes many as callous, but it works for us. We share companionship and partnership on a daily basis, and find romance in unconventional moments.

As a tribute to the fact that today marks the sixth anniversary or our marriage, I would like to share a couple of photos of that special day.

On February 21st, 2004 AJ and I drove to Kingsland, Georgia because we don’t plan ahead especially well, and there you can get married without a waiting period. I had found the Kingsland Wedding Chapel online, and made an appointment.

Kingsland-Wedding-Chapel

We didn’t bother to dress up for the occasion. In fact, we completely failed to consult each other about wardrobe, and accidentally wore non-matching red shirts. This just helped add to the campiness of the experience. Note the wood panel walls and artificial Ficus trees.

The most memorable part of the chapel (apart from the proselytizing minister) was the massive crack in the front window. I secretly hoped that it wasn’t an omen; although so far, so good!

Wedding-Day-022004

Next, we drove to Savannah, walked around and stayed the night.

Savannah-Honeymoon

Speaking of happy couples…Mark and Karen (Mom) came to visit at the end of January. We had a fine time. They cooed and giggled like high school kids (which they always do:), and we all ate well, drank wine and had a generally great time.

Mark-and-Karen

While they were here we had a spectacular sunset.

Sunset

So, what else has been going on? It’s been cold; too damn cold for Florida! Llami has been inside most of the time, but when she does go out, she snuggles up with Jorgi.

Snuggle-Cats

The Oasis didn’t take the cold very well. Here is a shot showing the decimated banana trees. Fortunately, they didn’t die, and now have fresh leaves emerging.

Garden

The broccoli seemed to love the cold. We have had broccoli greens more than any other veggie from the garden, this season.

Broccoli-Greens

I love how the waxy broccoli leaves repel water.

Broccoli-Closeup

Here is a shot taken today. The broccoli is blooming (much to the delight of the bees), and lettuce, rosemary and carrots are thriving in O2.

Oasis

It has warmed up a bit, and Jorgi is thrilled.

Jorgi

Sometimes I plant things to surprise myself. I can’t recall whether I planted a melon or cucumber here, but I will find out soon enough.

Sprout

The Tatsoi loves the cold as much as the broccoli, and although it is lush and healthy, I haven’t become adept at incorporating it into the menu. Anyone have Tatsoi recipes to share?

Tatsoi

Well, I guess that is enough for now. I promise to come up with something interesting for my next post. Thanks all for reading!





What a load of Crap!

6 09 2009

Literally!

Success

After searching long and hard for a horse manure supplier, I finally got smart and called

Kempfer’s Feed & Seed
2728 Malabar Rd.
Malabar, FL
32950

(321) 723-6433

They were extremely helpful and actually went out of their way to put me in touch with

Pat Reilly of  J Bar E Ranch in Malabar.

Pat was glad to hook me up with as much horse manure as I wanted, and is officially my new supplier.

I also learned that he boards horses and has availability in his barn. From my vantage point, his property is beautifully kept and his stables are ample and immaculate. If you are looking for horse boarding in Malabar, FL please give Pat a call. You won’t find a nicer guy to look after your horses.

His number is (321) 427-0839.

The park manager was so kind as to provide me a space for my new compost heap on the back lot. It is unloaded and beginning to compost as I write.  Yay, horse manure!





My Dress Rehearsal

3 09 2009

I knew I was in trouble when I received this fortune cookie with last week’s indulgence of Chinese take out.

Failure

Chinese take out is bad for you and this week just proves it.

Writing has long been my favorite form of therapy; and (unfortunately for my readers) I have readers. Otherwise, I would scribble this stuff down in a notebook and tuck it away in some dark corner.

But paper notebooks don’t upload pictures, and I have pictures. I am reminded (by that annoying voice in my head) that every cloud has a silver lining. I am taking this post to review my most recent clouds and get busy looking for the linings.

These are in no particular order, except the most depressing part at the end because I don’t want to give you bum-out whiplash.

Cloud #1: Root knot nematodes

Nematodes

The name sounds like I’m talking about cartoon characters, doesn’t it? And these bulbous root growths I discovered when unearthing a tomato plant even look like something you’d see on Adult Swim. But, trust me, there is nothing funny about these little monsters! I thought the caterpillars were annoying, but they have nothing on these microscopic beasts.

I was digging up the expired plants in my garden beds in preparation to infuse my soil with a nice helping of composted road apples (that’s horse manure to you city folk), when I discovered my worst gardening nightmare. Up to this point my gardening woes have ranged somewhere between moderate annoyances and fascinating learning experiences. Mother Nature has upped the ante’ and bestowed upon me the wormy devils of the horticultural world: Root Knot Nematodes! I won’t bore you with the details of their biology, but if you are interested, you can go to The University of Florida IFAS Extension and learn all about them.

“Why are these tiny roundworms such a scourge?” you might ask. Because there is nothing on the market to kill  them. Right away I had a brainstorm and hopped online to see if it had been done. The idea was “Maybe I can cook these little suckers out of my soil with boiling water”. Lo and behold, this is the oldest treatment in the book, and one of the most effective. If one can saturate the soil with hot water, the nematodes will die. Manure also helps to deter them, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

So, off I went to grab the propane boiler, which I set up next to the Oasis and prepared to douse my soil with boiling water. Since my garden is divided up into various containers, I figured that I could get a good kill on in the empty sections and boil off each adjacent area as the plants died off. This all seemed like a great idea until I went to get the propane tank.

Cloud #2: Project aborted due to empty propane tank

Soil-Project

The fact that this rusty old tank is empty might actually be a silver lining, since AJ was certain it would rust through and blow us out of the park the next time it was lit.

Propane-Tank

Cloud #3: No Horse Manure

No picture needed for this one. Just look around you. If you don’t see horse manure, that’s what it looks like here, too. If you do see horse manure, please call me. I’ll be right over to pick it up!

I’m sure that were you to consult my astral chart for this week you would discover that my planet of communication is transiting the house of the planet where chainsaw exhibitions and tractor pulls take place.

I found a pile of horse manure for the taking by placing an ad on craigslist.org. Turns out it was available, but only if I could swoop in with a bobcat and get it without causing inconvenience to the owner. I made attempts to put together a horse manure party by organizing a group of people to come take it all at once. That didn’t work. Next, I suggested to the owner that Mike (my boss/friend/sometimes-nemesis) and I could come with two pickups and a trailer to get it. The email replies ceased at that time, so I guess the answer was “No”.

I’ve suffered a week-long inability to communicate properly (especially in writing). I have managed to unintentionally confuse, piss-off and annoy a good handful of people, one result of which being that I have no free fertilizer for my garden.

Cloud #4: Spaced Out Keyboard

Keyboard

Literally. The space bar has broken and constantly gets stuck in the down position. This causes the cursor to run off faster than Karl Rove from a congressional subpoena. Once I chase it down and start backing up, I end up deleting some of the characters of the previous word.

AJ tried to fix it by banging down real hard with his fist and then whacking the keyboard on the desk. I am officially starting a list of things that AJ can’t fix. So far, this is the first and only. Taking a more creative (and less hostile) approach, I popped out the space bar and taped the little springy wire part back in place with some pretty blue electrical tape. Now the cursor only bolts every once in a while. The silver lining here is that it helps me self-edit by reminding me that every superfluous word brings me that much closer to the next unsolicited space.

Cloud #5: Dropped Green Peppers

Giant-Bells

This one isn’t quite so bad. My amazing volunteer green pepper plants have been manufacturing some promisingly giant peppers. We have been watching and watering in anticipation of picking a bunch once they get really big and making a big batch of stuffed peppers.

This morning we discovered that the branch holding these two could no longer do it; and had dropped them to the ground. The silver lining is easy to find on this one. Two gorgeous, free, organic green peppers and many more maturing on the plants.

Cloud #6: My Beloved Stepmother spent the weekend in the hospital.

Judith went to the emergency room with edema and spent the weekend and all day Monday in the hospital. We have both discovered one silver lining on this one. She got a wake-up call that she needs to start taking oxygen and get back to using her CPAP machine for sleep apnea. Her heart is healthy and she can get better if she follows the doctor’s orders. She is also receiving some help at home. Still, this cloud is an especially dark one, since I live so far away and cannot afford to go up there when she needs me. She has always gone above and beyond the call of duty for a stepmother and I regret that I cannot repay her as I would like.

No picture here either, for the above mentioned reason.

There are a whole lot more little clouds, but I’m done dwelling on the bad stuff. I’m ready for the success for which I have apparently been rehearsing. I have great friends and great family, good health (mostly) and a wonderful life in comparison to so many unfortunate people in the world. With the exception of Cloud #6, my hopes are that we can all find some light humor in my misfortunes and missteps and look forward to a time when you don’t have to read so much griping from me:)

My friend and creative inspiration, Doug Havens, has invited me to collaborate on a brilliant creative project, which I hope to reveal in a future post. For now, please take a look at his wonderful imagery at “What I saw” and writing at “Who I met” and try to forget about all of my doom and gloom.