The Mystery Guest Revealed

3 07 2009

Remember the Mystery Guest? Well, no one offered an ID. Guess y’all have better things to do, LOL.

Let’s have a review.

The Mystery Guest has already grown up and returned to start her new family in the Oasis.

Here is an egg which she deposited on the Italian Parsley.

Egg-Leaf

In this shot a baby caterpillar investigates an older egg (which is about to hatch).

Egg-Cat

Here is one of a slightly different color.

Small-Caterp

They grow up fast. These two are likely only a few days apart in age.

2Catperps

Out with the old skin, in with the new and improved striped skin!

New-Stripes

Here’s one with the next size up striped suit.

Little-Stripey

This is our Mystery Guest right before she went on walkabout to search for a place to pupate.

Mystery-Guest2

I moved her to a potted plant on the steps, where she ate a little bit more and then built her silk harness.

MysteryGuestHammock

The next morning I found that she had made a green chrysalis. They make both green and brown. I first thought it had to do with camouflage, but I have seen both colors on the same plant. Perhaps the color is pre-programmed, allowing a 50% chance that they will end up on a matching colored stick.

I checked my calendar and planned to keep an eye out for her emergence in two weeks.

MysteryChrysalis

Six days later I went outside to check something, and was surprised to see that she had wasted no time in her transformation. I rushed to grab my camera, and manged to fire off a few shots as she dried her wings.

Papilio-Polynexes-emergin

Within moments (and probably to get away from me), she opened her wings and fluttered off.

Papilio-Polynexes

This lovely gal posed for me before flitting away to find food and a mate. She has returned to the garden, every day, to deposit her eggs on all of the host plants. When I pick my herbs I must be on the lookout for the little visitors, and sometimes have to sacrifice a few unhatched eggs, in order to harvest for the kitchen.

Here she is today. The wind has taken its toll on her wings, but it doesn’t seem to deter from her mission of laying eggs. She was tired, and seemed to pose for over a minute as she rested on the dill plant; then she was off to deposit more mini-pearls of the next generation.

Mama-Returns

You have just witnessed the life cycle of Papilio polyxenes Fabricus, 1775, otherwise known as the Eastern Black Swallowtail.

Those colorful caterpillars (once they change from mimicking bird poop), are also known as “Dillworms, Celeryworms, Carrotworms or Parsleyworms”. I think the names adequately explain their diet. Although they seem garish and conspicuous, the caterpillars are actually quite well disguised when they are on their host plants (sort of like zebras on the grassy plains).

The adults do little more than consume nectar, mate and deposit their eggs; all of which they are welcome to do in the bounty of my little garden.

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Everything is Perfect in the Universe…

21 04 2009

We left for work this morning with Chinese takeout leftovers in the refrigerator and an unopened fortune cookie on the counter top.

When we aren’t thinking about work we are usually working to improve our simple lot (in the trailer park and in life as a whole).  A while back I mentioned that we were putting it out to the Universe for free tile. Mismatched, broken, scraps of any kind, we want it.  Since it looks like we are here for a while, we have been chipping away at all of the improvements that will make our stay more pleasant. That’s mostly what this whole blog is about.

We want the tile because our concrete pad is gouged and cracked. The more we fix up everything else the more this ugly thing sticks out like a sore thumb. We have decided to cover it in a tile mosaic. AJ replied to a recent post for free tile on craigslist.org, but never got an answer. Next, he ran the route of all the local flooring stores asking them to call if they ever had scrap or leftovers. The prospects didn’t look promising, as they all told him they rarely get anything like that.

Yet today was destined to be one of those special days, brimming with abundance and generosity. AJ’s phone rang while we were working. It was one of the flooring stores calling to tell him that there was some tile beside the building for us to have. We finished our work in excitement and anticipation for the gift we were about to pick up.

Funny thing, we didn’t even have to wait that long for the goodness to begin. We provide profit enhancement services for bars and restaurants. Since we are in the business of helping the owners curb their losses, we only occasionally find ourselves on the receiving end of free booze. However, today was one of those rare days, too. Our client had gotten three free bottles of sparkling wine from his purveyor. Claiming to have no use for them (although he could have easily used them for a promotion), he gifted them to us. I told him we would celebrate thrice. One bottle for our anniversary, one bottle for AJ’s birthday and one bottle to celebrate free champagne!

$48.00 worth of Codorníu Pinot Noir Sparkling Wine. Free to us.

Free-Sparkling-Wine

We finished up our work and headed towards home. The flooring store was on the way, so we stopped in to have a look at the free tile.

There it is: JST Flooring in Sebastian, Florida.

JST-Store

The tile was stacked by the door, just as Mickie had promised.

Free-Tile

Mickie (they guy who called us) wasn’t there, but Kathy Kragh (the president) showered us with the kind of treatment one would expect when purchasing marble floors for a mansion. I was reminded of a quote by Malcom Forbes:

“You can easily judge the character of others by how they treat those who can do nothing for them or to them”

Kathy explained that they had gotten new samples for the show room and that the old ones had been destined for the dumpster. Fortunately for us (not for them), the dumpster people had not brought a new one; therefore, the tile had been stacked there the entire weekend. Upon seeing our jubilation at receiving this great gift Kathy mentioned that she had something else for us in the back, too. We followed her to the warehouse where she presented the most beautiful aqua blue and turquoise glass tiles. She explained that she shares these with school children who do mosaic projects. I felt like a kid on Christmas because we have been planning to resurface our counter top and tile the back splash with  glass tile. This was quite a bonus!

But it didn’t end there. On the way to the warehouse we stopped to look at a pile of discarded carpet pad, to temporarily replace some missing floor insulation in the Mercedes. This weekend AJ went shopping for something to serve the purpose until he can find an official replacement piece. Home Depot only sold it in large quantities, and we needed but a small piece. No sooner did we express interest in the carpet pad than Kathy insisted upon giving us a fresh piece instead of the discards; pointing out that there were potentially unlimited varieties of contamination in used carpet pad.

Thrilled with our good fortune, we headed home to get the truck and a few pounds of shrimp to show our appreciation for their generosity. Today we are three steps closer to having a more beautiful existence.

Once we returned home with our bounty, we sorted the free tile and found some nice pieces of Travertine marble mixed in with the other tile samples. I felt as though they belonged inside, although I wasn’t sure where. I brought them in and looked around. We have a tiny metal and glass end table which I have always hated because it has such a small surface. I placed a piece of large marble tile on top of the table and another, smaller piece on the lower section. The unfortunate little table has been instantly transformed into a much more beautiful and functional piece of furniture. This was an unexpected surprise, and a solution I hadn’t even considered until I was standing there with Travertine in hand. The third piece went under my potted orchid to solve a problem with water staining the carpet. Trifecta!

Travertine and glass tile.

travertine-and-glass

AJ cuts and installs the carpet pad.

AJcutpad

Prepad

Carpet-Pad

Carpet-in

Thanks Kathy and Mickie!

If you are in the market for any type of flooring, I suggest you drive right past the big box stores and head to a local gem where great service and quality still prevail.

JST Flooring is located at 915 US Highway 1 in Sebastian, FL

Phone: (772) 589-6818

Tell them that the Trailer Park Queen sent you!

Disclaimer: The freebies that we got were really a bit of a fluke, as they were switching out floor room samples and we happened to be in the right place at the right time. Do go with intention to buy and to be glad you did. Although they wouldn’t remember us, we did use them a few years back for a construction job and got wonderful service!

Although this seemed like more than enough abundance for one day, there was still more to come.

Our friend and neighbor, Ron, called to tell us that he had a fish for us. Ron and his wonderful wife Vicki live across the road from us on the lagoon. Once a commercial fisherman, Ron hasn’t lost his knack for catching pompano and other tasty fish. AJ went to visit and returned with a beautiful pompano that looked as though it had just been pulled from the water.

Pompano

AJ filleted the fish, seasoned it with olive oil, fresh garden dill and a dash of MSG-free seasoning salt. He wrapped it in a new banana leaf and splashed it with some wine given to us by our neighbor Carrie.

Pompano-Raw

Carrie won’t let us do anything for us without paying or giving wine. We refuse the money, so we are always in the wine. AJ mowed her grass this weekend, and this is what she gave him. It tastes wonderful and was perfect on the fish.

Rex-Goliath

Next, the fish went into the smoker, cooked with charcoal for approximately 40 minutes.

Fish-in-Smoker

Wow! The pompano was scrumptious! So fresh, moist and tender. Hands down, the best pompano I have ever eaten.

Thanks Ron!

Pompano Done

Oh, and that fortune cookie…I finally got around to opening it.

Fortune-Cookie





Good food and Good Company

12 04 2009

I know I said I wouldn’t post today, but I can’t seem to help it.

I made Mulberry Vinaigrette with the fresh mulberries from Bamboo John.

Mulberries

Here’s the recipe I came up with:

Fresh Mulberry Vinaigrette

  • Balsamic Vinegar: 1/2 Cup
  • Apple Cider Vinegar: 1/2 Cup
  • Olive Oil: 3/4 Cup
  • Canola Oil 1/4 Cup
  • Fresh Mulberries: 2 Cups
  • Maple Syrup: One glug (to taste)
  • Powdered Mustard: 1Tbsp.
  • Sea Salt: 1 good grind.
  • Fresh Garden Herbs: 1 Sprig each of Basil, Sage, Oregano, Thyme and Dill

Combine all ingredients in blender and mix.  Viola’, Mulberry Vinaigrette!

Ingredients

Herbs

Ingredients in. Ready to blend.

Pre-Blended

Blended-vinaigrette

Finished Product. It turned out excellent!

Mulberry-Vinaigrette

AJ’s Redneck Smoked Chicken

Rub a whole roasting chicken with seasoning. AJ uses Lawry’s® Perfect Blend Seasoned Rub for Pork (I know…pork. But trust me, it’s good). Sounds normal, right? So why is it called “Redneck Smoked Chicken”? Notice the cans of Natural Light…

Chix-rubbed

Whoa! What is he doing to that chicken?! That’s not natural!

On-Beer

Stuffed with open cans of beer the chickens are sitting upright ready for the smoker. Slightly unsettling, if you ask me.

Chix

In it goes.

Chix-in

Chix-in-Smoker

Charcoal in the bottom of the smoker provides the heat and wood chips soaked in beer create the smoke. The more beer the better when you’re cooking redneck style. It goes without saying that the cook should also be primed. Close the smoker door and wait for the internal temperature to get to 165° and rising.

Finished product. Tender and juicy. Yum!

Finished-Chix

It was cool and gorgeous outside.  Our neighbor, Capt’n Kim Ferrell joined us for dinner. We enjoyed a wonderful meal of smoked chicken, black beans and rice and salad supplemented with fresh garden greens. Can’t wait until the entire salad comes from the garden.

Warm and personable, Capt’n Kim is always a welcome guest. He is a treasure hunter with leases on the local shipwrecks, as well as a talented jeweler who mounts shipwreck coins in beautiful gold settings. Kim deserves a post of his own and has promised to send me some information and photos about his adventures so that I may do this. I will also share a photograph of the gorgeous pendant he gave us for Christmas.

Captain Kim Ferrell

Capt.-Kim

Capt-Kim2

Well, that’s it for now. The soil for Oasis2 is now slated for Tuesday. See you then.





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.