"" Writer's Wanderings: February 2017

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Learn To Use A Map!

There's a commercial for Landrover that features a man in a recording studio giving directions to be used in a GPS. "At the junction, turn right. At the forest, turn right. At the mountain pass, turn right." It goes on and the progression shows that he's been at it a long time when at the end he says, "I suppose you want all the left turns now."

The GPS has become a crutch to all of us. There are few places in the world where there are roads and rental cars where you cannot find a GPS to guide you. Have you seen some of the news reports of accidents or near misses from the GPS giving the wrong information or confusing information? It happens and can cost you injury. People have ended up driving off of boat ramps, onto roofs of homes, and turning onto railroad tracks because of wrong or not clearly given directions. The solution? Learn to read a map and use it as a supplement to your GPS.

Maps are also a good tool when you are just walking but there are a few things to keep in mind when you are trying to read a map.

First, establish where north is on your map. It is usually at the top but sometimes for whatever reason, a map will be slightly skewered with north to the side. Knowing where north is on the map will help you determine where you are headed. Remember sun rises in the east and sets in the west--generally speaking. Depending on what hemisphere you are in and what time of year it is, it may be slightly to the north or south as it rises and sets. Still if you're supposed to go east and it's the end of the day, the sun should not be in front of you.

Try to get a simple map. Some of the tourist maps get really full of advertising. If you're driving, look for a good atlas or driving map online before you start off on your trip. Even though the GPS is giving Bob directions, I sit with a map on my lap and double check. It's saved us a wrong turn or two.

Especially if you are walking, it is good to understand what the scale of the map is. A quarter of an inch indicating a mile is a longer walk that if it indicates a hundred feet. Look for the scale printed in one of the corners usually.

Teach your kids to use a map. Perhaps making a treasure map with goodies at the X. Electronics are good but sometimes not always functional and learning to read a map could be a useful tool.It might also give them a reason to look out the window on a long car trip. If they each have a map and a list of places to check off, it could be a game that doesn't require batteries.

At the very least learning north, south, east, and west could be helpful. I'm not advocating navigating by the stars and equipping everyone with a sextant but you know, sometimes the old ways work very well.

Monday, February 27, 2017

What Makes A Beautiful Sunset?

There are only a few more weeks left for us to enjoy the gorgeous sunsets over the Florida Bay. Last evening was another pretty one and I got into a conversation with another about how spectacular the sunset a few days prior had been. "Well you know what makes the difference, don't you? Pollution," she said.

Pollution? I thought for a moment and then responded. "I remember the spectacular sunsets when we stayed on the island of Moorea in French Polynesia." I went on to describe a few thinking that it would discredit the pollution idea.

No way. "There's pollution there too in all the fires they set to do their cooking," she answered. I gave up.

Ah, but there's always the internet to explore and explore I did. I found the NOAA site and an article on what makes a beautiful sunset. Pollution has nothing to do with it. As a matter of fact shortly into the article it dispelled the idea saying that if pollution had anything to do with it, Los Angeles, New York City and a few other places they named would be know world wide for their sunsets.

So, what makes it so beautiful? The small air molecules and the wavelength of the light that is more angled as the sun begins to set. The spectrum of colors which range from violet to red (remember all those prism lessons in science?) in our sunlight play on the small air molecules creating our blue skies in the daytime and our colorful sunrises and sunsets at daybreak and evening. Larger particles of pollution whether man made or from natural causes (ie. volcanoes, fires) do not scatter the colors like a clear sky does. It's all in the very interesting article, The Colors of Sunset and Twilight, on the NOAA site. Take a few minutes to read it.

One interesting fact I learned that really doesn't have to do with a sunset is that were our eyes not so sensitive to the color blue our sky would actually appear violet. Cool!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Fire Worms of Florida Bay

About three days after the full moon the waters of the Florida Bay sparkle about an hour after sunset. It's the time for love if you're a fire worm. These little creatures live in the warm waters of the Florida Bay and create a beautiful phenomenon that is fascinating to watch.

There is a dance as each fire worm lights up and sperm is released for their procreation. If you would like to learn more, check out my blog post, Fireflies of the Florida Bay Waters.

Next full moon is March 12 and is called the Full Worm Moon. Three nights later, we'll be on the dock in front of our condo watching the fire dances and enjoying this wonderful bit of nature before we have to return home.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Put A Park In Your Plans

Perusing the website for the National Park Service I was impressed with the many ways you can choose a park to visit. Parks are a great place to include in your travel plans. They do not usually cost much if anything to visit and offer all sorts of programs to enrich your experience. We have gone on hikes, sat around campfires, fed hummingbirds and learned history, culture and about the natural environment of the area.

If you go onto their website you can search for a park by state, by activity or by topic. So if you are planning a trip you might want to take a look and find out what could be of interest to you. If you are a camper it's an ideal opportunity to enjoy the park from within after hours. If you're like us and camping is more like staying at the Holiday Inn, you might be interested in some of the parks that actually have lodges or cabins for your stay.

Be sure to check what the weather might be for the time of your visit. Death Valley National Park would be much more pleasant in the winter than in the summer when the temperatures reach the level that makes it earn its name. Parts of Yellowstone may be closed to you during the winter because of the snow and ice. As we were leaving the park when we visited in the fall, we noticed a crew putting up ten foot snow poles so the plows would be able to see where the road was.

I've been reading a book called The Great Burn that tells the story of a huge fire in the west around the time that Teddy Roosevelt and George Pinchot were forming the rangers organization and trying to get people to be involved in the conservation of natural land in our country. Thanks to their efforts and the efforts of others, we have these beautiful parks. Pick one and enjoy!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Smell Bad When You Travel?

Ever take a really long plane flight? We do that on occasion when we jump one of the puddles (the Atlantic or Pacific). The Pacific is quite a haul for us since we live closer to the east coast of the US than the west. Plane trips over the Pacific puddle are usually 12 to 14 hours. Needless to say by the time you arrive you have that sleepy smell and "morning" breath even if you are arriving in the afternoon or middle of the night. There are some things you can do though that will help you alleviate that smell and others as you travel. No one wants to be rejected for bad breath or body odor.

The most important on the list is hydrate. Drink water. I know. You don't want to have to use one of those airplane restrooms but think of it this way. Not only are you helping to hold back the bad breath you are also helping your circulation if you have to get up and move a bit.

We try to remember to pack a TSA sized toothpaste and toothbrush and make a trip to the restroom before landing. Sometimes the timing is a little difficult and that seat belt sign comes on too soon but there are always restrooms at the airport and a moment or two spent taking care of dental hygiene will perk you up. That and a freshly washed face. If you tuck an extra shirt in your carry-on, you could even feel fresher.

While you travel, the hydration rule is still in place for more reasons than just cutting down on bad breath. It's also better for your health. Some other things to help make you fresher is a change of shoes or two. One pair can air out while you wear the other. Bring along a few dryer sheets and tuck them in the pair you're not wearing.

Take it easy on the cruciferous vegetables. Gotcha on that one, didn't I! Those are mainly the vegetables like cauliflower brussel sprouts, cabbage, etc. that cause--well, no other way to put it, gas. Not only will you be more comfortable, you'll be less likely to offend.

Easy on the alcohol. I know none of my readers would overindulge but just in case you might be tempted to try all those new drinks remember that alcohol tends to cling to your body and cause bad breath as well as body odor. Oh, and don't get me started on cigarette smoke. Bob could always tell when I'd been visiting with one of my parents who were heavy smokers. The smoke in the air always managed to cling to my hair and clothes. A non-smoker picks up on that smell quickly.

So aside from dousing yourself with Febreeze or some other fragrant deodorizer, take a few of these tips to heart and watch those you meet smile instead of frown when you greet them.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Travel Tips From The Movies?

It's happened more than once. We'll be sitting in a movie and I'll get a poke in the side and Bob says, "Been there!" With some movies like a Bond movie that moves from place to place it will happen more than once. Yes, we've been to a lot of places and often revisit them while on a movie date night. But I never thought of learning travel tips from a movie. Maybe I'm too interested in plot and what's going to happen next to look for travel tips but an article on Smarter Travel pointed out some interesting tips I'd never thought of in relation to a movie story.

Some of the movies they used I've not seen but they pointed out that Raiders of the Lost Ark teaches you to learn to improvise because if anything could go wrong it will. I agree. Improvising is good. Being flexible is even better. Keeping expectations under control helps too.

I had to laugh when they used the movie Titanic to emphasis the importance of travel insurance. As we get older and life takes some twists and turns, we do take out insurance on occasion. A lot depends upon where we're going, how big the trip is money-wise, and what's happening back home that might cause travel plans to change.

The Wizard of Oz was said to teach that when you're lost kindness to others goes a long way. I don't need that movie to teach me that. Kindness when you travel should be top on your list rather you are lost or not. When it comes to learning from Dorothy though, I'd rather click my heels and remember that there's no place like home.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Those Selfies Could Cost You

An article I found that was written a year ago spoke of a charge for taking pictures at Tulum in Mexico. The article made it sound like it was something new. Maybe it is in the way they are charging. Tulum is a world famous archaeological site that sits on the coast. There are great views with the ocean and the beaches and the coastline. Need I say more? Good stuff for a picture or two or three.

Tulum is not charging by the picture, which is good in itself. They are however charging for each device that you carry with you that is capable of taking a picture. Every iPhone, tablet, camera, etc. will cost you around $2.50 to take in.

This is not the first time I've heard of or seen charges for taking pictures at tourist destinations. We've run into this several times. It is rare that we pay the fee. We just usually put our cameras away. There are some exceptions though.

We have paid several times (or tipped) for a picture of something that is culturally significant. For example a lady was dancing her heart out for the tourists in one of the ports in Spain we visited. She was dressed in a beautiful red flamenco style dress and we dropped money into the tip jar for her.

In some of the South American places and islands we have visited there are often children dressed in cultural clothing of the region and will pose for a dollar or two. The one I had to smile at was a child who invited us to take a picture and as we were about to snap it the mother tossed the other child into the picture and charged us double. Two dollars for a picture and a memory.

Many cities have the "statues" that want a money donation for a picture and in Rome there are plenty of gladiators that will happily let you take that selfie with them--for a fee of course.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Feeding The Sharks

Each year that we winter over in Florida, we are close enough to the grandkids that we can see them often. We take each of the three older ones (one at a time) for a two-three day stay at the condo. The youngest we took for a half day to Monkey Jungle this year. Our six year old redhead was the last to visit. What would she want to do? We knew a movie was in order. So for the third time this year I got to see Moana--and loved it again. Then came the big one. Would she want to go to Theater of the Sea or our new discovery, the Florida Keys Aquarium Encounter.

When we got her in the car, she announced that she wanted to go to the aquarium and feed the sharks. Neither her older brother or sister had ventured there. We thought her quite brave and decided to accommodate her. It cost a little extra ($18) but included a picture as well. We had seen a girl about her size feed the sharks on one of our other visits so we knew she could do it.

She enjoyed all of the other places her older brother and sister had only with a different attitude. She named all of the rays and the animals in the tidal touch pool and then tried to arrange them so they would be friends with each other.

We spent some time tossing fish pellets to the rainbow parrot fish in the lagoon and fed the rays once again mostly because I wanted her to get the idea of feeding with a wand which I knew would be the process for the sharks. Soon it was time to head to Shark Bay.

The sharks in the tank are nurse sharks which are not terribly aggressive. They had put several letters and numbers on her wristband to indicate she was to feed the sharks. I told her that was in case she lost her hand they would know which one it was. She gave me an oh-grandma look and sidled up to grandpa for the shark feeding.

The video here tells it all. It was a great experience and one she will brag about for a long time. The only question is: How are we going to top this next year? Oh yeah. She did mention Disney World.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Monkey Jungle

Looking to make a day special for our two and a half year old granddaughter, we settled on a trip to Monkey Jungle. Every time we make the drive from the Key Largo condo to where they live, we pass the exit sign for it. Now we can say our curiosity has been satisfied.

The day began around 9:30 AM just after the park opened. As a matter of fact, we may have been the first visitors in because after we purchased our tickets ($27.95/seniors and our granddaughter was free since she was under 3) I heard the lady use her walkie talkie to say there were visitors in the park.

There are several interactions between trainers and animals throughout the day and our first was at the monkey swimming pond. The monkeys, Java Macaques, will wade into the pond as the attendant throws pieces of fruit, vegetables and nuts to them. Once the feeding was started, they seemed to come from everywhere. The attendant talked about the monkeys and their history, native country, etc. but we were a bit more attentive to our youngster who was thrilled at seeing her first monkeys of the day.

Toward the end of the feeding, the attendant took out two hard boiled eggs and tossed them into the water a little deeper than the other food. Two of the monkeys actually dove to the bottom of the pond to retrieve their treat. It makes me question why they don't just swim to the open area where people view them and escape. But then I always wondered about that at Monkey Island at the CLEMet Zoo when I was a kid.

We next started down a screened-in walkway that extended into the jungle area of the monkeys. They climbed up over our heads and ran across the top of the screen and sat and watched us. When we saw the little dishes on the end of a chain hanging down at intervals we understood why. We took out the box of raisins we'd bought at the entry and put some in a dish. It immediately was pulled up to the top of the screen and a monkey hand reached through a small hole and snatched the raisins. The metal dish fell quickly down again, ready to be filled.

Our granddaughter delighted in filling the little dishes with some raisins as we continued our walk to the orangutan. It was a little too early for her feeding and she wasn't moving much so we wandered down another path that took us to several aviaries with birds and an iguana and turtle.

At a couple minutes before the set time for the orangutan to get breakfast (by now it seemed more like brunch) we returned and took a seat. The trainer came and began by introducing us to Mei (May) and telling us more about her. There were several trained behaviors Mei did all of which were rewarded with more fruit treats. Mei was a pretty good catch but if it fell, she didn't go down to pick it up. She did however retrieve the ones she missed as she made her way across her habitat at the trainer's direction. The interactions were all to show you her body movements, size, etc. to understand the animal better. I was impressed.

The same could be said of the gorilla experience. The gorilla was a male and was across a great divide from us. He had to have his food put in paper sacks to be tossed to him because he wouldn't eat it if the food got dirty. Smart guy. Again, the trainer explained his movements and what he would be like in his natural habitat and did it by making him move around to get some of his food. I'm sure though he wouldn't be drinking his juice from a plastic bottle and then putting it in the recycling bin out in the jungle.

The other area to experience was not quite as much fun. It was the Amazon jungle area where there were spider monkeys and Capuchin (remember Night At The Museum?). The attendants went into the rain forest area behind the screening and we watched as they fed the monkeys. It was difficult to take any pictures because of the screen but it was protection for us as well as the monkeys.

There are quite a few acres for all the smaller monkeys to roam. Joseph DuMond, an animal behviorist, arrived in South Florida in 1933 with six Java monkeys. Today there are 140 all descended from the original six. And of course the jungle has expanded to include the others. It was an interesting morning but by noon our young granddaughter was thinking McDonald's. Of course we accommodated her.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Blue Blooded Horseshoe Crabs

On our second trip to the Florida Keys Aquarium Encounter, this time with our granddaughter, I picked up another little tidbit of knowledge I hadn't had before. The touch tide pool was her favorite spot and one of the older attendants whom we'd met before was very patient in explaining to her and to others as they came along and wanted to touch what each animal was and what their importance was in the world.

Our granddaughter was especially fascinated with the horseshoe crabs in the pool. When you turned them upside down, remembering to keep them under the water of course, you could see all the legs scrambling to move. They are a unique sea animal with their armored outside that to me looks like it's related to an armadillo even though it's really related to the group that includes spiders.

While the long needle like tail looks dangerous it is only used to right itself if it is accidentally turned over. The shell-like armored body has been around for over 450 million years as evidenced by fossils. Apparently God didn't need to improve on this particular animal.

Horseshoe crabs are important to the ecology of the region because of their eggs. The eggs provide a food source for both birds and fish. Amazing that any would survive.

The truly surprising fact I learned however was that they have blue blood. This is because it is copper-based. It is used to test for the sterility of medical equipment and all intravenous drugs. The compound eye of the horseshoe crab has also been important in learning more about vision in the human eye.

Okay, now I'm ready for the Jeopardy show.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

World War II Courage

A few years ago we stood on the beaches in Normandy, France and marveled at the courage it took for those men to storm the beach through a hail of bullets. Our hearts were touched with knowing that many sacrificed their lives in the defense of the freedoms we enjoy.

Several days ago we had the opportunity to see another side of bravery in that war, the bravery of men who would climb into B-17s and B-24s and all sorts of other aircraft that flew during that time in the war effort. The Wings of Freedom Tour sponsored by the Collings Foundation brought a collection of planes that are still flying and touring the country giving the opportunity for many to appreciate the effort of those soldiers of the air.

We were able to board the planes and climb through for a look at the inside. It was amazing. Cramped quarters and seats next to huge bombs. While we could look below us through the open bomb bay doors and see the ground just a few feet below, those riding in the plane during the war would have had a much more frightening view.

I've visited battlefields, been on ships and a submarine, but crawling through the B-24 made me all the more aware of the raw courage of the men who fought in the war then. It makes me grateful for those willing to serve today as well. Thank you.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Through My Lens - Birds of a Feather

A stroll through the Laura Quinn Bird Sanctuary just down the road from where we stay in the Florida Keys always provides an opportunity for some good pictures. No Roseate Spoonbill this year though.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Osprey Mama

There is a nest high on the top of a pole that is for an osprey family. We watched the nest last year and saw several youngsters. When we needed to go north to pick up a grandchild for their stay at the condo with Grandma and Grandpa, we decided to check it out and see if there was anything going on this year.

The nest is right next to an exit off of US1. If you drive off on the exit and go half way up the ramp to get back on, you can actually look down on the nest. You really need binoculars or a telescopic lens on your camera to make out the birds in the nest.

Mama osprey was sitting on the nest so I'm guessing in a few weeks we will see some furry heads bobbing around in there waiting for the busy parents to feed them. We'll keep watch.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Pelican Island

A book I've been reading about the beginnings of the national park system and wildlife refuges mentioned Pelican Island so I thought I would look it up. The preserve is located on one of the fringe pieces of land that skirts the east coast of Florida and is just north of Vero Beach. It has quite a history and is noted as the first federal bird reservation that Teddy Roosevelt established with the encouragement of the Florida Audubon Society. That was in 1903 and was the beginning of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

But Pelican Island was discovered at a much earlier time. Back in the mid 1800s scientists had already begun to study and wonder at the clusters of Pelicans in this five acre piece of land. By the end of the century, the Audubon Society was gaining members and influence and noted the importance of this area thus bringing it to the attention of Roosevelt.

Once Pelican Island was named as a refuge, a man named Paul Kroegel was hired by the Audubon Society to be the island's first warden. He would maintain the protection of the island habitat until 1926 when he retired.

In 1963 it became a National Historic Landmark because of its significance as the first national refuge and in 1968 Florida agreed to lease another 4670 acres of mangrove islands to the refuge. Since then many improvements have been made including trails and interpretive centers as well as observation points to study the rookery. You can also kayak among the mangroves.

We are always looking for new places to stop on our migration south. Guess I'll put this one on the list for next year.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Butterflies-Large and Small

While planning an event at our church themed around butterflies, I got to wondering where in the world is the largest butterfly? A quick search came up with the results. In Papua New Guinea there is a butterfly called Queen Alexandra's Birdwing and its wingspan measures eleven inches. Equally as large though is the Goliath Birdwing in Indonesia.

Closer to home, the largest butterfly in the United States is the Giant Swallowtail whose wingspan is 4-6 inches.

On the other end of the scale is the smallest butterfly in the world found in Africa called the Western Pygmy Blue. At a half inch wingspan I'm surprised anyone would actually see it.

Another question that came to mind was how to tell the difference between a moth and a butterfly. They come from the same general family but there are some differences. A butterfly has antenna with rounded clubs on the ends as opposed to a moth who had thin antenna that are sometimes feathery. A butterfly's body is thin and smooth and a moth is usually thick and fuzzy. Butterflies are active during the day and moths at night although I don't think that's always the case. Butterflies are more colorful but when you see the Luna Moth, you'll see that there are exceptions to the rule.

Whatever the size, whatever the shape, butterflies and moths bring a bit of joy and fantasy into our world.

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