A Humane Being

They say ignorance is bliss, and I suppose it really is.  I remember being about my little one’s age out with my folks somewhere and wanting to ride a pony.  Not only did we not have the money, but when I saw them I became really upset.  It was way too hot and they did not look happy trotting around in a circle tethered to each other and with flies swarming around them.  I have always had a sensitivity to and awareness of animals … When I was seven my mother tried to teach me to cook turkey for Thanksgiving.  I will NEVER forget the horror of seeing the bag of parts and the dark crevice.  *shudder*  (Hence, why I have not eaten turkey since I was six.)  Eventually a documentary would lead to me becoming a vegetarian and now I am almost vegan.  It’s not a rice cake kind of thing (I like whiskey and cigars;) rather it is how the animals are treated and then slaughtered.  I have been ignorant on some things such as carriage rides.  Of course I now no longer consider them romantic and will not take one again.  Interestingly enough, I discovered some time ago that the first Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was organized in England as far back as 1824.  It was primarily established to prevent the abuse of carriage horses who were driven through freezing cold winters and stifling hot summers; often with little food, water, or rest.  The horses were beaten if they refused or became unable to pull the carriages.  But on this day I saw two healthy ponies who were not only out in the early morning for a couple of hours; they were being given shade, water, and hay.  I did not want to deny my little one the joy seen here so evident on her face.  I try not impose all of my feelings on my child; she is already showing sensitivity toward animals just as I did.  So I let the handler hitch her up and, clearly my progeny, she started peppering the man with questions.  “Is she a girl?” she asked hopefully.  “What’s her name?” she wanted to know next.  Obviously not used to inquisitive little girls, the man just shrugged.  Deciding to turn directly to the animal (something I would have done) she said, “Well, you HAVE to have a name!” and the little pony raised her head as if in agreement.  “I’m going to name you Chewy!” she exclaimed!  “I think ‘Chewy’ is a great name!” I said as we paused in our ride while the pony obliviously chewed a hole in the fancy country club’s green lawn.  Both of us stroked her mane and offered her praise.  When my little one’s ride was over I told her to be sure and thank the man but also Chewy as well.  “Thank you, Sir,” she dutifully chimed, followed by a much more enthusiastic “THANK YOU CHEWY!”  The 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, once said:

“I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights.  That is the way of a whole human being.”

I hope I am teaching my daughter not just to be a human being but also a humane being.

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Swamped

Today was our last day and hotels now kick you out earlier and earlier.  So we researched an activity that would help us pass some time in a worthwhile manner before waiting at the airport for our flight home.  It turns out there was a National Audubon Society sanctuary close by.  It was established to protect one of the largest remaining stands of bald cypress and pond cypress in North America.  We parked our car at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and were thrilled to discover there was a boardwalk extending two and a half miles over pine flatwoods, wet prairie, and march ecosystems in addition to the magnificent cypress — some of which were around 600 years old.  We learned the sanctuary is a “gateway” for the Great Florida Birding Trail and is an important breeding area for the endangered wood stork as well as other wetland fowl.  We saw all kinds of birds wading in the swampy water:  several species of herons and egrets casually mingling with unseen American alligators and cottonmouth snakes.  It occurred to me that the boardwalk allowed for parents with strollers but also for folks in wheelchairs, so everyone could enjoy it.  Of course being elevated above the swamp was also essential; I am content to see Mr. Alligator from a discreet distance, thank you very much.  Our visit to the sanctuary was a journey into the heart of the Everglades ecosystem.  Its other inhabitants are said to include otters, white-tailed deer, and red-bellied turtles.  Between the wading birds, the songbirds, the raptors, and the beautiful Painted Bunting it was a bird lover’s paradise and photographer’s delight.  The natural biological systems expand over 14,000 acres.  Botanically, the most intriguing plant we discovered was the Ghost Orchid.  Apparently it only blooms several months a year (so we were lucky.)  It has gained attention worldwide as the largest Ghost Orchid ever discovered.  We found it (thanks to signage) about 50 feet up in an old growth bald cypress tree and, once the bud opens, it remains in bloom for one to two weeks.  Going around despite the humidity I was able to let go and not feel rushed.  The Irish actor Pierce Brosnan said, “My family is my sanctuary.”  I am so grateful and so blessed to have my own precious family.  Standing there enjoying the serenity of nature’s age-old beauty with them I realized I did not feel so swamped.

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The Beach With My Baby

Well I should have known my little one would become enamored with the beach, given the surroundings that we had.  As far as the eye could see it was dark blue sky and stark white sand.  This year we got fortuitously upgraded and our hotel room overlooked the sea.  When our little one woke up she made her way to the window and started pressing her little hands against the glass, eager to feel the froth of the tides underneath her tiny toes.  As I prepared to slather us up for a day at the beach the hubs asked if he could be released to go visit historical places.  “Sure,” I said, “I’m not the vacation police.”  And so, after a delightful buffet breakfast of soft scrambled eggs, grits smothered with Tabasco sauce, and stoneground oatmeal heavily powdered with brown sugar, the baby and I made our way back down to the beach.  Burk departed off on his own adventure.  I could never understand why people thought she was a boy until I revisited this picture.  I was essentially bald until I was three and so was she.  Only my red-headed mother became IRATE whenever someone called me a boy.  Apparently she dressed me all in pink with ruffles and they still thought I was a boy.  It had never bothered me why some well-meaning person thought my baby was a boy until about this time.  Looking back, I can sort of understand why they still did.  Nevertheless, my little one and I passed a delightful early afternoon floating on the alligator raft which some older boy wanted but the cute cabana boys gave to my girl.  After a few hours along came my beloved, looking awkward with his swimsuit and rumpled newspaper, wanting to join us.  Of course we were delighted!  We all had lunch at the hotel beachside cafe located up several layers of wooden floating steps.  I had a veggie burger, the hubs had a hamburger, and our little one had applesauce.  It was the first time she’d ever had it and — wait for it — she remembers it to this day!  When I told her this year we would be going back to Naples (after a two year hiatus) the first thing she asked was if she could have applesauce.  WOW.  The American chef Homaro Cantu said:

“Most of us have fond memories of food from our childhood.  Whether it was our mom’s homemade lasagna or a memorable chocolate birthday cake, food has a way of transporting us back to the past.”

I thought it was crazy that my little one associated applesauce with the beach.  But nevertheless she did.  And I was so grateful to associate the beach with my baby.

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Going Wild

This day would mark our second year in a row to return to Sanibel Island.  Our first priority was to collect seashells.  It just occurred to me that THIS is the only type of hunting which I support.  This year I’d bought us net bags that could be slipped on and worn while wading through the water.  They were designed so that the shells remain but the sand goes right through the mesh enclosure.  Among my under the sea discoveries was a pen shell.  It still had its occupant residing in it so I returned it to its rightful home.  The more I researched different types of shells the more fascinated I became … and the more ignorant I realized I was.  Next we visited the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge where I got to hold a sea star (formally known as a starfish.)  Established in 1976, it contains 5200 acres as part of the United States National Wildlife Refuge system, named for the cartoonist Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling.  Protecting one of the country’s largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystems, the refuge is well known for its migratory bird populations.  I took a picture of this guy, a local I’m guessing, as we made our way onto the boat that would take us around the wildlife sanctuary.  I just loved him; he reminded me of a dignified butler allowing us passage into a grand estate from sometime long ago.  During our boat ride we had the joy of seeing a pair of dolphins frolicking and playing for quite awhile alongside us.  It’s like they knew they were safe and rose from the water to be seen without fear.  What a thrill.  The captain, who conducts daily excursions, even said this was a rare treat.  There are over 245 different species of birds here.  It is a refuge to turtles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates.  This was the sanctity of nature at its finest.  Mammals ranging from manatees to raccoons also inhabit the island.  The place was established to help protect endangered and threatened species.  Located within an estuary, it creates some of the most nutritionally rich habitat for these thousands of species of plants and animals which call this refuge home.  The mangrove forests and the seagrass beds provide the basis of their intricate food web.  Jim Fowler, the American zoologist and host of the Emmy Award-winning television show “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” said, “The continued existence of wildlife and wilderness is important to the quality of life of humans.”  For me, wildlife and wilderness for their own sake remain reason enough for going wild.

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At A Snail’s Pace

Until this day, my husband and I were one of those couples that went hard on vacation.  By that I mean we didn’t waste any time or not plan things out.  I think he had not often really relaxed very well, and I have had a perpetual sense of urgency to try and see and do it all since I had not had the privilege of traveling extensively until we met.  Before Florida I had not been a beach person so I never found a ton of appeal in just sitting there reading a book.  I LOVE to read and relax when I can, but either in bed with air-conditioning or snuggled up on the sofa next to the fireplace.  I have passed the stage in my life where I can just “lay out” and frankly rough ocean waves scare me.  Asking my husband to relax is like trying to calm a squirrel on crack.  Suffice it to say, he’s not a lounger.  But it was not just us anymore or even us with a tiny little baby who would simply go wherever we brought her.  Our little one was a toddler now and longing to play in sand.  I asked my husband if we could REALLY spend some time at the beach.  Like, heaven forbid, more than an hour.  I could actually hear him grinding his teeth and inwardly cringed.  Finally he relented and said he supposed we could could go down for awhile.  I could practically see his mind whirling with all the random historical places we had not yet visited.  He also detests sunscreen and generally eschews any form of it.  Getting ready I tried to tell him about all the things we would do the next day, hoping that would hold him.  The three minute ride on the back of the golf cart over the estuary and through the mangrove trees was absolute heaven.  We reached our stop and visited the cabana stocked with the requisite amount of cute young men who immediately gave our little one the alligator raft she was attempting to reach.  I knew then she was going to be a conqueror of many hearts … what young guys really like babies?  So we rented two beach chairs and an umbrella and started unloading our provisions.  We had cold water, snacks, sunscreen, bug spray (I learned quickly after the “no-see-um” incident from the night before,) sunglasses, molds for sand castles, and Burk’s sacrosanct, ever-present rumpled newspaper.  Our little one was already trying to get in the water.  I thought again how fitting it was that her name in Latin means “of the sea.”  Daddy actually got into the spirit of things and entertained our baby girl by going upside down under water and sticking his feet in the air.  This earned him unbridled shrieks of sheer delight.  Firmly entranced under her mermaid spell, she would clap her little hands together and splash, prompting him to go back under and do it again.  As for me, I was content to listen to the lull of the ocean waves and watch my little family.  At some point during our time, my shell hunting exploration uncovered a surprising discovery.  Apparently one of them was still occupied.  At first I sort of freaked out until it slowly made its way out of its shell and I realized it must be a sea snail.  Of course I had never encountered one before but I DID know a snail when I saw it.  I sat in my beach chair shaded by our big umbrella and contemplated the gentle creature in my hand.  She didn’t seem afraid and so I held her and studied her for awhile.  I also did not believe her being out of the water for such a brief time caused her any duress.  The Russian writer Ivan Turgenev said:

“Time sometimes flies like a bird, sometimes crawls like a snail; but a man is happiest when he does not even notice whether it passes swiftly or slowly.”

I gazed up and saw the birds soaring swiftly overhead and then looked down in my hand at this treasure from the sea which I knew I could not keep.  Of course I had to get her picture before I returned her to her ocean home.  And I realized, it is OK when time flies like a bird — but for me, I would prefer a slow savoring of the joy and happiness and have it linger … at a snail’s pace.

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Love Is The Only Gold

I have been attempting to write our travels in chronological order, so if you see our little one bald or with very little hair we did not have another baby.  God blessed us with one miracle more than we deserved.  So this was our second trip back to Naples, Florida and Sanibel Island and it was in June of 2013.  It was our sixth wedding anniversary and we chose to celebrate it with our 18 month old back at the first beach to which we had gone as a family.  I wanted to make it a yearly tradition.  At the very least I wanted to visit a beach each year, as our little one’s name means “star of the sea.”  I had not had the privilege of visiting a beach until I was about 24 and in the Miss Texas USA pageant.  I love Texas, but our beaches simply cannot compare with Florida.  It’s like being in another country (not that I’d had much experience with that either.)  Looking back through our pictures apparently we’d gotten there on the day of our anniversary.  I remember quite well our dinner because it was in a fancy golf resort overlooking the ocean.  We ate unfashionably early but we had a stunning panoramaic view of the ocean and there was another unfashionably early family there with two young children.  I am VERY proud to say our child was a saint and did not fuss, cry, or act up in any way.  (Thank you Lord.)  I was past nursing and I was grateful our server wasn’t judging me for my 7 & 7’s.  We had a lovely dinner and we could see the ocean’s waves right outside our windows.  They folded them open and we could even smell the tangy salt in the air.  It turns out there were tiki torches because a wedding was taking place right outside on the beach.  After our meal we wandered out and I snapped this stunning picture.  I also encountered the shocking discovery of “No-See-Ums.”  We’re from Texas where, much like Australia I’m told, everything can get you.  But I had never before encountered these horrid invisible bugs that attack before you know what hit you!  I was red and completely broken out!  So we went back to our hotel room at the Waldorf Astoria and were greeted by chocolate covered strawberries.  I happen to detest them so I fed them to the hubs and the baby.  However — I LOVE a good quote, as surely anyone who has ever read one of my posts can attest.  With the white chocolate covered strawberries came a card which contained a quotation by the Victorian Poet Laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson.  It read:  “Love is the only gold.”  And as I looked at the picture I had captured of the setting sun over the ocean, and gazed upon my husband and daughter, I realized its truth:  love is the only gold.

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A Kind Heart

I remember when a quarter was everything.  It got you a drink at the roller rink, a giant gum ball, or a prize from a toy machine.  It could allow you to make a phone call, and — best of all — it bought you a game at the arcade; my favorites were Centipede and Arkanoid.  A quarter was like a passport to the world.  People under 20 have no idea what a public phone even looked like and now arcade games cost an astounding dollar or even more.  On top of that they don’t even TAKE quarters; you put your money on a card and slide away.  I hoarded quarters and chose very carefully how I would spend mine.  It was a tangible thing that made a kid feel empowered.  Having said that, now I try to keep $5 in cash to use in parking garages and I never carry change.  One of my fondest memories growing up was of playing air hockey with my daddy.  He was really good, and he let me win less and less as I got older until we eventually had epic battles.  We never had our own table, but we loved to play.  So when I saw an air hockey machine I knew I had to introduce my little one to it!  She got all excited and then I realized I had no coins, no cash, and not even cards for an ATM.  (Now I just pay using my phone or watch.)  We were heartbroken and I told her we would have to play some other time.  A guy playing pool nearby overheard us, came over, and plopped four quarters in my hand.  “So you can play air hockey,” he said.  I stood there in total shock holding the money while my little one was tugging on my other hand excitedly saying, “Mama!  Let’s go play!”  Becoming unfrozen, I asked her, “What do we say?” and my little one looked up at him with barely contained restraint.  “Thank you sir,” she said, sounding like Oliver Twist.  He had no idea of the significance of what he had done.  I showed her how to feed the quarters in just as my daddy had once shown me.  Then I let her get the feel of the game as she accidentally scored for me on her own side.  She looked so upset I “accidentally” did the same and she squealed with glee.  “Oh it’s ON!” I told her as I hunched dramatically over the table, shifting my weight from side to side and squinting my eyes.  Jumping up and down she said, “I’m gonna beat you Mama!” and of course I let her.  Our first precious game was over and I went to say thank you again to the sweet young man (wow that makes me sound old) who gave us a dollar of his money and a priceless experience.  I asked if I could take his picture and he reluctantly said, “Yes ma’am.”  It made me feel positively ancient hearing that but I knew he was not only kind but polite.  The American essayist Washington Irving wrote, “A kind heart is a fountain of gladness, making everything in its vicinity freshen into smiles.”  His sweet, selfless gesture brought us such joy and made us smile.  We were blessed to have encountered a kind heart.

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Bowled Over

When I was little folks who were slower (mostly mentally but also physically) were called “retarded.”  Half the time it was not even meant to be disparaging.  This is a particularly sensitive issue with me because my father contracted polio at three days old and was made fun of mercilessly for most of his formative years.  He wore leg braces and no one wanted to play with him, including his own supposed father.  It’s a long story, but he was not able to walk on his own until he was a teenager.  Daddy met Mama in high school but there was another boy who was competing for her.  He bragged about beating Daddy up in junior high; what he neglected to tell her was that he tied a crippled boy to a tree and pummeled him to a pulp.  When Mama eventually learned the truth (not from Daddy) she never had anything to do with the cruel boy again.  My little one was about two and a half when she began taking swim lessons on her own.  There was a blond haired, blue-eyed boy in her class who at first did not like to get in the water.  He cried a lot.  It upset my little one so much that she refused to get into the water unless he did.  When I told my tiny little girl how proud I was of her she could not understand why.  I told her it made my heart so happy because she wanted to protect the little boy who was different.  I will never forget her asking, “Different how?”  I so wished my father had been alive to hear that.  Eventually both kids moved to different swim schools but we as mothers have tried to stay in touch.  A bowling birthday party invitation came and I asked my little one if she remembered him.  She looked at me as if to say “of course” and then answered, “Yes, he was my friend from my old swim school.”  The little boy’s mother also asked her son if he remembered my girl and he said yes, that she was the one with the curly hair.  What is so remarkable is that they had not seen each other in over half their young lives — and yet they each remembered the other.  The bowling party was a blast!  The kids bowled, there was an arcade and there were delicious gluten free mini bundt cakes.  We all resumed like we’d seen each other yesterday, when really it was about two and a half years.  The ancient Greek Theologian Saint Basil once said:

“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds.  A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”

I believe this boy’s mother is extraordinary and has a strong, positive, can-do attitude; her son will go far.  Knowing my girl has loved her friend without once noticing his differences has me bowled over.

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Whatever You Are, Be A Good One

The 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, once said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.”  I believe I am a pretty good cook.  Although admittedly I have never attempted to make fried okra or fried rice at home.  I just have this sneaking suspicion neither one would turn out quite right.  In the meantime, this “Chinese” take out is our “happy family” pleasure.  We all love the little place we frequent and it’s gluten free.  Fried rice is a favorite of mine and I always ask for extra green onions.  I miss the days though of the little red boxes that looked so exotic.  Anyone else remember them?  The thin metal handle always made me think of a lantern and I enjoyed the different designs they used to put on the cartons.  The scenes reminded me of patterns on old Chinese ceramics portraying fierce dragons, delicate trees, and tiered rooftops turned up at the corners.  I also miss bamboo chopsticks and fortune cookies.  I still use chopsticks but I have precious few left.  In truth I never really cared for the taste of fortune cookies; I just always enjoyed reading the sayings inside.  There was one Asian restaurant which used to have paper placemats listing all the animals of the zodiac and you could see under which animal’s year you were born.  I am the year of the dog.  I’ll take it as that is the closest they have to the wolf.  Funny how the little touches can mean a lot.  Now it seems as if everything is so sterilized and homogenized.  Where did the character go?  Where are the different cultures?  Where is the little something extra?  It seems to have been swallowed up, no pun intended.  I for one think that’s a shame.  We can go to any city in the U.S. and eat the exact same food thanks to chain restaurants.  Heaven help that anyone actually venture out.  I have never minded our country being a melting pot, but I wish it remained more of a mixing pot.  I think our differences make us stronger.  We do not all have to be carbon copies of one another.  And yes, I realize how much that sentence just dated me.  Let’s all resolve to be creative, bold, and to break the proverbial mold!  Like our former president once said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.”

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The Daily Bread Of The Eyes

I came out of a store and looked up to see this glorious sight.  Usually Texas has a light blue sky but I prefer the vivid dark blues of New Mexico.  I stood still, looking up and reflecting upon how this was the best of both.  Fluffy white Texas clouds mixed with my beloved darker blue.  Things have not been running so smoothly around our house lately and I have felt overwhelmed and inadequate.  It seems no matter how hard I work and try I always fall short.  I had been hauling 40 bags of mulch in several trips and was exhausted.  I’d made the decision to have our sprinklers cut on one side of our house.  I gave thought to our water bill, the environment, the foundation of our home, and what would need to be hand watered from now on.  I was stained and sweaty but this sight stopped me short.  As I stood there motionless others looked up as well, and for a few moments in time I felt a calming peace as well as a sense of camaraderie with others who probably had busy lives and problems just like me.  It was a respite for the soul.  The American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.”  I had never thought of it in those terms.  It made me realize I look up at the sky every day:  either to glimpse the sunrise, admire the sunset, wonder about the weather, watch birds in flight, or to take in the beauty of the night’s stars.  I do not believe I shall view the sky the same way ever again, regardless of its color — blue, grey, purple, red, orange, yellow, pink, black, white or silver.  It is the daily bread of the eyes.

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