Aug 132019

When I think about advice not taken, ‘don’t feed the geese’ could, under some circumstances, make the list. ‘Clean your plate.’ ‘Never burn a bridge.’ ‘Don’t make waves.’ ‘Be a good loser.’ Geese walking in the parking lot‘Don’t go out with wet hair.’ ‘Only loan books you don’t want back.’ Advice. Well-intended but not always welcome. Wanted but not always followed. Followed — but imperfectly or not under the right circumstances. You get it: advice can be a slippery slope.

You may remember my earlier goose posts: after discovering that neighbors had been running them over for sport, my husband and I made a safe place for them. In all honesty, had I foreseen the destruction of plants and the mess near our dock, I might have thought better of the plan. But here I was — sad and angry — shooting straight from a heart that still can’t understand why someone would hurt an innocent.

Why Would Someone Hurt an Innocent?

For several summers I watched them: the return, the hatchlings, the lessons. And, while I had always loved to hear them, high overhead, singing their way to the next destination, there was something about living with them. I saw their personalities and their habits, and I learned to love them.

Advice. Well-intended but not always welcome. Wanted but not always followed. Click To Tweet

I learned that they make a distinction between “people” and “our people.” And, quite by accident, I discovered I should probably do the same thing.

Canada geese are wild. They make a distinction between “people” and “our people.” Click To Tweet

Back when Favorite Husband and I were trying to decide whether we wanted to stay in New Hampshire or move to an island in northeast Florida, I learned something most of you know: Canada geese are wild.

Canada Geese Are Wild

At the time, we had a beautiful old chocolate Labrador retriever. He was, by then, severely diabetic and was almost blind as a result. As a result, when we expected to be away from the house for more than an hour, we packed the dogs into their crates so they could be with us.

On this particular occasion, Favorite Husband was practicing a martial art. I don’t remember why I needed or wanted to go along, but I had a book and my dogs. I was happy.

Eventually, I decided the old man (the dog, not the husband) needed to stretch his legs a bit. As we rounded the backside of the dojo, I was delighted to see a pair of Canada geese. I think they were my first since arriving in Florida. Seeing them, a fictional loop in my head was complete— our geese really did go south for the winter!

I decided the old man (the dog, not the husband) needed to stretch his legs a bit. Click To Tweet

The pair should have been a clue — there are very few times I ever saw a single pair of wild geese. It was rare enough that I should probably have substituted “nesting pair.” As the dog and I wandered happily toward them, they responded — not as the friends I had in my head but as someone protecting their soon-to-be babies from a home invasion. I didn’t know that old dog could still move so fast, but we made a safe escape.

And that little encounter may have something to do with my ongoing ignorance about the behavioral patterns of Canada geese in northeast Florida. For a while, I didn’t see many of them. For a while I missed them. Then I stopped thinking about them.

Don’t Forget Your Loved Ones

When someone has a place deep in your heart, it’s not wise to forget them. Last week two large families of geese wandered up our street to play in the post-downpour puddles. I was a little too glad to see them, took some pictures, and, once again, didn’t give another thought. So yesterday, while leaving the auto parts store, I was a little surprised to see seven or eight of them.

I was even more startled when they got close enough that I could hear them grunting and gurgling. They continued walking toward me. Opening the car door didn’t slow them at all — in fact, their behavior was a bit more like dogs wanting to take a ride than the standoffish Florida-Canada geese I’d come to know and avoid. And, while I’m pretty sure these aren’t our New Hampshire geese, there’s one thing I know for sure.

Somewhere on this island is another person who ignores advice: somebody is feeding the geese. And I’m delighted.



Jul 312019

It was one of those great conversations — relaxed and rambly. Dad and I visited all sorts of topics: Free books. A little family news. The puppy’s progress. Dog breeders and trainers and veterinarians. Yoga. Domestic violence and addiction programs. And that it seems like a long time since we wrote a book together.

It is: What Kids Need to Succeed: Four Foundations of Adult Achievement is fifteen years old — a teenager! And we want to celebrate. But, if you’ve read the book (or my blog), that probably doesn’t surprise you.

Humble Beginnings & Overcoming Adversity

In the early stages of our collaboration, Dad and I didn’t see our target audience in quite the same way. My father felt that the information in the book would be snapped up by young, upwardly mobile professionals with resources that allowed them to pamper — even spoil — their children. He hoped that the humble beginnings and adversities faced by the high-achieving adults in the book would encourage those parents to let their kids struggle a bit.

We're celebrating the 15th anniversary of What Kids Need to Succeed by giving away free books. Click To Tweet

I, on the other hand, was coming out of many years of providing support to families struggling with addiction, homelessness, and violence: people who were presently living many of the adversities we wrote about. I thought it would bring hope and to provide a new framework for the difficulties their families were facing.

What Kids Need to Succeed lends itself to workshops for both parents and teens.

Free Books for Single Moms

It turns out we were both right: we got some wonderful letters from people who felt their upbringing was validated — that despite what was going on with their circle of friends, they had permission to provide a bit more struggle and discipline than they were seeing in other families. And I had the opportunity to develop a parenting program for a large inpatient drug and alcohol treatment facility. The facility purchased copies of What Kids Need to Succeed and gave free books to all the women who enrolled in their parenting program. The women said it helped them feel like they were strong enough to break the chain of addiction and violence in their fmailies — that the time in treatment was well spent.

Nominate a program that serves parents -- maybe they'll win some free books. Click To Tweet

Help Us Celebrate — Let’s Give Away Some Books!

With that in mind, we need your help with our celebration — and it’s not going to cost you a dime. We want you to help us give away free books. We are looking for fifteen excellent programs serving parents and their children. We’d like to gift them with books for their program participants.

We'd like to gift some books to 15 excellent programs serving parents and their children. Click To Tweet

We need you to  help us find those programs. Big or small, single parents or couples, biological or adoptive, free-standing or in a facility of some sort. Programs whose participants would benefit from learning more about the four foundations of adult achievement: hard work, discipline, overcoming adversity, and giving to others. Click on the “comment” link just below this post (look carefully — it’s small). Give me the name and location of the program (a link to their website would be great) and a few sentences about why you think we should give them books! (Why you think it’s a great program.)

Then, sit back and watch this space for results. (Or subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss any new posts.) We’re looking forward to learning about the programs that are near and dear to your hearts!


Jul 232019

Shrimp. Little. Puny. Insignificant. It’s enough to give a crustacean an inferiority complex.

Generally speaking, reading a list of words like that could make anyone feel insignificant. I guess you’ll have to decide for yourself whether or not any of us shrimp can actually read. As you’re about to learn, at least of few of us can spin yarns and tell tall tales.

a shrimp in an aquariumOnce upon a time, a school of shrimp migrated to a small but beautiful sandbar at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Those of our ancestors brave, curious, and strong enough to travel some of the 13 miles from tip to tip made another amazing discovery: this fabulous little sandbar was bounded on two other sides by magnificent rivers. One was named Amelia, the other St. Mary. The topography proved to be an ideal shrimp habitat and our community flourished. Most of us are breeding machines; when the eggs hatch, it’s often only a matter of hours before our females are carrying a new batch of fertilized embryos.

When We Were Fossils

A healthy, thriving community of shrimp is important for several reasons — not the least of which is the fact that when school children are introduced to fossils, our great-great-great-great-too-long-ago-to-come-up-with-the-right-number-of-greats grandparents are often in the picture. Our clan has been around for a very long time: about the same amount of time as yours has been dining on us.

Shrimp. Little. Puny. Insignificant. A wordlist that could give a crustacean an inferiority complex. Click To Tweet

Although home to many colorful pirates, Amelia Islanders are not typically thought of as a bloodthirsty crowd. But, if you’re a shrimp, you’d never know it. On the one hand, we seem to have settled in a place that almost worships us and on the other? Well, just imagine how it feels to be surrounded by people who seemed so passionate about… well… us. As food. As a matter of fact, if you’re feeling feisty and want to start a fight, show up at almost any Fernandina Beach social gathering and let them know you’ve finally found the ultimate recipe for shrimp and grits. Even the nicest of church ladies will get at least a tad huffy and set about proving you wrong. What a great way to sample a lot of mouth-watering shrimp and grits.

woman's hand holding a shrimp against sky and sea in backgroundEureka! We’re Rich!

Shrimp is the single most popular seafood in the United States. The commercial shrimp industry generates in excess of $50 billion a year; of the nearly 2,000 shrimp species, fewer than 20 are commercially harvested. Unfortunately for folks not ideally located, a great deal of that is farmed and imported. And, as much as I don’t want to endanger any of my wild-caught brethren, the polite thing to say it is the flavor is ‘radically different.’

Those shrimp farms are also a factor that may make the next generation of shrimpers consider other career paths. Of course, there have been a number of coastal towns that have adopted the title of Shrimp Capital of the World, but Amelia Island’s role in developing the industry leaves little doubt.

Scavengers, Snowbirds, and Swimming

The term shrimp is used to refer to some types of decapod crustaceans and, like others of our ilk, we are scavengers. However, unlike our crab and lobster cousins (and despite all those feet) we are much better suited to swimming than walking. And this makes our capture a bit different. Actually, quite a lot different. And this part of the story touches on our love of visitors from the North, affectionately know as ‘snowbirds.’

This part of the story touches on our love of visitors from the North, affectionately know as ‘snowbirds.’ Click To Tweet

While crabs and lobsters are caught in traps, that method does not work especially well for quarry that is swimming. And, from as far back as those pictured in Egyptian tomb paintings from 3000 BC up until the early part of the 20th century, shrimpers used a seine net strung between two boats. Weighted on the bottom, with floats on the top, they moved in tandem, capturing us as they moved.

Remember those snowbirds? Well, one of them was a fisherman from Gloucester, Massachusetts — one of the great maritime communities of the Northeast. While visiting friends on the island, he saw shrimp caught with seines. He offered friends a better way: Billy Corkum invented the otter trawl net, cutting the required number of boats in half. That’s the method still in use in and around the island today, where shrimpers bring us in: pink, white, brown, rock shrimp and, of course, the royal reds.

Where Did You Get Off the Boat, Mayport?

Whatever variety they first meet, once humans taste the real deal they can get pretty feisty about making sure they don’t end up with any of the imposters. In fact, not long ago, a lady was giving one of our supermarket fishmongers a tough time. She had tasted ‘Mayport shrimp’ and refused to settle for anything else. She didn’t want to hear anything about ‘Mayport’ being a location rather than a variety. It was as if the buyer was speaking French and the seller was speaking Farsi.

Finally, in an effort to maintain their relationship, perhaps to educate without insulting the fishmonger said, “Ma’am, they’re the same shrimp — they come from the same offshore beds. Does it really matter where they got off the boat?”

She had tasted ‘Mayport shrimp’ and refused to settle for anything else. Click To Tweet

cooked shrimp on a black plate with garnishesAmelia Islanders are pretty picky about their shrimp. They might not actually worship us, but, during the first weekend in May, it sure seems that way. For three days, the population swells by about 200,000 additional souls who pump tens of millions of dollars into the local economy. In 1964, as part of the island’s Fiesta of 8 Flags, a boat race along the Amelia River provided a way for local shrimpers to have some fun and friendly competition during the offseason.  The event has since morphed into a major, regional festival using art, music, and, of course, good food — all to celebrate our relationship with the locals.

Imagine that: a parade and food and music and art — all in celebration of Amelia Island and its shrimp. Somehow that doesn’t feel either puny or insignificant!

Jul 102019

Ironic as it may seem, the humorless probably don’t fully appreciate crabs. Crabby people are frequently more the “crabs in a barrel” type. You know the kind. When crabs are in a barrel at a fish market, some of them try to climb to the top and make a break for freedom. Unfortunately for these liberty-loving crustaceans, their colleagues don’t quite grasp the concept or the end goal: they latch on to their optimistic, energetic peers and pull the prospective escapees back into the brine where they eventually will be purchased and — most likely — eaten.

So where does humor come in? Crabs are silly-looking creatures with odd movement. From the fiddler waving his little claws to the sideways scuttle of a ghost crab, it’s hard to look at them and not, at least, smile.

Unfortunately for these liberty-loving crustaceans, their colleagues don’t quite grasp the concept Click To Tweet

Ghosts of Amelia

What kind of crab best represents our beautiful island home? My first thought, of course, was the ghost crab. Quick. Shy. Mysterious. They conjure images of ghost ships and other piratey mysteries. After all, when it comes to an island, who doesn’t think of stories and secrets? Buried treasure. Haunted houses and castles. Shipwrecks. Little humans patiently digging and constructing on busy sections of the beach are not the only ones whose time in the salt air blurs fantasy and reality.

Our precious island has at least one notable shipwreck in reasonably recent memory— one that may have helped some of the human natives to have an exceptionally mellow Thanksgiving. The story involves a floundering Colombian shrimp boat, 25 tons of marijuana, a fuel tank, and a really, really bad decision about setting fire to the illicit cargo in an effort to destroy the incriminating evidence. The fact that it occurred early on a Thanksgiving morning makes me wish Arlo Guthrie had lived here at the time.

But, to get back to the point, what kinds of crabs live here and what do they do? Florida diners around the state have come to know blue crabs and stone crabs as a delicacy. They’re served both in fancy, white-glove locations and outdoors in buckets on newspaper-covered picnic tables. Small hammers are included as part of that utensil package. And Southern etiquette dictates they’re to be used only on the tasty crustaceans — never, ever on crabby dinner companions

Small hammers. Southern etiquette dictates they're to be used only on the tasty crustaceans... Click To Tweet

The NIMBY Crab

What species do crabbers and other aficionados look for on and around Amelia Island? Horseshoe Crabs. Hermit Crabs. Mole crabs. Blue Crabs. Stone Crabs. Fiddler Crabs. A bit more rare and toxic, but nevertheless sometimes observed around here: the occasional crabby neighbor, the NIMBY crab, the horn-honking crab, the “it’s different where I come from” crab, and, the ever-popular “close the drawbridge behind me” crab.

With any luck, nobody in these parts will be setting their traps for either crabby humans or their colleagues, the horseshoe crab. These prehistoric-looking critters— the crabs not the humans —  are omnivorous scavengers, scooping up small shellfish as well as algae and dead fish. Unfortunately, their roe is considered an aphrodisiac in some parts of the world, so, like too many other beings, they’ve been over-harvested. Horseshoe crabs that is. The others? Not so much.

These prehistoric-looking critters-- the crabs not the humans -- are omnivorous scavengers... Click To Tweet

But of the few crab species mentioned, the one I think best represents our little island is the hermit crab. Migrants and seekers, they do not seem to grasp the concept of going around an object, even if it’s another crab. In spite of their occasional funky, funny-looking feeler fights, they do better in groups than on their own. Contrary to what the pet store set would like us to believe, they do not make good starter pets. They get lonely. And loneliness plus unfamiliar water plus leeching from plastic terraria too often combine to equal fatalities.

They Cooperate and Collaborate

Hermit crabs offer a lovely mirror image of so many transplants from other climes. Known for shedding an exo-skeleton in favor of something larger, so many new islanders arrive in search of simplicity and engage in something called down-sizing.

But the little hermits also share characteristics with their lovelier, happier human counterparts: they cooperate and collaborate. In fact, they’re known for a special behavior called a vacancy chain in which as many as a few dozen critters gather ‘round a freshly washed up shell to figure out who’s the best fit for the new digs. From there, a smaller crab moves into the newly vacated shell, leaving behind a new, vacant space for someone smaller yet.

Of course, there are the ultimate sweet, adventurous human hermit crabs — the minimalist RVers who let everything go in favor of living in a movable shell in order to see this glorious country “while we still can.” I know that people who follow that particular lifestyle tend to help one another out when they can; I wonder if they know about vacancy chains.


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