Oct 162019
 

Home is where the heart is. Where the dogs are. Home is where there’s always something that needs attention — could be laundry or groceries or dust bunnies and dog hair. Yes, home is where there’s always something that needs attention and today that makes me smile. I’ll get to what I can and the rest can wait. I’m home from a few more adventures than I’d anticipated, settling in, and happy about it.

The travel has been a little overwhelming: Favorite Husband and I took driving vacation which was quickly followed by a hurricane evacuation and a short visit from our now Krakow-based son.  The stars lined up for fairly spontaneous European adventure with a close friend and, finally (at least for a while, I hope) the 15-hour round trip drive to my first major German Shepherd Dog show. I’m bruised and sore and happy.

Seeing with Fresh Eyes

It’s interesting to be able to see home base with fresh eyes. Upon each return, we’ve managed to create fairly large donations to our local thrift store. My clothes closet is about 90% Kondo’d and roughly 500 linear feet of bookshelves have had a healthy trim. I’m getting ready to do it again. There was a time I couldn’t let go of that sort of thing: meaningful items just disappeared. At the time I didn’t get it. I think I’m glad. Healing and spontaneity and wonderful, enriching experiences that seems to make “stuff” less important.

There was a time I couldn’t let go: meaningful items just disappeared. Click To Tweet

Over the past few months I’ve met some wonderful people — and some real stinkers. The good ones have far outnumbered the others who, for better or worse, have provided me with lots of laughs. After all, the rude, the arrogant, and the entitled miss out on so much. Maybe they were put in my path to create contrast — like in a painting.

And now I’m home, hanging around with Favorite Husband and all three dogs. Back home in my lovely office. Taking care of the to-do list that sort of blew out to sea with the last major hurricane threat: a painting to the frame shop, an area rug to the cleaner. My book club starts up again tonight. Some chapters take an evening, others a month or more. And while the book discussion is good, the connections developed and deepened between the participants are even better. Close friendships with other women are another type of home.

Finally taking care of the to-do list that sort of blew out to sea with the last major hurricane threat... Click To Tweet

When Home is a Trap

There have been times that “home” made me feel stuck. Trapped. Overwhelmed. A partner who was impossible to satisfy: nothing was ever big enough, neat enough, tasty enough, or clean enough. The only item in the dirty laundry basket was usually the one he ”really needed.” Same for the groceries: whatever we were out of was what he wanted. Unfortunately, I loved him. So I tried.

The music was wrong. My clothes and my job were wrong. My friends were wrong. I was wrong. Always, always wrong. Despite owning the building and paying all the bills, I never, ever felt at home. Life was good when he was happy so it was my goal to keep him that way. And when the moments of happiness got shorter and further apart, I tried harder.

I began to sleep with easy-on clothes and shoes on the floor, just under the edge of my bed. I hid an extra key to my car. The day he finally hit me was one of the best days of my life: the emotional abuse was insidious. When he crossed the line, it was in a big way and I could no longer ignore it.

And here I am, reveling in being at home while sporting large bruises and being unconcerned about who sees them. I feel such gratitude about not caring whodunnit: I did, while I was out having fun with dogs and friends.dogs and friends. On my last adventure I tripped, resulting in some pretty intense bruising on the poor arm I used to prevent a much bigger fall. And when I was finished, I got to come home to a safe place. A very safe place.

But It’s Life and Death

How did I get from fun and adventure to domestic violence? Maybe it’s gratitude for the contrast. Or maybe it’s because a pink tsunami of well-funded breast cancer awareness groups have long ago overshadowed Domestic Violence Awareness month. While I appreciate the progress that has been made in treating breast cancer, I know that domestic violence thrives in secrecy and darkness. It’s not a sexy cause. There are no cute slogans. People don’t think about it — until they need to.

Domestic violence thrives in secrecy and darkness. It’s not a sexy cause. There are no cute slogans. People don’t think about it — until they need to. Click To Tweet

There are millions of men and women who are not safe in their homes. Some are well aware of their circumstances but know it’s not yet safe to leave. Others are like I was: being held emotionally hostage, groomed for the tangible violence to come.

I felt safe in my travels. I feel safe at home — where I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. And dust bunnies.

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The National Domestic Violence Hotline number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or online at the Hotline.Help is available, free and confidential 24 hours per day, every single day. (Including holidays.)

The National Domestic Violence Hotline number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Help is available, free and confidential 24 hours per day, every single day. #DVAM2019 Click To Tweet

Sep 042019
 

people on beach sun and storm cloudsWow. Hurricane Dorian. I didn’t see that one coming! Actually, I did. We all did. The arrival of this slow-moving hunka-hunka swirling air has had more attention than Taylor Swift and the Kardashians combined. (Wait ~ are they still a thing? I’ve lost track.)

With apologies to those actually impacted* here’s a bit of a silly take on the unseen side of hurricane impact.

#1 ~ Travel plans.

Favorite Husband and I were on a road trip when we started hearing about a hurricane that could pose a serious threat to Florida and Floridians. So we came home a few days early. Not entirely sure what we thought we could or would accomplish but it felt like the right thing to do. Oh, and our son is scheduled to come home from Paris later this week. Based solely on the quantity of email I’m receiving? The airline thinks he should change plans.

#2 ~ Expectations.

We thought by coming back home we’d be in a great position to straighten up the backyard a bit, throw a few things in a suitcase, and laugh at ourselves a little. But there’s a hitch or several. Gardening. Swimming. Dogs. Do you have any idea how much STUFF can accumulate in a back yard?  Straighten up a little? My Aunt Fanny! Where’s Marie Kondo when you need her?

Hey — it’s Florida. Just because it’s in the left lane with its blinker on, doesn’t mean this #hurricane is going to make a turn! #HurricaneDorian #humorhelps Click To Tweet

#3 ~ Egos.

”You’re going? Really? It’s gonna blow out to sea.” Translation: you’re over-reacting. You’re spoiled. You’re a wuss.” Guess what? I’m an over-reacting, spoiled wuss who lives on an island and, when those who know better than I start using the term “mandatory evacuation” I comply. My ego can take the hit a whole lot better than it can handle storm surge and Florida summertime sans air conditioning. (See ‘over-reacting, spoiled wuss’ above.)

close up of large turtle face

#4 ~ Egos. Again.

After packing the van for 3 dogs on 3 different diets and loading a enough books to get us through an open-ended trip, the human suitcases ended up a little skinny. I wonder how many days I can survive in yoga pants and T-shirts? I think I’m grateful that I’ll probably never see the other hotel guests again.

 

Hurry up and wait. When a #hurricane is moving this slowly I feel like I’m being stalked by a turtle. A rabid turtle. Click To Tweet

#5 ~ Egos for the Trifecta.

I can’t think of anything more humbling than the immense power of nature. Despite satellites and storm chasers and pasta-on-parade aka spaghetti models, humans don’t know as much as we would like to about these massive storms. Strength. Duration. Path. Who knows? Not me. Respect.

#6 ~ Housekeeping.

This is already not one of my superpowers. While I obsess about cleanliness, I’m a bit of a train wreck when it comes to neatness. So as we packed and prepared, I collected my project piles (or as I call them ‘stacks of brilliance’) and put them into a waterproof bin. I put the bin on a table. When Favorite Husband saw what I was doing he made the mistake of telling me that he didn’t think the water would come up. “No one ever does, do they?” I thought, as I wandered from room to room stacking things on top of one another. Can’t wait to go home to that!

Hurricane weather reports? Like looking up symptoms on WebMD: maybe nothing — or it might kill ya. Click To Tweet

#7 ~ More Expectations.

Our two grown-up dogs are experienced travelers and wonderful hotel guests but our puppy was a total unknown. The wild child’s reactions to new situations can be a bit of a wildcard. So guess who’s adapting to hotel life? The little princessa is taking her cues from the big dogs and, just like at home, she crates herself when she’s not sure what to do. Everybody’s a little clingy but we’ve established an ‘on the road’ routine.

black German shepherd dog on unmade bed#8 ~ Faith and Hope.

I’m just in from the last dog walk of the night. (I’m getting most of my steps in!) In the parking lot of a dog-embracing Candlewood Suites in Georgia are several bucket trucks from an electric company in Virginia. They’re waiting to be deployed… to restore power further south.

#9 ~ Love and Friendship.

Thanks to a dear friend (who also knows a lot more about hurricane weather than I do) we had Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. She reserved two rooms out of harm’s way in one direction and I did the same in another. And, believe it or not, waiting, watching and staying put was an option. We picked a plan, released some rooms and launched our little caravan. During our trip through thousands of acres of beautiful farms, we received texts and calls and tweets with information and support.

Perhaps that can be a new metric. A stormful. And getting a stormful of love from family and friends is as humbling as a record-setting hurricane. And much more powerful.

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How You Can Help

*On a serious note, we are heartbroken about the hurricane damage in the Bahamas. But Chef Jose´ Andre´s and his World Central Kitchen are already on the way to Abaco. They do an amazing job feeding hungry people during disasters.

An excerpt from the first response efforts reported by wftv.com:

  • Miami Community Emergency Operations Center  If you are in the Miami area, a collection of toiletries, diapers, first-aid items, nonperishable foods, water, generators and other items has begun. Items can be dropped off at the Miami-Dade Community Emergency Operations Center and monetary donations can be made at mthsmile.com
  • All Hands and Hearts Smart Response is looking for volunteers and monetary donations. The group provides first-hand relief to those hit by the storm.
  • Good 360  looking for items such as blankets, diapers, tarps, water, toiletries, pillows, sheets and portable chargers – particularly items that corporations wish to donate to help those affected by Dorian. Click here to learn how to send items. Individuals who want to make a cash donation  click here.
  • BahamaStrong has set up drop-off location at any fire station in the city of Miami. They are collecting water, diapers, personal items, canned goods, can openers, generators, mosquito spray and sunscreen.
  • International Medical Corps sends medical teams to disaster areas, is looking for donations to help with medical care. Click here to donate.

 

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.