Saturday, September 7, 2019

Book Review: Lily and the Octopus

Recently, I decided to look for a new author. I've had so much fun over the years with Steve Alten's novels, and wanted to see if lightning could strike again.

Browsing through the "new authors" section at Barnes & Noble, I came across the first novel by Steven Rowley, Lily and the Octopus.

So, why did I choose this particular book? Was it previously recommended by a friend? - Nope.
There is a dog on the front (and let's face it - dog books are super 'in' at the moment)? - Nah.

The word OCTOPUS is in the TITLE.

That's it. 

That was my main reason.

I am immediately attracted to anything related to the ocean or aquatic life (fresh or salty gladly accepted). I'm still considering reading Saving Fish from Drowning for this exact same reason.

Don't get me wrong - I like dogs. But mostly, I was looking for a good summer read - and to jump ahead I will share that I found one in this book. It is incredibly well-written.


The octopus in this book is NOT real. It is a metaphor for a tumor plaguing the beloved dachshund of a young man dealing with the horror of losing his best friend (who happens to be the dog).

There is a nice balance of drama and the main character certainly is relatable to anyone who has ever been through a breakup, struggled to mesh with their parents, or loved a pet so dearly they cannot imagine life without said creature of comfort.

Many different critics note the hilarity within the story. The main character - Ted - talks to his dog. They talk about boys, and play board games. But, I don't find those parts of the book comical. I find it completely realistic and admit to crying before the book's end.

Then... it happened.


I was okay with Ted talking to the 'octopus' and Lily. I completely accepted how both the dog and 'octopus' spoke back.

I was not okay with him going octopus hunting in the PELAGIC zone. Yeah, out in the open ocean. The main character has the audacity to claim "I've done my research"! No, sir - you have NOT.

Octopus typically live in areas where they can hide - like reefs. While some are found in the ocean depths, a simple Google search will pop up with coastal and shallow areas.
Here is proof, courtesy of National Geographic Kids:

You, my dear author, were more likely hunting squid.

Which makes sense, as squid have much nastier temperaments than octopuses.

I shall make the assumption a title of Lily and the Squid was less appealing (although I totally would still have purchased a novel with squid in the title) to the masses, and it was suggested you change it.

Just goes to show how those of us who are emphatically passionate about all things ocean have our pet peeves too. Had it not been so well written, I would have tossed the book in the recycling bin for this very reason.

Perhaps the greatest irony is that I certainly found I had octopus on the brain after reading this book, and chose to express that through the various colorings included in this post.

You KNOW you've read something good when it stays on your mind for weeks, returning now and again as new thoughts churn up.

Now, the Washington Post (according to the book jacket) claims "YOU! MUST! READ! THIS! BOOK!" - and while the style of this sentence makes me smile due to the direct reference of a character mentioned in the very title (not the octopus), you don't HAVE to read it.

But I think you'd enjoy it. Just had to warn you about the pelagic error first. I cannot in good conscience recommend a book and let that slide - sorry.

I also expect to see it as a film within the next 5 years. The paperback published in 2017, so I took a quick jaunt over to IMDB and sure enough - "in development" so HA! Read the book first. Then you can be one of those super cool people who has a copy of the book before the movie poster graced the cover. 

Goodbye, Summer.
Hello, Hurricane Season.

Take care!
- Callie

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Eco-posts can be found anywhere!

Over the past year, I've been honing my craft and stretching outside my comfort zone - to an extent.

Writing is a form of art, which is important for a person who cannot seem to draw anything more complex and creative than stick figures or balloon animals.

About two years ago, I left my office at a small nature center and chose to pursue a different passion - and was pleased to find more outlets than I ever imagined!

This time, I'd like to take a moment and give a shout out to the Quill Café Blog. This portion of a website for office supplies and other resources is dedicated to helping people develop professionally. Some of the tutorials are straight forward - like cleaning a paper shredder - while others can open your eyes.
I pitched an idea on what officemates could do when somebody walks in asking for donations. Rejecting a person at an event might be easy, but when you face that person everyday at work it's a different story. The cool people at Quill let me put together a piece on deciding how to give in ways that reflect you as a person.

This led to an opportunity on how to celebrate Earth Day at the office too!

But I think my best article for them so far was about my favorite drink - COFFEE. A good friend (thanks, Sarah!) had created a perfect little guide that inspired me to research what all those little labels on the bags of coffee mean.

I present to you how to choose your coffee responsibly!

Thanks, Quill, for giving me an outlet to share some cool ideas!


Wednesday, January 23, 2019

2 Years and over 2 million Pounds with 4Ocean


About a week ago, I saw a television commercial about 4Ocean for the first time. It blew my mind and here's why:

Non-profits virtually never take the time or funds to create video commercials. Only through the platforms of social media and e-mail have I really seen eco-minded organizations push their message. Incidentally, non-profits are always begging for funding or donations.

Our household regularly supports several worthy organizations including the Wounded Warrior Project, WWF, Sierra Club and our local NPR station (WLRN) to name a few. But because of our love for the great outdoors, national parks and community building entities, we have to pick and choose who we can support each year based on our budget.

So, to come out to 4Ocean's anniversary celebration and see well over 1,000 people participating in a massive cleanup was jaw-dropping. People of all ages scattered the beach in bright blue 4Ocean gear. We walked along the sand and shoreline and did not see a speck of trash from the event itself (another insane accomplishment).

Volunteers, participants and staff all wore smiles too - which is infectious, in a good way.

The sorting station was unique. I've attended several dozen cleanups over the years, but never have I seen the clear sorting of recyclables that takes place during a 4Ocean cleanup.

At the education "village" - which to be fair was only about a half dozen tents in total - a 4Ocean rep talked about how much 4Ocean recycles at their own facility. THIS fact alone sets these cleanups far apart from others I have attended.

I want to take a moment and give a shout out to the organizations who came to share the message and shine light on the big picture for participants or just guests who happen to visit the beach that day.

 I think Jace spent more time with Morgan at the Youth Environmental Alliance tent than anywhere else, save the shoreline.

He sorted through a pile of trash, looking for food fit for a sea turtle. He missed a dried up chunk of a jellyfish. This surprised him, because his marine bio ID abilities are not too shabby if I do say so myself. But this enthusiastic educator took the time to make the encounter as meaningful to him as possible. Very cool.

The next tent that really resonated was FAU's Elasmo Lab. Now, yes - I am an OWL. Yes, I feel the research they do is fascinating and important. But, with a last name like "Sharkey" there is no passing up the chance to check out shark related stuff.

This is a hammerhead skull!

Getting Jace to take the time and focus on shark identification must be credited to Andie (in the photo). While he aced the pop quiz, she kept him interested and the interaction was more than just hey, did you know sharks' lose thousands of teeth?

As an educator myself, I always appreciate when the material presented fits the level of the audience. So, kudos to you, Andie.

And of course, this entire event took place ON THE BEACH, which I didn't expect. I figured the organization would be focused on just getting people there, but realized the intent was so much more. 4Ocean actually forced people to set foot on the beach where it was difficult not to sign up for the clean up itself. You wanted to stand in line and get your gloves and bag. You wanted to search for trash or help sort. You WANTED a shirt or a bracelet - or both.

The business model 4Ocean runs is just that - a BUSINESS model. They are not, nor do they claim to be, a non-profit. The only donation jar at the event I saw was at one of the non-profit partners who brought educational materials to share with participants.

This makes supporting their work easier for many. For example, there was not cost to participate in the cleanup and the company was giving away bracelets when cleanup gear was returned.

Dad taking a moment to teach Jace how to identify weed lines from shore.

We don't need an excuse to explore the beach. We are already a family that doesn't leave trash behind and recycles and attends cleanups. Yet walking along a packed beach filled with people who care is truly inspirational.

One suggestion I can make regarding the 4Ocean product tent - there were no t-shirts in kid sizes. I saw many children there who were way too small for an adult shirt (mine included), and we would have stood in line to make a purchase or two had there been anything for him.

Something unexpected happened shortly before we left the event. The 4Ocean buggy got stuff in soft beach sand. Now, what you may not realize is that both of the organization's founders are in this photo. Both of them helped push the vehicle out after plotting a better path to avoid spraying sand everywhere or putting deep ruts on the beach. It may seem small, but for a fairly young company with fairly young founders, this is the type of thing I love to see.

I have reviewed the 4Ocean bracelets, and to a small extent, the company in the past. My shark bracelet lasted a full six months of torture - from slogging (which is exactly what it sounds like) and snorkeling to roller coaster-filled theme parks without ever taking a break. Since they don't set off metal detectors at check points for concerts, etc., it literally never came off - until the cord gave way while folding laundry and the glass beads hit the floor.

The beads went into the blue recycling bin and I went back to the website to find the January color was my favorite - purple. The Hawaiian monk seals will benefit from this purchase in addition to the pound pulled. I'm good with that.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Local Review: Grassy Waters Preserve

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend the day with my mom so I wanted to take her somewhere new while going easy on the pocketbook.

We ended up at the City of West Palm Beach's Grassy Waters Preserve. This free facility is a great way to see restored Everglades up close and personal. The Cypress Boardwalk Trail is a 1-mile loop that allows you to see, feel and smell the wetlands without slogging in the muck.

Cypress "knees"

The cypress trees - from their tall tips to the knobby "knees" jutting up through the water - are one of my favorite trees in Florida. I've never been a big fan of the scrub foliage or the hardwood forests when compared to the dynamic nature of the wetlands.

There are wide open sections, where you can see the paths gently cut through the spikes of grass by canoes, kayaks and the local wildlife, including alligators.

The wild feel of the flora and fauna are special at Grassy Waters. The facility brings you closer to Old Florida in more ways than one.

The facility has a lovely little welcome center that houses rotating exhibits. On this visit, we enjoyed artifacts from the Native Americans who lived in and migrated through the wetlands.

I visit Grassy Waters about every six months or so, and love that there are new displays on a regular basis, but I am also partial to the permanent displays like the live turtles and taxidermized animals.

I have never seen an osprey that didn't look angry!

This place is truly a representation of tax dollars doing great things. This portion of the Everglades is managed by WPB's Public Utilities Division - don't you wish the "water works" card in Monopoly was this cool?

If staying on the boardwalk checking out the wildlife and plants is not close enough for you, sign up for one of the guided canoe or kayak tours.

And for those who prefer the slogging, the Nature Center has Swamp Tromps too. Check out the Grassy Water Facebook Page to see what events are coming soon.

But this was a short trip, only about an hour, so we stuck to the boardwalk. I enjoy the cypress domes (didn't I mention how much I love those trees?) and how they literally create tree islands. The history unearthed from islands like these are still being discovered in areas of Florida that were drained and developed more than 80 years ago.

Typical cypress dome - with the oldest trees and tallest trees near the center
Pickerelweed has some of the prettiest flowers

Duck potato and water lilies

I missed the chance to photograph a juvenile alligator, but did catch this beautiful great egret who didn't seem to mind me hanging around one bit.

Mom's favorite view

So, this place has an area for little ones inside the air conditioned center and programs at their level, but you can also find things for history buffs. There are places to sit and relax if the walk seems too much to tackle at one time. And it's FREE. Seriously, not taking the time to check this place out is inexcusable.

Maybe take your mom like I did - she had fun and found another reason to consider moving to my side of the Sunshine State.

Busted - Why did I let my mom have my phone?

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Product Review: 4Ocean Bracelets

Maybe you saw them on the Today Show back in July, or perhaps the adds have popped up on your cell phone while browsing Facebook or playing games - but the question came up, "Who are these 4Ocean guys?"

So I decided to find out.

4Ocean is a business. They are not, nor do they claim to be, a not for profit entity.

The business model is simple: turn marine debris into a commodity.

The ultimate goals include creating jobs around the world and working to alter the mentality of our view on trash. Some countries lack the fundamental infrastructure to recycle plastics and other goods, so they see trash as just, well, there. It is a part of life like weeds on your lawn. Deal with it or don't.

Jobs are created as crews are hired, and in some countries like Haiti people are garnering a better wage fishing for trash than actual fish. This helps attack both the problems of irresponsible overfishing and addressing trash in the marine ecosystem. Funding for the equipment, employees, etc. comes from the sale of small bracelets and other 4Ocean-branded items.

In addition, each month 4Ocean has a new partner in support of a specific ocean-related cause. For instance, back in June it was sea turtle research. Now I happen to have personal connections to the FAU lab that worked with the 4Ocean team and they had only great things to say about the company when I asked.

The bracelets themselves are made of recycled glass and polyester, and mine hold up just fine no matter what I'm doing, from washing the car to riding a roller coaster. When properly adjusted, the bracelet stays put.
My mom even sent me a photo!
My mom was curious at this simple bauble that had me so excited, so I shared the story of 4Ocean with her. The response? She wanted one for her birthday! 4Ocean's website made it easy to send one as a gift, and she received it in about a week.

She was happy with the commitment by 4Ocean to pull a pound of trash from the ocean in exchange for the support.
Cool stuff. It allows people who don't live anywhere near the ocean to make a difference in waters across the globe.

This dynamic new business plan did more than inspire me - it made me want to work there! So, I applied for a job since the headquarters is here in south Florida. I was thrilled to get a call back and even the chance to interview with the company in person. While I was not their choice for hire, I learned so much more about the organization and its people.

For instance, every single person - whether they wore jeans or polos or dresses - every one who walked in or out of the front door acknowledged me while I sat in the lobby waiting. Some said hello, others waved, but all of them smiled. Happy people do not bother to say hi. They don't ask how a stranger is doing when they have no reason to meet or speak with them. The staff were all just nice. This is in Boca Raton people! (that just doesn't happen)

Now that you know the bracelets and people behind them are following through on the promise to work towards cleaner oceans, don't forget this weekend is the International Coastal Cleanup! A time when organizations and volunteers all over the world get out to tackle the trash first hand.

4Ocean is working in Boston for the big weekend, but also hosts cleanups worldwide throughout the year.

Here in Palm Beach County, the non-profit Keep Palm Beach County Beautiful coordinates with other local agencies for a massive event. This year, 34 different organizations are partnering up, and we are joining the Sea 2 Shore Alliance this weekend.

Once again we will use the Clean Swell app to help track the data (i.e. trash) collected too. This data is extremely important in helping learn more about our trash and better address the problem based on a specific region's needs.

Last year, Jacen and I had a great experience in Delray Beach, and we are ready for a great weekend in Boynton Beach too. I wonder what weird junk we might find?

Just keep swimming, and if this weekend is no good check for local cleanups in your area. They are probably happening at least once a month!


Monday, September 3, 2018

Trash Talk turned Trash Walk - 1 year later

Behold! The most money I have made while picking up trash over the past year!

I suppose it's nothing to really brag about, but a year ago Hurricane Irma struck my area pretty hard. In my neighborhood flooding was severe, but since we are near lakes the water level receded fairly quickly. The amount of debris and trash left everywhere appalled me, and while I was walking my dogs, I started picking up trash when I picked up doggy doo.

Now you are all caught up!

Several months after my community service / dog walking began regularly, I heard about plogging - the Swedish trend of picking up trash while jogging.

Now, I HATE running. It is quite literally my second least favorite thing in the world.

But... I ain't gettin' any younger, and my smaller dog loves to run. The daily haul from my neighborhood - save for the week after Independence Day - has shrunk to 1-2 lbs of trash each day. That includes expanding the walk to every street in my little area.

So in July I started … running. Well, jogging/walking/crawling - whatever gets me home eventually. The two-mile circuit goes around several neighborhoods in a giant loop that is heavily trafficked and trashy as a result. 

The first month, Thor and I pulled about 5 lbs of trash 3 - 4 times each week (cuz there is not way I am running every single day). Now we get closer to 3 lbs each circuit, but my pace is faster and I've lost nearly 10 lbs as a bonus.

My incentives?
- Every time I stop for trash, I get a 10-second walking rest. I have never wanted to find trash so badly.
- Picking up trash makes me feel as though the run serves a purpose. For those who hate running, and see moving fast without being chased by a bear as a complete waste of energy, having a bag full of debris gives me motivation to go out and do it again.
- It is really great for my dog's health too. We don't have a yard, and this mutt loves to run. Sometimes he pulls me (the leash is attached around my waist, not my wrist) and sometimes I get him moving, but as a running partner it's a good fit.

I have received exactly three acknowledgements from strangers in the past year. Two people in the neighborhood have said "thank you" and just last week an elderly gentleman on my two-mile run beamed at me and said "Good for you! Way to go!" and I've decided to take it as a compliment.

But the biggest compliment came from my husband. He bought me a new pair of running shoes and a motivational magnet for the fridge. Thanks, babe!

Friday, August 31, 2018

The Shark Bite Donut: Dunkin's Disappointment

If you are like me, then all things ocean grab your attention.

So when we dropped by Dunkin Donuts for a treat, the Shark Bite donuts were an unexpected surprise and immediately a must-have. And while I'm quick to admit the actual donut isn't nearly as pretty in reality as in the advertisements, this simple glazed donut with white frosting and small shark-shaped sugary sprinkles is tasty.

Once the sweet tooth is satisfied, though, I wondered why the donut was even available? Well, Dunkin realized that Shark Week is now one of the most popular television events of the year - so much now that the company decided to celebrate like other seasonal holidays with a themed donut.

But the conservationist in me was disappointed. Dunkin chooses not to provide any information or support (that I found - PLEASE correct me if I'm wrong) about sharks themselves, leaving me with a feeling of nothing more than capitalization and pure exploitation on the popularity of the subject.

No business is required to go beyond their strategic plan and of course the purpose is to make money, but I have to admit when companies go that extra mile and reach out for the greater good, they will receive my patronage far more often. The Shark Bite donut made us smile for the day, but it nothing more than that.

Maybe I am naïve for thinking that a little research would show Dunkin Donuts supporting the cause for shark conservation, but alas, the company has been a sponsor of Discovery's Shark Week for several years now and that appears to be the extent. So in the end, I even have to give credit to The Discovery Channel's ability to market their week of shark-related programs instead of Dunkin's desire to make an impact.

Guess I'll stick to making my coffee at home.