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.


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Movie Review: The MEG

I read the original MEG book not long after it first came out and hit the NY Times bestseller list. I have waited YEARS for this film. That being said, the review is meant for people who didn't read all or even a single book in the series. I HATE spoilers, so you are safe to read the books and watch the movie. Enjoy!

I squealed during this movie.

Yes, I enjoy shark movies. From the iconic music of Jaws to the hilarity of the Sharknado series, I am a fan of sharks. But I also realize that not all of these movies are equal. As a marine biologist, I get peeved when I see films of hammerheads attacking humans in the same way a birder is annoyed at the red-tail hawk's cry that plays when an eagle flies by on film.

But I can get behind The Meg.

Like Jurassic Park in its infancy, the film takes elements from the book(s) and creates new characters with names you already know. There is enough tie to the original story to keep MEGHEADS happy without making newcomers feel like they are missing out on an inside joke.

The star power is mostly on Jason Statham's shoulders, but there are still other actors that are just recognizable enough to feel familiar, but still able to slide into the role of each character. I was a bit concerned at first with the casting of Meiying (the little girl), but her weirdly endearing performance grew on me by the end of the film.

If you want an action film, here you go - The Meg fills the screen with intensity and larger than life stunts. While the current 17,000+ ratings on IMDB give it only a 6.2 / 10, and Rotten Tomatoes ranks it a paltry 5.5, one must first accept what they are going to see. IT'S A SHARK MOVIE.

If you are expecting to have your inner monologue forever shift into deep reflection, this is not the film for you. It is an action movie - expect explosions.

As a long-time shark and movie lover, the marine biologist in me was thrilled with a few homage moments to the film that started it all. But I was beside myself with glee when a line from Finding Nemo worked its way in too! Even the moments spent explaining the horrors of shark finning are important ties that keep you moving forward in the story.

From a special effects standpoint, the submersibles and gliders felt cutting edge but realistic. The "bubble" expected in a movie sub could never withstand the trench depths, so the creators used cameras to create a full scene inside the cockpit. That was just plain brilliant.

If you are afraid of sharks, this is not the film for you -sorry. If you prefer a golden chainsaw as a means of protection from finned predators, then be aware The Meg manages to bring prehistoric creatures to life without going cheesy.

But if at the end of the movie, you had fun - then I highly recommend trying out the series of MEG books. The last installment just found my doorstep today.

Here comes the personal stuff now

I met the author years ago. Well, I didn't meet him the first time. I went to a late night Barnes and Noble book signing for Steve Alten but his schedule was mixed up and he missed the meet and greet. I spent over an hour instead talking about his books with other fans until the store closed.

Alten reached out and won my heart forever. He not only scheduled a new signing, but sent me an autographed poster as an apology. It still hangs in my son's room now. This man worked for years to create a fun series with an injection of science - always pushing his readers to ask more questions once the book is shut.

Whether it is his tenacity to write diverse novels, or his training regiment to continue fighting Parkinson's' disease, Steve Alten plays a role that inspired me to start writing in the first place. So, thank you, Steve. I loved your movie and hope to watch a documentary on you someday too.


Sunday, July 29, 2018

Local Review: Jupiter Lighthouse Museum

In case you haven't noticed, my bucket list is extremely important. It provides direction and motivation when getting out of bed before 7 am is way down the list of priorities.

I worked less than a mile away from the iconic Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse for two years, and never made it up the steps. When a very close friend became ill with his second fight against cancer, we made the promise to climb the tower together once he felt up to it.

Danny ended up in the hospital a few short weeks after our conversation (I had tried to make arrangements prior but he did not feet well enough for a walk), and never went home. Heartbroken, I resolved to make the climb for him. Motivation is a precious thing to waste, and I have since made the climb twice.

Brave the 105 steps, with four small window stops - one facing each major point of the compass to allow for airflow regardless of wind direction - and receive a reward. One of the most spectacular views in Florida awaits.

The fully functioning lighthouse is not available to visit without registering for an official tour, and the land is federally regulated. This iconic building, proudly shooting a beam into the night that is visible 30 miles out since 1860, is the product of partnerships. The Coast Guard, Bureau of Land Management and the Loxahatchee Historical Society work together to keep the lighthouse lit for those at sea and accessible to those on land.

The Frenel lens fascinated me as much as the extensive tour of the other historical buildings led by Janet.

From Native American middens to the keeper's workshop, the 125 acres of land includes more than the lighthouse.

My favorite part had to be the large ficus tree, planted in 1935.

Danny was a history buff far beyond my reach, and as he was a big fan of Charlie Pierce stories we had to visit all the wonderful buildings in his honor.

My awesome friend Shannon exploring and an exhibit telling the history of Charlie Pierce.

From the Tindel House to the Pennocks, Jupiter's history is truly represented in the different exhibits. Even the Chiki with its 3000 sabal palm fronds shows the care staff and volunteers take with every aspect of the facility.

Seriously - 3000 fronds?!
Well, I can't post this without including the highlight views mentioned before - so here you go!

Jim's time at the lighthouse means he has forgotten more than I will ever know!

Jupiter Inlet at its finest
This past year without Danny as my muse and sounding board inspired me to spot waiting for adventure. His mantra to me was "be better today than I was yesterday", and I take those words to heart.

It took far too long to get this post moving, because despite the wonderful facility and staff I couldn't seem to get the words down. But I took a second trip with some friends from out of state and realized that sharing the experience is how to best show respect.

The Jupiter Lighthouse is well worth the time to visit. There is lots to do at the museum on site and a lovely little giftshop with Florida-unique items. Even if you are not physically up for the climb, the exhibits and other historical buildings make for a fun field trip perfect for grown ups.

The price is less than reasonable (as in cheap, people!) and knowing you are preserving history while connecting with Old Florida is just icing on the cake.

Don't put off the items on your bucket list. Don't wait to visit the places and people that make the area around your home special. Take the time for small adventures - it will always be worth the climb.


Sunday, March 18, 2018

Local Review: Mounts Botanical Gardens & the Washed Ashore Exhibit

I do not have a green thumb.

I managed to kill an air plant - an air plant. They survive and thrive without roots.

Air plant growing upside down in the test of a sea urchin

When invited to join the Master Gardeners, I politely explained that I respected what they did and it was out of such respect that I chose to steer clear of their hard work lest I inadvertently destroy their efforts entirely.

My husband doesn’t let me water the plants unless it is the middle of the summer and he is on a 48-hr shift, and we are in the middle of a drought. He actually has our 8-yr old do it whenever possible instead. The two of them will go outside and talk to plants like the ever-blooming bleeding-heart vine behind our house or the cucumber seedlings on the back porch – even the avocado tree they are growing for me (since I’m the only one who likes them) gets a pep talk. I am not permitted to speak to the plants.

I am the evil mustache-less twin of the Lorax.

I killed the snapdragon bestowed upon me by the fabulous Farmer Jay (Farmer Jay's Pure Organics). That hurt. His motto is “grow something” and I felt particularly embarrassed when the plant died. (Incidentally, Farmer Jay’s Ted Talk is very much worth the time too)

So how does Mounts Botanical Garden, an iconic place with a huge following, get a sworn “not a plant person” onto the property? Simple. Host a special exhibit with a connection to the OCEAN. Of course! Why hadn’t they thought of it before? I’ve been in south Florida for nearly 20 years now and never set foot on the grounds. I finally realized where it was just in the past 2 years. But I am not a plant person. I’m a water baby.

I am also, as you may have read in previous posts, a person who has a penchant for picking up trash. I present to you the coup de grâce on how to get a beach person to a land locked garden: host an exhibit of giant sea-inspired statues crafted entirely out of trash pulled from the surf and sand.

One of my goals (some people call them resolutions, but I tend to break those pretty quickly) this year was to try 30 new things. This includes visiting places buried on my to-do list and over the years I crossed paths with many wonderful people who volunteer, work or regularly visit Mounts. It was on the list, but as we have established, I am not a plant person. I needed a push.

Not only did this exhibit inspire me to visit, the magnitude and message were not lost. I enjoyed the project a great deal and even managed to explore the entire garden on my own armed with a camera to keep me from touching, and possible placing a curse on, any of the flora. “Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea” is running for six months – with the exhibit concluding in June 2018 and I highly recommend giving this moving and intense exhibition your time.

So this is how starfruit grows!

Temporarily “planted” along the paths throughout the 14 acres of MBG are ten massive statues, each telling a tale of both sadness and hope. This is just a sample of artwork from the project, however, as they have a home gallery in Oregon, and traveling exhibitions currently in Chicago, Washington D.C., and Sarasota. There really is no excuse not to find visit when it comes to your area, and you will not likely see works of this magnitude elsewhere.

I have seen trash-based exhibits before, often at museums or science centers, but those were usually only one or two marine themed pieces comingled with other constructs. The Washed Ashore not only has a clear message about plastic in our oceans, but even the sculptures themselves have a very specific theme based on their components. One thing that struck me in particular – the use of color without the use of paint. All the colors and textures you see in these statues are intentional and still true to their former life as a piece of flotsam.

My visit took place on a cloudy weekday, and even then, the basic parking lot was full. There was a workshop going on for actual plant people, and combined with the guests walking in I chose to take my map and go through the gardens in reverse. In respect to the works and direction in which the items were actually placed, however, here is the special exhibition for you to enjoy. Know that these photos in no way do the statues justice as they are huge and, in some cases, downright imposing.

“American” Sea Star is based on items leftover from Independence Day celebrations in America. The marine biologist in me must point out and give a heartfelt thank you to the artist for not calling it a ‘starfish’.

I was particularly disturbed by the shotgun shells. Not exactly expected marine debris.

Marine Debris Anemone focuses on single-use plastic bottles, but I found the most moving part of the work the use of color derived from unwound sections of rope and line.

Priscilla the Parrot Fish, while colorful and apparently a poster child in many of the articles and media posts I have seen, was not my favorite piece in this collection. The items are bit more random and did not have the same intensity as images such as the Sea Star.

Sebastian James the Puffin shares a sobering quality with its real-life counterpart, the statue has a comical quality and an inquisitive expression. Puffins were the creatures behind the creation of the 'porg' species in the most recent Star Wars installation, and the quirky little birds are prone to exploring trash in search of food scraps, and are particularly susceptible to ingesting plastic. My favorite detail of this particular piece was the hook at the edge of the beak. Despite it being much longer than on the actual birds, and more so like that of a raptor’s beak, it still captures the animal’s nature and not just the cuteness factor.

Grace the Humpback Whale Tail / Hugo the Humpback Whale Tail

This pair of sculptures showcases the research done by the artist, making a point of differentiating the Pacific humpback from the Atlantic whales. In reality this species has benefitted greatly from conservation efforts over the years, but personally I cannot help but attribute some of the interest and support in humpbacks back to Star Trek IV and the plight of “Gracie” and “George” – mostly because that movie inspired me, an 8-yr old land-locked kid living in the Midwest – to learn and appreciate marine life for the first time.

Musical Seaweed is meant to be an interactive exhibit, but during my time instead the sky was filled with the roar of planes landing at the airport nearby. It was the first time I truly noticed the noise, but am reminded how creating beautiful spaces in areas that many people would not wish to live is exceptional strategic planning. The areas in and around airports are great for natural areas and in this case, an amazing garden.

Water Bottle Jelly

I fell in love with the statue from a distance and was not disappointed up close. It was placed off the paved pathway, up on a little knoll. There was no resisting the opportunity to lie down in the grass and look up to the sky through the waving tentacles of plastic. This massive reminder speaks of the plastic bags resembling jellies in the ocean – confusing the living dinosaurs (in this case sea turtles) of what is food and what is dangerous.

Flash the Marlin

This cool fish is constructed from reflective materials such as sunglasses and beer cans. Check out those choppers! Some people are able to stare at a piece of art and 'see' things within the picture such as sadness, faces, or ghost-like apparitions buried within the image. What I love about this exhibit is how it doesn't matter if you are a big fan of the arts, or even over the age of five, you can still find so many things within each of these pieces. You can observe tactile metaphors and see the reincarnated spirits of old shoes repurposed as the original builders never imagined.

Lidia the Seal has a significant portion of the structure being provided by various lids of items, hence the name Lid-ia. I am always a fan of a good pun, but found this sculpture personally more disturbing that many of the others. The irony behind the ‘smile’ will haunt my dreams for some time.

While this special exhibition drew me in, I was still compelled to explore the entirety of the grounds and gift shop. Some of the flora enjoyed throughout the gardens were familiar let lacked nomenclature, and I was glad to have adequate signage without it distracting from taking photos. There were plenty of guests in the area, but it was not difficult to find solitude amongst the leaves. The layout of the gardens lends itself to reflection, and the volunteers/staff were not invasive. One can be engrossed in the vegetation, or simply a temporary observer.

For those who love plants, this is a must visit. For those who want to feel peaceful, Mounts Botanical is a great option. For others who wish to learn more about the greener side of life, MBG offers a variety of classes and workshops. Visit them directly for more information at: Mounts Botanical Garden.

Let’s take the time to give attention to the project that created these inspiring pieces that travel the world, spreading the message of Art to Save the Sea. Be sure to check out Washed Ashore  for details and the locations of other exhibits currently traveling around the country.

Whatever it takes to hook you into trying something new, keep an exploring eye out as there could be great new experiences waiting to inspire!