Friday, March 24, 2017

Obsession (Noun) Fixation; Consumption With Desire, Belief

As I look back on life, I pinpoint my obsessions along the path. Boys were the first one--the desire for a life partner and mate preoccupying my late teens and earliest twenties. It took many years to complete that goal and many more to grow into deserving him. But this post is not about that that kind of lust.

While I was waiting to meet my heart's desire, I became involved with glass--first stained then fused--and hot on its heels of glass was linguistics. One thing led to another, personality and politics decreed my path would not be smooth, and when I transitioned from professional lingistics/university faculty into academic computing support, I stumbled upon the Remedy software application. Learning it led to my most successful--by the standards of our society--professional activity, and still to this day (over 20 years later) it remains one of the most satisfying and challenging pursuits I have undertaken.

Now I am in the middle of another infatuation (the garden and all things botanical) and I find myself needing to return to my Remedy roots (in a way) as I pick up and learn the current version of FileMaker Pro in order to compile a flexible database of the native plants I am using in the new garden that will hold all the data I want to gather about them in a way that is accessible. In other words, I have reached the limit of what I can efficiently manage with Microsoft Excel. When it is finished, I hope to transition this database to marrying both my and my husband's passions--and make it available to others. As I go, I marvel at how life winds around and flows, twining and crossing the paths of the past and the present, forming us into the solid, complex, three-dimensional organisms that we are. Who knew that software/workflow development would lend itself to gardening?

Do not think this means I have forgotten glass, spinning, weaving, ceramics, metal-smithing, woodworking, and ikebana--all past and present preoccupations. But today, tonight, I create cathedrals in software. And I help Baxter walk to and from the front door. We are off to the vet tomorrow morning--I have a feeling the next post will be about him.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Ceramics and Friends

Wonderful day today taking my first pottery class (wheel throwing and beyond) in four years, and visiting with Steve Adler and Shawn Wentworth in visiting from Missoula. Steve is also providing professional architectural services on our bathroom remodel--that will be *much* better than just winging it! I would like to say I got more done today, but honestly I have spent the last half hour trying to get the Irene Adler moan ringtone from Sherlock onto my phone--as has Steve. He has a Samsung Galaxy and I have an iPhone so we're both struggling with different tech. But by this time tomorrow... Ahhhhh.

Pottery today was a new lesson in humility and patience, balance and breathing. Oh, and bad posture. Apparently my posture is too good and it affects the strength and focus I have access to in my throwing. My instructor assured me, however, that whatever my posture, throwing clay is hard on the body and I'm going to hurt. I should take up yoga. For now I think sleep will do. Tomorrow, a stream!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Same Old, Same Old

We get ready for our first guests in the apartment since it's been renovated, and it's all spiffy! Jay had it cleaned today as the last part of the renovation so I didn't have to. Now I just need to round up some towels. Oh and vacuum out the car after yesterday's plant adventures. Cleaning in our house today consisted of vacuuming the front half of the house. I'm afraid my brain got stuck in the plant zone again (see the seed box at right?).

I didn't leave the property today. The Invisible Fence guy came and extended our covered area to include the new garden, and Jay and his guys worked on the front and the back. The front garden is not as far as I would have liked as the skidsteer broke down today so dirt didn't really get moved, but the back is looking great and I have high hopes the stream will be working by the weekend. The stumps did not get pulled today either, and then I went and came up with another yard area to do. Between our house and Dan and Zaga's, we're going to clear several more cedars and some shrubs and construct a lattice pergola structure with a bench on one side (for Zaga and Dan) and maybe a fountain or some other garden art on the other. for us The main purpose of the structure is so that they can use their hot tub naked with no fear of scandalizing us, and we can stroll around our bathroom in the buff without fear of causing heart failure on their part. We could spend a lot of money on tinted windows (I definitely don't want blinds), but this way we can have nature AND privacy all at the same time, and it will be a pretty, shared space too.

Taxes did not get done again today--Helen, our accountant, is going to scalp me if I don't get my butt in gear pronto. But tomorrow my pottery class starts, and I have company to entertain (they're easy) and a bathroom to design with one of the company as he's an architect and the visit is ostensibly to plan out the new bathroom. I cannot WAIT to get rid of the carpet in it and our bedroom, and to have a taller toilet that doesn't run constantly if you don't fiddle with the inside lever thingie.

Okay, off to vacuum the car, take towels to the apartment, and head to the airport!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

There Is *Almost* No Limit To What a Determined Gardener Can Fit Into a Minivan

Except for the big pot at the top left,
this all fit in the minivan today
The big plan today was to drop the dogs at the groomers at 8:00 when they opened and head to the Medina Nursery Garden 2-3 hours down the winding back country highways west and south. They pulled an order of plants for me on Sunday, I was going to pick them up, ask if there was anything else I shouldn't miss, pay and head home to arrive by 3:00, give Baxter his meds, unload the plants, go get the dogs, and pick Jessie up from school. Best laid plans of mice and gardeners...

I dropped off the dogs at 8:30 which put me down in Medina about 11:15. I got home at 7:00 tonight. Zaga saved my butt *again* by both giving Baxter his meds at 3:00 and then picking up the other dogs at 4:30 when it became apparent there was no way I was going to get back before the groomer closed at 6:00. Heck, at 4:30 the wonderful guys from the nursery were still trying to figure out how to fit all the plants I got in the minivan (we failed at that, but it's okay). Total plants acquired today: 249. Total plants before today: 108--and that was two pick-up truck loads. Today was the minivan, and I hadn't even taken one of the main back seats and the little middle back seat out.

That nursery is incredible! They specialize in rare natives that they propagate themselves and trade with other small native nurseries. Their main clients are the native plant societies, but they also work with mainstream gardeners showing them how they can integrate natives into a conventional garden without sacrificing looks and gaining ease of maintenance and tolerance of Texas weather and soils.

Unless you are a serious native plant specialist (way more than I am), you can't effectively shop there without one of the guys holding your hand and showing you plants. Ishmael held my hand for five hours. Without him, I would have come home with my list, made all my appointments, and been much the sadder for it. If you look in a lot of the pots there, they have drab, spindly, weedy-looking little plants. That's because many of them are just coming up, and they don't have robust foliage or any flowers at all yet--often they aren't even labeled. But all you have to do is say, "I'm looking for a white flowering plant that does well in poorly drained, heavy clay and full shade," and they'll lead you right to one (White American BeautyberryCallicarpa americana var. lactea). I got three.

Just to get me home they had to take one of their long, short-legged, black plastic plant tables and put it in the minivan over the fully-covered floor. Then they had another layer of plants on it. All the seats were filled, the passenger foot area, the running boards inside the back doors (I had to force both doors to close on the pots and squish them a bit to get the doors to close). I'll take their table back to them when I go next week. I don't mind the trip at all as they managed to find one of the really rare (in this area) plants for me at another little place and they'll have it for me next week along with all the ones I bought today and couldn't fit in the van (probably about 20). I'm tempted to get Bobby and Devon to make me a two-tier table set-up for the back of the minivan so I could stack plants three-high. But then again, how many more trips like this am I going to make down there? Hey, maybe I should get a trailer and have plant racks built into it...

I got home to a large mulch pile in place of the last brush pile, but no dirt. They couldn't get the skidsteer today so the dirt--and the skidsteer--will be here first thing tomorrow morning. There had been, however, someone working in the backyard as there was serious damage done to the weeds around the stream. I can't wait to see it running! Now off to bed to dream botanical dreams  and recover from my very exciting day.

Monday, March 20, 2017

And We've Got To Get Ourselves Back To the Garden

We're home, and I have many things on my plate. But none of them are so compelling as the garden. As I am a creature of whim (and an avatar of chaos), I went with the flow and picked up where we left off with the landscaping plans and let the laundry and housecleaning sit. Maybe I should just hire a service to come in Wednesday and clean the whole house and the apartment... You see we have two sets of company twining through our lives this week, and I want everything to be ship-shape for them, though they do not require it. It's a hostess thing. I also hope to convince another friend from Dallas to come down the following weekend to help me put in plants (Debbie, you know who you are).

But back to the landscaping plans! I had a set of objectives and a rough timeline set out before I left, but the warm weather and abundant rain have caused every species of burr grass known to Texas to flourish and I simply cannot leave the existing garden beds to languish while I focus on the new beds. I simply must amend my plans. So I tugged hard on them, and twisted them into a new and interesting shape. Current additions to the old plan: All existing garden beds (front and back) will be mostly--if not all--cleared, with new dirt added, and mulched by Friday ready for planting next week. (Cleared, by the way means burned off with a massive propane torch called a "pear burner" in Texas. Why pull the weeds over hours when you can whack them with a weed whacker and then burn them over minutes? And who doesn't like a good fire...) The stream bed will be cleaned out, the new pump will be installed, and the stream will be running by the end of the week. (wheee!)

On the old plan, The new beds have all been constructed--only the pond is left to do in terms of rock work. The concrete footings for the bog pond will go down this week, but the rock work, liner, skimmer, bog pond, waterfall, pump, etc., will not begin for at least a week. Current schedule reads: Mulch and make firewood from the final trees removed (mostly dead from a neighbor's property) starting tomorrow. Dirt delivery is supposed to start tomorrow with three truckloads and then an additional two loads on Wednesday (over 50 cu yds total). There is a big chipper/shredder being delivered tomorrow to mulch everything, we have a coupe of chainsaws for the firewood, and there is also a skidsteer being delivered to move the dirt and pull the last tree stump (don't you love all the toys used in this project? I love toys). By the end of the week all the holes for the new trees will be dug (by machine and man, not solely by man). Finally, the tops of all the rock walls around all the beds will be set in place so we'll have a nice wall to sit on. Because the dirt will be in, and I both already have plants and I'm going to Medina Garden Nursery tomorrow to pick up another batch of plants they've pulled for me (and probably more they'll recommend), I'm sure I'll end the week with a LOT of planting! Soaker hoses, here I come.

Next week will be the pond and bog pond, and the piping for the pond and the irrigation to all of the beds. The week after that will be the building of all the structures--benches, arbors, swing, fire pit, trellises, and the laying of the decomposed granite for the walkways. At some point the bark will be peeled off all the cedar poles and they will be laid as path boundaries. Oh yes, and there will be a small ornamental bridge built over the dry culvert where we get water runoff in high rains. Trip, trop, trip, trop.

No wildflowers have come up in the front lawn (designated as the new wildflower meadow), but I am going to leave it shaggy for the many species which have yet to bloom to see if I have any luck there, and I'm going to seed it heavily again this fall. Speaking of seeds, the annual seeds I ordered from American Native Seed arrived while I was in Honduras, and I went through all of them (and all of the other seeds I have purchased) today to start making a master plan for planting. Most of them will be sown directly into the garden, though a couple of species need to be scarified and then chilled before planting them. In all, it's a full garden week! Throw in taking the dogs to the groomer (except Baxter who is doing very well in his sling but not ready to be manhandled by a groomer), and getting the tax papers to the accountant, and I really think I'd better hire a cleaning service for Wednesday!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Monkeys, Sloths, and Iguana, Oh My!

At the airport, through security, fingerprints taken... again. The boarding passes taunted us with TSA-Pre-Check at the top, but of course there is no TSA here in Honduras. There is a DSA, and they laugh at our Pre-Check. Tonight we get home just in time to sleep in our own beds. I had a wonderful, relaxing time here, but I'm glad to go home. It used to be that I'd do anything to be on vacation longer, but these days I find I like my life so much that it's hard to leave. Even with all the chaos there during remodeling and renovation, it's also hard to leave Stone's Throw.

But this post is about Roatán from the perspective of a more experienced eco traveler. The owners of the condo where we stayed left an informational packet for visitors and took great pains to educate us on the biggest problems for the ecology of the island and the little things we could do to make the situation better. First off, it's an island. The trash stays on the island. It's an island. It's not that big and all the plastic bags, styrofoam takeout containers, drinking straws, and water bottles (though the last are recyclable) end up best case in an ever-growing landfill in a limited space, or worst case in the ocean and then in a sea turtle's nose or stomach. It's an island.

Then there's the problem of locals (or people come from the mainland to make a better living from the tourism on the island) depleting the native game (or fish) populations to supply the restaurants to please the palates of the visiting tourists. The tourists don't know that lobster season ends on March 1 and doesn't resume again until July 1 so any fresh lobster they eat during that time period has been poached. They don't know that conch is endangered and the only legal source is the research entities who couldn't nearly supply enough for all the soups and fritters on the local menus. The locals are so eager to please the tourists and gain revenue from them that they don't think ahead to what happens when the attraction that draws the tourists is gone. Yes, tourists like to eat fresh lobster, conch, grouper and other marine life. However, if those species are overfished or over-harvested then the reef dies. The reef dies and the divers and snorkelers don't come. It's bad for business all around to kill off your attractions.

In the midst of being inundated with plastic at restaurants and stores, it was wonderful to visit three different places on the island that are owned and run by locals, and whose mission is to protect, educate and conserve. These three places alone make Roatán a great place to visit. Add them to the diving and the friendliness of the locals and you have an incredible vacation destination.

For the past two days I have posted many pictures of us with sloths, monkeys, iguana and various other wildlife. While it was cool to be able to interact with the animals, the most important part of our visits to the various sanctuaries was seeing the genuine care the staff took of the animals and hearing about the educational and rescue missions on their behalf.

Our first stop was at Daniel Johnson's Monkey and Sloth Hangout. The sloths there are not caged, and you can only hold one if they haven't already been held too much that day. There are seven sloths and they get to be held for a few minutes 15 times per day. The rest of the time, they hang out in the mangroves on the property. The sloths serve to educate both the natives and tourists on the importance of the mainland forests (their natural habitat) and their peaceable nature. The monkeys are all rescued pets as is the raccoon, the macaws and parrots. You are allowed to go in the enclosure with the young capuchin monkeys, and if they want to come hang out on you they can. They're not forced--they're not even forced to be in the same enclosure--there is a tube high up that connects it to another enclosure. In the afternoon after all the tourists are gone, the monkeys are all let out to play in the trees and roam the property for a few hours. The enclosures were large, clean, and had trees growing in them for the animals to climb or other interactive structures. I was really, really impressed with this place and the obvious care they take of their charges.

Next we went to Arch's Iguana and Marine Sanctuary. Iguana are one of the native island species, and they are relentlessly hunted as food. We actually saw three iguana hunters today on the way to the airport (they were pointed out by our driver as they scanned the trees in search of their prey). I have nothing against hunting for food, but the iguana population on the island has been so depleted that it's rare to see one anymore. We did not take the snorkel tour at the Marine Park, but after seeing the video at the bottom of this post I wish we had.

This is an incredible success story of locals seeing the value in preserving marine life and other animals and stepping up to make a difference. They not only actively patrol to stop poaching, but they have gotten their neighbors to see the value and join in their conservation efforts. I have seen criticism online about the horrible conditions of animals in small cages, and all I can say is on our visit I saw only two monkeys in cages--no other animals. They weren't as large or as nice as the enclosures at Daniel Johnson's, but when I asked about them--and about why the monkeys (two different species) were both solitary, I was told that the spider monkey is a rescued pet and she prefers living alone (there's actually an iguana in with her), and the capuchin had a companion but they were having to work through permitting issues in order to house her. However the monkeys are also allowed out after the tourists leave at 3:00 so they can roam the grounds and play too.

Finally we ended up at Mayan Eden Eco Park. There the birds and the monkeys roam freely--though there are some rescued animals in enclosures including white-tailed deer. The big draw for me there though was the butterfly house. They propagate and raise larval plants for the butterflies, and tin their butterfly house they have living examples of the different stages of each type of butterfly. The tour guides are both knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and it's clear the mission there is also education and conservation of the butterflies and the animals that now make their home there. There is also a zipline through the jungle canopy in the park, but we never even saw the area for that. As with the other two places, the interactions with the animals were carefully controlled for the animals benefit. The monkeys were coaxed over with food--they weren't coerced to interact with the tourists--and they scampered off when they wanted.

I end the post with a video interview of members of the Arch family talking about the reasons behind their Sanctuary and what they do daily to keep it alive.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Thank You Blogger, You POS

I spent all day today writing a very thoughtful post on the sanctuaries we visited here in Roatán yesterday and the state of the eco tourism in general. As I was doing my last edit I hit Ctrl + Z to undo a photo adjustment I had just made... and Blogger deleted my entire post. So tonight I leave you with the slideshow I made to accompany the post, and I'll put together the words tomorrow.

I Think We Need a Monkey

What an incredible day! I have lots to write about it--especially about the true animal-friendliness of the places we visited today, but I'm just too tired tonight. Tomorrow will be a great day to put it all down. We visited sanctuaries and a butterfly garden, and had a lovely driving tour of the island with Arnold. There were sloths, macaws, monkeys, parrots, a kinkajou, tiny white-tailed deer, and iguanas.

On the home front, Baxter got his hip put back in and the doctor thinks he'll do much better this time than last time: the hip went in easier, and they are using a better sling. Zaga is an excellent nurse.

Now I need to go sleep. I leave with a video of Dave and the baby capuchin.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Baxter Blues

Tough day today, Baxter's hip came out of its socket again. According to the vet, there are two options: put it back in and there's about a 30-40% chance of success with that option, or do surgery with weeks of physical therapy and potentially months before he is back to 100%--if ever. The vet stressed that the surgery is very successful--and I have no doubt it is. But there comes a point in life when fixing it doesn't make it better. Baxter is 16 years old. He sleeps most of the time, he has forgotten where he's supposed to relieve himself, he is hard of hearing, losing his eyesight, and losing his mental facilities. I don't know how much time he has left, but I really don't want him to spend it mostly immobile, being forced to do physical therapy in the water (he hates the water), and recovering from an invasive experience. With his hip still out of the socket he has been running around the house quite happily (on three legs), eating, drinking, and going outside normally. Yes, he's on pain meds, and I see no reason to stop them. But I am really, really struggling with putting him through surgery. Between my mom and our deerhound Jester, I am not a fan of surgery on the old.

Even so, I am swamped with guilt over not doing everything I can do and can afford for him. My kneejerk reaction is "Of course, let's do surgery!", but regardless what this vet--who has never seen him before and doesn't know him--says, I keep thinking it's better for him *not* to do it, and doing it so I can console myself by saying I did everything I could for him is a lousy reason.

If we put the hip back in, it has to be tomorrow morning, but then he'll just be back in the sling, peeing on it and himself, struggling to walk, and it probably won't work. This is a lot harder of a decision because I'm not there with him judging for myself how he's doing and how he might do with various treatments.

Going to go to bed to sleep on it. Have to make at least one decision (put it back in or not) by 8:30 am tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Sharks Off An Island

We're on an island, we've been  diving, and Jessie has us watching the movie "The Shallows". Guess what it's about? A shark. Off an island where the native language is Spanish. The shark is eating lots of people. Because someone speared it in the mouth and it wants revenge. Or because the people are in the water with the dead whale it's eating. Even though I am not sure why none of the surfers saw the dead whale, I am managing to be terrified.

We had two nice dives this morning, but the weather is changing (and we're old) so we're not diving tomorrow. Besides, we need to spend some time with the child and she has absolutely no interest in going diving. With or without sharks.

Because we're in paradise, and I am back to being a sloth again, I've spent enough time on the computer today and am going to go read or knit or something relaxing. No more sharks.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Gardening and Diving

Cruise ship days on an island are interesting times—and full of amusing sights. I love to cruise, but when we do, we rarely get off the ship unless it’s for a specific tour activity—never just to shop. Today I had a visual reminder of just why that is. 

So we were having breakfast on a little balcony across from the water when a catamaran full of cruise ship tourists pulled up to the beach. The last ones off were an American family of size (casting no stones here—the woman was my size, which is to say, Of Size) consisting of mother, father and an older teenage son. They got halfway up the beach before the first hawker nabbed them, trying to sell them a hammock. They deliberated a bit and then took a step backwards towards the boat and the water. Then a woman drifted over to them proffering an armload of jewelry. They took another step back. Then two large, determined-looking Caribbean women strode towards them from the road carrying bags of stuff, and the family fled back to the safety of the water next to the catamaran. There they huddled, waist-deep in the surf, holding the hawkers at bay. We left before the catamaran did so I don’t know if they ever got out of the water.

On the way back to our condo I checked out the plants blooming and going to seed along the road. There was a mandevilla-looking thing that was just gorgeous, and also some kind of sweet pea that was the most beautiful blue I have seen in a flower. I also saw what looked like some variety of bleeding heart, and some big peachy hydrangea-like flowers with a big yellow star in the center. It's spring so no matter where I go, I can't stop thinking about gardening. I'd put the pictures here, but as exciting as they were, flowers don't stand up to sea life for interest.

This afternoon we went to Sun Divers for a little diving refresher course (this is your regulator, this is your BCD, this is the signal for "I'm out of air!", this is the signal for "Can I share your air?", this is the signal for "Screw you, I have good life insurance on you..."). It really is just like riding a bicycle and it all came right back. After about 15 minutes of review underwater, we hopped on the boat, cruised out about two minutes from shore and had a great wall dive. We went down 65 feet and then worked our way slowly back up during the course of the 45 minute dive. I was kicking myself for not bringing my GoPro camera as we were really lucky and saw tons of fish from a large school of blue tang, to a barracuda, smooth trunkfish, queen parrotfish, damselfish galore, and more! I didn't actually see the barracuda, but Dave and our dive master did. The highlights for me were the hawkbill turtle, the peacock flounder, the sea horse, and the enormous green moray out swimming around. The pictures here are not mine, but they were taken by Sun Divers and are pretty much exactly what we saw--without the other divers in the scene. You can check it all out on their Facebook page. We didn't see the large hammerhead shark, a manta ray, the reef squid or the whale shark--all of which they have photographed on their dives in the last year and show up on Facebook--but maybe tomorrow!

Tomorrow we're going out for a two-tank dive in the morning, and I hope we get a couple more dives in before we go. We both forgot how very much we enjoy diving and we'd like to make it an annual event. Jessie did not accompany us--getting her snorkeling is going to be challenging enough. She is not at all ready for scuba. Sadness.