Friday, February 25, 2011

Mad for Manatees

Today a friend and I visited the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach, FL. Every year from Nov. 1 to April 15 visitors gather to catch a glimpse of these oddly appealing creatures at this state and federally designated manatee sanctuary. Manatees typically gather in the clean, warm water discharge canal between Tampa Electric’s Big Bend Power Station and the viewing center when the temperature of the bay falls below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s warming up early this year, and we waited a little too long to visit—we only caught sight of five or six manatees still hanging out in the canal.

Until I moved to Florida, I’d never seen a manatee, but soon made their acquaintance at the zoo in Tampa, and once had the chance to swim with some at Crystal River. With their whiskery faces, leathery bodies and tiny eyes, they’re so ugly they’re cute, and they've become one of my favorite animals.

Photo: USFWS Endangered Species
The Florida manatee is a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, a warm-blooded marine mammal. Manatees are able to move freely between salt, brackish and fresh water, and are found in Florida’s coastal waters, rivers and springs. The average adult manatee weighs between 800 and 1200 pounds and can measure up to 10 feet long. Manatees spend most of their days eating, sleeping and playing. (I want to be a manatee!) They eat around 60 to 100 pounds of aquatic plants per day.

Manatees are gentle, passive and slow moving, but can be surprisingly nimble, able to swim upside down, do barrel rolls or stand on their heads or tails. They have no natural enemies, but unfortunately some are injured or killed each year by boats and other human-related causes. Manatees are migratory, and Tampa Bay is home to approximately 200 of them in winter, and around 100 in summer. (There are approximately 3800 manatees total in the U.S., according to savethemanatee.org.) West Indian manatees are protected in the United States under federal law by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as well as the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978.

Manatees reproduce slowly, only reaching sexual maturity at age five. One calf is born every two to three years (twins are rare), after a 13-month gestation. Calves stay with their mothers during the first two years of life, so sometimes one mother will be accompanied by both her older and younger calves at the same time.

As strange as it may seem if you’ve gotten a good look at one, legend has it that sailors mistook manatees for the sirens of Greek myth, those temptresses who lured sailors to their deaths on reefs and rocks. This is reflected in the manatee's order name, Sirenia.

The manatee’s closest relatives are the elephant, aardvark and hyrax.  The West Indian manatee is also related to the West African manatee, the Amazonian manatee and the dugong.

Another Manatee Viewing Center visitor

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Attack of the Killer Lists

I use lists to help keep my life organized. I have to-do lists, lists of goals, lists of books to read, grocery lists and lists of items to buy the next time I’m at Target. Without my lists, I would feel lost.

However, I recently noticed my list making taking a troubling turn. A significant part of my day was spent making or keeping lists. In addition to the lists mentioned above, there was my “gratitude journal.” After reading Sarah Ban Breathnach’s book Simple Abundance, I’d been listing five things for which I was grateful each day. In an effort to be more efficient (what am I DOing all day?), every now and then I kept a log of my activities to see where all my time went. Since I was also trying to lose weight, and I read that successful “losers” kept track of what they ate, I kept a food log several days a week.

Then I picked up Your Money or Your Life, by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. In one of their exercises to help “transform my relationship with money,” I started keeping track of every penny I spent. (I spent a lot on paper and pens. Hmm.)

And I realized that I was spending so much time recording everything I thought, did, ate and spent, that I hardly had time to think, do, eat or spend.

What was going on? Was I having a mid-life crisis? At the very least I was having a bad attack of self-improvement-itis. I was trying to improve my appearance and health and trying to handle money in a responsible and thoughtful way. I wanted to be more efficient, more creative and I hoped to find a deeper spirituality. I seemed to be trying to remake my whole life all at once!

I couldn’t go on this way. Frankly, I was tired. (I am woman, hear me snore.) It was time to accept myself for who I am. So I gave up all my lists, cold-turkey. (Is there a 12-step program for compulsive list makers?) Maybe eventually I’ll return to one, or some of them. But not all at the same time. For now, I’ll take it one day at a time. I’ll let go of my need to be perfect and concentrate on my need to Be.

Scout knows how to Be.

“No amount of self-improvement will make up for a lack of self-acceptance.”
Robert Holden

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Sweet 16

Today is Tank’s 16th birthday, though as a registered Quarter Horse, he “officially” turned 16 on Jan. 1. Tank and Frenchy, another horse at our barn, share a birthday and we always have a special celebration for them and the horses of our friends. The birthday party will take place next week, but here are some photos from past years:

Frenchy

Tank

Yum

Glory--notice the stylish tiara

It may seem ridiculous to throw a birthday party for horses—and in the scheme of “serious life,” it is. They don’t know or care what a birthday is—but, hey, someone is handing out molasses cake and carrots, how can I get some? They’re very focused that way.


We obviously don’t celebrate the horses’ birthdays for the horses. We do it because we look for excuses to celebrate, to share food (because there is yummy food for humans at these parties, too) and laughter. It’s one of my favorite simple pleasures.

How did you celebrate today?

Happy birthday, Tank!

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Hidden Hearts

A few months ago, inspired by The Enchanted Earth blog, I had the bright idea to take pictures of heart shapes I found as I went through my daily life, blog about it and call it “Hidden Hearts.” Since then, how many heart photos did I take? Exactly zero. It seems I didn’t see heart shapes around me. Maybe my vision was faulty--I am terrible at those puzzles where you’re supposed to find the pictures within the picture, and not once have I ever seen the image embedded in one of those optical illusion posters. 

Still, I wasn’t quite ready to give up. Remembering this post, I decided to give it one last shot. I took my camera out into our yard. If I found some hearts, great. If not, I’d give up the idea and move on.

As I stepped out the back door, I realized there’s a heart shape hidden in our outdoor table and chair set.


That was OK, but what I really wanted was to find hearts in the natural world. And then I saw this one:


And this one:


And this one:


And this one:


(I also discovered a face in our grill controls:


...but that’s beside the point.)

Now that I was completely focused on them, it took me only a few minutes to find all of these. Well. Is there a take-away lesson? If you know me, of course there is: You find what you look for. Looking for good in others? You’ll find it. Expecting your feelings to be hurt? They will be.

Looking for love? It’s all around you.

Happy Valentine’s Day—may your life be filled with love.

Bonus heart:


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Friday, February 11, 2011

How to Take a Teenage Boy Shopping for Clothes

There comes a time in the life of every teenage boy’s mother when she comes to the following realization: my child looks like a ragamuffin/street urchin/orphan and I need to take him shopping for clothes. This realization will send dread deep into her heart, as she realizes she will have to 1) find a time when both mother and son are available for shopping, 2) find a store that stocks affordable clothing for the impossibly tall and thin young man her son has become and 3) convince said young man that shopping for clothes is a necessary and required activity.

If you find yourself in this position, here are seven tips to help you survive your next shopping trip with your teenage son (these tips can also be applied to husbands):

Choose a time when nothing more interesting is going on. This will be nearly impossible since clothes shopping ranks with household chores in level of interest. You may have to ground him just so you can pull him away from his friends/the Xbox/Runescape.

Promise him lunch at his favorite restaurant. You’re just going to have to put up with the fact that his favorite restaurant is one you hate. You will either have to eat beforehand or find someplace acceptable nearby where you can buy take out.

Let him drive.

Once at the store, don’t express an opinion about the clothes on the racks until he does. Be noncommittal: “Here’s a blue shirt. What do you think?” Heaven forbid he try on something his mother says she likes. Even after he’s chosen something, be judicious with your praise. If you like it too much, suddenly he won’t. (The reverse is also true: if you hate it, don’t express that opinion, either, unless you want it to become the one thing he absolutely cannot live without.)

Fortify yourself with Starbucks (or other favorite treat).

Don’t try to shop for yourself, too. Never mind that you see an adorable top just your size…

Confine your trip to one or two stores to avoid shopping overload for both of you.

Clothes shopping with a teenage boy is not for the faint of heart, but it can be done successfully. And remember, it could be worse. He could be a girl.


What was your everyday adventure today?

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Monday, February 7, 2011

Three Little Words

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m learning natural horsemanship techniques so that I can be a better leader to my horse and have a closer bond with him. While watching one of the Parelli Level 1 DVDs recently, something one of the instructors said resonated with me. She posed the question, when someone asks you if you can do something you’ve never done before, especially something hard or scary, what should you say? Her answer:

“I don’t know.”

Not “I can’t.”

Because, really, you don’t yet know if you can do it or not, because you haven’t tried. You don’t know what is possible.

Some other alternatives she came up with included: I haven’t up until now. I haven’t done that yet. In the past, I haven’t tried that.

These phrases leave the door open, instead of slamming it shut with an “I can’t.” I’ve found “I don't know” very helpful when I’m offered the chance to do something that scares me. I don’t always rise to the challenge—but sometimes I do.

What are some things you say to yourself when faced with a challenge?

What's to be scared of?

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Unscrew the Cap

“Before we are able to receive a gift, from a friend or from nature, we have to be open to it; a bottle with its cap screwed on tightly cannot be filled with water no matter how much water we try to pour into it or how often we try—the water simply runs down its sides, never filling it. It is only when we feel worthy of happiness that we open ourselves up to life’s ultimate treasure.” Even Happier, by Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D

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