Thursday, May 31, 2007

Placebo Allergy

If you know me well, you know I'm a legendary hypochondriac.

Just ask the UVM (University of Vermont) med student who administered the toxic batch of placebo that made me violently ill back in college. (I got the $25 bucks for the experiment anyway). So is it any surprise I spent the day thinking I might be ill? After devouring nearly half a pan of 3 1/2 year old brownies yesterday I had a good amount of time today to devote to wondering if every cramp, headache, blurred vision, restless leg shake, hot flash, cold sweat and odd whispering coming from somewhere from behind me had something to do with the poor decision to treat myself to the potentially toxic brownies. (Keep in mind these were out of the box brownies with nothing "augmenting" them thank you very much.)

I still have no idea if they had a negative effect. Am I making up this nasty feeling? As Bill would say "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean someone isn't following you". Those brownies might have been bad is all I'm saying.

But it might be me too.

Just a few days ago I was afraid I had TB. If they give a symptom, suddenly I can catch it through the TV. I swear I had a case of Ebola a few years ago and if I hadn't worn that surgical mask I know I would have gotten SARS. (Mr. Traut knows what I'm talking about)

I missed half of high school with a severe case of the creeps.

It's a mental issue that seems to run in the family on my dad's side. My grandmother had a prostate problem a few years ago. Nevermind she had no idea where her prostate was, or what it was. I'm not sure if anyone ever told her she doesn't have one.

The dilemma always becomes - do you go to the doctor or wait it out? It's embarrassing being wrong either way.

I'll end by giving a warning to anyone in the northeast. watch out for ticks. I've had Lyme Disease. Twice (and the first reported case from Cumberland Island, Georgia! go me!).

But this is the time when juvenile ticks are on the prowl for blood and they, more than any life stage have a greater chance of spreading the Lyme bacterium. May-June are the worst months. Be safe.

And if the baked good expired more than 2 years ago....pass it by.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Mary Jane Brownies

I have taken a vow of good eating recently. No more ice cream, candy, cookies, red meat, fried foods, Arbys, etc. I subsequently broke my vow as I always do, but I've still been pretty good. Tonight was a celebration of sorts, which is the reason to break any vow and although there was truthfully no good reason to celebrate we got a bit crazy anyway and dug out a box of brownie mix that has been sitting in the cupboard for a while.

MaLe whipped up a batch of brownies and after enduring the scent of baked goods cascading through the apartment, she offered a bite for me to try.

While the brownies cooled, she suggested that she was a bit worried about eating them since the expiration date on the package was May of 2004. I told her not to worry. It's just flavored flour and sugar and.... I trailed off hoping she would get bored thinking I was listing ingredients. She came back in a bit later and said she was really worried now which I thought was weird since she had only one bite. Apparently she had several "one bites" and had eaten nearly half of a 9 inch cake pan of brownies.

I have no idea if she'll be ok or not. I mean it's not hamburger that has been sitting around for 3 years. In fact it is part of a collection of my mother's (Mary Jane) pantry items that I brought down from Vermont. I couldn't bear to just throw them out and seeing as she had kept them well past the expiration date, I figured I would too. Her corn bread was fine and the honey mustard was a bit off, but the brownies tasted ok.

hmm.. in retrospect...she probably would have said "Jesus God don't eat that!" and then gone online to WebMD to research food expirations and food poisoning.

time for bed. feeling a little bit funny.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Duck Poops Dust

To refer to someone being "figuratively on fire" is nowhere near as tantalizing as leading off the nightly news suggesting that someone is "literally on fire". That or people simply don't understand the difference between the two.

The hyperbolic news reporter was attempting to sell the idea that it was so hot recently that people were actually on fire. They were not, thankfully and it was both disheartening and relieving to find out that no one had actually burst into flame.

If you subscribe to Florida Weather Magazine you know that Florida is experiencing a major drought and that there is no such magazine. News reports persistently claim that we are having "the worst drought in Florida's history" and pundits toss around claims like "it hasn't rained since my sister and brother-in-law came down for vacation". Ok I said that. And it's true.

We have in fact had 7 inches of rain in 5 months and 4.5 of those inches came in one day. The ground is parched. The trees snap and crackle in the wind and just yesterday I saw a duck poop dust. It's so bad that an errant cigarette butt, sparks from unkempt vehicles or a natural lightning strike can start wildfires that burn for days and weeks.

You can get a daily Fire Map here! exciting!

We drove through the Picayune Strand State Preserve the other day where a human caused wildfire had finally been extinguished.

Apparently some dude didn't wish to clutter up his vehicle with a cigarette butt so he flicked it out the window. (To keep it inside would only perpetuate the distasteful air) So...the fire burned 26,000 acres during the nesting season for many species of birds. Chicks were literally on fire. True, fire is a necessary part of the ecosystem, but timing is everything and without saturated soils or rains to put the fires out, the burns can be devastating.

Periwinkles are snails that inhabit the islands or hammocks of the Everglades. Each race has a distinct color pattern on the shell and most islands have their own unique race. Though this is a lesser example, they are often beautiful and intricate (and prized by amorale snail collectors)

The periwinkles have adapted to the wet/dry season like most of the plants and animals in the Everglades, but when fires occur out of season, they can destroy entire races of the mollusks whom for obvious reasons are not quick to retreat to safety.

Peat fires are the latest concern. When the soil burns, it's as good as roasted for the next century. Everything is killed and soon the wind blows the soil away, leaving nothing but scarred limestone.

Millions of acres have burned this season and rain is not in the forecast for anytime soon. It's not enough that we suck the aquifers dry, channel water out to the ocean and develop every square inch possible. We can't seem to keep our flame to ourselves either. It aggravates me to the point where I may literally explode.

Monday, May 21, 2007

El Gato the Cat

The extent of my Spanish speaking abilities are restricted to words I read in the airport and things that MaLe says to the cat. I have it on good authority (MaLe's brothers) that what she is saying to the cat is actually nonsense and can not be translated.

Yet still I feel my vocabulary growing and MaLe even thought it a good idea to label everything in my office (aka the nerd room - don't ask) with translations. Sure. Fine. Whatever. I bought a 6-pack of mini post it notes (100 to a pack) at her request and went to work. I have no doubt this method will bear fruit. I think there are still a few post-it notes left, but my office is essentially newly decorated in 1x1 1/2 inch yellow squares. la vela, el calendario, la lampara, el frasca....they are everywhere! But by far my favorite has to be this one. The Silverback Gorilla/Poodle look was not bad enough....

Poor Tso.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Aqua Roulette or Why I Hate the Weather Man

Previously on JunglePete's Everglades Adventure -

I don't know why subscribers received a recap of the the first ten blogs. I had nothing to do with it, but apparently at least one of you enjoyed them again like fond childhood memories of H.R.Puffenstuff and Ooops All Berries Captain Crunch. You liked it so much the first time, you had to have more.

The 9th Florida Panther was struck and killed just off of the interstate on Tuesday. The record for vehicle caused fatalities was 11 in 2006. I would imagine that record will be broken.

Funny thing about forecasts. This afternoon I went to a speech by Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel.

He's the guy on TWC usually standing somewhere around the gulf of Mexico when a massive hurricane is about to hit. Never mind the storm surge, the 75 mph winds and the shingles flying by. He wants you to know it's dangerous!

He was announcing the 2007 Hurricane Report for about 500 members of the Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce. (chamber meetings....and you thought Red Algae was fascinating!) His estimates were a bit more tempered than the official report of 17 major storms for this year. He predicts 10. Of course last year they predicted 15 and there were 0 so the margin of error seems to be +/- 15.

His message was that hurricanes are still impossible to predict. His goal is to make sure people "get out of the way". Except for him. And despite the fact that it's hard to know where they will hit. So really just be prepared. Evacuate if you need to and don't if you don't have to. Depends on where the storm will go. Predictions say north into the gulf but it could turn at any moment. Keep watching your TV and if Jim Cantore is outside of your house you probably should have evacuated.

In 2005 after Katrina, leery Texas residents evacuated in droves as Hurricane Rita bore down on the Lone Star State. (Don't mess with Texas does not apply to acts of God.) More people lost their lives on the evacuation routes than from the actual hurricane. Moral of the story? Don't evacuate? Or maybe just don't watch the weather channel. It may cause freak outs.

If traffic was bad with millions of people on the roads during "the season", imagine what it will be like with 6 million people trying to go north. Or east if Jim Cantore tells us to. Or just get away from the storm or don't evacuate. It's really up to you. Just stay tuned. It's all too confusing and really a game of aqua roulette. Where will the rain and storm surge hit? Spin the wheel of doom!

Typically we get about 12 inches of rain from November to May (aka the dry season) Over the last 6 months, south Florida has experienced one of the worst droughts and until Monday we have had 3.5 inches of rain. Fires have scorched millions of acres across the state and many were hoping for a tropical storm to bring rain. Fortunately the rainy season has begun and the official start of the hurricane season begins June 1st. We have received nearly 7 inches of rain since Monday which has suppressed many fires and extinguished the chants for a tropical storm.

As meteorological forecasting technology becomes more sophisticated we seem to have less accurate forecasting. Maybe it is just me. Personally I like how they predict weather in Ecuador - with the weather rock seen below attached to the green rope.

If the rock is swinging - it is windy
If the rock is wet - it is raining
If the rock is violently shaking - there is an earthquake.
and so on...

We can't predict very well where hurricanes will hit until they are far too close. We have too many people living directly in the paths of hurricanes. Here at Casa Pedro y Ma-Le we're preparing our hurricane plan, but the best prepared person has to prepare for the least prepared person as well, because when water, gas, food and other necessities are in short supply, the unprepared look to the prepared. It makes me a bit nervous.

I have lived in Florida for 28 years of my life and have yet to experience a hurricane. (Got a tropical storm in Vermont in 1998 though!). Here's hoping I still don't this year. As for the 17 predicted major storms? Let's hope the weather man is wrong as usual.....

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I Paid For a $360 Haircut

Truth be told I haven't paid to have my haircut in 11 years, but when you have a long-haired coon cat in Florida, you don't have much choice but to go Poodle-cut on the fluffy beast.

General Tso is 6 1/2 years old. (Poor thing was born on 9/11/2000. I don't think he understands).

He was named after the delicious Chinese dish because Bill, my mom and I had just been to the China Buffet and my mom had convinced me I needed another cat. We were not too sure where in Rutland, Vermont to find a cat, so she asked the waitress who either didn't understand the question or was being defensive. After that, naming him General Tso was a no-brainer.

He sheds his fur in massive quantities this time every year and if I'm not quick to brush it out it forms dense mats of fur that tugs at his skin. It can't be pleasant. I tried at first to shave him. I can shave my own head so how hard can it be to shave an animal. With claws. and teeth. He's a sweet cat, but that was not going to happen. He was shaved for the first time in 2005, much to the dismay of cat #2, Ticonderoga who responded to his return home by hissing at him and chasing him around. As if looking like a poodle were not bad enough.

I decided to go with a preemptive shave last year and brought him in before the mats became too painful. The nice vets at Green Mountain vet were warned that he's a sweet cat in a bad mood. They said not to worry. No cat could be as bad as Missy and pointed to a picture on the wall of a gnarled, one-fanged, mangy beast that looked as if it had been peeled off the road. I knew he was in good hands.

When I returned, the vet began laughing, handed me a pair of gloves that workers at nuclear power plants use to handle plutonium and suggested I would have to handle the Tasmanian Devil in Vet Block #481516. It took a lasso, a squirt gun and a burlap sack, but I was able to extract the angry monster from his temporary lair. Missy's picture had been removed, there was a new vet devil champion. He hissed and growled all the way home and was again not greeted as the liberator that many thought he would be. Oh wait that's another story.

Since I've moved from Vermont to Florida, this would be his first trip to the vet down here. He was fairly calm on the trip over. He asked at one point "what's up with coconuts?" which I took to be merely an existential question and not a botanical inquiry.

I warned his new vet that he's a cuddly, lovable cat but gets medieval when he hears the clippers. She jotted that advice down, giggled when I gave his name and told me to pick him up after 4 pm.

Apparently the vet forgot to tell her assistant about the clippers. Before Tso was knocked out he turned them on and the cat expressed his own anal glands in the poor assistant's general direction. I paid for it in the end.

The shave only cost $50. And that was all I was bringing him in for anyway. But somehow he got his teeth cleaned, 2 vaccines, blood drawn and who knows what else.

In the end, it all worked out well. Tso got the Poodle Bob - which is a new style for him. If I had thought about it I would have gone with the Mr. T Mohawk in honor of Ash (pictured below being shaved by wife Kate on New Year's...a story for another day)

Maybe next year. His return elicited a few hisses and one camel spit from Ti. I'm not sure what that material was she spit, but it had some distance on it.

You gotta love this cat. And aren't pets supposed to look like their owners anyway?
Look at that tail!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Snakes on a Roller Coaster

Ok - That's a ridiculous premise. But poisonous snakes dangling from trees? That might just cause public panic.

On Sunday, MaLe and I decided to honor my mom by doing a day full of dangerous things. Busch Gardens Africa in Tampa, Florida is a zoo in some respects but has evolved into a first class theme park with some of the best roller coasters in the world. I learned early on that to get MaLe to go on the big roller coasters, I would have to trick her into thinking she was getting on something else or simply not let her see what we were standing in line for. SheikRa (the ride not the singer) is a fairly new roller coaster that is the first "Dive" coaster in the U.S. meaning you plunge at a 90 degree angle for nearly 200 feet. As the coaster quickly cranked up to the top and finally leveled out at 200 feet above Tampa, MaLe looked down and said "I didn't know it did this!"

That trick worked twice.

It was a fun and exhausting day and as the sun began to go down and people began to leave the park we headed for the exit. MaLe made one final pit stop and as I waited, my attention turned to a Crown Palm about 30 feet tall and in the fronds (leaves) I noticed three snakes "sunning" themselves. Red, yellow - then black....that's the pattern of a Coral Snake right? red on black - no coming back? No. red on black ok for Jack? I think so. Red on yellow - kill a fellow. These were poisonous Coral Snakes! As I began to stare at the snakes in the tree a crowd began to gather, all pointing up at the snakes. And suddenly a bird flew in, perched near a snake and plummeted to the ground - stone dead. Visitors became nervous, a few yelling and shouting and yet still standing under the snakes. Busch Gardens employees made panicked calls to unseen supervisors and a dead bird lay splattered on the pavement.

I don't know what killed the bird. I know it wasn't a poisonous snake bite. As MaLe and I walked away from the hysteria I would like to think I caused I pointed out each Crown Palm had three fake Coral Snakes tied to the palm fronds. Apparently they are intended to cause birds to think twice before roosting there. Apparently it can also have deadly reactions that in the Ornithological world are known as "fatal freak outs".

I can understand the confusion. They looked real despite the lack of movement. What I found most disconcerting was earlier in the day, a nine year old boy with a mullet (the hair style, not the fish) pointed out to his dad a Tiger. The dad astutely noticed the Tiger had seemingly lost the stripes. They marveled at this beautiful animal with a regal mane, giant paws and a solid tawny brown pelt from head to tail before wandering off. It was of course a Lion.

Even more disappointing was the man who recognized the skinny little "monkeys" peering around atop the entrance to the underground tunnels. They were of course Meerkats. If he had just hummed a few bars of "In the Jungle" they might have accompanied him in a sing-a-long.

The sad thing is people are dumb and just don't care. Monkey was close enough. Tiger made a dad proud of his kid. As Bill would say - If ignorance is Bliss - these people were ecstatic. And for that they may have had a little more fun than I.

As for Snakes on a Roller Coaster? Maybe next time. I just won't tell MaLe.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mom, I Forgot To Ask...

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there.

I can't help how I feel on this day, but I also can't help but find some happiness in sharing such a good relationships with my mother for the time I had.
  • I do miss our Thursday Survivor nights.
  • I miss the Far Side One-a-Day cartoons she would put in with birthday cards.
  • I miss the ravioli she would over cook.
  • I miss her potentially blasphemous response to a variety of things that might have annoyed her - "Jesus God!".
  • I miss the defensive mother who declared my 4th grade spelling bee championship downfall word Iodine as stupid.
  • I miss her ranting about the Vermont State Park of the Year award (that they won her last year at Coolidge State Park).
  • I miss her exasperated nasal sigh when I would break too late at a traffic light.
  • I miss the Chinese buffet and our subsequent complaining about stomach aches afterwards.
  • I miss her birthday and x-mas celebrations that she put so much into as if we were still 8 years old.
  • I miss hearing that I was her favorite. (never confirmed but come on!)
  • I miss her incessant worrying about Ebola, airplane food, cave ventilation, Toyota recalls, the cancellation of Arrested Development, my sister (you know who you are), Aspartame, George W. Bush and people who carve their initials into trees.
  • I miss her pronouncing MaLe like Count Dracula
  • I miss telling her about dangerous things and getting the "you're nuts" response.
  • I miss the 5 second phone calls to remind me to Tivo things
  • I miss the mother who loved each of her children equally
  • I miss the wacky, joyful, lovable person who changed all throughout her life and always for the better
  • I miss my mom
And I thought about something the other day I had never thought before.

I wondered - Did you miss your mom every day like I do?

Just wondering. I forgot to ask.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Back Up Until it Sounds Expensive

"Back Up Until it Sounds Expensive" is a Bill Schreiberism. I had the opportunity to try this today.

If you're going to do damage to a vehicle, make sure it's not your own. Or make sure it is your own. I haven't decided.

Today I led an Everglades trip on my day off. The boss is away in Vegas for his 20th wedding anniversary. Manfred our senior guide has driven 5 days in a row, so I get to drive. With the boss away I chose to drive the primo Mercedez-Benz Sprinter. It's nice. Seats 12 comfortably. Great speaker system, room to walk down the aisle between the seats. Great views from every seat.

I also asked MaLe to go on the full day trip for her first time. Since we had only 5 travelers booked it would be no problem. We only go out if we have 4 or more people and when 3 of the 5 canceled at the last minute, I figured we were in for an interesting day. The two ladies from Pennsylvania had gone with us before and knew the routine, so it was bound to be a fun day.
Typically I don't go on the Everglades National Park boat tour. The 1 1/2 hour trip travels through the 10,000 islands in Florida Bay and although it's a nice cruise, once you've heard the boat captains puns, you don't need to go again. But MaLe was along today so I decided to go. While I took care of the tickets inside the gift shop, MaLe and our 2 travelers boarded the boat. The boat doesn't leave without our tickets, so nothing to fear. Until the boat left without me.

Since I never go, the boat captain insisted that I wouldn't be going today despite MaLe's pleas. Slightly shocked, I hung my head like Charlie Brown and plunked myself down on a bench to wait for their return. This became boring after 5 minutes and I drove the primo Mercedez-Benz Sprinter down to Chokoloskee Island to see the sites. There's an old turn of the century general store which has been converted to a museum that I planned to visit. They have old Seminole fabrics and clothing on display, various antiquities from the old rum running and pot smuggling days and a variety of other historical artifacts. There's not much of a parking area. Just a few sandy spots among the Australian Pines and Coconut Palms, so I chose one and began to back in. Checked the left mirror. Checked the right mirror. Slowly backing in and BAM!

$%#%# PALM TREE!

I backed into a palm tree! The slight dent I could deal with but the jolt shattered the glass which exploded all over the back seat of the van.

Think. Quick. I was shot at by an old island coot. An old fart backed into me. A skunk ape hurled a coconut through the window. Ann Coulter finally exacted her revenge against me and head butted the back window....I need an excuse. I need to LIE!

But after coming up with too many poor excuses I decided what I knew all along. I'll tell the truth and accept the consequences.

Tune in Tuesday morning to find out where the truth gets me. It may be expensive.

And what did they see on the boat cruise? Dolphins, Manatees and Bald Eagles!

Flat Cats

A recent article in the Naples News detailed the death of the 8th Florida Panther this year. It was suggested that at this pace the cats were set to "demolish" last year's record of 11 road kills for the year.

The 3 year old cat was hit 10 miles east of the National Park. CLICK HERE for my custom map of every Florida Panther fatality since 1972. You can see that the only two of the Florida Panthers have been hit in the area that this one was hit on Tuesday. The suggestion is that there are more panthers and they have needed to expand their range. (Probably slightly true) This concerns people. Imagine Florida Panthers in your backyard! (One had "menaced" a goat farm...not the same goat farm i visited though). It should be noted that there have been 16 fatalities caused by (Pumas, Cougars, Mountain Lions) since 1890 in the US and Canada combined! There are an average of 6 attacks on humans a year across this range and there have never been attacks in Florida in this time.

What people are not considering is that we are in the midst of one of our worst droughts ever in Florida. No water means the cats need to follow their food source. Deer, pigs, armadillo seek out water too and where they go, the cats may follow. There is simply not enough water out there. Combine the lack of water with the serious fire situation, we have fires popping up every day across Florida and already over 40,000 acres of Everglades have burned. So is it possible that lack of water, fire and food is pushing the cats out of the dried up swamps?

With 6 million people in southern Florida now, it must be difficult for the cats to not come into contact with humans. And amazingly it's still rare. But sadly, like shark and alligator attacks, the media sensationalizes stories and the sheep that humans tend to be take the bait. If only they would stop and consider, but I guess everything the media says is true.....

Monday, May 7, 2007

Es Un Chivito Lindo

Sometimes you get gators, sometimes you get goats.

I had a scheduled tour today, which means up at 6 am and out of the house before the sun comes up. Bright-eyed and bushy bearded - I ambled off to work, eager to get back to the Everglades. MaLe and I had explored in the Picayune State Forest of the Everglades on Saturday, but I had not led a tour in 2 weeks which may be why I've been crabby.

So I picked up the tour van and headed out to find my travelers. It was a beautiful morning. Sunny. 70 degrees and breezy. A great day for gators and a great day to be in the 'glades. But my travelers never showed. Dejected, I drove back to drop the van off with the boss and headed back home.

On my way home from work at 7:50 am, I passed by a place that is affectionately known as the "Million Dollar Goat Farm". There is a CVS pharmacy to the west of the goat farm and a Walgreens Pharmacy to the east. (This is the standard for every other intersection in Florida. Can't have one without the other.) A Burger King is across the street and an apartment complex towers above the goat farm to the north. Developers have just about succeeded in building on or paving over everything here in Fort Myers and Lee County and yet here remains, on what is no doubt a very pricey piece of land, a huge goat farm. And today the goats were out in force.

Now I'm not suggesting that goats are anything special. Rumor has it they are destructive little...monsters, but seeing hundreds of goats where a developer has no doubt considered placing a 7-11, Juicy Lucy's or a drive-thru ophthalmologist kind of lifted my spirits. Someone owns that property. Someone has held off the developers and someone has left hundreds of cute goats to roam about and leave an otherwise unsightly landscape somewhat wild. And for the record, goats ain't native to Florida. They're just damn cute.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Feeling Crabby

I know I've been up to something these last few days....why do they seem a blur? Cinco de Mayo? No. Interviewing for our new guides? Maybe. Red Tide affecting my breathing? I suppose. I just don't know. I guess I've just been feeling crabby. MaLe and I spotted this coprophagic (poop-eating) mangrove crab while walking the boardwalk out near Fort Myers Beach. They're about the size of a half-dollar.

Maybe I haven't been angry enough to write. It's ok to write when you're angry, but never write when you are tired. I have a tour Monday morning so I best get to bed. More Everglades Adventures maƱana