Sunday, July 25, 2010

Easy Livin'

As so much of the country bakes in record triple digit heat, we here in the Keys have been enjoying some of the best weather of the summer season. It's hot, mid-upper 80's usually, with a heat index in the 90s, but we have not had a scorching heat wave in weeks like we did earlier in the summer, and as now so much of the rest of our country seems to be enduring.

Don't get me wrong, I like the heat. Strike that. I LOVE the heat. I didn't move here to be cold, dress in multiple layers of socks day AND night, shovel snow, or scrape the iced over windshield of my car with a credit card. Those days are long gone. Happily. Its kind of ironic though, I moved from a climate that had summers I typically considered much cooler than here, but in actuality, they just don't seem to be anymore. The East Coast seems to bake annually. I guess we can chalk this one up to "climate change." Or can we? I'm not sure about anything anymore when it comes to the weather. Take for example Tropical Storm Bonnie. 24 hours ahead of the storm, the trackers were wrong, way wrong. Again. A gleeful moment if you're sitting where I am. The "storm" fell apart as it crossed over the Miami-Dade area, and didn't strengthen (miraculously and thankfully) as it made its way into the Gulf. I was sitting on my back deck enjoying an iced tea while the internet basically flashed dire warnings of flood, famine and locusts. I think I was passed by the Weather Channel satellite truck while I was heading to the health food store dropping off a batch of cookies. I was heading south, they were heading north... out of the Keys. Under a blue sky with a blazing sun. That's how it often is though. Media gets the public whipped into a frenzy and then nothing. That's why people become complacent, which is never a good thing when it comes to bad weather no matter where you live.

I'm not really worried at this point. A couple days before Bonnie was going to blow into town, I put the finishing touches on my hurricane kit. Plans are in place for anything from a "Bonnie-like"event (nothing) to a Cat. 5 (we'll be outta here!) Our B&B has a "panic room" in case we get trapped by a sudden event. Our plans include our animals, of course.

Hm, how did I get on this sidetrack dialogue? Sorry! I mean to talk about the weather here. The rest of our country currently is baking in record setting heat, suffering from record setting rainfall and flooding, or is suffering from devastating wildfires. Here in the Keys we're enjoying hot days with gorgeous winds to cool us (Bonnie gave my wind chimes a nice above-average ringing). Rains are frequently on the overnight hours. The Key deer have abundant water to drink, while the plants grow like crazy providing all creatures plenty to eat. The fawns are growing up, still spotted. My runs on the street (christened "Bikram running" by one of my friends) have leveled off to about 4 mile events for the summer, and as I wrote earlier this month, things are slower no matter where you go in the Keys. Lots of us locals vacation this time of year, some restaurants shift their hours around for the summer, and almost everyone around here makes the best of a slower time. Lazy days on a boat, families at the beach building sandcastles and having picnics, lots of lemonade and cold beverages flowing, and of course impromptu parties any day of the week, not for any reason, rather just because. Not to mention the turtles that are still nesting, and of course the nests that are on track for hatching.

I do love the Keys in the summer. Butterflies seem to hatch almost daily, fruit trees are heavy with their offerings, and I get to nap more often. My Keys summer life is really a cue from the animals that surround me. I find a sunny patch, stake my claim and just "am." I stay hydrated, don't make too many complicated plans, and eat lighter (cupcakes excluded, thank you very much). Thinking back a few years, I cannot imagine going back to the lifestyle I had. Ever. I hope that I am as fortunate for the rest of my life as I am now. I never want to face the inside of a cubicle or office (even if the office has a window) again. Instead, I like my 11:00 break to be when I sit and read something besides an anatomy book or medical record, and my 3:00 break to be when I'm slipping into a pair of running shoes and shorts. Summer in the Keys, or maybe rather I should say life in the Keys. Its worth living, and worth sharing. Perhaps you'll care to come for a visit in the summertime. There's plenty of naps to go around.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Surprise! Its a girl, and a boy, and a girl, and a boy, and, uh, well you get the idea, but just say it a total of 102 times. The first loggerhead nest hatching of the season has occurred on our beach. The beautiful sea now has another 102 loggerheads that shall call the Atlantic "home." See? Here's a picture taken this morning!

Today was the first day of the calculations to begin watching this nest. Mr. Beach Coordinator went out there to see if there had been any activity, and got quite a surprise when he saw 3 hatchlings making their way across the sand in the bright sunlight. This is unusual, as they usually hatch under cover of the night. Somehow, they know to protect themselves from predators (hungry birds & crabs) and the sun (very dehydrating and burning) by usually making their trek to the sea in the darkness. However, these little guys either overslept, or were too excited to wait for tonight (not sure which). Also, nest excavations typically do not occur until the evening after a hatch, but there was fire ant activity in the area of the nest, it was crucial to make sure any stragglers were not stuck in the nest.

Within seconds of my phone ringing announcing the hatch, I was literally running out the door and down the beach. I called 2 other volunteers who patrol a segment of the beach, they arrived just minutes behind me. The tide was out, so the stragglers got a helping hand from us across the flats to the sea once they crossed the sand. There were 5 stragglers in the nest. One was stuck in roots under the sand. He was ok, once he was ever so gently helped out of the pit, he took off like a shot down the sand. The 3 that were crossing the sand on their own also got a hand once they made it to the edge of the flats. That's a total of 8 hatchlings we assisted early this morning.

This nest that hatched was the nest I blogged about and displayed a photo of in my May 29, 2010 entry. The one where the mommy bulldozed her way through large pieces of driftwood and rocks. If a 200 pound adult had a lot of work getting past all that, can you imagine what it must be like for a 2 inch hatchling? Talk about being "driven" and having a will to live!

Today was another incredibly rewarding and emotional day. I haven't even mentioned, but there was ANOTHER new nesting that occurred under the moon last night. So... that's 7 nests total on the beach, with already 1 hatch!

Welcome to the world! Welcome to the sea! Welcome to the Universe! Swim strong & conquer. Be free. Be strong. Be fearless. Brave baby turtles. May you be protected, and your journey safe.

Friday, July 16, 2010


This picture was taken last year. It shows a loggerhead hatchling in my gloved hand. She was discovered "stuck" in one of the nests we excavated the evening after the nest hatched. I removed that baby sea turtle from her entrapment and held her for a fleeting moment in time before setting her free in her rightful ocean home. What a privilege that was. What a gift from the universe. I think this picture explains very well why we turtle volunteers do what we do. For me, moments like this one shown here have changed the course of my life forever. I think it also is a good picture to explain why so many have been grieving so hard over the disaster in the Gulf.

Today is different, just a little different. It's with caution that I allow myself some optimism today about the oil disaster. It has been over 24 hours since the vents on the cap were shut, and the spew has halted. For now. Like so many others, I have been watching all the news channels, scouring the internet and getting reports from some "in the know" about this cap. As I write this, experts aren't quite sure about the pressure, its too early to tell if the well itself has been compromised in some way from the initial explosion, and subsequent high volume spew. However, as I type right now, there is no oil spewing. None. I want to exhale, but won't completely. Not yet. However, for me, there really is something about this latest effort that, for the first time in close to 90 days gives me some confidence this will work.

With my guarded optimism over the cap, I allow myself a true moment of joy with the news today that 22 Kemp's Ridley sea turtle hatchlings incubated at the Kennedy Space Center have hatched and been released. The hatchlings were among the very first nests (if not THE first nest) where the eggs were removed by biologists, and taken to the Space Center. If the nests along the Gulf are not moved, the hatchlings face certain death upon entering the Gulf. The projection is between 75,000 - 85,000 eggs are going to be dug up, moved, incubated, hopefully hatch and then released on the Atlantic side, far away from the oil. There is video of the release on the NASA website. Its worth watching. You will see 22 hatchlings being sent "home" to their sea.

I have watched the video of the Kennedy Space Center release several times since I stumbled upon it on the internet. I imagine what it must feel like for all the people who were involved in this project in any way. There must be feelings of relief, pride, joy, hope and restored vigor. In the end though, I know anyone involved in any way at all can't stop too long and savor this victory, there's much more work to be done.

The turtle as a totem represents many things, including patience, endurance, strength and stability. Those involved working to save the turtles in the Gulf simply need to look at the victims they're helping to find the same traits they need themselves to carry on. Carry on they shall... 74,978-84,978 more to go.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Burn baby burn

I'm going to come clean about something not many cooks (if any) will talk about. Its one of those "what's it REALLY like behind the scenes" topics, which I'll call "when good recipes go bad."

Much of my life revolves around food. Cooking is a large part of being an innkeeper, but my passion lies in baking. Always has. I'm constantly in the kitchen working new recipes. That being said, many people do not realize what goes on before a recipe actually "makes the cut" for addition into the rotation here. Failures; that's what goes on. MANY failures.

At this point, I've got too many recipes to count. When I took my private culinary instruction, recipes where written exclusively for Deer Run. I chose the ones I felt "made the cut," purchased them, and put them into rotation. Over the years, I've gotten lots more recipes from many sources. I've even taken the plunge and written quite a few of my own that "made the cut." Proud moments!

Its the "not so proud" moments which keep this job especially interesting. Take a day last week for example. An ordinary day. A Wednesday (I know this because I had an appointment at the gym for personal training which had to be cancelled, but I'm getting ahead of myself). I really like English muffins. I found a recipe somewhere which was a good starting point. Most any recipe that's published is, for me, simply a starting point. Being in the Keys, the heat and humidity, even when the air conditioning is running, takes a toll on baking. There are usually modifications I must make before a recipe works well here. Lately I'm making my own English muffins. It was a proud moment when my 1st batch ever of English muffins came out just right.... after several failures. Making the muffins is labor intensive, but worth it. After the dough has risen and punched down, I've got to shape the muffins, brown them, then bake them. Its the "browning" step that got me into trouble on a recent Wednesday. But, oops, I'm getting ahead of myself yet again.

When I make English muffins, I make a double or triple batch. They take so long to make, I'd rather just have extras ready and frozen, so I can pop them in the toaster when needed. A triple batch is A LOT of dough. I've got a big cast iron griddle. It weighs somewhere I'd say about 20 pounds. It covers 2 burners on my very large stove top. I am grateful to have it, but I don't use it often. Its heavy, takes a long time to heat, and is a pain to clean. Plus, I constantly have visions that some day that 20 pound griddle is going to land on my tiniest toe. So far, it hasn't.

On this recent ordinary day, I've got a triple batch of dough going. The Kitchen Aid is humming along nicely, I'm cutting nice round muffins with my cutter, the griddle on the stove is getting hot, and my oven is preheating. My counter is covered in corn meal for dusting these dozens of muffins, plus I'm sure I've got multiple ingredients melded into my wardrobe by this point too. I look at the clock. I have about 1 hour to cook & bake these muffins before I must get ready for the gym. No problem! Plenty of time! At that precise moment, a car arrives with guests checking in. I ask my partner "can you take this check in, I've got muffins going!" to which he responds "I was just working on the pump outside, can you start it, I'll shower quick and be out real soon!" This is NOT good news for the English muffins, and its where the fatal flaw lies. I decided to leave the griddle on. Once I shut it off, it takes at least 15 minutes to heat up. If I shut the griddle off, it will cut into my time at the gym, and I cannot leave the muffins go til I get home. So, off I go down the stairs to begin the check in process for our new arrivals, with my cast iron griddle still heating on the stove top.

By the time he came to take over the check ins, at least 20 more minutes had lapsed. Now the griddle has been heating for (in retrospect) far too long. I thought and wondered if this would have any adverse effect on my muffins, and decided "nope." I was wrong.

As I put the soy margarine on the griddle I had an immediate flash fire. Ironically, the fire inspectors were here that very morning checking all our equipment, I kid you not.

As the flames whooshed upwards, my first thought was, oddly enough, "I'm really glad my kitchen windows don't have curtains on them." The flames flashed so high they almost reached my exhaust hood, again I kid you not. The fire went out before I could even decide "extinguisher" or "baking soda." I decided the problem was the griddle was too hot, so I would simply cool it down a little. With water. Apparently that wasn't a good idea either, as the instant I did so, the fire flashed again, this time even bigger. To make things even more fun, the smoke began to accumulate through my quarters, plus the smoke alarm was going off. This occurred 5 times. FIVE TIMES. By the 3rd occurrence, I was pretty calm and knew nothing serious would happen beyond the billowing smoke and lovely "what's burning" smell, but hey, if you knew me before I worked here cooking for a living, this would've seemed way more normal than now. Trust me.

Most thankfully, my VERY kind personal trainer took pity when I contacted her to let her know I'd be running a little late due a very small kitchen mishap. She rescheduled me for the next day (yay!) and I was able to save everything, including the pan so I could make those perfect little English muffins.

Next time you're dining out, and see those perfect little "whatevers" on your plate at a restaurant, a cafe, a B&B or even Deer Run, don't wonder too hard what really went on behind the scenes. You'd probably rather never know, and we'd rather never say. Instead, you can picture me just like those on Food Network, perfectly coiffed, dressed in evening finery, with a fancy frilly apron on. Better than than the realty of me in a baseball cap & something Hello Kitty related, covered in flour, along with one of my 10 industrial style kitchen aprons wrapped tightly around covering me from head to toe. Will anyone ever wonder again WHY I don't want my picture taken, EVER.

I wonder if Emeril started out like this.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I'm still here

Hi. Remember me? Agatha Rain? Aggie? I'm still here. Mommy hasn't written about me lately, she's working to give me peace & quiet. I'm still having a hard time integrating with my adopted brother & sisters. I'm not sure why, but everyone hates me. I get picked on terribly. I have a "safe space" all to myself, the others are not welcome in there. I do have free roam of the house whenever I want, and believe me, I tell mom & dad what I want, when I want it. I'm not shy that way.

I've been working on trust issues. I have abandonment issues because my old family left me alone, locked up with no food or water, and I stayed that way for too long. But, its been really great here at my new home, I do feel loved. I play with toys, sit in the sunshine, snuggle on a warm lap, and love sitting on pillows (see?!) I also love to eat. Eating is my favorite thing. In fact, mom was told I eat too much now. She measures my food. I started to get fat here! I guess that happens at a great B&B, haha & meow to that.

I had some illness issues, and was tested for lots of things. I had a scare of a very serious disease, but hooray I don't have anything bad, in fact, no one can find a reason for some of the odd things I do. Personally, I don't think anything I do is odd. I prefer the words "quirky" and "special." I will eat anything. Seriously, anything. Mommy found me trying to eat a metal screw one day. I eat anything that falls on the floor, but never tofu. Mom said of all things to be so picky on... tofu? At a vegan inn no less. Meow.

When I get picked on by "the others," I have big problems. I get very scared, VERY SCARED. I have some stuff that happens, I can't control it, I get embarrassed, but both mommy & daddy rescue me, clean me up, cover me with kisses, and get me to my safe space. I feel better right away, start a long bath, and then an even longer nap.

I love to sit in my "trash can" when mommy works on the computer. Its right by her feet. I curl up all cozy and purr. I also love to sit on mommy's chair and I'll sneak over onto her lap as she works. Real slowly I work my way from the back of the chair to her lap, in stages, so she won't notice what I'm doing. I like to just "appear." Mommy says I have some of the softest feet she's ever had the privilege to touch. I like that! Makes me feel special! Meow!

I really wish the rest of my furry family would start to love me. They all bundle up together on the bed, and I'm on a corner by myself when that happens. I'm lonely, and it makes me feel sad. Mommy or daddy usually picks me up and puts me on a pillow by them (remember, I love pillows!) when that happens. It makes me feel a little better. I've been here a few months, but mommy told me she's been through times in the past with other furry family where its taken a year for everyone to start to coexist. A year. Hm, what's a year? I don't really understand, but as long as there's treats, warm laps, sunny patches and soft words, I think a year must be something good.

My mommy says I get more beautiful every day. That makes be happy. She made up a song for me, everyone here has their own, so maybe after all I really AM permanent. Trust. Its so fragile. Once a heart has been broken, its never the same. Mommy understands.

I know I can't talk, but mommy says I don't have to, she understands so much about me already. She's doing a good job, so is daddy. My surprise arrival caused a lot of unexpected turmoil, but eventually things will calm down. It will take time, a lot of time, and work. They tell me we're all in this together for the long haul. That's good, because I sure do like that they have so many pillows around here. And kisses. Meow Meow!

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Happy 4th of July! I hope everyone is enjoying family, friends, good times and good food.

In order to protect the innocent, I'm doing quite a bit of editing on the events of festivities we attended for the holiday, including what day we actually celebrated. I hope I've also edited out virtually anything anyone might find objectionable, controversial, irresponsible (that's kind of a biggie on the edits), and anything else someone might find offensive.

Note to any readers: please stop reading NOW if you have any intention of sending email or calling then lecturing me about the dangers of fireworks. Yes, any stooge knows they're dangerous, even a stooge like me.

We were invited out on a very small boat, heck it was practically a rowboat, headed for an out island called "mystery island." The boat was called "the party zone" (fictitious to protect interested parties & partiers), captained by Captain Joe (again fictitious, you're starting to catch on now, right?) There's a "few" other people on the boat, because its so small it could've been a canoe. I swear I didn't know a soul, and wouldn't recognize any of them should I be called to testify.

After I, and "a few" others settled in, the boat (so small it could've been a kayak) departed for mystery island. I noted there was one very tiny colorful box on the vessel, which I think was educational material. Certainly there was not an overflowing cache of fireworks and contraband. No, that would be wrong, controversial, irresponsible, offensive, and yikes maybe even worse than any of that.

The water was very calm, the breeze was soft. It was a blessing to be out on the water.

Once we arrived, Capt. Joe dropped anchor. It was then that I notice, for no apparent reason there appeared to be dozens of other vessels around. Imagine that! Great minds think alike is all I can say. It WAS a great night to be out on the water.

We ate. We drank. We listened to music and we laughed. I made some interesting observations, but thanks to my mental "edit" button, this paragraph is particularly short.

At one point, a smaller vessel motored asided "the party zone" with its own Capt. Invisible and mates. They took the very small colorful box of educational material and motored over to mystery island. Darkness arrived, and then oddly enough, for about the next 1.5 (or more) hours, we were treated to one of the best private fireworks shows ever. I'm not kidding, this was some ****. Talk about being in the right place at the right time! Yay and lucky me!

Not too long after the fireworks were over, the same small vessel and its mates motored back to "the party zone" and re-boarded. Captain Invisible from that other vessel vanished into the night. I couldn't figure why, but the very small box of educational material was gone. There was, however, lots of trash in bags. I thought that was right nice of Captain Invisible and his mates to go out to an island at night and pick up trash. How community minded of them. See what I mean when I say I live in such a great place! I felt a little bad though, I mean, they probably missed a lot of the fireworks what with all the trash they were busy collecting.

About that time, Captain Joe and crew began packing up food, beverages, and counting people on board (it was only a few, and we were practically on an inflatable raft, really no reason to worry someone might get left out there, no one would be silly enough to go in the water at night, that might be irresponsible). The anchor is hoisted in (really, its a small anchor, about the size of a paper clip since the boat was made from a cardboard box), and off we go slipping through the water in the darkness. One odd thing, most of the other boats left too. Weird coincidence I guess.

All things considered, it was a fun night. Capt. Joe has the necessary skills to safely maintain control when chaos seems to be the order. He's a true professional, even if the "few" people on board might be getting a little rowdy.

I got back home far too late for my working world, but made a mental note to hit the delete button in my head should anyone have too many questions about things at a later time. So, this blog entry is my official statement, strike that, I mean my story about where I was and how I celebrated the 4th this year.

Two other important, fun facts. There were plenty of awesome vegan cupcakes for all, and the temperature dipped to about 75 degrees at one point. I swear I thought it was going to snow. Island girl says brr.

Happy 4th of July everyone. Let freedom ring.