Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Sitting at my computer staring at the screen for 2.0 hours now. Why? I need product here at the inn, and am slogging through a ridiculous amount of vendors BS products that claim to be "eco-friendly" and/or possess "green" characteristics. After these 2.0 hours stolen from my life, what do I have to show for it? Confusion, mass confusion.

We source as many items locally as possible, in all aspects of our business. This includes salvaging construction materials from places like Habitat for Humanity, buying food from local gardeners, buying vintage linens and such from yard sales, etc. and well you get my drift. Sometimes, however, I must source items out of my area, and go online. "Green" is trendy. Shall I say "green is the new black," haha? There's a danger in all this trendiness, its called green-washing, which essentially is when something is marketed as eco-friendly, when its really not. I learned the hard way on this.

I was sourcing bedding for our B&B a while ago. I came upon a well-intentioned hotel supplier offering what appeared to be just what I hoped for... easy care, stylish, and eco-friendly. When the product arrived, it came without any labeling whatsoever. None. No country of origin, no product content, no RN number. I was not happy with this, so I contacted the supplier. I admit, my representative was very responsive to my concerns, and provided prompt information for each query I had. What the week long investigation finally led to was me being supplied a copy of a document that had been redacted somewhat (by whom, I have no idea, but I suspect it was NOT redacted by the supplier, rather it was the manufacturer). The document was from the product manufacturer, in China. What I purchased was not what I thought I was buying, content-wise. There was a low percentage of post-consumer recycled content, and what was supposedly so "eco-friendly" about the cotton content was the simple fact that it was cotton. Cotton itself is NOT eco-friendly necessarily, mostly because it is often grown with pesticides, and to make matters worse, the processing & manufacturing techniques are often highly damaging to our environment. Not to mention that there was no indication previously of this product being manufactured in China, half way around the world. If I had been provided with the true information when I was shopping on line, this inferior product never would have made it to Deer Run. But, I was duped. I sent it back. To the credit of the distributor, they too had their own concerns about the product once my experience occurred, but there's a caveat here. Today, shopping on line I came across that same supplier, and same product. I noted that they did however clean up the description quite a bit, and clearly are not marketing it as it was when I was shopping.

So, what I am getting to is this. It shouldn't be this complicated to buy eco-friendly and organic products. I need some things here that I must buy new, but instead find myself 1.5 hours into the process more confused than ever. Im' also instead blogging about the experience when I should've been all finished shopping and outside doing my daily run (today in the rain).

Almost every company I've looked at today fails to provide full product descriptions or country of origin, despite the fact the items I'm viewing are clustered under their "green living supplies" section. The charlatans are out there in full force. If we cannot get what we need as consumers, make our voices known. I've written to every company on line that I found a problem with descriptions advising them of my concerns, and that I intend to move ahead to the next supplier in line to source what I need, until I get what I want. I am an informed consumer, and use my money to support companies with responsible marketing techniques, and ethics. This often results in us paying full retail from companies (here, I'll name one: Gaiam, yes we buy from Gaiam. No company is perfect, but they do offer products with full disclosure, and make great efforts to source responsibly). This is an important choice, and this morning's experience reminds me why I'm drawn to the tried and true so to speak. I have to make the decision time and time again of putting my money where my mouth is. So, the gloves are off yet again big hotel supply companies. I've got money to spend, but you don't want to take it? Step up to the plate everyone, be a leader, not a follower. Damn I'm cranky right now!

I can't help buy wonder, why does it have to be so difficult!??? I want my 2 hours back!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

We've Lost a Friend

There is great sadness in the air. We've lost a friend. Sue, the woman who founded Deer Run so many years ago has departed this Earthly plane.

Our paths first crossed with Sue many years ago. Seemed innocuous enough, but Mr. Happy Vegan was simply looking for a nice place to vacation, and stumbled upon Deer Run. He had been coming to the Keys for many years, and wanted to share its beauty with me. I will never forget my first visit to the Keys, which also included my first visit to Deer Run. I had never seen so many palm trees, "odd" structures and people, and water so blue. After a long ride down the Keys, we made it on to the island of Big Pine, then took the first left turn onto Long Beach. The speed limit was (and still is) slow, thus the 2 mile trek to Deer Run seemed "so close, yet so far" after hours of driving. As we followed the winding curves, I asked out loud "where in the hell are you taking me???" He just laughed.

We pulled into a driveway lined with trees I'd never seen before.... mangroves, buttonwoods, and more. Everything was so lush, so many different colors of green. Out came a smiling woman in flowing island clothes, she said her name is Sue. Thus began a friendship that grew through many more visits to Deer Run, glasses of wine, good food, shared experiences, and finally with us buying Deer Run.

So often during our vacations here, Mr. Happy Vegan would help out Sue with little chores here and there. She wasn't old by any stretch, but she appreciated any help she could get, any time she could get it. He was always happy to help, and Sue was always happy to provide a nice bottle of wine to share at day's end.

Sue hand-picked us as stewards for this place. She knew she could trust us both. I had shared with her my thoughts of going to massage therapy school while still deeply entrenched in another world of drudgery. She thought that would be wonderful, adding "you can get a Florida license honey, just in case you ever decide to move here." She knew, before I even knew.

Sue led what I consider to be a very adventurous life. She had loves, children, marriages, exotic trips, and so many stories about the Keys of time past. She came to the Keys as a fresh faced young transplant, like many do. But, she had benefit of living here for decades, when the Keys were filled with mysterious people dropping out, hiding out, or camping out. She fished, she swam, she boated. She cooked, she hosted parties, she went to parties. She loved animals (especially birds) and nature very deeply and had a sense of wonder, amusement and joy at the beauty surrounding her. She had happy times, and terribly sad times having outlived 2 children. Yet, through it all, she maintained a sense of stability, like a port in the storm. Even when enduring her own deep sadness, she would have time to offer words of support and put things into perspective for me. She knew it was a difficult transition when I moved here for so many reasons including crippling loss, and she nurtured me along.

Many times over the past several years, both myself and the other happy vegan have wondered aloud to each other what shall we ever do when the time comes to pass Deer Run along. We both agree that Sue had such peace inside as far as this place. She loved being here so much, she loved the animals, the breezes, the colors, the air and the sea. She loved her friends, her family, the guests and all the gifts the Universe bestows upon anyone at Deer Run. She considered Deer Run part of her legacy, and choosing us as the next stewards was a fine choice in her heart. She knew we loved it as much as she did, and treasured this place. There is something very different and special about the air at Deer Run. She wanted to insure the legacy fell to people who would protect it. So, here we are.

We will miss Sue. Her soft voice, her bright eyes, her never ending sense of wonder at the beauty of the Keys, Deer Run and the Universe. I can still hear her voice right now "hi honey, would you like a paw-paw" from one of her beautiful fruit trees. I close my eyes and see her dressed in island garb taking me on a tour of her "new" yard after she moved from here (still on this island) proudly showing all the different plants for butterflies, the fruit trees, and teaching me to search for butterfly eggs. Her passing comes as a shock to so many, including us. We will always remember her with gratitude for the kindness she showed to nature, and her encouragement to us as we transitioned to our lives here. She was one of a kind, irreplaceable, and there will be a forever hole in our hearts... right next to the warm feeling we will always get as we remember her.

Blessed Be Sue.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Born or Bred?

I'm not sure if "island people" are born that way, or bred that way. Perhaps its a combination of both. I wasn't born or raised on an island, but I live on one now. I really feel like I belong where I am, at least for now.

We took a trip recently, it was short and relatively over scheduled. That's probably pretty common when one lives well over 1000 miles away from their families. Part of this little trip took us to a barrier island off the coast in the northeast region. I've been there before, and plan to go again. Its not terribly far from where I grew up. The town where I stayed has one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Its big and wild. There are no boardwalks, no amusements, no concession stands, nothing like that at all. What it does have is a very long & winding trek through gorgeous dunes to get to the actual beach. When you arrive on the actual beach, I'm always struck by the amount of space and abundance of birds. Its gorgeous. I took over 500 pictures just walking through dunes and on the beach (I'm a fanatic about beach fences, and love to photograph them at every angle possible).

So, one day I was there, I had no car. Mr. Happy Vegan had to leave in the wee hours of the morning and go somewhere for the larger portion of the day. I was on my own. After I had breakfast, I took a bicycle and went for a several hours long ride. I pedaled up and down almost every street in the town I stayed. This particular town is very historic and somehow has managed to keep quite a few of the centuries old homes in tact. Its peaceful and I am transported to a simpler time when I tour those streets. I then pedaled down the boulevard for miles & miles, looking at everything. This particular island has a lot of pride in ownership (or at least a lot of money to hire people to care for the properties perhaps). The architecture on the rest of the island is relatively modern. Lots of people have knocked down small homes in years past and built what I consider monstrosities. Still, many are unique and have quirky things around their yards, sweet messages painted on rocks, and so forth. On my bike ride, I encountered a few people (not too many as its off season up there, most homeowners & businesses are closed already for the season). Pretty much anyone I happened to encounter smiled and greeted me warmly. A few spoke with me about the things in their yards too. I met several "island dogs" who all seemed to have a familiar island lope about them, sniffing me and giving lots of loving doggy kisses. Pretty much everyone I encountered seemed laid back, happy and very present in the moment. Which got me to thinking.

Island people are island people. Whether we're on a tropical island, a barrier island, a very cold island, or something else. Island people seem to be linked to the present moment, have a connection with nature and often exude gratitude. These are all pretty good qualities, in my opinion.

I wasn't born on an island, and it took me a while to fall into island living. But I'm here now realizing every day just how special this experience is for me. I think being called an "island person" is really one of the nicest compliment one can give or receive. I'm going to have to make a point of visiting more islands. Its a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Don't Worry, Be Happy Virgo

Happy Birthday fellow Virgos!

This has been a week plus weekend mostly full of laughs, parties, and good times. I'm partial to the Virgo sign of the Zodiac, being that its my own sign. For various reason, my birthday usually is not something I look forward to, instead I work hard to ignore the occasion. This year there would be no ignoring the fact. Mostly because there were too many fun events, parties, and festivities being planned for me to ignore Virgo season. This year, the Universe begged me to party. Who am I to say "no" to the Universe?!

On my actual birthday, we went to Key West, had a few cocktails in various places, went to dinner at "The Cafe, A Mostly Vegetarian Restaurant" (look 'em up, they're on Southard, my absolute favorite place to eat in Key West), then went to a nightclub for a drag show. I'd never been to a drag show, and didn't really know what to expect. I hoped to be surrounded by good people in a nurturing environment with the common denominator of having fun. I was right! I haven't laughed so hard probably in years. I was treated to a show full of quite a cast of characters with incredible talent. Singers, dancers, story tellers, it was fabulous. I laughed so hard my face AND my sides actually ached. It was a great celebration of being Virgo, diversity, commonality, and life in general. Thanks to a very generous friend, we stayed overnight at an inn in Key West, so all we had to do was eat drink & be merry, without throwing any driving in that mix.

Blended in the festivities, I was treated to dinner, drinks & a movie with my girl peeps. Back down to Key West for another round of eating, drinking & merry-making. When I moved here a few years ago, I never really imagined I'd ever make any friends. I was wrong. I've been embraced by such a wonderful and strong group of friends who make me feel valuable and important. I am so blessed to know them. Being here in the Keys generally people are accepting of each other, and tend to bring out the best in each other. My girl peeps do that for me. I had such a fun time with them, and actually ended up arriving home in the wee hours of the night.... another thing I haven't done in far too long to remember. Plus, it was FUN!

Virgo fests for 2010 brought me champagne, chocolate, good food, boat rides, books, cake, fun, friendship, love and joy. I think I've reached a turning point in the celebration of being Virgo. I'll take it for everything it has to offer. Virgo has another week or so in the Zodiac, and then after that, its STILL my birthday month, so.... more reasons to eat, drink & be merry. I think I understand "with age comes wisdom." Party on fellow Virgos!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Absolute Perfection

I finally made it out to Looe Key! Being a water-fearing, non-swimming kind of gal, any time the subject has come up in the past, I declined. It would be either too windy, stormy, poor visibility, or any reason other than perfection in my eyes. However, the stars aligned, and off to Looe Key we went. It's about 3 miles out from my beach. 3 miles to the only coral reef in the continental United States!

We packed up the boat with snacks, beverages, sunblock, beach towels, reggae music, friends, a positive attitude, and off we went.

I cannot recall ever seeing water that beautiful in my life. Where the reef is, the water is very dark. All around it, there are white sandy spots which show up as the brightest, most turquoise water ever. Then, the varying water depth all in the area makes everything a showcase of brilliant blues, greens, aqua, and teal, which unless you see it, you cannot believe water can be this color in real life.

On the way out, I saw a turtle swimming. It was so fast, one second he was there, the next he was gone. But, it was in fact a very large turtle going about his business in the warm waters of the Atlantic. Absolutely thrilling!

The Looe Key reef got its name from the HMS Looe which supposedly ran aground there in 1744 while towing a captured French ship, the Snow. The reef at Looe Key became a National Marine Sanctuary in 1981. This “sanctuary” designation means that there are absolute restrictions on spearfishing, tropical fish and shell collecting and wire fish traps. My kind of place.

Because of its unique shape and varying depths, the reef is home to over 150 species of fish including yellowtail, angelfish, parrotfish, barracuda, sergeant majors, and moray eel. About fifty species of coral are present, many named for the shapes of their namesakes on land. These corals include staghorn, elkhorn, star, brain, and fire corals.

Looe Key is an excellent SCUBA and snorkeling site, but for someone like me its the perfect place to tie a tube off the boat and float. Everyone else on the boat snorkeled. We made new friends as another group of boaters asked if they could tie off with us ("of course!") and I watched everyone in the water as they reported what they were seeing ("I see a huge school of parrotfish! I can hear them chomping on the coral!" "I see a giant lobster!" "Wow, look at that barracuda!!!")

As soon as we arrived, our friends were over the side with mask & fins before you could blink. Mr. Happy Vegan set up my tube with a tether, and got me settled in with a frosty beverage, then set about going overboard with his Hookah rig. After an hour or so, somehow I became untethered, which was not a happy moment for me (magnified by my beverage being on empty). Fortunately I didn't get too far, was rescued, and my beverage replenished. All of us feasted on cruelty-free sandwiches, home made tropical fruit salsa, chips, peaches, and more. The beverage selection was swoon-worthy as well. Afterwards, it was back in the water for another round of snorkeling, and dreamy floating for me. The sound of steel drums filled the air, and I was very busy taking mental pictures as I soaked this new experience in. I didn't want to leave, but the day was growing to a close. We piled back on the boat, and packed up the gear. On the way back in, our friend Christina saw another turtle swimming happily, another huge bonus to the day.

Last night as I was in bed, I had the sensation of being back on the water. That happens to me whenever I spend a day on a boat, not sure if that happens to everyone else too. I don't mind at all. Instead, I rather enjoyed it as I was busy remembering all the things I saw, heard and did during the day. I cannot wait to go back out there, and now understand why so many people travel from all over the world just to get to Looe Key.... 3 miles off my beach. Incredible.