Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Ok, So here's the amazing(well, to us anyhow!) story of Houdini the Hermit Crab.

Indian Key is home to a bunch of hermit crabs.  My cousin has brought some home as pets over the years,  they are really neat and they haven't died.  Now, she has brought some home from the pet store and those have died, but not the natural ones from Indian Key.  So after a few times of watching her and the kids take a couple home, I decided we need to have one for a pet, at least for a year.  An exchange student, if you will, for in exchange of Houdini's shell(a large bleeding tooth, that I covet!)and some entertainment, I will provide her with good food, water, a safe place to live and hide, a new shell and then return her to her original home in a year's time.  Isn't that a fair exchange?  How do I know it's a her, you ask?  Well, there are two holes on the underside of her veeeeeery back legs that means she's a girl.  If she was a boy, she wouldn't have them.  How did I happen to see those?  Ohhhhh, well, she was really stretching to reach something one day and I happened to be able to see underneath her legs and saw the holes, they look like little spots.  They have to come out of their shell quite a ways for you to see them.
Back to the story....
Zman and I picked Houdini up on Indian Key and put her in a cup to contain her and gave her some tamarinds to eat and a sponge to hang out on.  It filled up the cup alot, but since we were leaving that day I figured she would keep till I got her a larger cup.  When we got back to the car and loaded up, I checked the cup holder in which I had placed Houdini's cup and she was gone(we hadn't named her or known it was a her yet)!  My cousin can think like a hermit crab 'cause she has had a few, and we found her under the passenger side doormat.  OK.  Back into the cup.  We said our goodbyes then Zman and I headed down the road.  We stopped briefly for another goodbye and lo and behold, when we got back to the car she had escaped again!   At this point we named her Houdini, after the great escape artist.  We searched and searched the car and could NOT find her!  Every time we stopped, we looked for her.  When we got back to Granny's house, I tore the car apart, took everything out, and still couldn't find her!  "Well", I thought, "Maybe she fell out when we were shaking mats or towels or something...?"  I braced myself for the smell of rotting in the weeks to come, just in case.  I also didn't tell Sweetie Pie or The Rocket about her as they would be sad they almost had a hermit crab for a pet.
Three weeks go by.  Yes, you read that right! THREE WEEKS!  We were getting into the car one day and Sweetie Pie screams "MOM! THERE"S A HERMIT CRAB IN OUR CAR!!!!!!"  "Holey Moley!" I replied, "I can't believe Houdini survived!"  She looked at me incredulously and said "You know this crab????"  She and The Rocket were so excited!  I told them the story of the crab and about the original Houdini, then they understood the name.  That crab survived three weeks of no water, not really any food to speak of(except the crumbs and left over french fries and candy under the seats) and more importantly, the sweltering heat inside of a car left in the sun!  Resilient creatures hermit crabs are....
So now Houdini has her own beach condo that sits outside on our porch, complete with a pineapple, it's just not under the sea. However it does overlook the pool, if she can see that far... She eats all manner of things, and makes the neatest tracks in the sand.  She loves to climb and sleep in her pineapple.  She is incredibly strong, she rearranges the coral and digs little bunkers in the sand.  I put the exchange shell in her condo, she's not interested in it.  She may be holding out on me.....

For more information on Hermit Crabs, you can visit this site,  It's where I got most of my information from. I am looking forward(kind-of) to the release date, mostly because I feel bad taking her from her home and putting her in a confined area for our enjoyment, and she is alone.  I hope she is enjoying the solitude, when I see my cousin next, I'll ask her for one of her crabs to keep Houdini company.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Edison/Ford Home

The last thing we did in Naples was to visit the Edison/Ford home in Ft. Myers.  The kids have touched on  Edison in school and I thought it would bring home the history lesson a bit more if they could see where he did some inventing.  
It was a very hot day!  Granny and Grandad went with us and we all learned alot! 

Edison first visited Ft Myers in 1885, and he loved it so much that he purchased 13 acres on the Caloosahatchee River.  There he built his winter estate(called Seminole Lodge in honor of the local Indian tribe) that included his home and an impressive guest house.  Originally his laboratory was located adjacent to the house, but it was moved across the road and this office was built here in place of it. 
Edison's Little Office:
Looks cozy doesn't it?  I wish my office looked like this!

Below is the Moonlight Garden(behind the Little Office), can you imagine a party here? 

Now for my favorite part of the grounds, the pool area.  In times past when I have visited this area, the pool itself was a green algae mess.  I often have wondered what it looked like when Edison and his kids swam in it.  Well, here is the modern version of the pool today!  Certainly it didn't look this good when Edison was here, as it was filled with water from an artesian well on the property (I am so very glad they cleaned it up, it looks so inviting now!). 

This is the pier where Edison had his boat, and from which guests would arrive and all the building materials and contents(right down to the linens!) for his houses were brought in from ships.  There were no roads or railroads when he built his estate.  At the end of the pier there used to be an open "summerhouse"(kind-of like a covered porch) for visiting with guests and friends.  My guess is 'cause it was cooler out on the water, with a breeze!  

These "Electrolier" lighting fixtures were manufactured specifically for his house and I believe these are the original bulbs in them.  Why can't they make light bulbs to last like that anymore????

This is the family room.  Surrounding all sides of these rooms are wide covered porches, the kind that I long for if I ever build a house! 

This is Thomas and Mina's bedroom, doesn't it look cool and inviting?

Part of the kitchen:
I so totally want a such a functional and eye-pleasing kitchen as this in my fictional house I would build!  Ok, so I would copy Edison's floor plan... I LOVE this architecture!

The fruit of this tree is growing right on the bark of the tree, isn't that wierd?  I can't remember the name of the tree now...so dissapointing.(I think it may have been a type of fig tree?)

The rock fountain used to be the water feature in the garden where the Edisons and their guests would cool off before the pool complex was built. It used to be smooth concrete and then someone got creative and covered it with the rocks by 1928. 

This is the Ford home called "The Mangoes":
Ford was good friends with Edison and in 1916 Ford bought this house and property right next door to Edison's home.  Again, I'm loving this architecture!!!

While you are waiting for a guided tour, there is a museum that contains alot of history about Edison. His childhood, and the years leading up to his life in Ft. Myers and his inventions and patents. 
"Thomas Edison, Life magazine's "Number One Man of the Millennium," died October 18, 1931. He was 84 years old. Edison is credited with holding 1,093 patents and is the only person in our country ever to have a patent granted every year for sixty-five consecutive years, 1868 to 1933."
(That was taken from the website of the Estate.)

Below are some of the displays that are in the museum:

The above photo contains a replica of Edison's electric boat, Reliance.

This is the Banyan tree.  It was a gift from Harvey Firestone, and in 1925(when it was planted) the tree was 4ft high and 2 inches in diameter.  Now, it covers an acre and has some 350 roots!
The kids are standing with Thomas, Sweetie Pie is holding his hand, how sweet!
"Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration."
-Thomas Edison

We didn't get to the lab part of the tour, Granny was hot, tired and ready to go home.  We will go back another time and do the tour again, starting with the lab!  The gardens there are the most varied I have seen.  It is all because of the experimental nature of the caretaker!  He always encouraged questions and exploring in his kids.  This is such a wonderful place, and worth a visit for a day!

"There is only on Fort Myers, and 90 million people are going to find it out."
-Thomas Edison
If only he knew... 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Biggie Summer Trip! Part the Fourth...The End. : (

We have come to the end of our trip.  The last couple of days were spent doing not much of anything.  The day we left, we went out in the boat to Indian key, just off the Robbie's bridge.  We had to let a bunch of hermit crabs go(We love to go there so that's as good an excuse as any to go!).
Below is what a hermit crab looks like out of his shell:
wierd, huh?
There are tamarind trees on the island.  It is a tropical type of spice/fruit common in island cooking and Indian foods.  There is nothing that tastes like a tamarind, so it's hard to describe it.  Here is a site that tells a bit about the use of tamarind in cooking, but the wikipedia site has more info on the whole shebang.  I can assure you they are yummy, and here is Zman harvesting some for me to take home.
This is what the fruit looks like:
I used some when I made a pork roast and it was good!

After the harvest, we got into the water because it's VERY hot there in the summer.  Not a whole lot lof breeze makes it into the center of the island!  In the shallows on the eastern side of the island we had a little nature time.  We found some sargasso weed, and in those clumps, one can find all sorts of tiny marine life!  Here is a brine shrimp: he was striped and had little white dots on the end of his antenna. I wish you could see him better.
This is an egg sac. I emailed a marine site to find out what it is, I'll let you know when I find out what kind of sac it is.
These are bleeding tooth snails.  They are common in the Carribean.
Evidently you can eat them, according to this site here is how you do it:
"Rinse snail thoroughly before boiling. Boil in fresh water for three minutes. When shell cools, using a tiny straightened fish hook, remove the operculum, then the snail. Discard shell and operculum. Serve snail with your favorite sauce or dip in garlic butter." 
                                               Here's why they are called "bleeding tooth":
See?  It looks like little teeth that are bleeding!  This one has a snail in it so we put it back.  The hermit crab that we brought back as an 'exchange student' is in one and when it wants to change shells I get to keep it in exchange for a new one!  Then, next year, we will take the crab(her name is Houdini) back to her family.  (The story of Houdini is a whole story in itself that I will tell at a later date...)

This is a chiton, you can eat these too.  I think they would be good in a stew.

This is one of the views from the observation tower.  It is of the cisterns that used to hold fresh water reserves for the island.  There was a bit of a breeze up here, but the sun was brutal!
Looking down one of the "streets", it is the one that the hotel used to be on.

Poisonwood tree. It is better to look at this tree only-no climbing! 
Sadly, Zman and I must get back to Naples.  The little kids are waiting for us and we have used up every moment we could.
A parting shot of Indian key:
When we got back to the dock, there was a baby floating in the water, so we scooped it up to observe it.
It's called an Upsidedown jellyfish, or Mangrove jellyfish. It is a unique jellyfish, in that it produces it's own food by photosynthesis. Also some marine crabs carry these on their backs for protection!  They only usually only cause itching in humans, however if you disturb a colony of them they can swarm you and present quite a dangerous situation! (Jodi, do you remember swimming over hordes of those off of your dock when we were younger? little did we know...)

We said good bye to Jodi and the kids and headed on down the road, saying goodbye to all the spots along the way.  It's always such a sad drive leaving the keys.  The trip back was uneventful, but beautiful.  Another rain shower along the way and Zman looking wistfully at the canal alongside US41 wanting to fish.   

The post office at Ochopee, Fl.  One of the iconic scenes on US41.   

I love, love, love spending time with my cousin and her kids!  We always have such a special time together!  I'm glad she lives where she does now so we get to see each other more often!  And as it turns out, my cousin's husband grew up with another really good friend of mine!  So now we three girls get to have many adventures together, and we share this common bond.  How funny, the world is so small!
Love you Cuz!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Biggie summer trip! Part the third

We had to get up early to get this picture!  It only took us 5 times going by this landmark in the past two days to get here when there wasn't 20-50 people standing in line to have their picture made here!  Luckily, there was a motorcycle group that was there when we got there and we took their picture so they would take ours.  I feel bad for them because it was rainy and they were leaving Key West.  Then on the way back to park the car for the day, we snapped this quickly(think:Chinese firedrill):
A couple obligatory photo ops out of the way... TODAY IS DRY TORTUGAS DAY! : )
Check in was at 7:30am, so these photos were snapped at 7am!  We were so excited, it was hard to sleep the night before, and from about 4am on to 6am, kept waking up because I was afraid the alarms(yes, that is plural!) wouldn't go off!  They did, and we made it to the docks in plenty of time!  We were set up to cruise out on the Sunny Days "Fast Cat" to the Dry Tortugas(here is their site).  While waiting to board the boat, we observed some of these, they are so funny, I just can't resist!
They roam all over Key West, the ultimate in free-range, citified chickens...
Our crew for the day sized our flippers for snorkeling as we boarded the boat.  That way once we got inside and sat down we could try them on and make sure they fit before we left the dock as they don't carry those on board(takes up too much space).  Zach tried his on and had to get a bigger size!  Flipper sizing out of the way, we had breakfast.  Sunny Days includes a continental breakfast(danish, bagel, doughnuts, fresh fruit, coffee, juice) and a make-your-own sandwich with all the fixin's lunch.  Unlimited drinks(water, soda, tea) are provided all throughout the day.  For the long ride out, there are playing cards, magazines and coloring books for kids. There is an XM radio playing island music and an outside deck at the back for those who wish to smoke or just get fresh air.  The crew was knowledgeable, helpful and nice.   Our ride out was bumpy because of the rough seas(3-6ft).  On a catamaran boat, you are more "sloshed" about than on a regular hulled boat, where you are more bumped up and down.  I guess sloshing is smoother than being bumped?  We were out on a boat, going to a place not many people get to go to, and we didn't have to drive, so it didn't really matter to us(we don't get sea-sick)!

The view coming into Garden Island, upon which sits Fort Jefferson:
At the front entrance to the fort is an anchor that my father had a part in getting to where it stands today:
My father has captained many boats in his lifetime, and part of his life on the water brought him out here.  This anchor was found on a near-by reef, covered with netting.  My dad helped to uncover and unnet the anchor, before it was brought up to it's current position.  He has been all over this fort, many years ago, and knows things about it that the current park rangers don't know.  I would really have liked for him to give us a guided tour, but he was at the other end of the state.  Maybe another time, as my mom hasn't been out there yet and would like to go.
Inside the fort at the front entrance:
Information plaques are all around the fort, giving you a self-guided kind of tour:
Fort Jefferson is the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere, and is one of the least visited parks in our National Park System. Understandable, but sad, as it is a marvel to visit!
Up on the very top of the fort, a good bird's eye view of the island:
The Dry Tortugas is know as such because of the turtles("tortugas" if you come from Spain as Ponce deLeon did) that are abundant here, and dry because out of 365 days in a year, it only rains on about 30 of them, therefore there is an absence of fresh water. We were "lucky" enough to out there on one of those 30 days...
Looking down into the collection areas of one of the cisterns:
I seem to remember our guide saying there were 11 cisterns built for freshwater collection.  However, because of the great weight of the fort being built on top of them, on top of sand, 9 of them cracked and saltwater intrusion rendered them useless.  The remaining cisterns provide freshwater for the park rangers(2-4) stationed there. 

This is the "hot shot" furnace. Men would stoke fires in the bottom of the structure and put cannon balls in at the top(on the other side), they would then roll them down, gradually getting them hotter and hotter, till they came out the bottom.  The cannon balls would then be transferred to a waiting gun and be shot at the enemy.  No shots were ever fired in anger from this fort, but better safe than sorry!  The star-lookin' thingies on the sides of the furnace are handles, the men would "roll" the shot down as it heated up.
This is looking up from the bottom, where the "hot shot" would come out :

At one point the moat served as the "sewer" for the fort, with gates that would be opened when tide was coming in for freshening, and opened again when the tide was going out for disposal.  It didn't work, can you imagine the smell(at one time the fort housed over 1000 people!)?  EWWWWW!
This shows some of the damage the years of exposure have taken on the fort:

A beautiful place...so unlike all the other war functional areas of the fort.

The caption to this plaque read:  Not a Happy Place

This is the entrance to one of  Dr. Samuel Mudd's cells.  He was originally housed in the cell above the entrance bridge with the three windows.  He was moved here after he had escaped.  I think there were only 3 or 4 prisoners in all that had escaped from the fort. 
(It has been said this plaque was once above the entrance to the mess hall!) 

Dr Mudd was released from his imprisonment because of his good medical works during a Yellow Fever epidemic at the fort. 

Here is the picture from inside the dungeon, can you see my orbs?  Some say they are the spirits of people who are unhappy or "stuck" here somehow.  I don't know how to explain them, but I know they are NOT dust particles or condensation spots on my lens or in my camera, and I have taken photos of these same kinds of things all over St Augustine, mostly in historical places. 
It was about time for us to go snorkeling, and as we made our way to the docks to get our snorkel gear, we noticed the huge black clouds rolling in, and people streaming in from the snorkel areas.  Alas, because of said storm, we did not get to witness the parts of park under water.  That storm was just too ugly.  Zman was VERY dissapointed, and angry at me, as I was at myself, for not getting to snorkel there. It rained and poured till we left the docks and then it passed and I believe it followed us in to Key West!
Looking to the left of the docks at the storm rolling in at a very fast pace(picture does not reflect it well):
Here is a panoramic photo of the fort, taken from the third level.  I wish now I had taken it farther on either side, but considering I had never used that function on my camera before, I think it turned out pretty good:

This trip was a once in a lifetime kind of deal.  However, I hope to one day get back out here with my parents and hear my father's information and stories of when he was here in days when Florida was a much wilder place. 

Most of the Dry Tortugas Nation Park is underwater.  The reef system here is the world's third largest.  The land that is directly in front of the Fort is called Bush Key, and is home to the nesting grounds of about 100,000 Sooty terns, and about 10,000 Brown Noddies.  On near-by Loggerhead Key is a functioning lighthouse and was once the grounds for the Carnagie Institute of Washington, Marine Biology Laboratory (from 1903 to 1939) which "…quickly became the best-equipped marine biological station in the tropical world.”  It also has the highest (natural)elevation in the Dry Tortugas at 10 feet.

On the way back in to Key West, we played cards( I whipped Zman heartily at rummy!) and talked, we were both very tired and looking forward to bed that evening. 
Stay tuned for the last couple of days...