Killer Toads Invade Florida

I have a love/hate relationship with things that hop. I like rabbits and bunnies, but the Easter Bunny at the mall is a little freaky. I think kangaroos are fascinating, though I never have encountered one in the wild; and I think I would be mildly terrified if I did. I like a good sock hop, even though my dancing skills are rusty. What I don’t like are frogs and toads. They give me the creeps. I never know where they are going to hop, and it always seems like they like to torture me and come my way. Yes, I think it’s personal.

So you can understand why I was attentive to a recent news story about killer toads. April showers may bring May flowers, but this year they are bringing killer toads to parts of Florida. We always welcome a lot of visitors during Spring Break, but these guys are definitely not helping our economy and their plan is to linger way past April.

It’s quite serious actually. They start out tiny, but they can grow to be a half pound. That’s a lot of toad. They were introduced to Florida to control insects in the sugarcane fields years ago, hence the name cane toad. Well, that didn’t work out too well as they are very poisonous. They can shut down the nervous system of a pet. The venom shoots from the back of their neck, so people need to be aware. The major outbreak is in the Palm Beach area where swarms of them are invading neighborhoods, but these toads are found all over Florida.

This is not the first amphibian that I have addressed on my blog. This post from six years ago covers many of our invasive species. So please, don’t pet the toads, frogs, or alligators (yes, I know this is a reptile but they do hang out in the same areas). You learn a lot of respect for nature down here.

photo

A large army of small cane toads, but they won’t stay small for long. Photo Credit: Fox 35 News

 

This is Post #5 of the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post every day in April.

Things My Husband Shouldn’t Say to Me

Sunday was a beautiful day – the perfect day for my husband to take a well-deserved rest by the pool. (We live in Florida.) I was happy watching him soak up the sun while reading a book. Well, I was happy until he came in. Let me recount our conversation for you.

Bob looking in the mirror at his chest after spending two hours by the pool – “Oh, I guess I did get a little sun out there today.”

Me, realizing I have to go to the dermatologist on Tuesday for my semi-annual humiliation, I mean skin check – “You are a little red. You need to be careful.”

Bob – “Don’t worry. It’ll be brown in a day. I think it’s already turning brown.”

Me throwing my hands up in frustration – “Brag, brag, brag! Do you know how long it would take me to go from red to brown? Hum? Or to get anything that resembles a tan? No, of course you don’t. Nobody knows! It’s like the mystery of how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie roll center of a Tootsie pop.”

End scene.

Say, “bees!”

Just so you know, today I did go to the dermatologist and it was a very good day for this pasty-white girl. A good day means 21 freezes of pre-skin-cancer areas and 1 small biopsy. Boom!

This is what I looked like afterwards. Warning, no make-up. Now you, Bob, and my dermatologist are the only ones who get to see me like this. Feel privileged and always use a good sunscreen of 50 SPF or above. If they had that when I was a kid maybe I wouldn’t come out of the dermatologist’s office every six months looking like I was attacked by a swarm of bees.

 

 

 

 

This is Post #3 of the April Ultimate Blog Challenge.

Bazaar Beach Bumble Leads to Sting Operation

Friday was my mother’s 91st birthday. My younger sister, Linda, and I took her to her favorite place – the beach.

Through no fault of her own, Mom’s birthday falls during spring break and bike week. If you live in Florida, you avoid the beach like the Walmart on Black Friday, especially Daytona Beach, during this overlap of motorcycles, college students, and vacationing families. It’s just plain crazy, loud, and crowded.

For my mother’s part, she did not plan on being born in March. In fact, she was due in May. (I do think she may have preferred May. It’s quieter down here then.)

In keeping with the quiet celebration theme, we headed down back roads past the southern tip of New Smyrna Beach. Pastureland with signs pointing to pigs or fresh eggs for sale dotted the scenery. The roads were nearly deserted making for a relaxing drive.

My favorite sighting of the day was Phil. Phil the Knife Sharpening Guy was positioned at a prime intersection to attract bikers, spring-breakers, or anyone else who may need to sharpen their weapons and knives before arriving at the beach. It was a little disconcerting, but I’m going with the thought that fishermen need sharp knives.

Phil's Knife Sharpening

I should note that Phil did not pose for this picture and I did not ask his permission. He was on a corner of Hwy 44 and I was able to snap this from the opposite side of the road at a traffic light. I did google him though, and was surprised at his celebrity. Therefore, I don’t think he’d mind the publicity. He is known all over Florida and beyond for peddling his bike and trailer and sharpening knives of all kinds. He especially likes Bike Week.

With my writer’s mind at ease from picturing all kinds of daunting circumstances, I marvel at Phil’s ingenuity and work ethic, not to mention his ability to pull that rig of his, which he has been doing for about 30 years. I should have stopped and talked to him, but honestly he looked a little scary from a distance, plus I left all my knives at home.

But let me take you back to the beach – Bethune Beach, which is just south of NSB. It has a paved walking area which gives a great view of the sand and surf – just what Mom was hoping for. We took a stroll and then set up our chairs. It was a perfect day – mid-80s, sunny and a light breeze.

Mom encouraged Linda and me to go for a walk on the beach. You don’t say no to your mom on her birthday. Toes in the sand and the sun on a heavily sun-screened face is revitalizing. We were strolling along, enjoying being together and picking up the occasional seashell when it happened. A piercing, burning sensation in my foot. It was like one of Phil’s perfectly sharpened knives stuck me right in my toe.

We weren’t even in the water! I lifted my foot and there underneath it was a bee. A stupid honeybee. (No offense to the smart ones.) What in the world was he doing all alone on the sand? The entire thing was upsetting. It doesn’t even make for a good story. It could at least have been a sand shark (I assume they are named for lying low in the sand before pouncing). Even a jelly fish would have been more exciting.

I hobbled over to nearby stairs and examined my poor throbbing little toe. There was a stinger hanging out of it with bee innards dangling from that. Gross and ouch! Thankfully, I always have my tweezer-like fingernails on-hand (literally) so it was easily removed and the gross part scraped off with a seashell. We headed back to Mom walking in the 65-degree ocean water to dull the pain. It had been a while since I’d had a bee sting. I hurt quite a lot.

My sister told me that if I put wet tobacco on it that would dull the pain. She has never smoked, but she lives in Georgia and once when she had a bee sting someone had dosed her sting site with it and lo and behold it worked. So, we started looking for smokers – kind and generous ones who would help a fellow human in need.

Alas there were no smokers to be found, but Linda did come up with a discarded, half-smoked cigarette. Yes, it’s gross, but it was also an act of love to pick it up. We rinsed my foot and applied the damp tobacco. Funny, but damp tobacco or just about anything else short of chewed gum will not stick to the bottom of your foot. Gravity wins every time so I may never know the true medicinal properties of someone’s discarded cigarette.

When we got home from the beach, I decided to play Bob’s favorite game with him – the guess what game. I know that no matter how much he rolls his eyes, he loves it. So, I made him guess what stung me at the beach. He guessed bee right away. And he didn’t think this counted as an operation either. Not even applying old, wet tobacco can take away the sting of that.

 

 

You Otter Read This

Once again, I am providing a view of the other side of Central Florida. It’s not all the happiest place on earth down here. I’m not talking about Costco, one of my happy places on earth. I’ve never felt the danger of being attacked by an angry otter at Costco. I can’t say as much about Lake Lily in nearby Maitland.

Central Florida wildlife

It has been nearly a year since an ornery otter has made the headlines here. It was in March of last year that an aggressive otter jumped into a kayak in Manatee County and leaped onto its unsuspecting paddlers resulting in an overturned kayak and one terrifying and terrific story for the pair trying to take a leisurely trip down the river. He went on to attack other boaters and injure four people.

Daily I-4 Warnings

Daily I-4 Warnings are necessary during the I-4 Ultimate Project

I don’t know how that story was resolved regarding the capture of the wanted otter, but now I fear that he may have made his way to our fair community, though that would be unlikely because the most direct route from Manatee County, which is south of the Tampa/St. Pete area, to the Orlando area is via I-4. I-4 is deadlier than an angry otter and you would be smart to avoid it while in our area. An otter, angry or otherwise, can weigh between 10 and 33 pounds. You’d fare better with it then you would with an 18-wheeler trying to figure out where the lanes have shifted on I-4. The truck could weigh up to 40 tons. I think if given the choice, I’ll take my chances with the otter.

Seriously, though, whether on the interstate or near our beautiful lakes, I’m cautious. Lovely Lake Lily in the nearby town of Maitland is a favorite place for locals to take a stroll. I myself have walked there. I might have considered doing it again, that is until otters began stalking innocent walkers. At this point, they are only concerned about one otter. They are working on a Single-Otter Theory. I think this is their way of avoiding conspiracies of groups of otters banding together with a common cause of destroying our state or making a statement about our inconsistencies in counting votes down here in Florida.

All this begs a question. These are river otters and Lake Lily is, well, a lake. I think that the otters are confused, like the vote counters in Broward County last year. Perhaps they thought their votes were not counted in the last election.

Another question: Are the sightings and incidents involving the dangerous otter at Lake Lily really the work of a renegade weasel (otters are in the weasel family) or maybe even the Russians?

For now, we will have to hope that it was a Lone Otter. The latest word is the Otter Wanted-Posters have been successful. The squirrelly otter is off the streets, lakes, rivers, and swamps. I guess I’ll have to come up with a better reason to avoid taking a walk.

 

Pumpkin Spice Peer Pressure

I took a five-minute walk through Whole Foods and was quickly reminded that it’s that time of year again – Fall in Florida. You might think I would wait outside on a lovely fall day, but it was 93 degrees outside. September was going out with a sizzle. Summer down here lasts easily until after Halloween, so if it weren’t for the plethora of pumpkin product placements, it may have slipped my notice that the season had changed.

A few short years ago, I came to realize that not everyone is pleased as punch over pumpkins. I have a friend who is not just overwhelmed, but annoyed at the things that those poor pumpkins are going through when all they really want to be is pie. Granted, she is in the minority, but she has a voice and she demands to be heard. And isn’t that what we’re all about in today’s world?

I thought about her as I wandered through the store; even I was overwhelmed by pumpkin. Every time I turned around, I was face-to-face with another pumpkin product. I love pumpkin, but at that point, I began to question everything about fall.

What about leaves? Isn’t fall foliage what it’s all about? And apples. Shouldn’t we be buying freshly pressed apple cider? Shouldn’t I be putting raked leaf essence in my coffee instead of pumpkin spice? Have I joined the ranks of pumpkin people without a second thought?

When I returned home I lit my pumpkin spice candle and thought deeply about this. I decided I might as well get my fall decorations out as I was thinking. They included 5 pumpkin spiced candles, a room spray, and various assorted pumpkin and leaf decorations.

It made me cry real tears when I realized that I hadn’t known when to stop. I hadn’t taken into account people like my friend who suffer from PSOD (pumpkin spice overload disorder). Plus, I also had ignored my own eye-irritant disorder, which is triggered by strong candle fragrances such as the ones I unleashed in my own house. Yes, the tears were real.

I’ll have to go on Amazon and see if they have any pumpkin spice lubricant eye drops. I’ll bet they’re out there!

 

 

 

Must “That” Show Go On?

Cirque du Soleil – Crystal, according to its own billing, is a breakthrough ice experience. That’s right. They billed an ice-skating show as breakthrough. Bob and I enjoyed it as part of our 43rd anniversary celebration last week. Well, we enjoyed most of it. There was a little show in the audience that was a bit much for us. I was ready for somebody to fall through the ice. But I’ll get to that in a minute after I deliver some fascinating facts for your entertainment and education.

This is a traveling show, unlike La Nouba, which in December ended its long run in Disney Springs. As a side note, if you haven’t been to Orlando in the last couple of years, you may be asking yourself – What is Disney Springs? Quite honestly, I live here and I often ask myself that same question.

Disney Springs is the shopping/entertainment complex formerly known as Downtown Disney, which was formerly known as Disney Village Marketplace, which was formerly known as Walt Disney World Village, which was originally known as Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village. I still tend to call the area Lake Buena Vista, much to the confusion of anyone under 30.

Anyway, family-friendly Crystal was performed at the Amway Center in Downtown Orlando, so we didn’t have to try to remember what to call Downtown Disney, I mean Disney Springs.

For those of you who have seen La Nouba, Crystal is similar, but not as much of a sensory overload of amazement as the permanent La Nouba (which of course wasn’t so permanent since it closed). I guess that makes sense, but Crystal does deliver. It is more like Ice Capades meets Cirque du Soleil meets Alice in Wonderland.

But the show has moved on and so must I, but not before telling you about the couple who was sitting directly in front of Bob and me.  Now when I say directly in front, I mean really close. The seats in the Amway Center allow you to reach out and touch the person in front of you without even having to lean forward.

Bob and I arrived first so we witnessed their arrival. From all appearances they were free-spirited hippies, probably around fifty years old. Long hair for the pair of them, though his was a tad bit longer. We know this because they flipped their hair – a lot. Enough that I was wondering if we should check our jeans for lice. Not that they appeared to be dirty, but it’s strange to have someone’s hair dance across your knees.

But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was their inability to keep their hands off of each other, which was displayed by frequent make-out sessions throughout the night. You may think that since we were celebrating our anniversary, we would welcome viewing romance and simply channel that into our own celebration. Well, you’d be wrong.

This was not romantic. It was gross. I see nothing wrong with a little kiss between couples, but these two were going at it like the plane was going down. When they weren’t making my stomach turn, they were often talking. So much so that the people in front of them moved. That emboldened me.

Me: Do you want to move back a row?

Bob: Why?

Me: Seriously? You haven’t noticed these two going at it?

Bob: You mean them tossing their hair to and fro?

Me: No! I mean the sloppy make-out session going on an arm’s length away. I could put up with a little hair toing and froing, but this is ridiculous. How could you not notice?

Bob: I’m watching the show.

Of course he was watching the show. But I opened his eyes to another, more disgusting show, so we moved.

From our new seats we looked over their heads of tossing hair, and my evening was no longer hampered by their seriously inappropriate PDAs. The only thing we noticed from them from our new point of view was their finger snapping as opposed to applauding. I felt like I was in a poetry reading.

Cheers!

So, there you have it. Another anniversary with my wonderful husband. Another example of how we look at the world differently. Another story to laugh about. Another couple to avoid. I can’t wait to see what next year brings.

Oh, The Humidity!

So lovely – Moved to tears (almost)

I missed humidity something terrible while we were away in Utah. My eyes couldn’t even tear up in response to the beauty we were hiking through. I was unable to blow my nose and my skin with its alligator look reminded me of home. I could put up with that because my hair looked great, so who cares that I couldn’t cry and that my nose would bleed when I tried to blow it. That was a small price to pay for soft, silky hair.

Now that I have traveled extensively in the desert of Utah and Arizona (two weeks), I can tell you from firsthand experience that Florida doesn’t really understand the words “dry heat.” We understand heat from the dryer, but that’s the extent of it. We also know what dry heaves are, but I don’t even want to go there.

There are dangers in dry heat that we are unaccustomed to. It’s so extreme that one must be warned of the danger by signs like this:

We don’t see signs like this in Florida.

Floridians understand sweat. Furthermore, we are known for it. Yes, we are big sweaters.

As a kid, I never learned that you don’t talk to strangers. Talking to people, especially while we’re traveling, is interesting. We met a lot of people in Utah.  Nine times out of ten, when someone found out I was from Florida they would say, “Oh, the humidity!!!” It was like they thought we lived under a curse or something.

I gave up trying to defend our state. Yes. It’s humid. I work up a sweat on the way to the mailbox, but I can blow my nose. That should count for something! And my skin no longer has that alligator look. My hair – that’s another story. I’m back to frizzy, but at least I have tears again if I want to cry about it.

Danger in Central Florida!

Wild animals and poor spellers are everywhere. Be on alert!

Now that I have your attention, let me highlight some of the stuff we Floridians have to put up with that is going way beyond reptiles and sharks. I’ve mentioned before (for those of you who don’t live here) that we essentially live in a subtropical swamp. Therefore, it’s often humid and hot. Really hot, accompanied by alligators, snakes, and mosquitoes. But that only lasts for six months, after which we return to just plain hot with occasional warm spells and alligators, snakes, and mosquitoes. (more…)

Household Tip You Might Not Want to Try

I don’t share many household tips here, but I came across a surprising way to shine my granite countertops.

It all started with an ambitious idea to clean my electric teakettle. Hard water deposits were shrinking its capacity, so I needed to do something before it only held enough water for a single gunky cup of tea, plus my mom mentioned it was getting gross.

I’m not much of a tea drinker. I prefer coffee. If I’m drinking tea you can assume that one of three things is going on in my life:

  1. I’ve had my coffee quota, and I am cold. This can happen during the two weeks of winter that are spread throughout the months of December through February in Central Florida.
  2. I am sick. This often coincides with those same three months. I think it is brought on by using air conditioning one day and the heat the next during those crazed arctic blasts that make their way down here and wreak havoc on our landscape taking temperatures from 80 to the 40s in a few short hours. Sometimes it gets down to freezing and I have to go out with a jacket and gloves on and cover our plants so they don’t get frostbite. Often, I overdress and end up sweating, and then I get a chill as I shed layers. You Northerners, I know, will have no sympathy for me, but life is pretty darn hard down here during those few days. Sometimes I even have to wear socks.
  3. I am out of wine.

I love my coffee in the morning and I love my coffee pot, too. It has the good manners to let me know when it needs cleaning, unlike my tea kettle that makes me actually look inside of it and judge for myself. White vinegar, of course, was the way to go. I would tell you exactly how much, but I’m sure you know how to google and I don’t really remember the ratio of vinegar to water anyway.

So, one fine Saturday morning, I grabbed the jug of “vinegar.” I did exactly what google told me to do, turned on the kettle and walked away.

Image result for mount st helens eruption

Mount St Helens (photo credit Wikipedia)

I came back a little later to discover the kettle had done an imitation of Mount St. Helens back in 1980. She spewed all over the counter and puddled down into the top two drawers. What a mess! There were suds everywhere.

The worst part of it was the smell, which was so strong it burned my eyes. I had to air out the kitchen for a couple of hours. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with the vinegar until a couple of hours later I was doing laundry, and there on the counter by the washer was the bottle of vinegar I used. Only it wasn’t vinegar. It was ammonia – sudsy ammonia.

So, as an upside, we got a new tea kettle. It’s very nice and won’t need cleaning for a while. Plus, ammonia, which I would not recommend using because it’s so hard on your skin and eyes, evidently does a great job shining up granite. Who knew? Certainly not me!

 

Nobody Likes You Irma (Part 2 of 2)

Irma was an unwelcome guest, but there was no stopping her from blowing through. I thought I would share what it was like for me and my family as she came knocking on our door. Looking back, we got off easy compared to a lot of folks, but my story is the only one I can tell. I tell it mixed with prayers for those who have truly suffered through this storm and the many other “natural disasters” that are going on in the world today.

By 11:00 Sunday morning we were hunkered, which is a word we used liberally during the entire ordeal.

Hurricane Warning

By 2:20 PM our phones were going off like crazy with alerts. Watches turned to warnings. (Watches are issued when conditions are favorable for the storm. Warnings come when the storm or flood is imminent.)

The first rain bands arrived before 3 PM.

The wind significantly picked up by 7 PM. By 8:30, those winds became downright scary as they gusted over and around our house.

By 10 PM the rain was coming down in torrents. We experienced minor flooding over our front sidewalk. And the eye of the storm was hours away. FYI, we did not board up our house.

Our front sidewalk in the light of day. It took 3 days to dry out.

We decided to go to bed and get some rest. The worst was supposed to come around 2 AM. My parents seemed to go right to sleep on the other side of the house. Bob and I lay in our bed listening to the weird noises that the wind was making. I thought our roof was going to come off. I told Bob that I couldn’t sleep with all that noise. He said that he could.

And he did! I went to the center of the house and tried to rest in a recliner, but by then it was raining even harder and I could hear the dripping in the chimney while the weird noises continued. The wind whipped through our screened pool enclosure making eerie howling sounds. This was the first time in a long time that I can remember being legitimately scared. So, I ate some chocolate chip cookies.

The entire household was sleeping through this (minus me, of course). That amazed me, but I was thankful somebody was getting some rest! It was now clear that the storm was going to go right over Orlando. With the wind picking up even more, a little before 2 AM, I prepared the hall with cushions and chairs for my parents. Our phones, computers and car keys were placed in Ziploc bags. I was ready to take the hunkering to a new level.

I was awake and praying or chatting with other hunkerers on Facebook through most of the night – manning the conn from our recliner in the center of the house while eating the occasional chocolate chip cookie or three. I’d peek outside toward the east and look at the weird lightning and watch the trees bend in the glow of it. The water in the pool, though Bob had drained several inches from it twice, was over the edge. Irma was loud and violent, and the rest of my family slept through it.

With everything in place, I returned to my recliner. I must have dozed off, because I woke up around 6 AM and realized that it was over, and we still had electricity.

We live in the back of our neighborhood, which has 450 homes in it. A tributary of the Little Wekiva River flows through the center. Typically, it is a creek of about 8 feet width. Monday morning it was a raging little river.

The front of our neighborhood looked like a war zone of fallen trees and debris. They were without power. Our end of the neighborhood never lost it. But there were a lot of downed trees and fences and a new lake in our neighbor’s backyard. A wonderful neighbor had a front-end loader and went up and down every street clearing a path. Everyone was outside working and checking on each other.

Our next-door neighbor’s backyard

Bob looking at all the debris – our neighbor’s newly formed backyard lake in the background

Our damage was so minimal it doesn’t even count. I told my mother that we had an extra blessing from God because they moved in with us.

Bob and I put on our sneakers and leather gloves and got to work. Trees are no respecters of property lines. We have the neighborhood border wall behind our house. There is a vacant, treed lot behind us, so we got lots of debris from that. When I set foot in the yard, I was surprised to be up to my ankles in water. But there was no damage and nobody was hurt. We were amazed and grateful to God for that.

One of our sons and family showed up in the early afternoon. They were safe but without power. By nightfall, theirs was restored. Our other son and his wife were not so lucky. Theirs was out for nine days.

My parents’ home sustained no damage, but that area was without electricity for five days. It may be September, but it’s still close to 90 degrees every day down here.

 

     There are piles of debris along the roads that are taller than I am. And there is a subtle, funky smell in the air that is like a mixture of old diaper and chicken farm. Thankfully, the garbage truck removed the regular garbage today, so that may improve. Mass spraying has begun to combat mosquitoes. The sound of frogs in the morning is deafening as they take up residence in the newly formed ponds. We are keeping our eyes open for snakes. Alligators have been reported in some yards and pools. Flood waters are cresting along the St. Johns River. There are still some who have no power and others who can no longer stay in their homes. But we give thanks for being on the other side of this. It has been a blessing watching neighbor helping neighbor and churches joining together to serve. A lot of the differences that tend to divide us have taken their proper place, and we see each other simply as people going through something together.

I thought about being afraid in the middle of that night. I thought about how rare that is for me, and I was thankful. Now I think about people living in fear of storms real and imagined and how that affects their lives, and I pray that they will call out to God because He is there.