Category Archives: Travel

Otterly Amazing Sea Otters

A police officer sees a man driving around with a pickup truck full of sea otters.  He turns on his lights and pulls the guy over saying, “you can’t drive around with sea otters in this town!  Take them to the zoo immediately.”  The guy says “OK”… and drives away.  The next day, the officer sees the guy still driving around with the truck full of sea otters, and they’re all wearing sun glasses.  He pulls the guy over and with anger asks, “I thought I told you to take these otters to the zoo yesterday?”  The guy replies., “I did . . . today I’m taking them to the beach!”

*insert rimshot here*

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California Sea Otter

Last night I came home from my book club and watched an amazingly interesting documentary with Paul, National Geographic: Big Sur – Wild California.  For those of you who have been to Big Sur will know that this part of California’s Central Coast is home to one of the most incredibly diverse ecosystems on Earth.  Here, nature and wildlife have evolved in drastic ways to survive.   Big Sur is home to many unique species of wildlife including the highly endangered California Condors, San Joaquin Kit Fox, California Sea Lions, California Tiger Salamanders, and of course the California Sea Otters.

Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris) are an aquatic member of the weasel family.  They spend most of their time in the water, which is easy to do when you have webbed feet, nostrils and ears that close in the water, and water-repellent fur to keep them dry and warm.    Sea Otters are meticulously clean!  After eating, they wash themselves in the ocean, cleaning their coat with their teeth and paws.  They have good reason to take care of their coats, as it helps them to stay waterproof and insulated against the cold.  Unlike seals, sea otters don’t have insulating fat (blubber) to keep them warm in frigid 35 -60 degree ocean waters.  They have air-bubble-trapping fur – the densest fur of any animal on Earth.  Each square inch of their bodies are covered with 600,000 to 1,000,000 hairs.  An entire human head has only about 100,000 hairs!  

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Sea otters often float at the water’s surface, lying on their backs in a posture of serene repose. They sleep this way, often gathered in groups.

Sea otters often float at the water’s surface, lying on their backs in a posture of serene repose. They sleep this way, often gathered in groups. Otters sometimes float in forests of kelp, or giant seaweed, where they entangle themselves to provide anchorage in the swirling sea.

These aquatic otters do more than sleep while floating on their backs. They are often seen with a clam or mussel and a rock that has been deftly snared from the ocean floor. Otters will place the rock on their chests, and repeatedly smash the shellfish against it until it breaks open to reveal the tasty meal inside. They also dine on aquatic creatures, such as sea urchins, crabs, squid, octopuses, and fish.

Sea Otters are the only otters to give birth in the water. Mothers nurture their young while floating on their backs. They hold infants on their chests to nurse them, and quickly teach them to swim and hunt.

The California Sea Otter survived a close brush with extinction early in the 20th century, but today, under protection of the Endangered Species Act, they’re expanding their range and increasing their numbers.  By the 1930’s, most people believed that this subspecies of sea otter had vanished, wiped out by fur traders who coveted its rich pelt.  In 1938, however, a small group of otters were discovered living near the mouth of Bixby Creek along California’s Big Sur coast.  From those few survivors, the otter has increased its numbers to more than 2,000 today.  Growth has been particularly impressive during the past decade, when otter numbers increased by nearly 50%!

Conservation works!   If we can see such a population increase with such an enchanting species, Sea Otters should inspire us to be advocates for other Ocean dwelling and dependent species which remain gravely endangered.   Change begins with us!

Have an “otterly” wonderful Friday!

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Aquarium Therapy

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Our four reef fish! Six Line Wrasse (top left), Azure Damselfish (top right), Yellow Watchman Goby (bottom left), and Ocellaris Clownfish (bottom right).

For most of us, a trip to the beach can best be described as relaxing and therapeutic.   According to Trip Advisor’s 2013 Top 25 Destinations in the World, 14 locations are seaside and 20 locations are seaside or along a major waterway.    There is no denying that we are balanced by water, whether that be an ocean, bay, river, or lake.   But for many of us, when we think of the greatest relaxing vacation, we think of a tropical beach oasis.   Destinations like Maui, Bora Bora, St. Lucia, Belize, and the Fiji Islands are just some of those popular names that come to mind when you think of aqua blue waters, reef life, warm sands, and tropical air.

Have you noticed an increase of saltwater marine aquariums in public locations?   Perhaps you’ve seen them at a clinic, restaurant, hotel, spa, or maybe even a classroom?   Aquarium Therapy is not new concept, but it is constantly studied and growing with high popularity!

Most people who watch a tank with fish will feel a calming effect, therefore reducing stress.  At Purdue University, researchers discovered that displaying tanks with brightly colored fish helped to curtail disruptive behaviors and improve eating habits of people with Alzheimer’s Disease.  It helps to boost physical and mental health.  It was shown to help create bonding and a positive attitude.   Studies have shown that seniors who were given the opportunity to view aquariums with fish had significant blood pressure reduction as well as  cholesterol.  Children, when visiting a doctor’s office, were found to be much calmer, especially children who suffered from hyperactivity disorders.  Dental patients watching a fish tank required less pain medication.  It also helps in reducing insomnia and persons coping with obesity.   How awesome is this?

Our 29 gallon Coralife BioCube nano reef aquarium with a healthy diversity of fish, corals, and invertebrates.

Our 29 gallon Coralife BioCube nano reef aquarium with a healthy diversity of fish, corals, and invertebrates.

My fiancé and I have two saltwater marine aquariums filled with various fish, invertebrates, and corals.   Contrary to popular belief, we find saltwater aquariums to be be more easy to maintain than freshwater…and not to mention more stunning, beautiful, and therapeutic.   What I find so awesome about a saltwater marine aquarium (particularly a reef tank) is how organic the system is.   When properly maintained; your aquarium becomes its own ecosystem.   This is maintained through bacterias, diversity of species, live rock, live sand, etc.   No unnatural chemicals are needed!

Another added benefit to aquariums are their incorporation into feng shui design.  It is believed that moving water brings prosperity and good luck to a home or office. Aquariums are great feng shui enhancements because they are at the same time soothing and energizing.  The sound and motion of gurgling water activates chi and adds humidity to a dry room, helping to balance chi. Moving water gets things going when the chi has been stagnant for a while (think of ice melting in the spring). Use moving water cures anywhere you want to enhance water or wood energy.

As amazing as this all is, any aquarium still requires learned knowledge, experience, time, money, and patience.   After all, your marine life are all pets and should be treated with the proper respect and care that every pet has the right to.   It is also very important to purchase and trade your marine life with reputable dealers and passionate and ethically driven marine enthusiasts.   Marine life should never be harvested from the oceans!

A Day of Celebration

Walking together on the Appalachian Trail in Harpers Valley, WV.

Walking together on the Appalachian Trail in Harpers Valley, WV.

Five years ago today I fell in love with my soulmate.   I certainly wasn’t looking for love, but love found me.   Starting a new relationship was actually neither of our intentions, and especially with a 3,000 mile distance between us.   Yet as we look back on it, we know we were destined to find one another, and the distance was tool to prepare us for a long life together.   If we could get through being separated by distance, we pretty much could get through everything else if he put our heart & soul into it…and we did!

Paul surprised me last night with matching glass evil eye bracelets which he made for us.    I was overjoyed!   We both love evil eyes not only for their ancient symbolism and our favorite cobalt blue color.  They always remind us of our trip to Turkey with friends back in 2011, which besides a trip to The Bahamas, was our first trip abroad together.

We’re simple bears.   We like a lot of the same things.  I think that’s what’s so awesome about us.   So instead of going out to buy a new suit to wear at an overpriced Washington, DC restaurant, we threw on our typical wardrobe, and hit the road for a fun-filled day trip.

Destination:  Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.  Why Harpers Ferry, you might ask?   We picked Harpers Ferry because  we love history and nature, and it’s only an hour north-west of us!   The history of Harpers Ferry is multi-layered – involving a diverse number of people and events that influenced the course of our nation’s history. Harpers Ferry saw the first successful application of interchangeable manufacture, the arrival of the first successful American railroad, John Brown’s attack on slavery, the largest surrender of Federal troops during the Civil War, and the education of former slaves in one of the earliest integrated schools in the United States.

Paul & I posing in front of the Potomac River in Harpers Ferry.

Paul & I posing in front of the Potomac River in Harpers Ferry.

English colonist Robert Harper was given a 125-acre piece of property ca. 1750 and established a ferry across the Potomac River in 1761, thus making a new town in the Shenandoah Valley for settlers.   Then comes industry, railroad, and the Civil War.   The geography of Harpers Ferry is situated where Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia come together, as well as where the Potomac and Shenandoah River split.   Walking through the “lower end” of town was absolutely fascinating, as we couldn’t help but to carry our imaginations into the past.    What were the smells and sounds?

Like children running free in an amusement park, Paul and I took to the historic buildings, churches, cemeteries, trails, etc.   We stumbled across a cute outdoor patio at the Cannonball Deli for a vegan lunch…a falafel wrap with curly fries.   After gaining some more energy from eating, we hiked back up to the “upper town” and decided to simply drive where it looks even more awesome.

One of many breathtaking views from the bank of the Shenandoah River.

One of many breathtaking views from the bank of the Shenandoah River.

As we’re driving, we’re passing endless areas where we would love to pull over and take a photo of, but realize we would never get anywhere…so we keep driving.   In attempt to find a higher vantage point overlooking Harpers Ferry, we get a little lost and accidentally stumble across another amazing town, Shepherdstown.   This 18th century town is still a very active community offering an abundance of shops, eateries, and points of interest.   We came across a historic building with a big wood sign which read, “O’Hurley’s General Store.”   Curious, (and hoping they’d have a bathroom) we stopped into check it out.   Little did we know this shop and the kindest shopkeeper would become one of the top three highlights of our trip!

Shepherdstown Opera House.

Shepherdstown Opera House.

After getting some more history lessons from the shopkeeper (who had no clue what falafel was), we headed out to explore more of the town.   This meager little town was so full of life and filled with history, personality, and character at every angle.   In 1787, James Rumsey was said to have engineered the first functioning steam engine propelled boat.   So of course he has a quite fabulous monument built in his honor.   Shepherdstown is also home to Shepherd University and it even an opera house which is still used to this day as a picture house.

After some more shop browsing, we headed down to the trails lining the Shenandoah River and simply enjoyed our special day – reminiscing, talking about the things we are passionate about, and enjoying the beauty which was surrounding us.    Can it get any better than that?

So here we are at the five-year mark.   Still in love.   Very much in love.   Engaged, but without a date set.   Where will we be next year or in five years from now?   Only, God knows that.   However I believe in the depths of my heart that our love will still be burning strong.   Perhaps we will think back this day in future anniversaries and reminisce on this newest memory to our adventure in life together.

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