Morning Discovery

I found this female* Lined Seahorse (Hippocampus Erectus) during my beach walk this morning. Relatively poor swimmers, this specialized species of fish is usually attached to seagrass or soft coral.

However, the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico was recently churned up by passing storms, so the sand was littered with detritus. Sadly, this girl was one of the casualties.

Thankfully, this species has a wide distribution, from Nova Scotia to Brazil, so one local disturbance shouldn’t negatively impact the population. Well-camouflaged, predation is not a major worry (also they are quite bony and therefore, not a favored food). The main threats to the species are bottom trawling, seagrass bed destruction, and usage in Chinese medicine.

My walk coincided with slack water so the serene gulf belied the previous tumult…

*Male seahorses have a brood pouch which extends past the lower dorsal fin.

Silica Transformed

Spent a chilly winter day exploring the Imagine Museum in downtown St. Petersburg this past weekend. Not only was it a perfect respite from the weather but it was a sensational experience.

The museum is the brainchild of Trish Dugan (a glass artist) who spent decades acquiring glass from influential artists around the world. There are over 1500 pieces in the collection, and it’s still growing.

I have some familiarity with glass art; my sister designs stained glass, I toured Dale Chihuly’s “The Nature of Glass” exhibit with her and my aunt, and the Oregon coast town where I lived is famous for the local, handcrafted glass floats.

Even with those experiences I was blown away by the creativity on display. I am naturally drawn toward items styled in a more natural bent and, of course, ones in shades of blue. The hyper-realism of Matthew Eskuche’s Trashglass series gave me pause, what a disposable world we live in.

The display that absolutely mesmerized me was Portal Icosahedron by Anthony James. It is a modern recreation of a mathematical experiment in unity by Plato, “twenty identical triangular facets…an ideal compositional system of perfect symmetry in three dimensions.” Every step I took around the piece offered a completely different view.

Looking down into a seemingly infinite portal I was reminded of the One in a Million scene from Star Wars: A New Hope when Luke Skywalker does the “impossible” and fires the shot that destroys the Death Star. Hey, I grew up with those movies, what can I say, they made an impression.

There will be a new exhibit opening soon and I will definitely return to explore some more!

Odd Bird

During the regular afternoon frenzy at my front bird feeder yesterday I noticed a rather unusual sight. There were a dozen parakeets perched on the top power line above the feeder, that part is not the least bit unusual.

One, however, was hanging upside down on the bottom line. The birds above seemed to be chattering quietly about the weirdo below them. To quote a fun little ditty from Sesame Street, “One of these things is not like the others…”

Curiosity piqued, I snapped a few quick pictures with my phone before the flock flew away. Good thing I did because they were an entirely new species of bird for me! Meet the Blue-crowned Parakeet (Thectocercus acuticaudatus), another naturalized avian here in Florida.

While these small green parrots are known to be good “talkers” they are nowhere near as loud as the Nanday Parakeets that typically frequent my yard. I do hope these handsome birds return, I’d love to get some better photos of them!

A-door-able?

I’d like to introduce you to my new dining room table. This project began when I replaced the front door, the first week of October 2020 (yes, that’s over a year ago – don’t judge).

As a single female, I didn’t feel comfortable with that much glass in the front door. Add in the incredibly disconcerting fact that the door was hung inside out, meaning the hinges were on the outside. In case you don’t know, any door can be easily removed with a hammer and a screwdriver as long as you have access to the hinges (you just tap on the screwdriver to push the pins up and out). It wouldn’t matter in the slightest if you had the deadbolt engaged or not.

So, before I moved into my house I replaced the front door. The old one had so much character though that I couldn’t bring myself to throw it out. Not only was it solid wood but the glass inserts are molded in the shape of bamboo – I’m sure it was a very expensive door (best as I can tell the door would’ve cost at least $1000 new).

So, I kept the door and eventually it occurred to me that I would need a new dining room table, one that was a better match for my house than the country-style set I had purchased used for my little rental. I hadn’t rushed into buying a new set because I lacked a clear vision (and I thought the prices were ridiculous).

One day a neighbor placed an old brass and glass storm door out by the curb for trash day. Knowing that I would need a glass top for my table (since the inserts are inset in the wood), I walked over and carried the storm door home. I leaned it up against the old door and ignored them both for a couple months.

I couldn’t decide on how to assemble my table so the project sat on the back burner until late this summer (and I was busy with other projects, too). Inspiration comes to me in the strangest of ways, I saw some bamboo poles for sale on Facebook Marketplace and realized that those would be perfect for table legs since they’d mirror the glass inserts.

Finally, with a design idea in mind I started working on the table: I stripped off the multiple layers of paint, cut it to fit the glass from the storm door, sanded (and sanded and sanded), and painted. Once I was satisfied with the outcome, I repeated much of that process with the legs.

Since bamboo is mostly hollow (except at the growth joints) I screwed PVC plumbing end caps to the table. The bamboo slid over the caps snugly and were glued and screwed into place. I repeated a similar process on the bottom and attached felt pads to the feet. In addition I mounted brackets to each leg for extra support. To highlight the glass bamboo inserts, I hung mini lights on the underside of the table.

As I was nearing completion of the table it occurred to me that I’d need things to sit on. A few days later I picked up 4 metal chairs for free. A bit of paint, some new cushion and fabric and I was in business.

Shortly before Thanksgiving I sold my old dining room set (for $10 more than I paid for it) and moved the new table into place. Total project cost: $40 (I had to buy the bamboo, lights, brackets, PVC, and fabric – everything else I already had or was free). Actual cost? Priceless! I’m delighted with it and it is definitely one of a kind!

Note: I will be making a bench for the far side of the table (again using bamboo legs) at some point in the future.

Ssssupervisor…

I was a bit startled yesterday afternoon while puttering out in my front yard. Not sure what gave it away but something made me look up towards the top of my hedges.

I have seen this Southern Black Racer (Coluber constrictor priapus) a couple times in my yard before (but on the ground). In a manner befitting its name, each time it zipped into the thick tangle of this hedge. Though I know most snakes can climb trees I was a bit taken aback to see this one at eye level.

Basking in the warm sunshine, the snake allowed me a couple photos before it disappeared into the foliage. I’m delighted that this nonvenomous snake resides in my yard, as the species excels at gobbling insects and small creatures (like lizards and mice).

Carambola

My neighbors have a heavily-laden Star Fruit (Averrhoa carambola) tree. Luckily for me, they generously giveaway the extras on a little table out by the curb. As you know, I’m not one to pass up something for free, especially when it’s so delicious!

If you haven’t tried one yet, I highly recommend doing so (if you can find them – perhaps look at an Asian market). The unripe fruit still has a greenish tint to it and makes an excellent garnish for cocktails or entrees (though it will be quite tart and lemony). Fully ripened, the fruit has the texture of a juicy pear (yes, you eat the skin) and tastes like a cross between a banana and a mild apple.

Unfortunately, the Carambola resembles a banana in that it has a relatively short shelf life, once brown spots appear on the fruit it becomes a flavorless mass of goo.

I did just find a couple Star Fruit recipes that sound delightful. Since their tree still has loads of fruit they’ll be worth a try, I’ll keep you posted.

Feeder Antics

I recently added another bird feeder to my yard. This one I placed up front near a bird bath with a small solar fountain. The new addition was discovered immediately by my neighborhood birds (unlike the one in the backyard which took them several months to find).

While I have several species that frequent the feeder (Blue Jay, Northern Mockingbird, American Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Mourning Dove, Eurasian Collared-Dove, and Eurasian Starling) all of them cede the space when the flock of Nanday Parakeets (Aratinga nenday) arrive.

I view their afternoon arrival with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I enjoy watching these noisy and colorful, medium-sized parrots. On the other, I know my feeders will soon be empty.

Originally from central South America, the birds were brought to Florida for the pet trade. The first ones were noted living outside in St. Petersburg in 1969. They have since established breeding colonies and are now found across the south-central part of the state. Though the 1992 Wild Bird Act prohibits importation of this tropical species (along with many others) its reproductive success means that it will remain one of Florida’s 195 non-native bird species for many years to come.

25th Annual

Took advantage of the relative calm before the storm this past Saturday and wandered out to the Treasure Island Kite Festival. When my friend Katie and I arrived at noon the wind was fickle at best, not ideal conditions for flying.

Thankfully, the wind picked up as the afternoon wore on. The bright sunshine highlighted the colorful banners and kites in the sky. While there were hundreds of kites aloft, hands down my favorite was the massive blue whale.

A fun way to spend a winter’s afternoon, especially since a cold storm blew in that night and dropped our temperatures about twenty degrees!

Child of the Sun

Over the holidays, a dear friend gifted me a set of handsome Frank Lloyd Wright Waterlilies tumblers. Not only do they class up the joint but they reminded me to visit the campus of Florida Southern College which houses “the largest and most fully articulated collection of Wright’s work in the world”.

The college sits atop the rolling hills along Lake Hollingsworth in Lakeland, about an hour drive east of me. I had two other reasons to travel to the aptly named city this past week since that is the location of the nearest Discount Tire (to resolve a warranty issue) and a good friend lives near there.

I distantly remembered my aunt taking my cousins and I to visit Fallingwater in Pennsylvania when I was a young teenager (though I recall little of the visit). So I was looking forward to learning more about one of America’s most influential architects.

I couldn’t have picked a more beautiful winter day for my visit, especially since the famed architect’s buildings are strewn throughout the sprawling campus.

I was fascinated to learn how Wright’s involvement with the college evolved. Founded in 1885 the college finally set down roots when it moved to Lakeland in 1922. In 1938 the president of the young campus telegraphed the 70 year old Wright and requested his help planning an “education temple” in Florida.

Both men were eager to showcase an American aesthetic, incorporating the natural elements of the site with a modern yet organic design. Over the next twenty years, Wright refined his “Child of the Sun” master plan and supervised the construction of twelve of his eighteen proposed buildings.

In 2013, a thirteen Wright-designed building, The Usonian House (originally intended as a faculty residence) was built just off campus to serve as the Frank Lloyd Wright visitor center. A fitting tribute to the pioneer of “organic architecture”.