Off Like A Herd Of Turtles

???????????????Sea turtles are fascinating to me. Gentle, giant and paradoxically graceful. I got to meet one in the wild while night diving in St Thomas. Some might dismiss it as a one night delight, and though our encounter was brief, it was deeply emotional and personal to me. I was thrilled beyond measure when my night light fell across his face — beauty and grace, heart in my throat, and he was gone, swallowed by the dark sea. My heart was singing, and I was in love. Since then, I’ve read about volunteer vacations where you can help do research on endangered sea turtles, watched documentaries and donated to Wildlife and Marine Research organizations. My husband and I will do one soon.

In the meantime, we found ourselves kid-less on the 4th. And in a fit of spontaneity, just like the good ol’ days, we decided to drive to Corpus Christi to visit my dad, and catch a Kemp Ridley Sea Turtle Release on Malaquite Beach at the National Seashore. I’ve wanted to do it for so long, and have been following along on the Facebook page with every nest discovered! But, our lives are busy and we’d lost some of our spur of the moment get up and go as our kids grew and became more involved in sports and life. We packed up the fur-kids and headed down.

That 4 a.m. alarm came too early after a sleepless night in a bed not ours. We dragged ourselves up and heard my dad call out to be sure we were up. Away we all went for our hour drive to the Padre Island National Park. I was excited, but worried about the crowds because it was a 3 day weekend after all. We met some friends when we got there and stood in a crowd of several hundred people. We listened to the ranger speak, and got some amazing facts about the Kemp Ridley, and, of course,  the rules. They then let us down the boardwalk and onto the beach.

Boardwalk Rush

Boardwalk Rush

Volunteers had the area roped off. They stood with poles and flags to keep the sea gulls at bay. People were racing to snag a spot on the front row. Trying to keep my enthusiasm in check, I was careful not to trip the running kids, or tackle the obnoxious adults hurrying past me, but I wanted to!

beachvolunteerscThe release was 75 baby Kemp Ridley turtles tiny enough to sit in the palm of your hand,  freshly hatched while we had tried to sleep just hours before. They started their awkward trek toward the surf a few seconds after they were laid gently on the sand.

And They're Off!

And They’re Off!

They imprint with the beach on their way, and will return year after year to lay their eggs along this shore. Though, the volunteers made sure that they made it safely to the sea, very few will live to return to this beach, as nature and predators and the cycle of life begins.

Swim Sweet Baby! Your Life Depends On It!

Swim Sweet Baby! Your Life Depends On It!

Even so, the whole thing made me extremely happy. Conservation fills me up. I celebrated the day with the love of my life, my dad, friends, knowing that my sweet mom would have loved this as much as I. She was in my happy heart and it left me melancholy, but joyful. Hope and faith refreshed my spirit.

Love, Faith and Turtles

Love, Faith and Turtles

 

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Cedar Sucks

Mountain Cedar Pollen Explodes in Austin Image credit: KXAN.COM

Cedar pollen sucks. Eyes run like faucets, noses drain per(freaking)petually straight out of your face, while violent sneezes launch copious amounts of mucus farther than an Olympic Triple Jump. It’s hard to breathe and it’s even more difficult not to tear your crying eyes out of their insanely itchy sockets. Central Texans drip, itch, wheeze, sneeze and snot their way through life, hating it, from December till mid-February. “Cedar Fever” my ass. You wish you had a fever! And this happens every year, yes, and we relive this nightmare and bitch and moan like we didn’t know it was coming. But this year, this year is the Big One. We’ve had record levels of pollen, more than we’ve measured in our air in over 16 years. Those years between did not prepare us for the mother of cedar hell.

I’m a miserable, soft and goopy mess. I’ve lost enough bodily fluids through my nose and eyes that I alone may end this drought. Well, I might if I didn’t need 3 to 4 showers a day to wash the pollen out of my hair, and off my skin. I’ve mastered the “quick change” art and the cold nasal flush. Who knew that squirting cold salt water into your raw nostrils and through your sinuses could make you moan with pleasure?

The sane thing to do, and the recommended-by-meteorologists method is to stay INSIDE in the filtered air confines of home. Wash the dogs, wash the linens, vacuum the couch and stay in arm’s reach of the Neti-Pot. For god’s sake, do not go outside! The problem with that insane logic is that the weather is stunning; sunny, beautiful, fairly temperate by the afternoon and glorious. Who, in this hill country mecca of all things outdoors, could possibly resist that level of meteorological perfection?

So, we don’t. We stuff our pockets full of tissue and wear clothes with soft sleeves. We hike among the exploding junipers. We play tennis on dusted courts. We suffer like the damned. We mouth breathe. We snot rocket, but we go outside where nature speaks. We listen, but we cannot hear (or smell, or see) the voice of reason when Mother Nature calls to tell us to go back inside.

And just for fun, Austin’s own Kinky Friedman singing about Mucus.

Adventures in Cooking: The Bundt Cake Debacle

So, after a long day yesterday, I couldn’t face starting to bake the dessert I’d signed up to bring to my work pot lunch. It was already 9pm and I was toast. So, no problem, I’d get up extra early and do it in the morning. You know where this is going, so you might as well start laughing now.

I went to grab the pecans out of the pantry, set them on the counter, and turned around to find some butter in the fridge. By the time I turned back, my counter was moving. Not really moving, but swarming with ants who were pissed that I moved their pecan nest. WTH???? So I chunked a huge bag of ant-flavored pecans down the disposal. Fine. Pulled out the recipe book and found an old recipe for chocolate pound cake with chocolate glaze. YUM, I will just adapt it using gluten free flour! Woohoo! I threw the 2 cups of butter in and whipped em’ good. I looked back at my book for the sugar count, and DAMN it, I only needed ONE cup of butter. No worries, I laughed it off, and I removed half the butter. No harm, no foul as they say. I mixed and measured the rest of the ingredients without incident, threw it in the Bundt pan and realized that I needed a couple things from the store for the glaze. It had to cook for an hour 25, so I dashed off to the grocery at the corner. As I walked back in the door, I was struck hard in the face by the acrid smell of burning chocolate and the sad, disgusted faces of three dogs who now smelled like burning chocolate.

I threw open the oven and through the smoke I saw that my pound cake was actually about a 3.3 pound lava cake, evidently, because it had erupted over the edges of the pan, through two layers of oven racks and had pretty much coated the oven burner thingys like chocolate dipped pretzel sticks…. Burning, and glowing sticks to be more precise. SHIT SHIT SHIT &^%$##@#! I left the oven open and did a stupid, spastic dance thing. That was productive. “Wait! Turn off the oven, they’re about to torch!” Check. “Find a cookie sheet to put under pan.” Check. Crap! I should’ve put it right under the pan so I could lift out the whole mess. Now that the bottom of said cookie sheet was good and coated in chocolate cake batter, I proceeded to slide it under the over flowing, still soupy, cake filled pan. Carefully, I eased the flat sheet under the front edge of the pan, watching helplessly (but not wordlessly) as the molten goo sloshed out of the back edge. The whole pan, in fact, eased back to the rear wall and thumped ever so gently as it stopped. Chocolate sludge cascaded down the back wall of the oven like a mudslide, and blessed me with huge black smoky, burned chocolate steamy facial. Ahhh. I thought, “this is like a really bad sitcom, where’s my laugh track?”

I got a metal spatula and started trying to clear the chocolate from the oven burners. Realizing that my forearms would soon catch fire if I didn’t remove the f*n hot racks that I kept bumping. I had a pot lid in my left hand that I was using to scrape semi-molten chocolate into. Not enough hands. Back to the sink, with one rack and a pot lid. I set the rack down, pot lid handle through the wires to keep the scrapings in (I’m a freaking genius, I think at my little potlid cleverness because god forbid the crumbs fall in the sink) and I went back to carefully lift the cookie sheet of soupy, gooey, chocolate cake to the stove top. It wouldn’t have surprised me, even a little, if the whole thing had slid off into a scalding mess on my bare feet, but surprisingly it did not. Back to the oven, I grabbed the second gooey rack, back to the sink, stacked it. Wait, I needed my pot lid sitting so cleverly between the racks. Without thinking, (obviously) I lifted the top rack. SHIT! HOT! OMG. “Is this seriously happening? Seriously? Right now, in my life? I just want to make a freaking gluten free chocolate pound cake for my friends. Mother Father!”

I went back to the still wide-open oven with a wet and very large kitchen towel folded many times. I finished scraping burned and hardened chocolate into the recovered pot lid. With the big wet kitchen towel, I wiped the VERY hot burner thingys. It made a satisfying sizzle as it burned my kitchen towel and I didn’t give a flying … flip at that point. When I thought I was done with the clean up, I turned the oven on to about 500 to burn off what remained… I opened doors, windows and decided a shower was in order. I really smelled like smoke, and burned chocolate.

I was amazed, and somewhat amused (somewhat is the key word) at how penetrating the smell was, even back in the bedroom! I wondered if I should be allowed to cook. Probably not, truthfully. I used to bake like a boss, what the hell just happened? Did they start making Bundt pans smaller than they used to? I mean, it really was an old recipe… but I swear it quadrupled in that freaking oven. The thoughts were flying through my head like drunken butterflies, they had meandered off down some rabbit hole trying to remember the last thing I did that made the whole house smell, when suddenly I noticed the smoke or was that steam in the shower? I admit, I freaked a little because it smelled strongly of burning chocolate, or maybe it was singed into my golden nose hairs, or was pouring out of my hair, I don’t know, but I opened the door and checked to see if the bedroom was full of smoke, because really, at this point, I expected I’d have to call the fire department.

With my head wrapped in a towel, I ventured back to the kitchen. I opened the oven door to a cloud of smoke. I had no choice, really. I stared long and hard into that offending oven, and finally satisfied that the burning and smoke was back to a minimum, I got the gelatinous cake and cookie sheet and put it back in the oven on fresh clean racks. I set the time for an hour, hoping I could just continue the bake.

Like a nervous hen, I peeked back in and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t overflowing again, over the edge of the cookie sheet and back onto the floor of the oven.

Go Buy Cupcakes

Bundt Cake Turned Lava Cake

I just turned the oven off, got dressed and drove to the local cup-cakery.

They were a big hit at the office.