CRUISELINES THAT REQUIRE COVID VACCINATIONS OR PROOF OF COVID IMMUNITY UPDATE

Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS on Pexels.com

Saga Cruises recently announced they will require vaccines for all guests sailing in May, and now American Queen Steamboat Co. and Victory Cruise Lines will require guests to have been vaccinated prior to sailing on July 1 or after. These cruise lines have a high number of guests over 65, so they are trying to keep this population safe while cruising. Crystal Cruises will also require full vaccination, two weeks before sailing, for all passengers once operations resume for their company.

Beyond this, Norwegian Cruise Line and Regent Seven Seas is working to require their crew to get vaccinated before they resume operations. In addition, Royal Caribbean Group, which owns Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, and Silversea will seek to mandate vaccines for crew and staff prior to resuming operations, if possible, as well. I hope this helps to increase traffic on future cruises after the pandemic has hit the tourism sector so hard.

Life is good; start making plans for your bucket list destination once the travel restrictions are lifted and you can safely resume travel again. Carpe diem friends…

A ROAD TRIP TO BUTTERFLY WORLD IN FLORIDA, ONE MAN’S “HOBBY GONE WILD”

It has been said that you “get what you pay for.” Today we traveled to Butterfly World in Coconut Creek, Florida which is about two and a half hours away from where we live. I had wanted to go to visit there for sometime now, so we decided that today was the day. Butterfly World is the first butterfly house in the United States and the largest in the world. Right here in Florida. Right here in our state. This place is extremely well-kept and has been in operation for over thirty years on over three acres of butterfly aviaries. The website says that Butterfly World is “one man’s hobby gone wild”. How could we go wrong visiting one man’s obsession? Evidently as the story goes, the proprietor, Ronald Boender, was an electrical engineer with an interest in butterflies since he was young. He started raising them in small numbers in his home yard after retiring and originally opened a commercial butterfly company in 1984. Butterfly World was opened in 1988 and serves as a beautiful butterfly attraction as well as a research facility. The admission is rather pricey at $32.50 for adults and seniors, $22.50 for children from age 3-11 (children under 2 are free). Currently, there is an internet special of 50% off until June 8 for all those who mention it at the ticket counter. They also offer AAA discounts of 15% and a military discount of 25% the rest of the year. For an extra dollar, we received a butterfly guide, which described the varieties of butterflies we might encounter there, along with some butterfly education. This was worth the extra dollar in my opinion.

When we first walked into Butterfly World, we encountered a research room, which had an audio explaining a bit about the butterfly life cycle.

Walking into the first butterfly aviary, we were greeted by three beautiful blue Morpho butterflies, which are among my favorite kinds of butterflies. Their beautiful color and large size takes my breath away.

There were butterflies EVERYWHERE we looked, flying around us, near us, and in front of us. Lots and lots of butterflies in a well taken care of and well-managed butterfly house.

I loved the butterfly education on the wall plaques and in our purchased butterfly guide.

Malachite butterfly with beautiful green and black coloring

“Happiness is like a butterfly. The more you chase it, the more it will elude, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder. ” – Henry David Thoreau

We were so very fortunate to have butterflies land on us, including the beautiful blue Morpho butterfly (shown here on my husband’s back with his wings folded up). The bottom of most butterfly wings is not nearly as colorful as the top of their wings.

The blue Morpho butterfly had always been my favorite butterfly, but now I’m not sure. The large Australian Cairns Birdwing Butterfly took my breath away, as it looks like someone colored him with a whole box of crayons on both the top of its wings as well as the bottom of the wings where butterflies are not usually so colorful. Of course, though, the male is more colorful than the female, a common trait in the animal kingdom. This butterfly is one of the largest Australian butterflies, measuring about five to six inches across from wing to wing.

Map of Butterfly World from the back of the Visitor’s Guide

In addition to the butterfly aviaries, Butterfly World has a garden center with butterfly host plants for sale, a lorikeet habitat, and an insect museum which featured some fascinating insects such as scorpions, trantulas, large centipedes, and cock roaches. There is also a beautiful butterfly museum as well.

Most visitors spend about two to three hours at Butterfly World, and we were no exception. Just watching the dance of the zebra longtail butterflies (pictured in previous photos as the black and whitish yellow striped butterflies) or the multitude of butterflies fly to and fro was a fascinating experience. If I lived closer, I would definitely purchase an annual pass (for $70.00). Our ticket included complimentary cold bottles of water, which we appreciated on this hot day, and there is normally a snack bar in operation. Unfortunately the snack bar (with ice cream novelties) was closed at the time of our visit because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Upon perusing the gift shop, I saw this sign:

Life IS beautiful. Life is good. Carpe diem, friends…………..

A DAY OF DIVERSION TO RAINBOW SPRINGS, FL

Now that the state of Florida is opening up little by little after the pandemic, my daughter, “Teen Traveler”, and I decided we were well overdue for a road trip. Living in Florida has its benefits, even though this time of year it is hot. VERY hot. We have some of the most beautiful springs with crystal clear blue water that I’ve ever seen, and we decided it would be well worth the two and a half hour ride to see them.

This time, we decided to travel to Dunnellon, Florida to see Rainbow Springs State Park. This park was originally a privately owned theme park destination in the 1930s , complete with a zoo, a rodeo, gardens everywhere, a boat ride, and a ride with leaf-shaped gondolas suspended from up high above the ground. After the theme parks in Orlando opened in the early 1970s, Rainbow Springs closed. Sometime thereafter (in the 1990s) , the state of Florida acquired this land and made it into a beautiful park, preserving the original three man-made waterfalls. At the time of our visit, two of the waterfalls were inoperable due to a maintenance issue, but the one that was still in operation was beautiful.

A cement and brick walkway circles most of the main areas in the park, but there are several wooded trails to walk as well.

cement path

We traveled mostly on the cement and brick walkways as well as the boardwalk paths, but we walked a little way on one of the wooded paths behind the overgrown butterfly garden, which is scheduled for refurbishment in the near future.

“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.” -Henry David Thoreau

“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway on the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives. ” – Henry David Thoreau

While walking on trail in the woods, however, we encountered a park sign alerting us about the presence of bears in the park, along with instructions about what to do if we encountered any bears. We decided to turn back toward the more populated areas. At this park, you can rent canoes and kayaks and can swim in the crystal blue water as well, although a sign alerts you of the possibility of alligators in the water. We decided to skip this fresh water swimming experience for the time being, as I felt it was a bit unsafe to swim in fresh water with others during the present corona pandemic.

We saw many beautiful flowers while walking about the park and were forunate enough to see a butterfly egg on the back of a leaf when we turned it over. Fascinating find.

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” – Henry David Thoreau

beautiful pink flower
ubiquitous berries in the wooded path
a splash of color in the distance

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he expects.” – John Muir

old zoo complex ruins

“Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.” – Henry David Thoreau

pops of color along the trail

We came to this park mainly see the beautiful blue spring waters and the waterfalls but were delighted to see the beautiful plants and a glimpse of an unexpected butterfly or two. They say it is the “little things that matter,” and the unexpected “little things” in sum added up to a wonderful experience.

We exited the park, full of wonder and joy at all that we had seen, heard, smelled, and touched at this beautiful site when we passed by a little pond with the most beautiful green algae floating on top of it, which beckoned us to stop for a moment.

photo of pond taken by “Teen Traveler”

There was something special about this little pond that “Teen Traveler” and I felt simultaneously the moment we stopped. We looked at each other and both said that it was a place at which we could literally spend hours. It was so serene and peaceful. We decided to sit upon a rock at the edge of the pond, watching with the sense that something great was before our eyes. While sitting silently and experiencing this magic moment together, my daughter noticed a frog on the shore of the pond.

frog by the pond photo taken by “Teen Traveler”

It was one of those magic moments where the world works in perfect synchronicity for a time, where everything works together as it should. It amazed us that this frog was so perfectly suited for the pond, and the pond was perfectly suited for the frog. The camouflage before our eyes was amazing. The frog’s head was exactly the color of the algae, and the frog’s lower body was exactly the same color as the rocky sand beneath him. We watched the frog, and the frog watched us. None of us moved for a moment or two. While we were experiencing one of those things that just took our breath away, my daughter slowly and quietly pointed to the pond. At first pass, I thought I was looking at several leaves floating beautifully in the water before us.

“Could a greater miracle take place for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” – Henry David Thoreau

At second glance, I realize most of what I was looking at were NOT leaves. My daughter pointed out to me that we were looking at frogs, and the frogs were looking at us.

frogs in the water photo taken by “Teen Traveler”

Counting quickly, we saw at least nineteen sets of eyes gazing upon us as we gazed upon them. There were frogs EVERYWHERE. It felt surreal, almost like we were in a film, maybe some perfect version of the world in a Disney film perhaps. I had never given frogs a second thought in my entire life, yet this was one of the most beautiful and amazing sites I have seen right before me that moment. As I sat quietly on that rock, watching the world unfold before me and enjoying life through my lens, I realized what we came for didn’t quite work out the way we planned, as two of the waterfalls were broken and the butterfly garden was overgrown and in need of refurbishment, yet the beauty and experience that surrounded us was one of the best Florida day trips we had experienced in a long time. Sometimes if we are flexible enough to open our eyes to what is thrown our way, we discover that life is beautiful, if we allow ourselves to see all the possibilities before us.

Life is good; carpe diem, friends……..

Journey to the “Center of the Earth” (Or ALMOST) in Canada….

The Tablelands in Gros Morne National Park in Canada, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been used as a training site for some NASA astronauts to train for missions to Mars and to the Moon. With the historic Dragon rocket launch yesterday at Kennedy Space Center in Florida with the first commercial space flight in history, launched with the first Americans on American soil in an American rocket in many years, I am thinking of my trip to this wonderful place a few years ago.

At this wonderful national park in Rocky Harbor, New Foundland, Canada, I walked along a section of orange rocks from the Earth’s Mantle, a layer of rock found normally deep beneath the Earth’s Crust that has been exposed to the surface of the Earth.

layers of the Earth diagram courtesy of Oregon State University

The Mantle is the layer just before the Earth’s outer core. How exciting it was to walk in the place where geologists proved the theory of Plate Tectonics, or the movement and collision of seven large “plates” (and several smaller “plates” of geological material), leading to the creation of geologic events such as earthquakes and volcanoes, as well as the many other processes that form, transform, and destroy rocks.

Most of the area at the Tablelands is made up of the rock peridotite, which is part of the Earth’s Mantle that was brought to the surface of the Earth by a large plate collision several hundreds of millions of years ago.

You may recognize the gem peridot, which is crystallized olivine. Olivine is the greenish area contained in the rock peridotite.

photo courtesy of gemkids.gia.edu

If you are a rock or geology lover, this is a great place to visit. I visited in September, which was cool but not too cold to hike. Click on the link below to find out the best way for you to get to the park:

https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/nl/grosmorne/visit/directions

If you are not a lover of geology, perhaps seeing fauna such as moose, woodland caribou, rock ptarmigan, arctic hare, boreal chickadee, Canada jay, or Newfoundland martins might interest you. If you’re not a big animal lover, perhaps some of the flora tucked in between the orange rock setting will interest you as well.

This place was an amazing place to visit, and I highly recommend it. In fact, two movies were even filmed at this park. If you recognize the setting, “Contact” (1997) with Jodie Foster and “Outlander” (2008) with Jim Caviezel were both filmed here.

Life is good. Travel as much as you can when the travel restrictions are lifted after the pandemic is under control. There is a whole wide world outside your window if you look for it.

Carpe diem, friends………………..

OF MAMMOTH CAVE AND A LITTLE PHILOSOPHY

JANUARY, 2017 AT MAMMOTH CAVE, KENTUCKY

I am always fascinated with the themes of perception and reality, ignorance and truth. In fact, when I was a young girl, I noticed some numbers adjacent to the inside door, close to the check out counter, in our local convenience store. These numbers were arranged in color-coded blocks, similar to those near the exit door at Lowes. I asked one of my parents about these brightly colored numbers, and one of my parents described that they were there to help identify the heights of any thieves that tried to steal from the store. The numbers represented the heights of the suspects, and the colors were designed to help the store clerk remember the numbers. Fascinating, especially to an older, inquisitive child. This really left an impression on me.

These numbers allowed me to see that everyone sees and remembers things differently. Our conception of reality is based on what we know or have seen, our personal biases, and our interpretations of what we’ve experienced. Fast forward to when I was young adult. Someone very dear to me and I went into a local field to fly a kite, believe it or not. College exams were over, and we were looking for a way to fly a kite as a way to unwind as I recall (based on my perception from many years ago, of course). We were laughing and joking, making a lot of noise, when out of the corner of our eye, we saw someone laying face down in the ground. Surely the person would have roused if asleep we thought. As we walked closer, we realized the person did not move at all, and the person’s calf was exposed and a bit mottled. We touched the person’s calf, seeking a pulse, when we realized the calf was cold. Stone cold. We looked at each other and came to the same realization at once. The person before us was dead. This was long before the days of the ubiquity of cell phones, so we RAN to call the police. Police arrived, and so did the local news reporters. I put my hood up, as it was cold in New England that day, the day we grew up, and I knew we would be there a while. More and more reporters arrived but were kept at a distance from the crime scene by the police while we gave our statements. The next day, reporters said a brother and his younger sister found the deceased person, likely due to the difference in heights between my companion and myself. Reporters said also that two young lovers were coming out from the woods that day, and nothing was further from the truth. Discrepancies upon discrepancies were reported to the public by the news media. We later learned that the poor deceased woman was an inmate from a local state hospital mental health ward and had ground privileges. The story that was told to the media by the police was that she fell asleep and died from exposure to the cold that day.

In Plato’s “Republic”, a story is told about a cave. In this “cave allegory” as it has been called by many people, there is a group of prisoners who have been chained since childhood in a cave such that they can face only one wall, and there is a fire burning behind them. As such, the fire casts numerous shadows in front of them, and they have come to accept that is what is real. This is the only stimulation these people have had in their dreary lives. The focus of their lives, in fact, are the shadows, which are the only things they have come to know.

One day, one of the prisoners escapes from the cave and makes his way out of the cave. Outside of the cave, he is shocked and afraid to learn that he sees numerous things he had no idea existed. He squints to see the sun, then focuses on the sights before him. He realizes there are other people outside the cave as well as real animals, too, and he delights in this knowledge. He returns eagerly to the cave, almost blind from the sun, and tries to explain to the others, with joy, about the world that exists beyond their little cave beyond the shadows. There is some suggestion in the story, too, that if the man tried to free the others from their confines, they would kill him, as they would rather remain in the cave with their eyesight healthy, just as it was.

So many of us live in a similar cave, surrounded by what we THINK is the truth, either metaphorically or in reality. Our versions of what we have come to know is based on our limited exposure and understanding to the events, people, places, and things around us. While some of us seek to see beyond the cave, despite the risks, others of us prefer to remain inside the cave among our own limited knowledge, perception, or ignorance. Of course, some of us prefer to live only sometimes in that cave, depending on the situation at hand. Sometimes we venture out of the cave, yet other times we are more content not to explore beyond our comfort zone. Human behavior and the motivations for such are fascinating.

On a separate note, I have never encountered a cave that I didn’t love. During this period of self-isolation, I am reminded of a few of my visits to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky during a moment of my own armchair travel. This cave is known as the longest cave system in the world and is over four hundred miles long. At time of this writing, the cave is currently closed due to the covid epidemic but is normally open 364 days a year, closing only on Christmas. Normal hours are from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM (Central Time) . Plan ahead before you go, as year round cave temperatures can be around 54 degrees Fahrenheit, so you likely might want a jacket. Reservations are strongly recommended, as cave tours often sell out in advance, but some self-guided walk up tickets are available at times. Ticket prices vary, depending on the tour you select, and there are many tour options to meet your needs. Some tours require passage through tight spots, and others do not. Other tours require long distances with hundreds of steps and steep inclines, yet others require limited steps through short distances. One way to experience something different might be the Violet City Lantern Tour, during which the only light for visitors is from lanterns. There is also an accessible tour for those with limited mobility as well.

It’s best to check the website below to plan your visit and to check on the status of any changes to park operations:

https://www.nps.gov/maca/index.htm

Find your way out of the cave a little from time to time….live life well and experience life as fully as you can.

Life is good; carpe diem, friends………………………

SOCIAL DISTANCING WITH SCENIC SUNFLOWERS WHILE THE SHADOWS FALL BEHIND YOU

Happy Mother’s Day y’all. Today I wanted to get out of the house to do something different. Several years back, we had traveled throughout Tuscany looking for sunflowers. I never realized they were right in our own state in such numbers. “There’s no place like home,” it’s been said. Traveling to Sledd’s u-Pick Farm in Mims reminded me of that saying. Although the sky was cloudy, the bright yellow sunflowers provided a beautiful contrast against the otherwise dreary day. It took my breath away when we pulled up to the farm and saw sunflowers in such number.

Sledd’s is a pick-your-own farm in Mims, Florida, offering a large field of sunflowers that you can pick yourself, as well as a sunflower maze this time of year. While many of the sunflowers have already been picked and some are past their prime, more sunflowers will be available to pick again in June.

Sledd’s charges five dollars per person for entry into the field and then charges for the sunflowers you pick. Prices are two dollars for the first sunflower stem, three dollars for two sunflower stems, and five dollars for three sunflower stems. Remember to bring your own scissors, as none are provided for you. Also, come prepared with cash, as this is the only form of payment they accept. Plan ahead by checking their Facebook page, as hours change greatly due to weather and unforeseen circumstances as well. Keep in mind, also, that there are only port-a-johns on site and only a little structure under which to make payment. This is a small family farm without any kind of gift shop or visitor center that offers other pick your own crops at different times of year, such as tomatoes, berries, and vegetables as well.

Like a single sunbeam on a warm summer day, there is an exuberance and a brilliance of a sunflower.” -Author unknown

When we arrived, we were amazed at the numbers of people that were standing in line (without six feet between them) to pay for entry into the field. No attempt was made to remind the visitors of the need for social distancing, and we saw only two other families with masks. We were glad we brought along my husband’s N-97 mask from his workshop, which we took turns sharing and went into the field one at a time. Once we got into the field, however, we could stay apart from others to keep our social distancing.

I’m thinking that this place might be less crowded on a week-day or any other week end than Mother’s Day. Seems as though lots of people came with their mothers for this charming pick your own activity. Social Distancing might be easier at another time.

I couldn’t help but notice my daughter “Teen Traveler’s” tee shirt, which suggested the need to “Bloom With Grace” when she was walking around the field. That’s my girl; such attention to detail. Such sage advice. My daughter, the old soul.

Sunflowers are symbolic in China for longevity and long life, and I am reminded of the pandemic which began in China while walking about the field, hoping for long life for the citizens there and everywhere. My mind wanders also to Vincent Van Gogh, who said he found “comfort in contemplating the sunflowers.” I also found comfort among the sunflowers after being essentially cooped up inside for weeks during our “safer at home” pandemic orders here in Florida. It felt so good to be among such a bright backdrop of living, thriving beautiful plants today. There were lots of bees on the flowers, and watching them on the sticky sunflower heads was fascinating. There was such peace for that moment in time, and it felt wonderful to be a part of it. It felt like life goes on, despite all that is going on around the world at the same moment.

“…You’re making it feel that everything is alright
You’re my sunflower, you’re my sunflower
In a world that’s crumbling, all around us everyday
You are, all the inspiration that I need to find my way…

You’re, making it feel that everything is alright
You’re my sunflower, you’re my sunflower
You’re, making it feel that everything is alright
You’re my sunflower, you’re my sunflower….”

-“Sunflower” by Lenny Kravitz

Helen Keller, an inspirational writer who was born both deaf and blind once wrote

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow. It’s what sunflowers do.” ~ Helen Keller

I contemplate this as I think about the days ahead with the pandemic. Helen Keller’s advice, along with the old Maori proverb that says to “Turn your face to the sun, and the shadows fall behind you.” I look forward to brighter days ahead when we can return to some semblance of normal after the Covid pandemic is behind us. In the meantime I remember that life is still good, even now.

Carpe diem, friends……..and turn your face to the sunshine today while you get out to live fully again. May the shadows fall behind you, or may you at least not SEE the shadows today.