Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Appreciating The Okefenokee

I have a memory from planning our first trip to Jacksonville, Florida: I'm looking at Google Maps of the area, zoom out and realize that we're within driving distance of the Okefenokee swamp. From then on, 'Let's visit the Okefenokee!' was a recurring request whenever we visited Jax.

Fast forward a little over 8 years, and I finally got my trip to the Okefenokee. The stars had aligned: we had the time to spend exploring the area and the weather was chilly by Florida standards, perfect for avoiding the sun stroke and mosquitos I associated with a swamp in Georgia.

We opted to take a 90 minute guided tour through the swamp, and then followed it up with a relatively short hike.

As we pulled out of the dock, our tour guide explained her mission for the day (I'm paraphrasing here): humans are pretty much wired to see swamps as a waste land. It's not quite land and not quite water. We can't build houses or cities on them, we can't farm them, nor can we productively fish them. Her goal was to try to get us to see the Okefenokee the way she and the other guides did: as a beautiful, thriving ecosystem that doesn't need fixing.

You might imagine that because I'd wanted to visit the Okefenokee for years that I'd hear her explanation and pat myself on the back for being so enlightened. But in fact, the typical person she was describing was me to a T.

In short, after 90 minutes spent cruising the canals of the Okefenokee I was sold. This place wasn't the muddy, smelly, buggy place of my imagination. It was a remarkable, varied eco system that is one I look forward to continuing to explore.

As we made our way through the 'highways' (read: canals) of the Okefenokee, we saw a variety of turtles, gators and a couple of different birds. I came to appreciate how the water level naturally ebbed and flowed, and how like other forests the Okefenokee depended on fires to keep its timber healthy.

Our guide explained that while they did have some bugs in the summer, mosquitos weren't nearly as problematic as most assumed. Perhaps the largest myth our guide busted was how seemingly nasty the black tinged water of the swamp was. She explained that at least once a day, she likes to have a drink from the Okefenokee and casually dipped a cup over the side, filled it up with swamp water, and had a drink.

We were all impressed, and naturally J and I *had* to give this a try ourselves. Later in the cruise, when we finished one of our water bottles, I cut off the top to make a simple cup. With the guide's permission, we filled it up off the side and each took a small sip. As promised, it tasted vaguely like tea--which makes sense, as the water is soaking in vegetation that give off tannins, just like tea does. We didn't press our luck drinking more than a tiny sip, but it was totally worth it. Who knew how good the Okefenokee tasted?

At the midpoint of our cruise, our guide demonstrated how the swamp got its name. Okefenokee means 'trembling earth,' which is caused by the massive amount of peat, not soil, that sits below the surface. This peat has a bouncy, almost trampoline feel to it, when you press into it. When she pulled up a hunk of the "ground," she explained that this wasn't dirt or mud, but pure plant vegetation. So much for my assumption that the swamp would be all muddy.

As we finished up the cruise, I tried to imagine what it would be like taking a multi-day trip into the swamp. Throughout the Okefenokee are sleeping platforms that you can camp at. I tried to imagine what it would be like spending hours in a boat, with no option to simply step to the side of the trail and take a break. And what must the night sounds be like in a place teeming with so much life? I can't even imagine.

After our cruise, we explored a short trail through Chesser Island that ended at an observation tower. I certainly wished we had more time to spend in the area, but that will have to wait until another day.

We hit a Dairy Queen as we left the park and then made our way back to J's home to play a rousing game of Candy Land with his sister.

We had a really fun day and my refrain of 'Let's visit the Okefenokee!' will continue to be my suggestion next time we're in Jacksonville.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Move over Marie Callender: Shira's Hot Dog Pot Pie

We take hot dogs seriously in this household. Perhaps a tad bit too seriously. Regardless, anytime we can be inspired to substitute hot dogs into a recpie, I'll nag Shira to give it a try. It's not usually a fight. In this house, hot dogs are Thanksgiving, Rosh Hashanah and any other holiday worthy.

Recently, I suggested we do this with Chicken Pot Pie. She started with this Kosher friendly recipe, left out the ingredients we didn't have handy (carrots and celery), added in a few veggies we did have (mushrooms and broccoli), and most importantly replaced the chicken with hot dogs.

The result: yum! Pure flakey crust perfection.

I'm pretty convinced that we could have swapped out the chicken broth for veggie broth and replaced the hot dogs with seitan to make a very tasty vegetarian version of this dish. But why would you do that when you have hot dogs at the ready?!

Thursday, December 23, 2021

A Vivoactive 4 Annoyance and A Low Tech Fix

I continue to be happy with my Garmin Vivoacive 4 watch. What it lacks in flashiness, it makes up for in functionality and battery life.

But, I did have this one annoynace...

It's possible to quickly turn on Do-Not-Disturb (DND) mode to silence all notifications. This is handy when I don't want to be distracted. But, it becomes a problem when I forget to turn DND off. That's because the only way I get notifications from my phone is through my watch. With DND on I'm blissfully unaware of incoming phone calls, texts and other notifications. Great if that's the intention, far less so if DND is accidentally enabled.

I looked for a way to set DND temporarily, say for an hour or two. No luck. I looked for a way to control DND via the Connect-IQ SDK. Again, zilch. I poked around the web hoping someone else solved this problem and again, came up empty handed.

Then I finally realized a simple, low-effort solution: whenever I enable DND, I now take a few extra seconds and switch my watch face. Here's what my normal watch face looks like:

Here's what I see when I'm in DND:

Problem solved! Anytime I glance at my watch I can tell that DND is on and can opt to leave it that way or turn it off (and make the corresponding watch face change).

Recently, I've found another use-case for this this watch face changing trick. For some long, cold runs I've found it helpful to wear my watch on the outside of my jacket. This lets me check navigation without having to peel back multiple layers of clothing. When I wear the watch like this, I like to disable the wrist based heart rate monitor. Changing the watch face helps me remember to turn the heart rate monitor back on.

I've considered having multiple 'reminder' watch faces to choose from, or even building my own custom watch face. But alas, none of that seems necessary. The solution I have now is working too well.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Tampa and Fort Myers Adventure, Day 6

[Composed 11/26/2021]

Today was supposed to be a simple travel day: head from Fort Myers to the Tampa Airport where we would grab our flight back home. Shira had a clever suggestion, however. She asked my Sister-in-law if she and the fam wanted to join us at the close-to-the-airport Cypress Point Park for one more quick get together. They were in!

Cypress Point Park was the perfect place to meet. As promised, it was close to the airport. It was also in the landing path for one of the runways, so we got to enjoy watching the planes fly overhead. Shira and the girls played on the playground while D and I headed off to do a bit of park bird watching. We saw a hawk, a song bird and a red-bellied woodpecker. All a big win from my perspective.

Before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye. We made the short drive to the airport rental car return, where we learned that Tampa has a nifty feature: you can check your bags at the offsite rental car center. Alas, to use this service you need to arrive 90 minutes before your flight is scheduled to leave. We showed up with 86 minutes remaining, so we couldn't use the service. Still, it's good to know for the future.

Our flight back to DC was uneventful and landing in the chilly DC temps made us miss Florida already!

The pics on this last day were almost not meant to be. In my haste to clean up files I deleted the files off the SD Card before uploading them to Google Photos. Thankfully, Disk Drill made recovering the files a snap. I suppose I'm glad I had a chance to do a practice recovery before I found myself in a desperate spot. Hurray for Disk Drill!