Red Tide Devastates Florida Gulf Beaches

red tide

Florida’s gulf beaches are (slowly) recovering from a devastating bloom of algae that both experts and locals refer to as red tide. Although this phenomenon has been around for years, rearing its ugly head in late summer or early fall, many insist it was more deadly than ever these past few months after hurricane Ian ravaged the same coastline.

What is Red Tide?

National Ocean Service refers to red tide as a harmful algal bloom (HAB). The problem arises when this microscopic, naturally occurring, algae called Karenia Brevis rages out of control, spewing toxins into the water and air, killing fish and other water inhabitants. The airborne toxins cause respiratory concerns in humans such as coughing, burning nose and eyes.

This particular algae bloom is red in colour, which, when combined with the blue-green of clean ocean water, creates a grotesque, purplish-brown, sludge-like appearance. (think red paint added to green or blue paint) The ugly colour of the water and the carnage of dead, stinky sea life on the shores made the typically beautiful gulf coast beaches not so beautiful.

What Causes Red Tide

There are several theories on what causes Karenia Brevis to bloom out of control. The most plausible (due to the fact that this is occurring on an increasingly regular basis) blames human-generated pollution. The Mississippi River runs from north to south through many of the united states, collecting garbage, sewage, pesticides, fertilizers, and more, dumping it all into the Gulf of Mexico. Gulf currents moving north along the Texas shore gather pollutants, sweeping them across the gulf and south up the Florida coast. The algae feeds on this pollution, causing the outbreaks. In turn, the fish killed by the toxins the algae blooms release are left to rot on the shorelines. The tide then carries the rotting fish back into the water to refuel the expanding algae bloom.

The severity of this recent red tide outbreak is being blamed by some on hurricane Ian that destroyed many communities along the Florida gulf with heavy winds and flooding a few months ago. Many of the resorts and homes along the coast use septic systems which overflow under such extensive flooding. As a result, sewage and other algae fueling debris ended up in the gulf.

Getting Red Tide Under Control

Mother Nature does her part attempting to get the situation under control. The ebb and flow of tides, huge waves, constant currents, storms, and human clean-up teams all help to break up the algae bloom. Vultures and smaller birds do their part too, congregating to feast on the rotting flesh of the dead fish and crabs.

Fortunately for my vacation plans, Mother Nature appears to be winning the battle. We had to turn back on our first beach walk when my burning nose and eyes felt like I was sniffing hot peppers! Every day since has been better and now I am happy to report that the pristine beauty of our favourite, swim-in-the ocean-in-December beach is back!

Melaleuca Products: The Power of Nature

tea tree oil

I was reminded recently of just why I love Melaleuca products so much. They are not the cheapest on the market, but they are natural, bio-degradable, non-toxic to the environment and the user, as well as allergy friendly. And they work. They work extremely well.

What are Melaleuca Products?

This video explains the evolution of Melaleuca products as well as how and why they work. It also touches on the business side of the company. If you are interested in becoming a preferred customer (PC) to ensure you get the best prices and other perks, contact me to help you with the process.

I started using them years ago when I finally noticed how my body reacted to other cleaning products and personal care products.

My Favourite Melaleuca Products

There are tons of products, from make-up to cleaning products with healthy food and drink items, vitamins and supplements too. Here are just a few of my favourites:

Cleaning Products

This post was inspired this morning when I was cleaning the top of my kitchen cupboards prior to decorating them for the Christmas season. Don’t judge me, but this is about the only time these cupboard tops get a good cleaning. I am always amazed at how dusty and dirty they get. For this specific task, I choose Melamagic, a heavy-duty cleaner. I also use this miraculous cleaner to wash floors at the cottage and home and even to get rid of the black gunky stuff in our pedal boat every spring. It comes in liquid form (just add a bit to your bucket of water) or in handy wipes.

Soluguard, concocted from thyme and lemon, is my go-to for spraying door handles, kitchen, and bathroom counters etc. It too comes in liquid or wipes. The wipes are great to keep in your purse for cleaning things you come in contact with outside your home. This was (still is) particularly helpful during our obsession with the Covid-19 virus.

I am also fond of Melaleuca dish soap, dishwasher pods, and laundry soap.

Make-Up and Personal Care Products

Although I don’t order the make-up products (I don’t use much) I do like their unscented, aluminum-free deodorant and their lip balm. There are many flavours of lip balm to choose from that include protection from the sun. These are perfect for outdoor sports and for those of us that work outdoors. I order lots for stocking stuffers as my whole family (including the men and grandkids) love them.

I’m also stuck on Renew Body Lotion as a moisturizer that I slather all over, especially after showering and before bedtime. It makes a great make-up remover too, safe for use all over your face, including around your eyes. Renew comes in a few sizes, from purse size (also great for stocking stuffers) to the largest, most economical pump bottle.

Essential Oils

Another category of Melaleuca products I love and order regularly are essential oils. I use them to make my own bug spray, air fresheners, skincare, and more.

Conclusion

If you too are interested in using natural and safe products in your home and on your body, leave me a comment!

November Weather

So far, our November weather has been incredibly beautiful. At least it has been here in eastern Ontario. We are enjoying this fall bonus as it’s not going to last for much longer I hear.

Garden Blooms Still Glorious

With the warmer-than-usual October and November weather, our perennial garden blooms are still hanging in there. A few light touches of frost have killed off some annuals but even many of them still look lovely. These are from the butterfly garden at our local hospice. I have been hesitant to replace the annuals in my containers for fall and winter decor because the annuals still look great.

Yard Work

Home and cottage yard work has actually been quite pleasant with this nice November weather. In fact so pleasant that fall is fast becoming our favourite cottage season. Warm days and evenings with an absence of bugs have been a bonus.

Even though we are missing a few trees, the deciduous (with leaves that fall) ones make for lots of leaves. It takes days to rake and mulch them, then add them to gardens. Every bit we get done this fall means less to rake in the spring!

I’ve also been granted a few extra days to clean up gardens for clients in my gardening business.

Lakeside Sunsets

The extended fall weather means we have been able to enjoy more lakeside sunsets than usual too. I cannot remember enjoying weather like this in November. When the weather is warm, my arthritic bones and joints are keen to stay at the cottage as long as possible.

Even the turkeys have been enjoying the weather (in the trees, third picture) Hopefully, your fall weather has been nice enough too. What bonuses have you experienced with this November weather?

Support Workers Strike in Ontario

support workers strike

At the risk of offending all the teachers and educational support workers I know, I am wondering why they think they are so special. Although the current strike on the front page of the news here in Ontario is organized by support workers and not the teachers they assist, teachers are directly affected. Ontario schools were forced to close their doors for two days when CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) workers walked off the job last Friday in response to the province’s decision to remove their right to challenge their contract or to strike.

What About Other Unions?

Everyone wants more money, especially with the cost of living rising and the economy tanking. The problem is just that, teachers and support staff are not unique. Other unions, such as those that healthcare, carpentry, and construction workers belong to, have been limited to minor increases in their recent requests for more money. Each of these unions represents essential workers. If you weren’t aware of their importance to society prior to the pandemic, hopefully you learned something since then. None of them could work from home. In fact, many worked extra hours and shifts to compensate for the extra stress in their respective workplaces.

CUPE was asking for 11.7%!! Tell that to the other unions. The government (last) offered 6%, unheard of these days.

It’s All About the Kids, Isn’t it?

Throughout the pandemic, most teachers and parents agreed that their children’s mental health was of utmost importance. Why, now that things have (somewhat) returned to normal and kids are back to in-person school, do these professionals think the time is right to strike? Do they think the students (especially the younger ones) know why their mental health is not being considered?

Teachers’ propensity to strike every few years can not help but affect their support workers. Perhaps both groups (teachers and support workers) should be included in the list of “essential services” and not permitted (or fined if they do) to strike.

Do Canadian Teachers Make More Money than Other Countries?

In Canada, education is governed by provincial politicians. That is why there is a variation between provinces in curriculum and salaries. For example, within provinces considered to be more affluent, salaries will be greater.

Canadian teachers in general are listed as number 4 in the world for their salaries. Compared to their American counterparts though, Canadian teachers and support workers pay more taxes, and most experience a more expensive cost of living.

Are Support Workers Underpaid?

Just because teachers in Ontario are paid well doesn’t mean their support workers are. Although often behind the scenes, they provide important services. In fact, without them schools often (as is the case here) find it necessary to shut down.

The Latest on Support Workers’ Strike

The latest news has Doug Ford, Ontario’s premier, promising to rescind the legislation, known as Bill 28, and the “notwithstanding clause” if the workers return to the job. What does that mean? Back to the negotiating table to find a compromise.

For the kids’ sake, let’s hope they do!

Endy Mattress, Chiropractor Approved!

endy mattress

We just purchased a new Endy mattress for our cottage. Now that we are spending more time there and less time at home, it was time for an upgraded mattress at the lake. After researching our options online, we ordered the mattress and it was delivered to our door (at no extra charge) two days later. We transported it to our cottage easily in the back of our minivan, took it out of the box, and voila, the mattress developed right in front of our eyes.

Who is Endy?

If you have not yet heard of Endy, let me educate you by leading you to their blog. Learn why buying an Endy mattress online might be the way to go for you too. These are just a few of the reasons I was convinced. The fact that they are endorsed by chiropractors helped too.

Endy Mattress

The comfort level is incredible too. I also love the fact that I get a good night’s sleep regardless of how restless my husband sleeps. I used to complain that when he flipped over, I flopped too; I’m hoping the new mattress will lessen the flips and flops. After all, a good night’s sleep is important for overall health and wellness.

Made in Canada

Of course, I love the fact that these incredibly comfortable, supportive, and convenient mattresses are made right here in Canada. Shopping local has become increasingly important to many within the past few years, including me.

Endy mattress

Accessories to Endy Mattress

On the Endy website, there are many accessories to choose from as well. From bed frames to pillows and sheets, everything you need to complete your new sleeping quarters is at your fingertips.

Referral Link

If you decide to order your own Endy, use my referral link to earn us both money!

photos from Endy.com

Seeds: Harvesting and Sowing Techniques

seeds

It’s that time of year! Having learned a lot over the past few years about harvesting and sowing seeds, this post shares the techniques I have been most successful with. The wildflower (AKA butterfly) garden created at our local hospice relied heavily (over 90 percent) on seeds. Some were purchased, many donated, and others collected or harvested by myself from my own and clients’ gardens.

Harvesting Seeds Requires Patience

The most important requirement for optimal seed harvesting success is patience, something I don’t have loads of. The seed heads have to be dried out, some actually fluffy (like dandelions) to be effective. Although I am loving this amazingly warm fall weather, seed heads are late to reach this stage this year due to the lack of miserable (cold, frosty) weather.

If you are impatient and do collect your seed heads before the seeds come away easily from the calyxes (the part of the flower head that holds the seeds together), dry them out in a warm spot, in a single layer.

Then, when they reach that fall apart stage, store them in a paper bag. Don’t use plastic bags as they hold moisture in causing your seed heads to get moldy. The faster the seeds dry out the better.

Brown Paper Bags

I find the best (and most cost-effective) way to collect seeds is to use brown paper bags. I use the kind we used to pack our lunches in, before lunch boxes were a thing. You can still buy them in grocery stores, so someone must still use them for lunches. You could also use the brown bags given out at LCBOs, they would work just as well. For those of you not living in Ontario, they are our government-run liquor stores.

Simply hold the bag under the seed head and cut the stem just below the seed head so it falls into the bag. I use a separate (labelled) bag for each type of seed head but that’s because I collect tons of seeds. If you are collecting fewer seeds of a greater variety for a blended, random wildflower garden, store them all in the same bag.

I add a strip of heavy-duty tape (book binding tape works well) to the bottom of each bag so the seeds don’t escape through the bottom of the bags.

Seed Sowing Techniques

I have discussed my sowing successes and failures in previous posts. The easiest method (that I tried) was the outdoor winter trick using clear plastic clamshell (from grocery stores) containers. If you try this, be sure to leave your containers in a partly sunny (not full sun or full shade) location outdoors for best results.

The plastic cup method in late spring also worked well, especially to fill in bare spots. It too was easy and inexpensive.

Both the clear plastic clamshell containers (winter) and cups (spring) act like mini-greenhouses, holding the moisture in and collecting the warmth of the sun. For obvious reasons, the plastic used must be clear (not frosted, no stickers/writing etc).

Before you pick one of the methods mentioned over the other, research whether or not your seeds require a cold stratification stage to ensure success. Most perennial seeds have a tough exterior shell requiring this cold step, while most annuals do not. The clamshell method includes this stage while the cup method does not.

Unfortunately, I have still not had much luck or success with sowing seeds indoors for spring transplanting. That technique seems to need lots of patience too. Perhaps that’s my problem. I manage to get the seedlings to a few inches tall then they fizzle out.

Conclusions

I’d love to hear from anyone that has experimented with seed harvesting and sowing, both failures and successes. It is definitely a learning curve!

Evergreen Identification: Pine, Spruce or Balsam?

evergreen identification

After the derecho ripped through Eastern Ontario this past summer, I learned lots about the evergreen trees on our cottage property. I must admit identification of trees is not something I spent much time on with my gardening business.

When we finally got a specialist to assess the tree damage on our lot, he mentioned that the balsams (AKA firs) are not as strong, hard, or healthy as spruce or pines. Firs are not suitable for lumber but are often used for pulp and plywood. Although balsams make pretty and aromatic Christmas trees, they are not as long-living as spruce or pines and are more susceptible to spruce budworm. After their needles are stripped by the insect larvae, the trees die and their bare branches then become fuel for forest fires.

I love and appreciate the evergreen population on our cottage property. While I could always pick out a cedar or pine tree, I did not know much about the difference between spruce and balsam. Now I do. They are differentiated by their bark, needles or leaves, and cones.

Spruce vs Balsam

SpruceBalsam
barkrough withsmooth with
vertical cracksresin filled blisters
needlespointyblunt, flat
woody attachmentsuction cup attachment
conesgrow/hang downwardgrow upwards, like candles

Pine Tree Facts

Pine trees can easily be identified by their needles which grow in clusters, although that distinction varies between red, yellow, and white pines. To be specific, red pines have two long needles in each cluster, yellow pines have three, and white pines have five. Needles grow up to 6 inches long.

White pine needle cluster

Western pines grow taller and wider than their eastern cousins.

Red pines are denser and harder than white pines and therefore considered stronger. Neither are resistant to rot though. Pinewood is considered softwood, best used for carving, construction, and millwork.

Red pine cones are shorter and more egg-shaped than longer, skinnier white pine cones.

Conclusions

Evergreens are beautiful with a backdrop of storm clouds or a sunset in summer, snow-covered in winter, in contrast to the colourful leaves on deciduous trees in fall or new growth in spring.

I now look at them a tad differently though, in terms of which ones will still continue to grace our properties.

There are lots more evergreen varieties around the world…I only researched the three discussed here for obvious reasons.

Fall Leaves: Rake, Blow or Mulch?

fall leaves

Fall leaves certainly are beautiful in this neck of the woods. At least they are while they are still on the trees. Not so much when they cover every inch of your lawn! If they don’t get removed from the lawn, they will smother the grass making it weaker in the spring. So, should you rake them, blow them or mulch them?

Raking Fall Leaves

Raking is the old-fashioned way to rid your lawn of leaves. Some (my husband included) still swear by this method. We use plastic bags saved from new mattresses years ago to haul the raked leaves to a designated leaf (AKA compost) pile. This procedure works well if you have an area to store the leaves. (which we do at the cottage) I don’t mind raking but when we are talking about a huge property, a blower or mulcher is called for in my humble opinion. These contraptions also create great mulch for gardens and/or compost bins or piles. If you don’t have a blower or mulcher, you can run the leaves over several times with your lawn mower, then rake the crumbled pieces onto your gardens or into a compost bin.

Leaf Blowers with or without Mulcher Options

I first purchased a leaf blower several years ago, early on in my career of looking after peoples’ gardens and yards. I loved it so much I was collecting leaf-filled yard waste bags from my neighbours’ curbs to mulch. I love mulched leaves on my gardens. So much so that one of my neighbours gives me his mulch too.

Precautions

Most models are quite noisy so earplugs are recommended. The first time I used one without ear protection I wound up with a massive headache.

Although the models I’ve used have all been electric, there are battery-operated or gas-powered, cordless options available. If you are using a long extension cord or several combined (for large properties) be sure your extension cord is a heavy-duty one. According to Copper.org:

An improperly sized extension cord can cause a tool or appliance motor to burn out if allowed to run for too long. It can also cause a dangerous situation if it overheats.

Blower and Mulcher Brands

Toro Ultra Plus

I liked the Toro but found switching the blower to the mulcher tedious. You had to remove one attachment and trade it for the other. This switching back and forth was not only time-consuming but hard on my arthritic wrists.

The bag that held the mulched leaves had a zipper on the bottom to contain the leaves. This zipper was handy, but if you forgot to close it before you started the motor for the next batch, the leaves would fly all over. I did that a few times.

When I graduated to a fancier blower and mulcher, I donated my Toro to the hospice I volunteer at.

fall leaves
Toro Ultra Plus

Worx Leaf Blower and Mulcher

My next garden toy was made by Worx. I prefer it because you can switch from mulching to blowing leaves with a simple turn of a dial. Very convenient and much easier on my wrists. It too has a zippered mulch bag, so the “don’t forget the zipper” rule applies here too.

fall leaves

Black and Decker

The most recent blower and mulcher I’ve used is a black and decker model. It was given to me by the son of a client after she passed away. I took it to the cottage as I had one at home.

This model is quite impressive although it is now an older model. It seems more powerful than the others in both blower and mulcher mode. This is awesome while you are using it but it means the unit is heavier. I could feel the workout in my forearm muscles the next day. And the arthritic wrists well before that.

You do have to switch between the options by removing and installing the motor component but the process is so simple even I can do it without complaining. There is no zipper on the mulch bag. Instead, you insert the bag onto the mulcher head with a plastic latch. In theory, this works well but the latch seems flimsy, so after several batches of mulch it was getting loose. I’ve noticed the new models don’t have this latch.

Another downside to this model is that it has no shoulder strap on the mulch bag to distribute the weight of the tool as well as the bag of mulch. The other two models had a strap, perhaps that is why my forearm muscles and wrists felt the workout with this one.

Black and Decker

Conclusions

It doesn’t matter which method you use to remove the fall leaves from your lawn. Just be sure to do so, your lawn will thank you in the spring with a quick recovery from winter stress. So will your gardens and compost pile if you add the mulched leaves to them.

mulched leaves

Gray Hair: Sexy on Men, Old on Women?

gray hair

I want to know why gray hair on men is considered distinguished, even sexy, but on women it’s aging. “Letting herself go” is the term used when one decides to quit fighting reality by embracing their gray hair. At least for women. Men, on the other hand, are said to “rock” their gray hair.

Popular and Dashing Gray-Haired Men

George Clooney comes to mind as a popular movie star that recently (within the past few years) has let gray hair take over. He was always good-looking (to me) in that tall, dark, and handsome way. But lately, everyone seems to be swooning over his new, gray look.

Anderson Cooper, another household name, turned gray prematurely (like me) but has been recognized, even celebrated for his “natural” look for years. Decades even. So much so that he has earned the nickname of the silver fox.

Anderson Cooper

Gray Haired Women Over the Hill?

Closer to (my) home, Lisa Laflamme, on the other hand, was recently released (in her words blind-sided) from her long-time news anchor position with CTV. Why? Rumour has it because she made the decision to let her gray hair grow out after the pandemic. Fans were outraged but Bell Media denied the (obvious) allegations:

the termination of Lisa LaFlamme’s contract had nothing to do with age, gender or grey hair,”

Bell Media

No one is buying it. Even Wendy’s Canadian franchises stepped up to show their support by replacing their mascot’s iconic red pigtails with gray ones and taking to Twitter in Lisa’s defense:

This month Andie MacDowell was celebrated for embracing her gray hair during Paris Fashion Week. She too decided to let her gray hair come in during the pandemic. Perhaps Hollywood and Paris have it right.

gray hair

It sounds to me like MacDowell speaks the truth:

“As we age, we deserve dignity and pride. We deserve to feel glorious! I’ve always said there’s no expiration date on beauty.”

Andie MacDowell

Conclusions

Why the difference in perception? Talk about sexist, archaic, and blatantly obvious. Why are women like MacDowell and Laflamme forced to advocate for the right to age gracefully? Men have done it for ages.

In general, it seems that women reporters are “put out to pasture” so to speak as soon as they start looking tired, old, heavy, etc compared to the younger, fresh-faced, airbrushed girls that are new on the scene. Men, on the other hand, seem to get more air time (and respect) as they advance in age. We see it all the time.

I’d like to see statistics on the number of over forty-year-old TV reporters, women vs men.

End of Cottage Season

end of cottage season

The end of cottage season has arrived, regrettably. Closing our summer home (as our four-year-old granddaughter calls it) is lots of work, as any cottage owner will tell you. This time of year is not nearly as much fun as the beginning of the season when the anticipation of summer weather motivates you.

Outdoor Chores

This week the weather has been especially nice, great for outdoor things like removing docks, storing outdoor furniture, winterizing the boat, cutting the lawn one last time, emptying containers of annual plants, and more. This year we are still cleaning up trees from the derecho that swept through our area in May.

The beautiful weather is also perfect for one last lakeside coffee and bonfire. And capturing a picture of one lone monarch still hanging around, gorging on nectar before his long trek south.

Inside Jobs for end of Cottage Season

Inside the cottage fridges have to be emptied and cleaned out, freezers defrosted, and any liquids moved to the basement pump room. We keep this area a bit warmer than freezing temperature so our water pipes don’t freeze up. The water gets turned off and the pipes are emptied with antifreeze run through them.

Food items get sorted into “home” and “stay”. This means I will have two of many things in my home fridge. Any nonperishable food that does not expire before next summer stays here, also stored inside the pump room.