Allergic to Exercise?

I have discovered something recently – hives will make you go temporarily insane.  Hives, in case you don’t know, look like you have goose bumps at first, but then you turn red (mostly from trying to rip your skin off) and then they swell up even further until you look like you layed down naked in a fire ant nest. That’s actually a good way to describe how bad they itch, too.

In about 5 weeks, I have had three allergic reactions while running through the neighborhood. This post is mainly just for myself, to try to establish a pattern, and figure out what the h*ll is going on.

The first time, around Mid-November, we ate one of those pre-packaged soup meals. It consisted of chunks of pork, zucchini, yellow squash, and onion. I think that’s all that was in it.
Then we went running, and I broke out in hives. First my hands started to itch, then my eyes. Then I was itching so bad I couldn’t concentrate. I ran into the house stripping down and jumping into the shower.  All the while I was freaking out, itching everywhere, swelling up, and looking like I had had a round of bad Botox injections.

The next time, I ate grilled salmon and fried zucchini, then we went running. The same symptoms occurred, but I knew what to expect, so instead of freaking out, I took 2 Benadryl, hopped in the shower, and covered myself in anti-itch stuff. The reaction was nowhere near as bad this time, so I wasn’t too concerned about it, but the next morning I made an appointment to see an allergist.

This meeting wasn’t very productive, but I thought it would be. All he told me was, “I see this all the time,” and “we will draw some blood, test it against what you ate last night, and see what happens.”

I actually got the results yesterday: nothing.

So when I broke out in hives again last night you can imagine my surprise. Before you ask any questions like, “did you change your laundry detergent?” or “did you eat something different?” or anything else, be sure that I have eliminated everything out of my everyday life that could be causing this reaction. I had Christmas dinner leftovers last night for the third day in a row.

What’s really bothering me is that we run through the neighborhood about every other day, yet the reaction does not occur every time I run. Last night the hives were pretty bad, too, which is why I consider this an adventure: Will I get hives this time? How bad will they be? Only time will tell….

So I am trying to establish a pattern and determine if it’s getting worse, if I smell anything in particular before it happens, where in the neighborhood I am when it happens, and things like that.

There is one big block in the negihborhood that we run around, and I think this is the area of the reaction. It’s not cigar smoke as far as I can tell. I’m hoping it’s just a certain blooming plant in a neighbor’s yard that I can learn the reproductive cycle of, and know when I need to take Benadryl before a run, and when I don’t have to worry about it.

So I will probably be updating this post until we figure soemthing out, or until I go insane from the itching. Whichever comes first.

My New Year’s Resolution

I don’t normally set New Year’s Resolutions, but this year I think I have come up with a pretty good one: I plan to be able to run 10 miles (without dying) by May 2012. I picked May because that is the start of summer, and I plan on having a rockin’ body for summer. I put on the typical Freshman…let’s say “15”, and I have been working like crazy to get back to liking my reflection. I picked up running with Hubby and at first really hated it. We have been running hardcore for the past few months, and I have really gotten hooked on it, so I figured it was a pretty good NYR since I’m sure I can stick with it. Of course, we have had our set-backs in the past, one of which I’m sure you read about here.

When we were in college Hubby tried to get my to start running, and it was awful. We lived in the low mountains of West Texas, and it was a pain to run out there. I preferred the treadmill so I could track my progress, and NOT run up and down hills, unless I wanted to.

When we moved to Southeast Texas, where it is flat, I tried to start running again. I wasn’t very good at it, and Hubby would literally run circles around me, but at least I was being active. We lived out in the middle of no-where so the roads were ironically not safe to run on (no shoulder, and no side roads, only roads that always had one car after another on them).

11 months later we bought a house in a wonderful little neighborhood that we can run in without fearing for our lives, so we do. We have been running serioulsy for about 4 months I think, but to be honest I didn’t really pay attention to when it was. I’m just sure it was sometime around me hating how I look in the mirror, crying, and begging Hubby to be my Personal Trainer and make me hot.

So within the last week or two, I have gotten new running clothes, new running shoes that were fit to me at a running store based on my running stride, running sunglasses that won’t bounce all over my face while I’m running,  and I have ordered (but not yet received) a new running watch that tells you your distance, pace, elevation changes, and all sorts of other cool crap! I’m ready for this NYR!

I’m sure there will be updates about this that I feel are interesting enough for me to re-read later, so I will probably write about them. Especially if Kujo comes back.

Running for Our Lives

It’s amazing we survived last night.

While jogging through the neighborhood we were attacked!
Yes it’s true, we were attacked by….AN ADORABLE KITTEN OF DOOM!!!!

HE WILL KNEAD YOU TO DEATH

He came out of the darkness, running after us. We tried to get away, but every time we turned around, he was behind us, getting closer! We were trapped on a cul-de-sac, and when we ran back past him, he cut between my legs and tried to bring me down. But we prevailed! We have lived to tell the story of Kujo the Attack Kitten! The adorableness was almost too much to bear. He purred, he kneaded! He meowed when we ran too far away for him to catch up to us. He stalked us as far as he could, but there were too many puddles for him follow.

This is (one reason) why you keep your cats indoors! Do you KNOW how bad I wanted to take him home with me last night?! The poor kitten was so lonely. I’m sure he was a new addition to someone’s “house” (meaning yard) and he wasn’t used to it yet so he was looking for ANYONE to love him. Since my house is FULL of animals that were otherwise unwanted, Hubby couldn’t justify my giving a much better INDOOR home to this adorable baby. So in the mean time, I will love my cat twice as much, so to make up for the difference of that poor baby.

no caption required

So please, keep your cats indoors so they don’t eat every single bird, squirrel, and toad in the neighborhood or get run over or killed by a dog. And while you’re at it please spay/neuter your pets. Animal shelters all over the country are full because people don’t do this, but no one wants a litter of babies to take care of either. Preventative care, people!

 
Merry Christmas!

My Amazing Time in Grad School-Thesis

Seeing as how adventure is in my blood, and “Wild” is my middle name, it only seems fitting that my graduate degree in Biology consisted of a thesis in which I got to follow and document the behavior of the largest carnivore I could find: The American Black bear.

Ok, ok so they aren’t TECHNICALLY carnivores. They are true omnivores, eating whatever they can find, BUT they are in Order Carnivora, so people think they are scary. Which they are. Kinda.

Anyway, this is how it all got started:

I heard about a month-long class I could take over the summer, in which you go to San Jose, Costa Rica and study monkeys. (Seriously, this is how it started). The course was called Primate Behavior and Conservation, and it was through DANTA. My parents didn’t really want me going down there by myself, but ones to NEVER restrict my adventures and education, my dad decided to go with me.  We would site-see for a few days, then I would meet up with the course people, and he would fly back home.  This will all be in a separate post later, because it was definitely an adventure. Unfortunately all but about 7 of my pictures got corrupted, so I don’t have anything to show you really. Sorry.

Anyway, with this class we learned a bunch of stuff, which I then brought back with me to the desert of West Texas, where I was going to school. A few days after I got back, I was taking another course for my degree called Desert Zoology. It was the best class I have ever taken. Basically, it was a hiking-until-the-prof-sees-something-worth-talking-about class, so we hiked and camped for a month. HOW GREAT IS THAT?! When we went to Big Bend National Park we saw a female bear in an oak tree with 4 cubs. Seriously, they were just hanging out in a tree above the trail.

The family that started it all

I told my prof and my BF (now Hubby) that I didn’t want to leave-I could seriously watch them all day long. My prof said, “that’s your thesis project.” See, I had been trying to come up with project ideas, and things kept falling flat, but this was the sudden epiphany I needed. My next thoughts to my BF were scrambled thoughts of working at a zoo somewhere, observing the feeding behaviors of Polar bears in captivity, Polar bears in the wild, wild lion behavior in Africa…I went on and on floating on a cloud of excitement about my future in Conservation. I was stoked.

Basically, I was going to be observing the bears for typical behaviors, which I categorized and provided detailed descriptions of.  Next I actually got to go to the park and find the bears. This sounds a lot harder than it sounds a lot easier than was just as difficult as it sounds.

But on my first day, first thing in the morning, Hubby was making breakfast and I was getting ready to hike, when he popped his head into the tent and said, “There’s a bear!”

I HAD NO IDEA WHAT TO DO.

I had planned all this out to the letter, but when it came time to it, I was hoping I was doing it right. Then I thought, well, it’s my research, so damnit, I am doing it RIGHT!

The next few months, I saw a lot of black figures through the trees like this:

Sow with two cubs

 Summer wasn’t so great. I didn’t see them much, but no one else did either. My personal theory was they went down to Mexico to cool off with a couple Coronas. Prove me wrong.

But I did get a lot of people asking what I was doing, and asking me if I was scared. Not once was I scared of the bears. I actually always felt safe with them. I mean, don’t get my wrong-I’m not going to be turning into Grizzly Man or anything, but the Black bears are used to human activity in the park, they are not aggressive, and I kept my distance. Even when I was heading back up the trail to camp one evening, after I had stayed on the trail a bit too long and it was getting dark. A large bear came up and met me on the trail. She (I’m assuming) stared right at me, then kept walking. It was A.MAZ.ING.

There was one time, when hiking high in the mountains with my BF that a bear got mad at us.  We didn’t even see him, because he was up the hill above us, and sleeping under a tree.  We would have walked right past him, but he sat up to look at us as we were walking, and caught our attention.

He did not like us watching him.

Black bears do a lot of huffing and puffing to try to scare people away but of course, I wasn’t going anywhere. We backed off a bit to give him his space, but it wasn’t good enough. He was still shaking branches and puffing at us, so we backed off some more. By this time, we were thinking, ‘ok, we need to go forward to get off the mountain. He does not want us to go forward. S!$t.’ He moved off a bit, to the other side of the small hill, so we thought he had gotten sick of us and left.  We grabbed our stuff that we had carefully put down while observing the bear, and speed-walked past where he had been. I looked back and he was standing there, (much closer to the trail than he had been), and we just kept going. That is why I said bears are scary. Kinda.

This little guy was my favorite through the whole study:

Yearling male

I saw him in the morning and watching him until the heat of the day when he wandered off. I came back in the afternoon and before I got to him I heard screaming and rocks further down the trail. A couple came back up the trail and this was the conversation:

Stupid people: “I wouldn’t go down there if I were you. There is a bear cub, but we didn’t see the Momma.”

Me, the amazing researcher:”I’m pretty sure I know who you are talking about, and he’s not with Mom anymore. He’s on his own.”

Stupid people: “Oh…can we follow you?”

After which they proceeded to ruin the video I was taking of him, by asking questions while I was filming. Thanks guys. I’m sure Discovery Channel has the same problems.

I also loved this guy:

JEFE-THE BIGGEST BLACK BEAR I HAVE EVER SEEN

I call him Jefe.  I know you can’t tell it in the picture, but this guy was HUGE. And he was hilarious. For all you non-behavioral studies types, I will explain something to you.  In the wild, animals usually survive on a feast-or-famine diet.  They attempt to spend as little energy as possible while obtaining their food, because they will need the fat they put on for when times are tough. (You know, the thing most Americans never have to worry about, and wonder why they can’t lose weight-your body “thinks” it should keep all that weight on, just in case).

Anyway, so by spending as little energy as possible, this HUGE bear was laying down under an oak tree, consuming every acorn he could reach.  Then he got up, turned around, layed back down, and continued to graze on the plethora of acorns. (Yes, I would say he had a plethora). I couldn’t believe how lazy he was! But I guess you don’t get that big by wasting time and energy.

The best part was, this whole time, I was standing on the other side of the tree, about 30 or so feet away. He knew I was there, but he didn’t really care. The area he was laying in was right next to the hiking trail, so when a couple came around the corner back up the trail, he freaked out from the sudden noise (Now do you see why I’m not scared of Black bears?) and ran away down the creek (the hikers almost ran too). Then all of a sudden, he stopped, sat down for a few seconds (pictured) and then slowly got up and walked away in the direction he had been about to run.

So, my observation was Jefe got a freakin’ head rush from standing up too quick! Seriously.

I saw some great things while doing this research, and I got to learn a lot:

I learned I don’t really like camping by myself, because it gets boring and creepy at night.

I learned that bears are actually pretty easy to predict.

and I learned that when you are on high-alert for Mountain lions, deer will scare the crap out of you every time.

The Chisos Mountains – My weekend home during the research project

Keeping Green-Compost

This is an older post that I wrote, so if you know me, (and I think you do) you will recognize what’s out of date and what isn’t. If you don’t know me, it doesn’t matter what’s out of date, does it?

Trying to save the planet is a difficult task.  I still have conversations today with people who are convinced that Climate Change is a government conspiracy, or Hippies making a mountain out of a mole hill, or a natural progression* that we should not worry about.  No offense, but I like Polar bears. I want them to still be around (and in the WILD, not only zoos) for my kids to see.  And because of this, I try to do what I can to keep the Polar bears around.

I have had a compost bin since I was little.  My parents had an awesome garden that my sister and I would help with and my parents would compost the tree leaves, kitchen scraps, and garden plants after the harvest.  They used an open-air compost so it went slow, but they didn’t really use it for the compost, they just used it to throw the kitchen scraps somewhere, mostly.

When I was in college, I was renting a house and started a rose garden. It was a beautiful rose garden that I got compliments on all the time. So, I also started composting so I didn’t have to spend all my money on garden soil. I mean, come on. I was in college. So I went to the dollar store (college student!) and bought a black rolling trash can.  I had the idea to get one with wheels so I could roll it over to wherever I needed it.  This didn’t work out the way I planned, but it was still a great compost bin. Being black, it got really hot inside the bin, and worked remarkably fast (especially for living in the desert). To turn the compost I would literally dump it out and then shovel it back into the bin.  I used the compost several times for my gardens and potted plants, and I loved it. When I moved I dumped it out into the yard to try to encourage grass growth. (My chickens had either eaten all the grass or the location of the coop caused the grass to die, so I was trying to fix it). I ended up throwing the bin away after that because the bottom had broken out, the wheels had bent and were unable to roll, and I was moving 9 hours away-I could buy another a better one).

Now, I bought a real round compost bin that I can turn relatively easily. It works pretty fast, but it probably isn’t in the best spot in the yard as it is shaded by the house for most of the day.  Years ago my husband would throw away everything and it was such a pain to teach him to recycle and compost! (Love you Honey!) Now he does a fantastic job, but I think that is just because he is so cheap frugal. (We don’t pay for garbage pickup so we either compost, recycle, or burn anything we can, and take our small amount that doesn’t qualify for any of the other categories to the gas station). 

*  Yes, I know about the many climate changes that have occurred over the thousands or millions of years that the Earth has been a planet, but I have also seen the charts that show how this climate is changing faster than the other changes have ever occurred, and the change has been correlated to an increase in human population, and therefore greenhouse gases. So there. That is my opinion. Get used to it.

The Florida Keys

Hubby and I went to the Keys for our Honeymoon for a diving trip.  We had never been to Florida before but I knew I would love it.  It was A.MA.ZING.

We didn’t want to spend all our time in one place, so we kind of bounced down the Keys every couple of days. This is what we did:

We had an early flight to Miami, having to leave the house at 5am because it takes an hour to get to the airport, and of course security is fantastic, so you have to get to the airport 6 days before your flight.  And then they make you take off all your clothes (ok, shoes, belt, jacket, etc. but you still have to go through the body scanners and  get dressed in front of perfect strangers afterwards, so it feels like you have to take all your clothes off).  Our flight was fine, a little bumpier than usual, but I didn’t have anyone sitting next to me except for Hubby, so that was nice. 

As soon as we landed we got our crappy rental car (I love renting cars because it’s like a test drive so you can figure out that you will NEVER own whatever car it is that you just rented. It’s pretty much a guarantee), and headed to the Miami Metro Zoo.  Being a Tuesday , the zoo was empty which was great, but at the same time, I think they save all of their enclosure maintenance for the slow part of the week, so a lot of animals were off display. Bwoop.  But we got to see some cool stuff, like South American cockroaches swarming over their food (Yuck!) and a Harpy Eagle clutching a dead rat in her talons (So cool!).  See?!

See the rat?

After the zoo we headed out of Miami and to our hotel in Key Largo.  We went checked out the tiny “private beach” that we really just a little inlet for kids and then jumped into the pool.  The next day though, was the best!  We arrived at the dive shop at 8am to start our Advanced Open Water (AOW) course.  First you have to go over Knowledge reviews, making the instructor aware of how easily you can fill in the blanks word for word in the back of the chapters.  Public school, you did your job. Thank you.  That afternoon though, we went on our first dive in Florida, and it was great!  We dove in 2 places and both of them we pretty destroyed shipwrecks.  Before our very first dive, our instructor went over hand signals for us to know that she uses so we could more easily communicate under water.  It’s a bit of a pain to have to take your regulator out of your mouth and talk under water.  Stupid lungs…  Anyway, so we went over common hand signals, and then went over fish signals, so she could tell us the kind of fish we were looking at.  We saw a barracuda on our first dive, and it was classic – he had a giant fish hook in his mouth, and he was all by himself.  He was like a cartoon character!  He followed us around for a while, did a good job of freaking all of us out individually since we had to turn our backs to a fish with VERY large teeth, and then he went on his merry way. 

Our next dive was similar, but this time we saw 2 southern sting rays.  I heard our instructor shriek under water because she was so excited! 

Our Awesome Instructor

I love being around people who not only love their job, but love the wildlife that they get to see.  The rays were so cool!

They next day we went on 4 dives.  Needless to say, we were pretty exhausted at the end of the day, but it was totally worth it!

Me, having a blast

First we went to Spiegel Grove, which is a deep wreck dive.  We went to 103 feet deep!  The water was kind of choppy, so we had to descend down a mooring line to get to it.  Going down the line you move through a school of barracudas, and then we got to the wreck.  We went to our deepest depth first, and our instructor showed us what a tennis ball looks like at 100 feet (totally crushed in) and what an egg does at 100 feet (stays in the egg shape after you break the shell open).  Next we went into the Spiegel which was really neat. A lot of people get nervous going into structures or caves or something because it is such a small space, but it was so cool!  We also stopped and saw 2 Lion Fish that were hiding behind the door on the ship.  Lion Fish are invasive in the Caribbean, so our instructor tried to kill them but couldn’t reach them.  While we were going into the Spiegel one at a time, the current caught me and I ran into Fire Coral.  It got that name because it stings.  Like fire.  Now I am one with the ocean.  I’m okay with that.

See that lovely red ring on my knee? I'm ONE with the ocean.

 After the Spiegel we went to another wreck that was pretty well destroyed from different things, so there was nothing to really go in to.  It was pretty ripped apart. 

That afternoon we did 2 more dives, one at Eagle Ray Alley, where we saw no Eagle Rays, and Fire Coral Cave, where we saw lots of fire coral, and 3 eagle rays!  They were so amazing, and the four of us were the only ones out of like 30 divers that saw them!  We also worked on our search and recovery skills, which became helpful when my watch fell off during the dive, and I retraced my fin kicks (under water “steps,” get it?) and found it! 

On our way back into the harbor, we spent our time counting iguanas (there are a lot of invasive species in Florida) and telling dirty knock-knock jokes with the crew.  This we our last day in Key Largo, so after we bought t-shirts from the dive shop and got cleaned up, we headed to our next destination on Duck Key called Hawk’s Cay Resort. 

This place was swanky.  The entire key is the resort and they had dolphins that you can swim with (I wanted to but it was a little pricey, and they were booked).  Everything was way expensive, and I probably wouldn’t go there again, but it was nice.  Just not our style.  We did go on another couple dives while we were on Duck Key which was great.  On our way out to the dive site I saw something floating in the water at a distance, and as we got closer, we saw it was a huge dead sea turtle.  It was sad, but cool at the same time, because although it was the first wild sea turtle I had ever seen, there was a Tiger Shark feeding on it!  Pretty scary/cool to see a Tiger Shark right before you go diving! 

On our first dive on this day we saw a HUGE Puffer fish (aka Porcupine fish, but I like Puffer better) and two more Lion Fish, along with tons of other fish (Parrot, Hog, Sergeant Majors, and a bunch of Queen Angel fish). 

Puffer fish, aka Porcupine fish, and two Lion fish hiding in the background to the right

When we got back to the boat, we told the guides that we saw the Lion fish, so at our next destination they were prepared to kill any that we saw, but of course because they were now prepared for them, they didn’t see any.  On this dive we saw a few sea anemones which were really neat, and I saw a sea urchin but couldn’t get a picture of it.  That concluded our diving for the trip, but we had a bunch of other stuff we wanted to do too, so we were fine with that. 

On our way to Key West we stopped on Marathon Key at the Sea Turtle Hospital and went on a tour of the facility. 

The Turtle Hospital

There they treat sick and injured turtles and release as many as they can.  They said they have about a 70% release record, which is pretty good considering a lot of turtles go there because they are hit by boat propellers, which paralyzes their back flippers.  If they have 3 working limbs they can be released, but if 2 are no longer working, they are not strong enough to be in the wild, so they can never be released. 

The dark mark on his back is a set of weights, glued onto his back to help his swim correctly. Turtles that get hit by boats often develop air pockets in their shells, which cause other issues as well.

I took lots of pictures there, and there was a little girl who was on the tour with us that reminded me of me when I was her age.  She had all of the turtles’ names memorized because she had been to the hospital before and she could tell them all apart.  A couple of staff members came in with 2 small turtles for weight checks, and that little girl was starry-eyed and amazed by them.  I even got a couple pictures of her (on accident, not because I’m creepy like that) that captured her adoration for the turtles. 

                  

See?

Key West is pretty much a 24 hour tourist party.  There is Duval Street and Mallory Square, which are nothing but shops and bars.  Seriously.  We walked around that area a while, had a few drinks, went shopping…

IWANTITIWANTITIWANTIT

saw the Southernmost Point which is no longer the true southernmost point because the military has added landed to the base there, but they haven’t moved the marker, and we at lunch at the Southernmost Café. 

Hmmm.....nachos.....the perfect food...

We saw Hemmingway’s house but didn’t go in because it was crazy expensive and I really don’t care about Hemmingway that much.  The next day we got up early and went on a 1.5 hour jet ski tour of the island WHICH WAS AWESOME and we saw a school of stingrays swimming around under us when we stopped for a quick break! So cool!  After that we walked around Mallory Square again, went to the Treasure Museum and learned about treasure salving, and killed more time on Duval Street until 4pm when we went parasailing!! We had never done jet skis or parasailing before so it was a LOT of fun!  We were on a boat with about 10 people, and everyone went up in pairs.  It was amazing and scary at the same time.  The captain of the boat kept dunking us in the water (on purpose) and you could see for miles in every direction.  That night was our last night in Florida, so we had an early dinner, went to the movies, and went to bed a bit early since we had to get up and drive for 3.5 hours back to Miami the next day.

Ya, it’s 120 miles, but the speed limit is usually 45 MPH.  When you are from Texas and you have regular speeds of 65-75, it feels like you are CRAWLING down the highway. 

So my advice to you if you want to go to the keys is this:

If you want outdoor adventure, go to Key Largo.

If you want a fun, party atmosphere, go to Key West.

If you want to feel pretentious and spend a lot of money, go to Duck Key.

We are going back to Key Largo and the mainland next summer, so I’m sure I will have more snippets of info and travel tips in the future.

Sunset on Key Largo

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