Wednesday Wet & Wild: Dolphins & Sea Lions Go to War

Welcome to Wet & Wild, a  post at Danielle Meitiv’s Brave Blue Blog that explores everything fabulous and fascinating about the sea, surf, and sands of our Blue Planet. Today, I’m sharing some of the amazing stuff I’m learning as I research my new sci-fi work-in-progress. Enjoy!

Navy Dolphin K-dog
A U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program dolphin named KDog, wearing a locating pinger, performed mine clearance work in the Persian Gulf during the Iraq War.

Even before they took out Bin Laden, most people were familiar with the Navy SEALs (Sea, Air and Land Teams).

But what about the Navy’s sea lions? The dolphins?

No, this is not just the stuff of Hollywood. Since the late 1950’s, the U.S.Navy has studied the ways that marine mammals can aid military efforts at sea. Today, the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program trains and deploys more than 140 dolphins and sea lions from the programs headquarters in San Diego.

The two primary species involved are the Common Bottlenose Dolphin and the California Sea Lion.

Flipper Enlists

Because of their amazing ability to use sound to navigate in the water – echolocation – bottlenose dolphins are naturals for locating people and objects in the sea, including sea mines.

Dolphins are especially helpful in the open ocean. They can make multiple deep dives without getting “the bends” or decompression sickness, which would be harmful or fatal to a human. Most recently, mine-hunting dolphins were employed in the port of Umm Qasr in southern Iraq.

Sea Lions Get Their Man

A MK 5 sea lion is about to attach the recovery hardware to a simulator.

Sea lions have been trained to locate and retrieve undersea objects. Like dolphins, they help to locate and tag mines. Unlike their dolphins comrades, sea lions don’t use echolocation, but their vision in low light and murky water makes them excellent seekers.

Sea lions have been employed to patrol around naval ships at port and to alert their human partners if human divers approach. These critters carry leg cuffs as part of their undersea equipment. If they locate a diver in the water, the sea lions attaches a cuff with a rope to the intruder’s leg, allowing humans above water to reel the trespasser in.

For more about sea lions and their cousins (as well as their mythological buddies), check out this post. To learn about dolphins and their whale pals, check this out.

UPDATE: Check out this CNN clip from YouTube, showing a reporter trying to evade a Navy dolphin and what the dolphin does to catch her man. Too cool!

Also – lest you worry about the health and happiness of these marine mammals (as I did), they are released into the ‘wild’ frequently during training, and choose to come back everytime. 

They also live long lives with the Navy.  One female dolphin I read about was over 30 years old, with 20+ years of active service. Among the sea lions recruits is a 27-year old male who is still going strong. (The average lifespans of these critters in the wild are 25 and 17 years, respectively).

Danielle Meitiv is a writer, marine science geek, gardener and mother who goes barefoot whenever possible. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, on Google+ Danielle Luttenberg Meitiv and on Facebook: Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog, and Danielle Meitiv.

Missing Mom [Reposted from August 2011]

mom with Isaac and Rafi
Thanksgiving 2005. Mom with my son Rafi (standing) and my newphew Isaac. She died four weeks later.

My mother Davida would have been 70 years old today. She died at 64. I can never hear that Beatles tune without thinking of her.

She lived long enough to attend my wedding and celebrate my son Rafi’s first birthday. She will never know the grand-daughter Dvora who is named for her.

My mother was diagnosed with bladder cancer when she was 44. I was 13 at the time. Thank God and modern medicine that I had her for another 20 years. Damn them both that it wasn’t longer.

Motherloss

Motherloss is a recurring theme in my family. My mother’s mother died of breast cancer when she was 43. My mother was 17.

I grew up in the shadow of that tragedy. Every day of her life my mother mourned her mother. No, she didn’t walk around in tears all the time – she was vibrant and alive and taught me much about the joy of living.

But she always missed her mother. I had no doubt that that early loss marked my mother forever. I regretted not knowing this woman who was the star of so many family stories. Legends, even.

And now my daughter shares a similar fate – she will only know her mother’s mother through stories. Thank God, I had so much more of my mother than my mother had of hers. I have more to tell. I pray the pictures I paint will be that much richer, her presence that much more vivid for my daughter.

Losing another mother

My mother’s younger sister Linda was only 8 years old when her mother died. When Linda turned 43 she died of a brain tumor. She left behind two children, 8 and 14.

I became very close to that 8-year old. She spent at least one weekend a month sleeping over at my Manhattan apartment.  When my mother died, I mourned with that same girl, now a woman in her late twenties. Among other things she told me about two books that have become priceless guides to the painful journey that I have now begun: Motherless Daughters and Motherless Mothers by Hope Edelman. I recommend them both to all women who have lost their mothers, at any age.

And now I’m the Mom

To recap, in case you’ve missed any of the craziness on this page:

My mother’s mother died of breast cancer at 43. She left behind four children: 21 (Judy), 17 (Davida – my mom), 8 (Linda), and 3 (Larry).

Linda died when she was 43. She left behind two children 14 and 8.

My mother was diagnosed with cancer when she was 44. She died 20 years later.

I turned 42 this year. Am I afraid of dying? Does the specter of cancer haunt my thoughts day-to-day? Not consciously. Yes I’ve tried to eat well all my life and I rejected smoking after a very brief experiment in my teens.

But that’s not the most important impact of all this tragedy.  As a direct result of so much sadness and grief, I’ve learned how to live.

Carpe diem. Live each day as though it was your last. You really only get one chance and you never know when your time will be up. Live, love, laugh. Don’t wait for that rainy day – live now.

I don’t know if I ever would have started writing if my mother hadn’t died. Knowing that this was it, that I only had one life in which to be whatever and as much as I could be – maybe that’s what opened the creative wells that had been shut for decades. And now I write almost every day.

With Rafi and Dvora on the Staten Island Ferry, Memorial Day weekend 2011.

It was a dream of my mom’s, too – to be a writer. Now it is my reality, a gift from her to me.

And maybe back to her as well?

My daughter will turn 3 tomorrow. She has my mother eyes.

Happy Birthday, Mom. I miss you very, very much.

Danielle Meitiv is a scientist, a writer, a “free-range” mom, and a very passionate, opinionated person. She is currently working on a book called “Fighting For the Future: A Parent’s Rebellion.” You can find her on Twitter:  @DanielleMeitiv , Facebook: Danielle Meitiv, and YouTube: Danielle Luttenberg Meitiv. She lives with her husband and her two famous, free-range kids in Silver Spring, MD.

Wednesday Wet & Wild: Dolphins & Sea Lions Go to War

Welcome to Wednesdays Wet & Wild (formerly Wonderful Waterful Wednesdays), a weekly post at Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog that explores everything fabulous and fascinating about the sea, surf, and sands of our Blue Planet. This week, I’m sharing some of the amazing stuff I’m learning as I research my new sci-fi series.  Enjoy!

Even before they took out Bin Laden, most people were familiar with the Navy SEALs (Sea, Air and Land Teams).

But what about the sea lions? The dolphins?

No, this is not just the stuff of Hollywood. Since the late 1950’s, the U.S.Navy has studied the ways that marine mammals can aid military efforts at sea. Today, the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program trains and deploys more than 140 dolphins and sea lions from the programs headquarters in San Diego.

Navy Dolphin K-dog
A U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program dolphin named KDog, wearing a locating pinger, performed mine clearance work in the Persian Gulf during the Iraq War.

The two primary species involved are the Common Bottlenose Dolphin and the California Sea Lion.

Flipper Enlists

Because of their amazing ability to use sound to navigate in the water – echolocation – bottlenose dolphins are naturals for locating people and objects in the sea, including sea mines.

Dolphins are especially helpful in the open ocean. They can make multiple deep dives without getting “the bends” or decompression sickness, which would be harmful or fatal to a human. Most recently, mine-hunting dolphins were employed in the port of Umm Qasr in southern Iraq.

Sea Lions Get Their Man

A MK 5 sea lion is about to attach the recovery hardware to a simulator.

Sea lions have been trained to locate and retrieve undersea objects. Like dolphins, they help to locate and tag mines. Unlike their dolphins comrades, sea lions don’t use echolocation, but their vision in low light and murky water makes them excellent seekers.

Sea lions have been employed to patrol around naval ships at port and to alert their human partners if human divers approach. These critters carry leg cuffs as part of their undersea equipment. If they locate a diver in the water, the sea lions attaches a cuff with a rope to the intruder’s leg, allowing humans above water to reel the trespasser in.

For more about sea lions and their cousins (as well as their mythological buddies), check out this post. To learn about dolphins and their whale pals, check this out.

BONUS: July Poster Giveaway

Love marine mammals? Then, you’re gonna LOVE this month’s special giveaway: a fabulous out-of-print NOAA poster, Marine Mammals of the Western Hemisphere. Everyone who leaves a comment between now and the end of July gets one entry in the drawing. Link to this site on your blog and get two entries.

Only one week left – get your comments in now!

UPDATE: Check out this recent CNN clip from YouTube, showing a reporter trying to evade a Navy dolphin and what the dolphin does to catch her man. Too cool!

Also – lest you worry about the health and happiness of these marine mammals (as I did), they are released into the ‘wild’ frequently for training and choose to come back everytime. 

They also live long lives with the Navy.  One female dolphin I read about was over 30 years old, with 20+ years of active service. Among the sea lions recruits is a 27-year old male who is still going strong. (The average lifespans of these critters in the wild are 25 and 17 years, respectively).

Danielle Meitiv is a writer, marine science geek, gardener and mother who goes barefoot whenever possible. Danielle is also a huge fan and sales affiliate for Holly Lisle’s online courses: How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers, and How to Revise Your Novel. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, on Google+ Danielle Luttenberg Meitiv and on Facebook: Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog, and Danielle Meitiv.

I’m Diggin’ Friday: Feral Dill and Other Essential Herbs

Barefoot gardening is all about making life easy. What could be easier than plants that plant themselves – or stick around year after year with little to no help from yours truly?

Annual herbs fall into the first category, perennials into the second. And if you like to cook, few things will save you money like fresh herbs, which are so much cheaper to grow than to buy.

Not all herbs will seed themselves or survive year after year in your garden – but many will.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Annuals gone wild

Some of my  favorite herbs are annuals. That means that the plants don’t overwinter, but have to grow from seed each year. However that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to plant them each year. Many of them will plant themselves!

Feral Dill
What happens when dill goes wild - it plants itself in cracks in the path!

Dill is one such herb. I love it in cucumber salad, or with garlic, butter and new potatoes (see this post for more on that fabulous dish). It also goes well with cucumbers, fresh or when making pickles, and is delicious in soup.

If you do decide to use it in a hot dish, be sure to add it in the last few minutes of cooking or afterwards – its taste will be lost if it’s cooked to long. Fresh dill can help sooth the stomach after meals.

drying cilantro/coriander
You say cilantro - I say coriander. These plants are going to seed - and re-seed!

Another wonderful annual is cilantro. If you like salsa or gazpacho, this herb is for you! Funny thing about cilantro – either you love it or you think it tastes like soap. (I believe it’s genetic, depending on how your taste receptors respond to the herb’s aromatic compounds).

Even if you don’t like the taste of the fresh leaves, don’t dismiss this plant so quickly. Any fan of Chinese, Indian, or Thai food will want to use its dried seeds, also known as coriander. (Yes, a twofer herb!)

Cilantro has self-seeded itself EVERYWHERE I planted it, giving me enough fresh and dried spice to feed much of Central and South America, not to mention Southeast Asia…

I love you again and again and again…dependable perennials

Mint constrained
I planted mint in this concrete planter to keep it from taking over the lawn - and the neighborhood.

Many of my favorite herbs are perennials – meaning that a portion of the plant survives from year to year.

Mint is a classic and somewhat invasive example. When I first started gardening, I planted peppermint in my parents’ backyard. For years the yard smelled minty everytime they mowed.  Yes, it had spread itself all across the yard, growing in little aromatic tufts here and there…

Unlike some of the other herbs I’m discussing, mint doesn’t reseed itself. It grows roots in every direction and sends up young plants every so often.  I still love mint, but I’ve learned to confine it to a planter or container. It’s great for cooking and tea. I also like to toss a few handfuls into a pitcher of water in the fridge for a great fresh taste. Mint is also good for soothing the stomach and the rest of the digestive system.

Lemon blam
Lemon balm has seeded itself into the cracks between the path and the wall. The parent plant is visible on the left.

Another yummy tea herb is lemon balm. It’s a combo herb – a perennial that self seeds like crazy.  Here you can see where it’s taken root all along the path. I often toss a handful of lemon balm into the water with the mint, or put both in hot water for a wonderful herbal tea (or tissane, if you’re French :-)).

Parsley is a biennial, meaning that it grows for two years. however, the edible part  – the leaves – only grow in the first year, so I treat it as a annual. It is not great about self-seeding, but I have found it scattered here and there, including on the ground next to the compost pile.

Parsley is widely used all over the world, both as a fresh garnish and added to cooked dishes. It holds up better than dill, but not by much, so only add it in the last thirty minutes or so of cooking.

It is used to freshen the breath after meals, is very health, high in antioxidants and may have cancer-fighting properties. The Italian or flat-leaf form is tastier (IMHO) than the curly form, which is often used as a garnish.

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?

Simon and Garfunkel were onto something: sage, rosemary AND thyme are perennials. (We dealt with parsley above). All three four of these herbs grow in my garden.

Sage and thyme are easy and some varieties are even evergreen. Rosemary grows really well in my area (Zone 7A/ the DC area for those who are wondering) but will not survive the winters further north.

Perennial herbs: rosemary, lavender, tarragon, lemon balm and echinacea.
Perennial herbs: rosemary, lavender, tarragon, lemon balm and echinacea.

One possibility is to let it grow outside in a container (a BIG one if you can) and bring it in for the winter. All of these herbs have an earthy taste (which my husband hates) are are used a lot in southern European (Italian, Greek, French) cooking.

Rosemary is wonderful on foccacia, is high in anti-oxidants, and may have significant cancer-fighting properties. (In this photo, rosemary is the plant with the pine-looking leaves in the middle/foreground).

Thyme is good with soups and meat, is used a lot in Mediterranean food, and is the primary ingredient/flavor in zatar, a spice mix popular in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. It has antiseptic properties and its primary aromatic compound, thymol, is the active ingredient in Listerine.

Sage is good with beans and fatty meats like lamb, and it is traditionally used in Thanksgiving stuffing.

Sage’s scientific name is Salvia, which means to heal in Latin, an indication of how highly regarded this herb has been for it’s medicinal properties. It has been used as a astringent, anti-fungal and antibiotic among other things and one well-regarded study found that sage extracts were helpful in treating mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

I love you again and again and again – More wonderful perennials

Lavender takes a while to get established but once it does, you will never be at a loss for potpourri.  It is also used in cooking in the south of France in the relatively new spice mix known as Herbes de Provence. Lavender is also used to flavor cheese and the honey made from lavender flowers is exquisite!

Lavender has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties an the scent is said to be calming. I like to spray a little of the essential oil on my pillow at night.(Tiny lavender flowers can be seen on the right side in the photo above. The flowers next to them are purple coneflowers, otherwise known as Echinacea, good for cold and general immunity-strengthening).

Tarragon is used a lot in French cooking. It is considered one of the four herbes fines which are used fresh. (The others are parsley, chives and chervil – of course I looked them up!)  It goes well with chicken, eggs and fish. (Tarragon is the tall bushy plant that dominates the background in the photo).

Honorable mention

No discussion of herbs would be complete without the #1 favorite of gardeners everywhere: basil. I don’t mean to slight this wonderful plant, which is easy to grow and one of my all-time favorites. It’s just not repeat performer. As an annual it must be planted every year, but it doesn’t self-seed. (Why? My guess is that the seeds of this tropical plant – it’s originally from India – can’t survive even mild winters. If you live in the south, however, it might be worth a shot). Let some plants flower and go to seed  – and let me know what happens!)

However it is SUPER easy to grow.  In my area the seeds germinate very easily outdoors when the weather gets hot and the leaves are ready just in time for the tomato harvest!

If you want  some earlier, get a plant from the nursery or start it indoors. I have heard that it’s easy to keep basil growing in a pot indoors year-round, but have never succeeded myself. (My green thumb stops at the door – I kill houseplants regularly!)

Basil is used in Italian cuisine (duh!) as well as Southeast and Northeast Asian cuisine. (I love it in Thai food!) Basil is important in Ayurvedic medicine and has been found to have antioxidant, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties and may fight cancer (as if you needed anther reason to love pesto!)

How does your garden grow?

Any favorite herbs? Self-seeders or perennials I haven’t mentioned here?  Others you’d like to know more about?  Fabulous recipes or medicinal uses for any of the above that I haven;t listed?  Let us know in the comments below!

BONUS

This month’s special giveaway is this fabulous out-of-print NOAA poster, Marine Mammals of the Western Hemisphere. Everyone who leaves a comment between now and the middle of July gets one entry in the drawing. Link to this site on your blog and get two entries. Get your comments in now!

Danielle Meitiv is a writer, marine science geek, gardener and mother who goes barefoot whenever possible. Danielle is also a huge fan and sales affiliate for Holly Lisle’s online courses: How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers, and How to Revise Your Novel. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, and on Facebook: Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog, and Danielle Meitiv.

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I’m Diggin’ Friday: Digging Potatoes, Multiplying Tomatoes and a Devilish Book Party!

Digging potatoes: purple, red and gold

The first potato harvest came up this week! I didn’t intend to dig them up, although there were signs some of the plants were ready (past flowering and starting to brown).

I was reweaving the soaker hose through the bed when I saw a smooth purplish thing sticking out of the dirt. At first I thought it was a kid’s toy.

Some digging brought up more than two buckets full of purple, red and golden tomatoes!  I was only planning to dig up one bucketful but when the kids saw them, they insisted on digging some, too.

Eating our new spuds!
My daughter enjoying new potatoes with dill and garlic - all grown in our garden!

We’ll be eating potatoes for weeks to come. (Months if we don’t eat them all ASAP. When their skins are intact – that is when you don’t have a 3- and 6-and-a-half year old helping you dig them up – they store very well).

This is my first successful year growing spuds.  Tried last year but put them into the ground way too late (late April through early June). The temperature was too much for them in the steamy DC region: the plants wilted and the seed potatoes turned into gooey gummy blobs – gross!

White potatoes like to have “cold feet” – they need cool soil temperatures to develop well. This year I started putting them out the week of St. Patrick’s Day and finished by the end of March. Even my latest potatoes will be ready by mid-July.

Multiplying Tomatoes

Planting potatoes early also means that their beds will be available next month for more plants. I confessed to my husband that I didn’t know what to plant there and he looked at me with an indulgent smile, shook his head and said: “tomatoes, of course.”

A new tomato sucker - soon to be a new plant!
A new tomato sucker - soon to be a new plant!

Of course and not just because we love tomatoes.  From years of experience he knows that regardless of how many tomato plants I start with, dozens will be producing fruit by summer’s end. So how do these amazing plants multiple across the yard?

Suckers! (no that’s not an insult).

A sucker is the little plant that starts from notch between a leaf and the main stem. I’m a  big fan of removing these and trimming my plants  down to one or two stems, for ease of harvesting, to keep them upright, and to prevent them from becoming too bushy.

(This is true only for indeterminate tomatoes, the kind that will grow long rambling vines all summer. Check your seed packet or plant label or ask at the nursery or garden center if you’re not sure which kind you have).

Summer in my area can be very humid. Trimming the tomatoes helps air circulate around the vines, reducing mold and generally keeping the plants healthy. Trimming also results in lots of suckers that can be sprouted and planted to produce lots more tomatoes!

Tomatoes wirh small roots
These tomato plants are sprouting new roots after a week in water.

You can remove the suckers with clippers or pinch the small ones off with your fingers. Put them in some water. I prefer a glass jar so I can see the roots develop.

Some folks say that you don’t need to do this, they’ll just develop roots in the ground.  I tried that last year with only limited success.

Suckers are an important part of the barefoot garden – super easy to propagate easy and free! So pinch off those suckers and grow yourself some new plants.

A devilish party

This coming Tuesday, June 21st, YOU are invited to a devilish celebration, a worldwide party to celebrate the launch of the latest SIGMA Force novel, The Devil Colony, by fantabulous New York Times bestselling author James Rollins.

The Devil Colony is #7 in the SIGMA Force series, which revolves around a division of highly trained operatives and  expert scientists whose primary focus is fighting terrorism and protecting sensitive and confidential information.

The SIGMA series includes Map of Bones (May, 2005), Black Order (June, 2006), The Judas Strain (July, 2007), The Last Oracle (June, 2008), and The Doomsday Key (June, 2009).

jamesrollinsdevilcolonypartySo where’s the party? Online! Rollin fans everywhere will gather for twenty-four hours on Twitter under the hashtag #DevilColony. What’s the party’s theme?  You guessed it – Devil!

Dress fancy or put on your tails and horn,s and post pictures  of your devilishness online. Eat deviled eggs, create devilish cocktails for you and yours, and let us know!

James will stop by throughout the day (and night!) to chat with fans. He’ll check out the pictures, selecting favorites to post on his site’s Wall of Fame.  The best pictures will win a big mystery prize!

Never attended a cyber-party? Here’s your chance! Head on over to #DevilColony on Tuesday to see what it’s all about.

To get into the party spirit, follow @jamesrollins on Twitter. and check out this great interview between social media maven Kristen Lamb and Rollins right here.

See you on Tuesday!

BONUS

This month’s special giveaway is this fabulous out-of-print NOAA poster, Marine Mammals of the Western Hemisphere. Everyone who leaves a comment between now and the middle of July gets one entry in the drawing. Link to this site on your blog and get two entries. Get your comments in now!

Danielle Meitiv is a writer, marine science geek, gardener and mother who goes barefoot whenever possible. Danielle is also a huge fan and sales affiliate for Holly Lisle’s online courses: How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers, and How to Revise Your Novel. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, and on Facebook: Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog, and Danielle Meitiv.

Wonderful Waterful Wednesday: Celebrating Selkies and Seals

This week’s Wonderful Waterful Wednesday post goes out to Virginia Kantra, in honor of the release of “Forgotten Sea” the latest in her Children of the Sea romance series. Virginia’s stories feature selkies, shapeshifter men and women fighting for the future of their kind – and ours. If you love stories of the sea, check them out!

Selkies – from the Scot word for seal, selch/selk – are mythological seals who can shed their skin and become human. The selkie legend originated in the Orkney and Shetland Islands and spread around the NE Atlantic, from Iceland to the Faroe Islands, Scotland and Ireland. Selkie stories are often romantic tragedies featuring humans who unwittingly all in love with the shapeshifters, only to lose them to the lure of the turning tide. (Rest assured, Virginia’s romances are anything but tragic!)

Real seals are no less fascinating their their magical namesakes. Seals are part of the group Pinnipedia or fin-foots, which includes true seals, eared or walking seals (sea lions and fur seals) and walruses.

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Under the sea

Pinnipeds are well-adapted to their aquatic lifestyle. Their bodies are sleek and bullet-shaped, with wide flat fins to propel them through the water. They have fully collapsible lungs, which allows some species to dive as deep as 7,800 feet (a record held by the elephant seal) and reinflate their lungs afterwards. A layer of blubber keeps them warm, allowing them to spend hours in the water even as far north and south as the poles.

Pinniped eyes are adapted to see above and below the water’s surface, including a clear membrane or lid that protects their eyes underwater. And when the lights go out? Seals use their super sensitive whiskers to detect water movements and identify prey.

A study released last month found that seals can even use their whiskers to determine the size and shape of objects, a useful skill when hunting for prey in dark or murky waters. All pinnipeds are carnivorous.

Who you calling a seal?

The names of two of the groups of seals point to the characteristics that distinguish them from each other. “True seals” (Phocidae) lack external ears, although they do have ears and excellent hearing. Their two rear flippers are partially fused into a tail-like appendage that makes moving on land awkward but aids them greatly in the water.

While not as adept in the water as their cousins, eared seals (Otariidae) such as the sea lion can rotate their rear flippers, giving them some (relative) degree of maneuverability on land. And as their name suggests, they have external ear flaps. The ‘seals’ often seen circuses or aquaria are usually sea lions rather than true seals.

Walruses are easily recognizable by the long tusks and immensity, with an average adult weight of 1,900 (female) to 2,700 (male) lbs! They live exclusively in the Arctic, the last remnant of a the once widespread family Odobenidae.

Walruses are not the largest pinnipeds, however. Adult elephant seals can weigh up 6,700 lbs and reach 16 feet long!

Elephant seals, members of the family of true seals (Phocidae) are also the most aquatic for the pinnipeds, spending 80% of their time in the water. They can hold their breath up to 100 minutes – longer than any other non-cetacean (whale) marine mammal.

Elephant seals get their name, not from their size (although it is impressive!) but from their long trunk-like noses and the trumpeting sound the males make when startled, defending territory or fighting for mates.

From land to sea

Like whales, seals evolved from terrestrial mammals that returned to the sea. (You can read more about whales and their evolution in this post). They descending form a bear-like ancestor and took the the water around 23 million years ago.

In 2007, scientists in Canadian uncovered a fossil that helped explain how seals evolved from walking ancestors. The creature Puijila darwini, also know as the ‘walking seal’ is not believed to have been a direct ancestor of modern pinnipeds. Rather, it illustrates a possible intermediate step between living primarily on land versus largely in the sea.

P. darwini lived in the Arctic between 20 and 24 million years ago, when the region was forested and much warmer than today.

And you?

I am always looking for authors who can transport me under the waves from my inshore home – how about you?

Love seals and selkies?  Check out Virginia Kantra‘s Children of the Sea series!  Know of any other good marine fantasies? Mermaids and mermen? Sirens and sailors? Ghost ships, kraken or creatures of the deep? Let us know in the comments below!

BONUS

This month's giveaway: an out-of-print NOAA poster marine mammals. Start your entries today!

In honor of Virginia’s book, this post and marine mammals everywhere, I am giving away a copy of this fabulous out-of-print NOAA poster, Marine Mammals of the Western Hemisphere. All of the critters mentioned above are featured and more! Everyone who leaves a comment between now and the middle of July gets one entry in the drawing. Link to this site on your blog and get two entries. Get your comments in now!

Danielle Meitiv is a writer, marine science geek, gardener and mother who goes barefoot whenever possible. Danielle is also a huge fan and sales affiliate for Holly Lisle’s online courses: How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers, and How to Revise Your Novel. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, and on Facebook: Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog, and Danielle Meitiv.

Wonderful Waterful Wednesday: Living on the Edge

…all things are one thing and that one thing is all things—plankton, a shimmering phosphorescence on the sea and the spinning planets and an expanding universe, all bound together by the elastic string of time. It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again.

John Steinbeck (The Log from the Sea of Cortez)

Sea grass and kelp at Bodega Bay, CA
Bright green sea grass and shiny kelp at California's Bodega Head. Photo: David Liittschwager/National Geographic

I love tidepools, those bits of ocean left behind when the moon lures the water away for a while. They’re microcosms of the sea, featuring much of the diversity and spectacle that makes the ocean so extraordinary, in a tiny and accessible place. I wrote a blog post on these “sometimes oceans” a few weeks ago, which you can find here.

This week National Geographic has given me a wonderful opportunity to return to these incredible places. (All photos are from the June 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine, on newsstands May 31).

Photo: Brandon Cole/National Geographic

In “Brimming Pools,” author Mel White and photographer David Liittschwager explore the pools of the Pacific Northwest. The unique climate and geology of this region gives it the most diverse and spectacular tide pools in the world. The cold upwelling waters off the West Coast bring abundant nutrients to the shore. Frequent fogs protects exposed sea creatures from the sun and the absence of hard freezes mean the rocks are not scraped free of life in the winters.

Among the creatures described in the article is a species of Pisaster – a sea star. These creatures are remarkably strong and patient. A sea star will crawl along the tidepool floor looking for bivalves like mussels or clams.

When it finds one, it grabs onto the two halves of the shell and pulls, using its tiny suckers for leverage. When it’s pried the shell open far enough, it everts its stomachs into the shell and digests its meal. I kid you not.

Sea stars are far from the most bizarre creatures found in tidepools. Here’s a great composite of some of the creatures found in the pools of the Pacific Northwest.

The rocks and pools of the intertidal zone are home to an array of creatures fancifully named for their shapes and colors. Photo credit: David Liittschwager/National Geographic

For those so inclined, here are the names of these critters:

From top First row: red abalone, Cockerell’s dorid, ringed nudibranch, variegate amphissa, grainyhand hermit crab, ochre sea star, cabezon

Second row: red octopus, opalescent nudibranch, mermaid’s cup, smooth iridescent seaweed, San Diego lamellaria, purple sea urchin, hammerhead doto, leather star

Third row: red rock crab, calico sculpin, colorful dendronotus, stubby frond nudibranch, rough limpet, calico sculpin

Fourth row: red sponge nudibranch, chink snail, woody chiton, nereid worm, syllid polychaete, peanut worm, brown turban snail, red sea fern

Fifth row: shield limpet, sea clown nudibranch, red sea fan, monkeyface prickleback, bat star, green rope, red rock crab, flat porcelain crab

Sixth row: splendid iridescent seaweed, Farlow’s soft seaweed, blood star, six-armed star, Pacific sea comb, glycerid worm, sea palm, red gunnel, tinted wentletrap, surf grass, red sea cucumber

National Geographic June 2011 coverThis article and more can be found in the June issue of National Geographic.  Check out the article featured on the cover about how stone pillars in Turkey are inspiring anthropologists to re-examine their assumptions about when and why religion began. Enjoy!

Blogging and Writing and Blocks – Oh My!

Writing is going well. Checking in during the Round of Words in 80 Days? Not so much. I’ve come to the conclusion that Sunday blog posts are just not going to work for me. Sunday is for family and it’s really difficult to get time in front of the computer. When I do, I prefer to work on my fiction. So I’m dropping the Sunday update and focusing on Wednesday instead.

Overall, blogging has been a bit erratic lately. I’ve started a new writing project with a serious deadline – getting it up and running took up a lot of attention. I kept to at least one post a week but I prefer to do more than that.

I’ve committed to at least twice a week (“Wonderful Waterful Wednesdays” and “I’m Diggin’ Fridays”) and I’m thinking about adding a mash-up post on Mondays. An odd day for a summary, I know, but it’s the only one that fits into my schedule.

The fiction is going well. For the first time I’ve written out a synopsis before starting to write. It’s functioning as an outline, which is totally odd for me but working.

I hit a serious block about 4500 words into it. (It’s a short – I’m aiming for 10,000 to 15,000 words). What I’d written was awful. Not the first draft kind of crap – I mean totally flat. There wasn’t a single line that I liked. Not a good sign.

I took a step back and thought about the problem and realized that I just didn’t like my main characters. I didn’t get them and couldn’t write them. After some brainstorming with my husband (he’s great at it) I figured out what I needed to do; how I needed to change them.

It worked. In the last two days I’ve written 2500 words with very little effort. Whew!

And You?

Ever played in a tidepool? Touched a live a sea star? (Never gonna look at them the same way, eh?) Found your way over, under, around or through writer’s block? Let us know in the comments below! And remember to check back on Friday to see how my garden is growing – and tell me all about yours.

Danielle Meitiv is a writer, marine science geek, gardener and mother who goes barefoot whenever possible. Danielle is also a huge fan and sales affiliate for Holly Lisle’s online courses: How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers, and How to Revise Your Novel. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, and on Facebook: Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog, and Danielle Meitiv.

I’m Diggin’ Friday: Seed(ling)s of Discontent

My seedlings suck.  No really – they suck. After almost two months of nurturing well over a dozen tomato, eggplant, pepper and tomatillo seedlings under grow lights, it’s time I face the truth. They’re pathetic.

Eight weeks old and they’re only around four inches tall.  If you’ve never grown your own plants from seed, let me tell you: this isn’t good.

I tried to be a good parent. I gave them what I thought was quality soil, a good warm spot and grow lights on a timer. OK, so maybe one of the lamps isn’t working all that well, and I didn’t get around to setting the second one up until three or four weeks after the seedlings started.  That shouldn’t have made such a difference. But something did.

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No, I didn’t include the sad seedlings in this slideshow. They’re just too pathetic for primetime viewing.

Setting out on their own

In spite of their apparent unsuitability, I put them outside to harden off. Hardening off means getting them used to living outdoors gradually, so as not to shock their wee botanical systems. I do it by putting them outside under a plastic bin for part of the day so they get light and sun, but don’t get too cool in the evening or dry out.

I had planned to leave them in their pots for a few more days until I had a chance to clear their new home of leftover winter and spring greens. But my two-year old forced my hand, by upending several pots and scattering the inhabitants all over the path.

As if those poor buggers weren’t suffering enough already! So, yesterday I planted all of them I the one spot I had cleared and called it a “seedling bed” (as if that had been the plan all along!)

I should probably ditch them – they may be so little because they’re diseased (from a bad batch of soil or something). If they don’t appear to recover in the next week, I’ll just buy some plants. Hey, I got no problem with that. Fresh tomatoes are more important than pride!

How do my seedlings grow?

Failure aside, I will definitely try again next year. (Maybe even later in the season if I’m feeling ambitious enough to start some fall plants indoors in July). I’ve had seed-starting success before, so I will try not to won’t take this personally.

I started growing my own plants from seed two years ago. I do it ’cause it’s fun, it gives me something gardening-related to do when it’s too cold to plant outside, and it’s cheaper than buying plants.

My fancy-shmacy growing set-up consists of a shelving unit from Home Depot (to keep the plants away from my daughter’s little paws), a couple of $20 shop lights, and four 48″ fluorescent bulbs. My seed pots are re-purposed yogurt containers. (I’m not a fan of peat pots, which I find often do not breakdown as promised).

I picked up a bunch of cafeteria-type trays to hold all of these and reused some of those long black trays from a nursery purchase years ago.  The whole thing was less than $100 and I’ll have it for years!

The seeds…well, they’re a different story. It’s really a matter of personal interest and restraint. You can spend $10 on a half dozen packets and be done with it – or spend closer to $100 and gets lots and lots of seeds!  (Guess which one I did last year).

I don’t mind having lots of extra seeds ’cause I’ll use them for years. I disagree with the folks that say seeds only last two years and should be tossed if less than 85% are viable. (They’ll do germination tests in wet paper towels to get the percentage). If the seeds are old, and fewer may be viable, just plant more.  Drop two in the pot instead of one. I two come up you can always thin them out later. Still cheaper than tossing unused seeds.

Garden porn

It’s HARD to resist those shiny colorful garden magazines with their beautiful pictures of lush ripe tomatoes and firm succulent melons. Have you ever seen the Bakers Creek heirloom seed catalog?  The photos are so gorgeous my friend calls it “garden porn.” Even my frugal husband can’t resist recommending a few purchases for the garden when he thumbs through those catalogs. I’m an advocate of getting almost anything electronically, but I can’t stop requesting those catalogs  They keep me warm and happy thinking of summer when the ground is covered with snow.

Other favorite catalogs: Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Territorial Seed Company. While I’m plugging gardening companies (and no, I’m not getting anything for these endorsements), here are the folks I go to for live plants, seed potatoes and the like: Steele Plant Company (sweet potato slips ), Potato Garden (white seed potatoes), and J. W. Jung Seed Company (Jerusalem artichokes and berry bushes).

What’s coming up?

The rest of the garden is growing well.  I set my sweet potato slips out last week and they’ve taken really well. As I’ve written before, I’m a huge fan of growing sweet potatoes. So, don’t be surprised if they get a dedicated post when they really get growing.

The white potatoes are also doing well. The early varieties are blooming, which means that I’ll be able to dig up some small “new” potatoes soon!

I had no success with these guys last year, but that’s probably because I planted them too late. Unlike sweets, white potatoes do not like heat so they have to be harvested before the DC summer really sets in. This year they were in the ground around St. Patrick’s Day and will be out by early July.

Snow and snap peas are coming in (and my kids are eating them as fast as they appear). The salad greens I planted near the door are looking and tasting great. The mulberries and strawberries are ripening and getting eaten right off the plants and the raspberries, figs and currants are showing the promise of great harvests. (I see a dedicated fruit post in the near future as well).

The Jerusalem artichokes (not from Jerusalem, not an artichoke) are growing strong, and are expected to completely take over the yard around 2014. Yes, they’re aggressive but they’re also yummy and easy to grow and harvest so I don’t mind.

Overall, the garden is doing well.  I’ll keep an eye on my sad seedlings, empty out the rest of that bed, and head on over to the farmer’s market for some plants. I’m looking for tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers.  Suggestions?

How does YOUR garden grow?  Have any garden failures to confess? Successes to share? Leave ’em in the comments below!

Danielle Meitiv is a writer, marine science geek, gardener and mother who goes barefoot whenever possible. Danielle is also a huge fan and sales affiliate for Holly Lisle’s online courses: How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers, and How to Revise Your Novel. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, and on Facebook: Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog, and Danielle Meitiv.

Wonderful Waterful Wednesday: Ocean Heroes and Stylish Bloggers

This weekend the Blue Frontier Campaign and its partners will convene the Blue Vision Summit. Hundreds of ocean activists from all over the country will descend on Washington, DC to learn about ocean issues, experience ocean-inspired music and art and lobby Congress for better ocean policy. Among the speakers and guests will be some of the best known and passionate ocean advocates in the world. This week’s wonderful waterful post is dedicated to a half-dozen ocean heroes and the wonderful work they do.

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A Stylish Blogger

I’ve been given a Stylish Blogger Award! Yes, Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog has been recognized for it’s substance and style (well, it’s style at least) with this prestigious accolade.

So, what makes me a stylish blogger?  No, it’s not the bare feet. I’ve been nominated for the award by my fellow blogging buddy and writing group member (writing groupie?), Patrick Ross. I first encountered Patrick’s creativity through his tweets about creativity (Conveniently enough, he tweets as @on_creativity), and have since become a big fan of his blog, The Artist’s Road.

There are three obligations that come with the award: as I recipient I have to post seven random things about myself, nominate five other blogs, and link back to the wonderful person who nominated me. As a bonus, I get to display the Stylist Blogger Badge on my blog! (Check it out at right).

Seven random things:

  1. At the age of 6 or 7 (?) I proposed and debuted the role of Toto in a summer camp production of the Wizard of Oz.
  2. I have a naturally deep, scratchy voice, which prompted double- takes and comments from strangers when I was young: “Where did you get that voice?” (Occasionally, I told them I stole it).
  3. On a family trip to Senegal when I was ten, I was chased by a baboon wielding a dead parrot. My father had to scare him away.
  4. I pursued majors in bio and French in college and one of my professors tried to convince me to pursue a PhD in French lit. I can no longer read the papers I wrote back then.
  5. I shook hands with Nelson Mandela and attended a private speech he gave to the Independent World Commission on the Oceans in Capetown, South Africa.
  6. While recovering from a break-up in grad school (you know who you are!), I learned to knit, spent a month brooding and completed a sweater. In the process, I developed a wool allergy and have never been able to wear it.
  7. Before my first pregnancy, I couldn’t stomach the smell or taste of tomatoes or olives. Now I love both.

My five Stylist Blog Award nominees:

  1. Eat The Damn Cake. Kate is an author and blogger who writes about beauty, body image, women and dessert.  She does an “unroast” with each post, highlighting something she likes about herself. @EatTheDamnCake
  2. Three New Leaves. Blogger Matt Madeiro turned over three new leaves in his life: he lost weight, started to travel and embraced a minimalist lifestyle. In addition to blogging about it, he wrote two great e-books: Simpler and Roots. @MattMadeiro
  3. Jen Greyson, Author – Survival. Mama’s Point of View. Author Jen Greyson writes about disaster planning and survival in mama-sized chunks. Because survival is about getting what you want. @JenGreyson
  4. Shellie Sakai – Something Wicked This Way Comes. Author Shellie Sakai and her creepy crawly spider friend blog about wicked spooky things like demons and zombies. @shelliesakai
  5. Damian Trasler’s Secret Blog – Do Not Read! Playwright Damian Trasler posts top secret information about life, plays and…shhhhh…Canada. You should read it – but he may have to kill you afterward. @dtraslerwriting

I met Jen, Shellie and Damian through a wonderful online blogging course given by social media maven Kristen Lamb, who’s pretty stylish as well.

Round of Words in 80 Days: Wednesday Check-in

Writing is going well.  I’ve done my morning pages everyday except, gulp, today! (Will get to those as soon as I finish this post!). I sent a synopsis to my agent friend on Saturday. It’s for an erotic short story.
While waiting for her feedback, I started revising an older piece story that I think would also make a good erotic short story and I’m pleased with how it’s going.

This AM comments came back from the agent, however, so I’m putting the older piece aside. This week I’ll revise the synopsis to make it editor-ready (I’d sent her a rough draft to get feedback on the story) and enxt week I’ll start writing the story itself. I’ve agreed to get it to her in a month. Wish me luck!

I’ve met my blogging goals so far this week: Sunday and Wednesday posts and ROW80 check-ins. I’ve put aside the learning goals because I have so much writing to do. Of course, I’m learning while I’m learning “on the job”  this way, so it’s all good!

For a description of the Round of Words challenge and my ever-shifting goals, check out this post. To follow everyone else’s progress go here.

Danielle Meitiv is a writer, marine science geek, gardener and mother who goes barefoot whenever possible. Danielle is also a huge fan and sales affiliate for Holly Lisle’s online courses: How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers, and How to Revise Your Novel. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, and on Facebook: Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog, and Danielle Meitiv.

It’s Alright By Me

Darius Rucker AlrightShort check-in today because I was up until midnight last night finishing my synopsis and plan to spend tonight away from the computer. Writing is going well – I came up with a new story, pitched it and submitted a two-page synopsis.  Waiting for feedback and then I have a month to write it. My story includes an engineer who designs stock cars, so I’ve been learning about NASCAR from the web and a host of wonderful Twitter folks! I’m hoping to get to Old Dominion Speedway sometime in the next few weeks to check out a race myself.  I’ve been advised to bring earplugs.

Haven’t done much on the learning front – either Holly Lisle’s fab course How to Think Sideways or the Artist’s Way. I think I’ll put those goals aside for now and fit them in the next round. I have been doing my morning pages, regularly and before noon. They’re a wonderful tool for exploring ideas about a story in progress – and unloading all the BS like insecurity, self-doubt, and perfectionism that get in the way of writing.

Recently a writer friend noted that I always seemed so happy and wondered if I was at all discontent. I replied with a litany of things I wish I could have: more time to write and greater productivity when I do. The money, time and energy to pursue all those interesting pastimes I explored but abandoned in the past like rock climbing and martial arts. The opportunity to travel more and a more flexible job for my husband so we could spend 6 months living in Paris, Scotland, or India. (I’m a consultant so my time is pretty flexible. Besides, time in India would probably help advance my project).

You know what was funny about this exercise?  Rather than making me depressed or more discontent, it was cathartic. I felt lighter after putting my dreams out there. I realized none of them were do or die. I’m pretty happy right where I am.

I also realized that few of my wants are unattainable. I mentioned my list to my husband and he started thinking about what he could do to make more travel possible for us. We’re still a long way from 6 months in Paris, but now we’re planning 2 weeks in the fall. Not a bad start!

This afternoon I heard a Darius Rucker song that captured just how I’m feeling: Alright. It’s such a wonderful feeling and a fantastic song. Check it out here. Afterwards, give yourself a treat and head on over to YouTube to check out more of Darius’ music – you won’t be disappointed! (If you think the voice sounds familiar, you’re right. He’s the lead singer from Hootie and the Blowfish, all grown up and singing country).

You check out the other wonderful folks participating in the 2nd Round of Words in 80 Days. They’re all right here.

How about you? Are you content? Confused? Are there things you’d rather be doing with your life? Can you think of ways to make them happen? Try writing them down and sharing them with others – in the comments section!

Danielle Meitiv is a writer, marine science geek, gardener, and mother who goes barefoot whenever possible. Danielle is also a huge fan and sales affiliate for Holly Lisle’s online courses: How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers, and How to Revise Your Novel. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, and on Facebook: Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog, and Danielle Meitiv.