Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Art Fair on Sanibel Provides Great Day of Viewing, Chatting

We have been staying at our vacation rental home, Toucan House, for the past 5 weeks with 4 more to go.

This has been an unusal experience as we are generally rented for November and December and have never spent this much time on the Island or in the house.

Being here has confirmed our belief that Sanibel is indeed a unique vacation destination. And, having glorious weather for these last few weeks has enhanced our pleasure with the house and with the Island.

The crowning glory this past week was the Sanibel Masters Art Festival held this past week-end. The new space for the show is more visible than the old location and there is more room to roam and look at the beautiful work.

We were dazzled and entertained for a couple of hours, viewing the paintings, sculpture and jewelry presented.
Our biggest joy was meeting a Brazilian-American nature photographer who had a spectacular display of shots he took locally as well as some stunning pictures he has taken in Brazil.

We chatted with him a while learning of the scarlet Ibis in one of his photographs, a bird more commonly seen in South America. But he had spotted and shot it right here in SW Florida.
It's quite a beautiful photograph, as were the egrets and other Sanibel birds he had for sale, but our favorite was a little Toucanet.

Needless to say, we purchased it and are looking for the right spot in Toucan House to hang it!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

How to be a Perfect House Guest on Sanibel

We have been at our Toucan House on the Island for nearly 4 weeks.

In all the years we have owned
Toucan House, this is the longest period we have stayed in the home.
Being here for this stretch gives us a better understanding of the Sanibel, our neighborhood and the nuances of being a house guest as we have had several in this last month.

We have enjoyed our time with all, showing them around Sanibel and discovering the Island in ways we have not done before.
Every guest has been a good guest, some better than others.

But observing them, I think I have some suggestions for others who may own or rent a home and have visitors come for any period of time.

So here are my recommendations for being a perfect house guest, tongue in cheek to some degree:

  • Realize that Sanibel is a small, casual, tropical island and you really need not pack up your jewels from home to bring them here. The wildlife of the Island will not be impressed. In fact, do yourself a favor and pack as little as you can. It will make your life much easier.
  • While not a must, it's always better for you to ring the door bell with your old saying in my family which translates into "better to arrive with a house gift" than empty handed. Even a small token of a consumable (candle, bath soaps, bottle of wine, etc.) goes a long way in saying hello with a smile.,
  • Observe the flow of the house hold and either a. follow it or b. ask your home owner if it's cool to get up at noon when every one else rises at 7. Your host will probably say it is fine what ever you choose, and then leave you to your own schedule.
  • What ever time you arise, please come to breakfast fully dressed with hair combed. You may love the just got out of bed look, but more than likely your home owner will not. If your hosts are people who arrive at the table in what they will wear for the day, your PJ's are not appropriate breakfast attire.
  • If there is something you would really like to do and your house partners ask, do tell them. It may be suggested that you all do them together or you may be directed in seeking out your activities on your own, but either way it gives you all a starting point on how to plan the day.
  • Know a little about the Island before you arrive. Sanibel is garden of pleasures and treasures for those who value being near the sea and close to nature. If your expectation and/or need is a wild night life, you will probably be disappointed.
  • Have a great time. That is the best gift you can give yourself and your hosts. And, when you get home and get settled, regardless of your level or your hosts level of technology, send a thank you note. Yes, a snail mail, old fashioned, hand written hard copy card to tell your host that you had a nice time. Thank you never gets to be a boring word if it is sincere.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The good, the bad and the Ugly about Sanibel Island

A young relative of mine, wildly enthusiastic about wild life, is visiting Sanibel with her family.

They are staying at our condo on the Island and we were able to get to our house there today to have dinner for everyone.

It was a lovely time, but the conversation disturbed me.

She and her family were on the beach over the last several days and at one point observed a Cormorant who appeared quite listless. Because she handles wild animals in her career as a naturalist, she knew what to do to rescue the bird from the beach and was able to get it to C.R.O.W. (the Center for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife) to see what was wrong.

While C.R.O.W. does an amazing job in saving injured and sick animals on the island and all over the area, they were not able to help the Cormorant. It was undetermined exactly what caused the illness, so we can't jump to the conclusion that it was caused by human hands.

But when I heard some other stories of beach goers taking live shells from the beach, I could not help but wonder if there are people coming to the Island who do not know the rules. I felt especially so when I also heard of another couple who were tramping around in the cordoned off dune areas where birds and turtles nest.

For my own visiting family members, this was difficult to watch and though they spoke to the beach goers and advised them that taking live shells is not permitted nor is sitting and walking in protected areas, they were essentially told that it was none of their business.

But it was their business. They, I, we, when we are on Sanibel Island all must act as stewards of the land. They, I, we must be aware that this little barrier island is a safe haven for many species of wild life and that the rules are put into place to protect the ecology of the Island and to assure that the non human residents there in have a safe harbor.

I have never, in all the years of writing this blog, asked for any and all readers to pass on a post, but I do so now.

Please know the laws of Sanibel before you visit, and please make sure that everyone in your party knows and understands why they must be observed.

Thanks for reading this through....

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Gathering of Eagles on Sanibel Island

We had not planned to be on Sanibel today after changing some plans around but found ourselves there nonetheless.

It was sunny and breezy on the Island with few cars, people or even animals in sight.

Flags were flying from every church and community building and there were signs marking the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

We were not on Sanibel for 9/11 but much, much closer to the twin towers. In fact, we could at that time see the twin towers from the deck of our home. We did not personally know any one killed in the terrorist attacks, but knew several who, but for the grace of God, would have been working in the World Trade Center had they not called in sick, forgotten their glasses and returned home, had a meeting elsewhere on that morning.

The impact of that horrific event hit myself and everyone I knew extremely hard. Life seemed to stand still in a cloud of gray for weeks. We thought it was largely due to the geographic proximity, but heard from friends, colleagues and relatives the world over and the same sadness appeared to linger in their lives as well.

When we arrived on the Island weeks later, the sadness was there as well. Even a remote barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico was no retreat from the utter despair that still hung in the air. I'm not sure there would have been an escape anywhere, but certainly none on the East Coast of the USA.

So today it was no surprise to see the colors of the United States of America flying everywhere.

But what was a bit unusual and very moving was the gathering of Eagles. We have seen an Eagle on Island from time to time. But today we saw several, and they were very visible and in very "reverent" postures. OK, it could have been a pure coincidence that every Eagle on Sanibel was out and readily viewed. But then again, maybe it was not. Their presence gave us a chill: we could barely speak.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Things in their proper place: A Sanibel perspective

Sanibel is home to many creatures great and small, as well as terra firma for various flora.

But not all of them belong here.

And when something that is not indigenous invades, it is big trouble for the native inhabitants and a lot of work for the humans who reside here as well.

One blatant example of the misplaced was that of the Brazilian pepper. Brazilian pepper was introduced from its native range in Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. It is a multi-stemmed evergreen shrub that grows upwards of 40’ tall and due to its invasive nature in Florida, it is responsible for destroying thousands of acres of wildlife habitat on Sanibel.

To combat the damage and danger, The City’s Brazilian Pepper Eradication Program was adopted by City Council in 1996. The goal of this ambitious program is to rid the entire island of this invasive exotic plant. The program called for six zones of plant removal with various levels of mandates. It has been and continues to be a major project for the Island.

And then there has been the introduction of "exotic" pets such as the Burmese Python and monitor lizard that now call the Island home, encroaching on the survival statistics of indigenous species in the eat or be eaten world.

In these former two cases, the cross over was purely deliberate even if the outcome was not imagined.

But much benign, though equally potentially harmful "guests", have come to Sanibel in ways that were not imagined either. The Cuban Tree Frog is a current and good example. The Cuban treefrog spreads not only via ornamental plants, but also by motorized vehicles, trailered boats, and many other unusual methods.

This spread is devastating to the indigenous frogs because the Cuban treefrog grows to twice the size of both the green and squirrel treefrogs and is capable of eating them. Furthermore, the Cuban treefrog tadpole is a superior competitor to native tadpoles, causing even more pressure on the indigenous species. It also appears to be negatively impacting certain smaller fish in the locales it has moved into.

The Cuban treefrog readily gets into homes and condominiums, swims in toilets, can be found under sinks, has been known to short out electrical boxes, and generally wreaks havoc on the environment. Studies are now under way to explore the use of biological or chemical deterrents to halt or at least slow the continued spread of this invasive species.

Sanibel is indeed a paradise, but even a paradise has to be on guard!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Lunar effects on People and Dolphin Down Sanibel Way

Years before we purchased our vacation rental condo or house on Sanibel Island, I was smitten with a movie called El Boto. A "boto" is a kind of dolphin most often found in Brazil. And since I loved wild life, loved fantasy and loved Brazil, the movie was right up my alley.

El Boto is a strange, obscure Brazilian film that takes place in a picturesque fishing village, where the men spend their days at sea while their women wait for them on shore. A "Boto," visits the lonely women, and takes them as lovers before disappearing into the sea. One woman in particular becomes known as the "Boto's woman" and he returns after some years to reunite with her. "El Boto" is special in that it is a truly erotic film, without being at all explicit. The tale is based on Brazilian folklore and is certainly unique, and enchanting besides. One drawback of this fine film is that many scenes are filmed at night, by moonlight, and they are so dimly lit that it isn't always easy to see what is going on, but one does begin connecting the dolphin's appearance with the coming of the moon.

Like most people, I had grown up (half) believing the moon myths....of werewolves and insanity brought on by moon glow, though never had I seen evidence of such. But Isaac Asimov, author and professor of biochemistry, wrote an essay about the moon saying that the business of attributing strange powers to moon "shine" has validity. "Every once in a while, for instance, I hear of reports concerning statistical studies that seem to show that drugs have pronouncedly different effects on the human body according to the phases of the Moon, that crimes of violence, homicide, and suicide are particularly numerous when the Moon is full, and so on and so on. This makes it seem that there may be something to old folk-beliefs concerning the importance of the Moon, such as the one that different plants ought to be sowed at particular phases of the Moon."

Certainly no one can deny that the presence of the moon has an effect on the tides.

But I would further suggest that the moon not only invites playfulness on the beach among humans, but has dolphins dancing in the dark.

Don't believe me? Then come to Sanibel during a full moon, plant yourself on the beach and watch the dolphins jump over the moon.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Sanibel Pops with Never Ending Photo Opps!

I am humbled by the many great photographs I have seen taken on
Sanibel Island over the years. No, really I mean it. It takes patience to get that perfect shot, as well as luck in both subject matter and weather. We have been coming to the Island for over 14 years, and though we have some wonderful pix, we are generally so busy while there attending to our vacation rental properties that running about finding great photo opportunities is pretty low down on our list of things to do.

But thankfully, our guests----and particularly those that stay in our home, Toucan House----find no such obstacles in their way.

So when I heard from the Wyoming family who rented Toucan House for the month of May that they loved the home and had a wonderful time on the Island, I was gratified. But the appreciation doubled when I saw the pictures one of the group had taken. The photo here, titled by the photographer "Sanibel Line Dance" is one of several that truly tickled my sense of humor.

The photographs are compellingly composed and crystal clear. And I just loved Terry's whimsy in coming up with the descriptions.

Like many who come to the Island, he and his family love collecting shells. But there are times when the shell collecting is less bountiful than others. The weather, movement of the Gulf and tides do make a difference in the number and variety of shells to be found, but whether shells are in abundance or not, wild life always seems to be.

In Terry's words: "....I happened to buy a Nikon camera while I was staying at your house, which has transformed my whole beach experience. It used to be disappointing when there weren't many shells on the beach, but now I simply switch into photographic mode, and there seems like there is always something of interest to photograph, especially when one gets out early.....Bowman's Beach is surely the best place ....for photographing nature and wildlife. "

Well, looking at Terry's pix, I would have to agree. Take a look for yourself and enjoy what you see:

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sanibel and Sunshine: Things to Know Before You Go

We are full throttle into summer, the days are hot and sunny and though off set by other factors, visitors should not be mislead. Neither the cooling waters of the Gulf nor the balmy breeze through the trees will protect you from the sun's rays. If you want to be outdoors, the only real defense against sun burn is staying in the shade.

But, hey, who is going to come all the way to the beautiful and tropical Island of Sanibel and stay in the shade all day?
You know you will want to jump into the sea, take a dip in the pool, bike the Island or in some way immerse yourself in the inviting embrace of el sol.

But before you slather up, there are some things to keep in mind about the efficacy and impact of using sun screen. According to recent research, some sun tan lotions are more harmful than beneficial.

A form of vitamin A is added to some sunscreens to minimize the aging effects of the sun. What’s not to love about that? Potentially plenty: Researchers with the National Toxicology Program say retinyl palmitate–a vitamin-A compound used in at least 40 percent of American sunscreens–may speed up the development of skin cancer–related tumors and lesions when used on skin hit with sunlight.

And Vitamin A isn’t the only controversial ingredient slipped into some SPFs. Oxybenzone and octinoxate, common block chemicals, are linked to allergic contact dermatitis and photocontact dermatitis (irritation caused when certain chemicals are on skin that’s exposed to sunlight), as well as hormone disruption, in lab animals. But your sun screen can not only damage you, it can damage the environment as well.

Twenty thousand tons of sunscreen wash off swimmers, divers, and surfers into the oceans every year, eventually affecting marine life, according to a 2008 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives. And coral reefs are getting especially creamed. Researchers say sunscreens with octinoxate, oxybenzone, parabens, or camphor derivatives are killing hard corals (which could negatively impact biodiversity and reef ecosystems). None of this is a problem if you’re hiking, biking, or sunbathing on dry land. But if you plan to swim in the sea, slather on a biodegradable sunscreen that doesn’t contain ingredients that are mean to marine life.

Before using any sunscreen, make sure it has not expired, has been stored properly, and that any medication you are on will not make you more prone to burning.

Sanibel sunshine awaits your arrival, but do play it safe!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sanibel Recognized as Bicycle Friendly Community

One of the many attributes and attractions of Sanibel Island is the very easy biking it offers. The entire island is ringed by a gently use bike path, which occasionally is shared by walkers, those on segways and baby carriages.

But by and large, the cyclist is king and even going off the path, there are many areas that may not have an official bike-way but are so little used by autos that safety is not an issue.
And there are several places on Island to rent bikes of all kinds.

Billy's Bike Rentals is particularly diverse with wheel alternatives ranging from tandems to bikes for the physically challenged. Virtually any kind of bike you have seen or imagined can be found at Billy's.

So with 23 miles of bike paths and many options in bike rentals, it's no surprise that the Island has been designated as a very special place by the premiere bicycle advocacy group in the USA. The League of American Bicyclists has announced Sanibel's designation as a 'Bicycle Friendly Community'. The Island is one of 18 new Bicycle Friendly Communities. More than 400 communities have applied for BFC designation and, to date, 158 communities (six in Florida, including Sanibel), have received the recognition.

But the designation does not get awarded simply because of the existence of bike paths or even of bike rental companies. The League has a rigorous application and review process which includes research into whether the community supports biking in a number of ways. There are nearly 100 questions that must be answered in order to be considered for designation ranging from whether there are bike rodeos for kids to how the community supports national bike month, which by the way, is this month of May.

According to the league, "A Bicycle Friendly Community welcomes cyclists by providing safe accommodation for cycling and encouraging people to bike for transportation and recreation."
The designation publicity is a nice nod to the city manager and council of Sanibel as well as to the Sanibel Bicycle Club who have worked with the city to make Sanibel a bike friendly community.

And in this day and age with high gas prices and concern about obesity in children and adults, it's a perfect way to start re-evaluating how we use our money, our streets and our bodies.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Something to C.R.O.W. about on Sanibel Island

Though I have written blog posts about it before, I was just once again reminded of the extraordinary wild life experience Sanibel Island provides.

Our vacation rental guests at Toucan House had us over the other night and talked extensively about their volunteer work for the Center for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (C.R.O.W.). Now it's remarkable to me that vacationers will come to the island and spend a great deal of their time not at the beach, biking, shell collecting or shopping but actually helping not just the Island's wild life but the whole area's wild life.

Of course we have known about C.R.O.W. for quite some time, but being only temporary and fleeting visitors to the Island ourselves, we have yet to make a visit there. That will soon change.

John and Deborah, who have been renting Toucan House every March and April for 5 years, told us charming tales of how they will----as volunteers for C.R.O.W.---- pick up injured or sick birds and animals from around the whole area, and drive back to the island with all kinds of chirps, squeaks and honks coming from the cargo area of the van. Their descriptions had me laughing and curious.

So I went to the C.R.O.W. website, which may be newly designed as I have seen it in another form, and was so impressed with the mission of the organization. In the success story file, they had a picture of a magnificent frigate that was one of the "patients" at the Center and this description of the bird's rescue and recovery:

"The 1.43-kilogram bird had previously had a hook in her wing and line entanglement. "It's hard to evaluate their flapping and symmetry because they are so big," said Dr. Amber McNamara, the vet who supervises the clinic. "But I was able to feel along the length of her wing with my fingers, and there was no swelling or lacerations. She was just beaten down and exhausted from the struggle with the fishing line." Staff placed her in a double-wide cage in ICU and provided her with fluids and pain medication. She wasn't interested in eating any fish the next so staff tube-fed her fluids and the Chinese herb Four Gentlemen. Later they gave her a high-calorie carnivore formula. Dr. Amber said only about 25% of the frigate birds will eat in captivity."

Fortunately, this great bird did survive and regained its strength to successfully be re-introduced back into the wild. Other cases of successful rehabilitation of various birds, mammals and reptiles were told at the site, as well as how the Center offers adult and youth educational programs, nature walks, lectures and kayak/canoe eco tours.

When it comes to nature, its study and preservation, C.R.O.W. is certainly a great ambassador and icon for Sanibel and one of dozens of reasons a vacationer may want to come to this unique barrier, tropical island!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Gone Fishin' on Sanibel

If the thought of being on a boat in the middle of the ocean makes your stomach turn over, then you might be up for a Sanibel Island fishing experience.

Our Gulf of Mexico waters are generally calm, and anglers can be out as far out as 30 miles in water only 50 or 75 feet deep. Nice and peaceful does it!

In addition, on and around Sanibel and Captiva there are many other ways to experience the joy of fishing without tempting fate with mal de mer.

Inshore, back bay fishing is very popular and relaxing. One of the grand catches in these waters is the tarpon. And we are entering the period when tarpon will be migrating and in their greatest numbers, beginning in mid April.

Fly fishing (you know the type, the zen activity of the movie, A River Runs Through It) is often done from the shore line and in the mangrove swamps. The snook around Sanibel, though elusive, are numerous and are prized by knowledgeable fly fisherman all over the country. Though Sanibel's fly fishing is still a well kept secret so you won't find hordes of fly fisherman on the Island and can most likely manage to find a spot just to yourself.

But if you seek some socialization with your fishing, you can fish along with others at the Sanibel Pier, located next to the light house and a great place to meet up and compare notes with other fishing fans.

Whatever your game, Sanibel will give you the right spot and the right fish.

And should your greatest desire be to teach you grand son the ins and outs of fishing, there are plenty of pretty, safe places to do that as well...even if you both choose to catch and release and just savor each other's company in our brilliant sunshine and gulf breezes.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sanibel Treats for Discriminating Tastes

There is little we miss about New Jersey since moving to Southwest Florida.

Yes, friends and family to be sure.

But Sanibel Island and the surrounding area offer so much to see and do--- and in sunshine most every day--- that it is difficult to feel nostalgic.

But one thing, til now, that was missing on the Island and throughout the state was authentic Italian bread. There are approximates, and they come close, but no prize I'm afraid. But along comes Dolce Tesoro and a whole new world of the staff of life springs into being.

Dolce Tesoro is a tiny space with so much in the way of good smells that just opening the door is an incredible deja vu. It takes us back to the best of bakeries that dot the northern New Jersey and New York City map. The diminutive shop sells sweets of all kinds from tiramisu to a variety of gelatos, but the most exciting of the offerings is the Italian bread. Yes, it's that good according to all who have sampled it, even the most discriminating and knowledgeable of culinary enthusiasts !

The owners claim to have wanted to create a little taste of Italy, and they have accomplished their mission beautifully.

And speaking of Italian taste, for those not able to eat the bread at Dolce Tesoro, they have another kind of treat. The expanded gluten free menu at the delightful restaurant Matzaluna has been expanded. The once sampled and raved about gluten free eggplant parmigiana is now joined by such delicious menu items as pasta fagioli, stuffed mushrooms, shrimp fra diavolo and a variety of gluten free pizzas. So take heart you wheat intolerant and celiac diners...there is something on the table for you with no compromise in taste value.

On a diet and staying away from bread and high carb options? Well maybe the new Sanibel Perfume will please your nose as much as the smell of food. A blend of spicy citrus and tropical flora and is available to you as a perfume, body lotion, bath gel, and bath and body oil. It's a delightful scent and comes in a lovely box and bottle with, of course, a seashell design on the packaging.

Several shops on the Island sell it, and we bought a few bottles as gifts at Pandora's Box at its new location. Pandora's, old and new, has lovely merchandising in the shop. There is a wide variety of "treasures" that can be purchased for your own use or gifts to take home.

For a small island, mostly a nature preserve, Sanibel offers up a wonderful and engaging way to spend non beach time with its variety of restaurants and specialty shops.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Money and Sanibel Vacation Rentals: Five Reasons Your Offer Won't Work This April

In a much earlier blog post, I wrote about the difference between a seat on a plane and a vacation rental. The key factor is that a plane will fly with few people because it is a scheduled flight. A vacation rental can remain passive...and empty. There is no reason it must be rented or occupied.

With a rash of inquiries for April weeks, still high season on Sanibel Island because of the late Easter week, I find myself with the last 3 weeks still vacant. The obvious reason is that rental guests are seeking significant discounts, sometimes as much as 50% off the list price. As a rule, I do not discount at all until 3 weeks out of an arrival date, and then not usually deeply.

When I politely refuse these offers of 20 to 50 percent off my posted rate, many guests will ask why I won't take their offer. After all, wouldn't I rather have some money than no money?

I respond always and succinctly in most instances that I hope I will get my price since so many people are looking for those weeks. I also suggest that they should contact me in a couple of months if they have not found anything that they like better than my own properties.

But I don't usually have the time to give them the real reasons why I prefer not to rent for less than what I post as my rates. And here they are:

1. High season on Sanibel Island, when I and other owners make most of our money, only lasts 3 months at best. The rest of the year, shoulder or low season, the rate is significantly less and even half price. My opportunity to get my maximum rental is short lived.

2. Having people in a property always has a cost. Utilities, commissions, cleanings and the infrequent but still real damage that occurs are all deducted from the rent. It is the price of doing business, but a low ball rental offer is no incentive to take on the cost or the risk.

3. The rental property has a value. When the value is diminished with a very or even somewhat under market offer, I might do better swapping the property for a home exchange with another rental of equal or even greater value. A week in the Caribbean or the French country side is infinitely more appealing than the money being offered.

4. Because I don't even discount for repeat guests in almost all instances, I find it most discomfiting to discount for someone who has never been in the property. Additionally, I would not want a guest who paid full freight to know that another guest came in with a low ball offer. I would understand if my full paying guest did not appreciate the situation and I would prefer not to create it.

5. I work hard at keeping my properties inviting and up to date. I don't want to be perceived as a bargain basement owner and would not want anyone expecting next year what they got this year in the way of a discounted rate. So better not to even open up the door to possibility on that one.

By and large I love our guests and am particularly happy when they have a good time and tell me about it or celebrate a special event in our rentals. But this is a business and I endeavor to keep it a business. Accepting low ball offers this far in advance flies in the face of every business principle I know.