My morning paradise

My morning paradise

This morning I visited Lighthouse Beach on Sanibel to take photographs for one of my paper’s features called Faces.

P1060317 P1060316

I arrived shortly after 8 a.m. with my camera in hand ready to capture wildlife. The clouds kept the sun away for the entire hour I stayed. With clouds built as far as I could see, I still walked away with more than 130 pictures.

20150730_082530

Although the sun did not beat down on the beach, the wildlife still made its presence. I had so much fun watching the birds every move while capturing their hunt for food in the water and on the sand.

FACES_Lighthouse Beach1

FACES_Lighthouse Beach8

FACES_Lighthouse Beach4

Most of the birds did not pay any attention to me. I tried to give them their distance as I used my zoom to capture them.

The osprey, perched on the side of the lighthouse and in their nest were the most intriguing.

FACES_Lighthouse Beach3

FACES_Lighthouse Beach5

FACES_Lighthouse Beach6

P1060388

 

The highlight of my trip to the beach was of course the dolphins. Spotting a dolphin will never grow old, never! There is truly something special about watching them play in the water. Today there were three or four of them swimming together.

FACES_Lighthouse Beach2

I swatted away many sand fleas while trying to keep the camera steady to take photographs of the dolphins.

I thought of my puppy Lucy when I spotted this little lizard. She would have gone nuts trying to chase it.

FACES_Lighthouse Beach7

The pictures below were taken on a sunset cruise Jason and I took last month of the Lighthouse Beach. It was a completely different perspective . . . a beautiful way to see the shoreline.

Princess6

Princess7

Princess8

 

Next month will mark two months since I started on Sanibel as the editor of the Islander. The excitement has not gone away . . .

I work in a beautiful place, a place where I get to explore on a more intimate basis.

 

 

 

‘Good food makes people happy’

‘Good food makes people happy’

Sanibel Secrets

Sanibel chef opens his home to a variety of animals

Published in the Sanibel-Captiva Islander July 8, 2015 issue

The backyard of Dave Krajnak’s home, which began as a sanctuary for many animals recovering from an injury, has become a forever home for many varieties of birds, turtles and iguanas over the years.   

He said he developed a love for animals as a young boy growing up in Wisconsin due to the proximity of farms surrounding his folks home. Krajnak said his wife Blanche’s, love of animals is partially why many of the animals were adopted, because she fell in love with each one as they took care of them.

SECRETS_Dave Krajnak2

The couple worked with CROW for many years helping rescue animals – and on occasion provided a foster home for them. A number of their African sulcata turtle’s, the third largest tortoises in the world, came from CROW.

Krajnak said they purchased their first sulcata from a reptile fair in 2002 before additional tortoises joined the family as rescues. Two of them were found after hurricanes, and one was found walking on the island.

SECRETS_Dave Krajnak1

The backyard has been turned into a sanctuary for the tortoises, providing ample opportunities to walk into huts Krajnak built to provide shelter. The yard, which is now sand, also gives the tortoises the opportunity to dig when they are feeling dehydrated.

He said after it rains, the tortoises flip mud onto their backs from the water that forms into puddles to stay cool. The tortoises also fling dry sand onto their backs, again to stay cool.

The tortoises eat eight or nine cases of romaine lettuce a week, which is a good water source for them. They also eat vegetables like zucchini and squash, as well as prickly pear.

Toby is the couple’s biggest sulcata tortoise, weighing in around 275 pounds.

SECRETS_Dave Krajnak6

Others that share a smaller portion of the the backyard include the red foot and yellow-foot tortoises.

Cuban, blue rhino (otherwise known as a blue iguana), and regular iguanas can be found in large cages right off the back porch of his home, all ranging in size from small to large, and have many levels to enjoy in their habitat.

Krajnak said after you work and spend time with the iguanas, they become tame, which affords him with the opportunity to hold them when wearing gloves.

In addition to the reptiles, many songs can be heard while visiting Krajnak’s home from the cockatiel’s, a ring-neck parakeet that was found at Jerry’s Food’s, finches, and an African gray parrot. Two conure also call the Krajnak’s their home.

SECRETS_Dave Krajnak3

He said when they took in Ricky, one of the two conures, he had no feathers and his skin was completely irritated. After drinking fresh water, the feathers started to grow back.

“When you get to know their attitude and activities it creates trust and it helps,” Krajnak said of the birds.

When Krajnak is not taking care of the animals, he is spending time at The Lighthouse Cafe, where he became the chef almost 26 years ago in 1989.

“I love playing with food,” he said. “Good food makes people happy.”

As the chef, Krajnak takes on the task of creating five or six specials a day for the “board” at the cafe. For dinner he creates a chef menu, often including a variety of available seasonal fish.

In addition to creating menu items at the restaurant, Krajnak also spends time preparing food for catering jobs, many of which are done through the restaurant. Often Blanche, who works at the bakery at Jerry’s Foods, helps with catering by baking desserts for the party.

SECRETS_Dave Krajnak5

One of his longest catering gigs happened in 2004 when Hurricane Charley impacted the area. He cooked and prepared food alongside his wife for 11 straight days. What started off as serving 40 people ended with more than 100 by the end of the 11 days.

The idea sprang after the restaurants on the island were having a hard time keeping the food fresh without electricity. When that food started going bad, Sysco Foods began dropping off food to use.

The couple cooked food for such entities as law enforcement, Florida Wildlife and marine patrol during the cleanup effort.

A tent was erected and a table was set up, so the food could be served buffet style.

The menu included such meals as steaks, potatoes and corn to barbecue pork, beans corn on the cob and corn bread and sloppy joe’s, coleslaw and German potato salad.

SECRETS_Dave Krajnak4

Many times Krajnak was escorted in by Scott Ashby of the Sanibel Police Department because of the standstill traffic on the island. He said the sirens were turned on and as he drove onto the causeway everyone began clapping and boats started to come in knowing there was good food to be enjoyed.

Mangos topic of Community House potluck dinner

Mangos topic of Community House potluck dinner

Mangos topic of Community House potluck dinner 

Published in Sanibel-Captiva Islander July 1, 2015 issue

The Community House came alive Wednesday night as individuals drifted into the facility with dishes in hand to share with others during the Wednesday potluck dinner and presentation by FruitScapes Owner Steve Cucura.

The large round tables filled with smiling faces as individuals caught up with friends and introduced themselves to some of the new faces that graced the center.

As attendees filled plates high with a variety of appetizers, entrees and desserts, they also had the opportunity to taste four different kinds of mangos that were at each table – Tommy Adkins, cogshall, nam doc mai and kent.

Mangos1

FruitScapes owner Steve Cucura began his presentation by giving an overview of the history of mangos, which are indigenous to India. He said mangos do not have a big production in the United States and they are hard to import because of the time it takes to ship them into the states.

“I’m from Virginia originally and I grew up tasting mangos in the grocery store and hated them,” he said. “I tried them one time and I never ate a mango again when I was living up there. I thought that was just how mangos were. Mangos are not an American produce. They only grow it in Florida and very restricted areas in California.”

In the late 1980’s Cucura was introduced to the mango again after visiting with a friend in Sarasota, who had a mango tree that grew a variety of 15 different kinds on one tree.

“I thought it was pretty extravagant having so many different varieties on there,” he said.

After Cucura tried a mango fresh from a tree he became hooked and traveled to India where he was introduced to more varieties.

“They have selected and kind of human engineered better varieties,” Cucura said of mangos that started in India thousands of years ago.

From India, the mangos traveled throughout the tropics before being introduced to Miami in 1880. Mangos do well in Florida because the weather is similar to that of India. Cucura said in India they have a drought for eight or nine months and a monsoon season for two or there months, which is very similar to Florida.

“Our climate mimics the India climate very well,” he said making the mango tree the easiest fruit tree to grow in Florida.

The mango eventually made its way to Pine Island when groves were established in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The mango is significant to Pine Island because the land is cheap and there are not too many tourists because there are no beaches, he said

Cucura said the north end of Pine Island is the best place to grow mangos because it is south of Charlotte Harbor, which holds all the heat during the winter time.

Mangos only ripen during the summer because once the temperatures drop below 70 degrees they no longer go through photosynthesis. He said mangos need both heat and moisture to produce a fruit.

The peak mango season falls between the beginning of June to the end of August. Cucura said they have about 80 varieties of mangos that will ripen one week after another with July 4 being when the ripe mangos overlap the most.

Cucura also shared information on how the mango tree was initially grown, compared to how it is grown today at his nursery in Bokeelia. He said when producing fruit an individual has to take all the seeds from the tree and grow them, which usually amounts to 1,000 trees.

“Some of them will survive and some of them will not. Some of them will wind up making a lot of fruit and some of them will not,” Cucura said. “Some of them will be a sweet fruit and some of them will not. You go through and select and narrow it down to one out of the thousand seeds that you planted.”

The mango that bares the best smelling leaf typically is among the chosen plant because it means the fruit will have the most flavor.

“Any mango that doesn’t have a stronger smell in the leaf is eliminated almost at birth,” he said.

Mango trees typically grow between five to eight years before they bare fruit because of the juvenile period they go through.

However, mango trees at Cucura’s nursery are grown under different circumstances. Although he grows mango trees by seed, he cuts the top of the tree off when the seedling becomes about a foot in height. Once the top is cut off, Cucura then takes a branch from the mother plant and grafts it onto the seedling.

The process is similar to surgery due to the tree being wrapped up and bagged before being placed in the greenhouse for a couple of months, so it grows and recovers and becomes a clone.

“The root stock is still the seedling, but the top that gives you fruit is a clone of the nam doc mai and it will give you fruit even if its only this tall,” Cucura said showing his hand mid waist. “A grafted tree will give you fruit right away even if it’s small.”

The tree, which is one of the most salt tolerant fruit trees, does not take much care to keep alive. On average it grows two to three feet a year. He said the best way to take care of a mango tree is by placing mulch around the trunk to replace some of the nutrients that are depleted during the fruit baring process.

The next potluck at the Community House will be held on Wednesday, July 22 featuring nutritious summer salads from Executive Chef and The Sanibel Sprout Co-Owner Nikki Rood.

‘It bloomed and I was hooked’

Exotic orchid blooms on Sanibel

Published in the Sanibel-Captiva Islander June 17, 2015 issue

The coryanthes cacrantha orchid, which has a nickname of the "bucket orchid."

The coryanthes cacrantha orchid, which has a nickname of the “bucket orchid.”

Joe Salatino was pleasantly surprised last Wednesday morning when he walked outside and noticed his exotic orchid in bloom for the first time since planting it more than a month ago.

The coryanthes cacrantha orchid, which has a nickname of the "bucket orchid."

The coryanthes cacrantha orchid, which has a nickname of the “bucket orchid.”

The Sanibel resident found a grower in northern California after researching the coryanthes cacrantha orchid, which has a nickname of the “bucket orchid,” online. He said he wanted to take a chance and see if he could get it to grow.

The bucket orchid is a native of South America and has a scent similar to licorice.

“This is the most complex, interesting and beautiful orchid I have ever seen, or grown,” Salatino said.

Joe Salatino holds his bucket orchid.

Joe Salatino holds his bucket orchid.

Once the flowers bloomed, an euglossini bee, which is green in color, began flying in and around the “bucket orchid.”

“It opened and the bees started showing up and pollinating,” he said.

While living in southern California in the 1960s, Salatino used to drive past an orchid greenhouse with a sign that read “exotic orchids of the world.”

One day he finally decided to stop and the owner showed him around the greenhouse that expanded more than an acre and explained every orchid to him.

Six months later he returned to the greenhouse and stumbled across the cattleya orchid.

“I was stunned of how beautiful the orchid is,” Salatino said.

He was given instructions of where to place the orchid in his apartment, as well as how to water and take care of the flower.

“It bloomed and I was hooked,” Salatino said.

Soon after purchasing his first orchid, he came across a book that read “welcome to a journey that many people begin and few finish,” on the front sleeve.

His journey continued in Dallas, Texas, with more than 1,000 plants in his greenhouse. Salatino now has 175 plants on Sanibel at his home. He designed an outdoor space that fits into the environment where the orchids either hang or sit on a table.

Salatino said a lot of the orchids have different needs, some which are specific nutritional needs. A number of his orchids are kept shaded with a fan pointing on them because they strive better in cooler environments.

Once the orchid is placed in the best climate, Salatino said you can pretty much leave them alone.

“I love to find exotic orchids that are challenging to raise and get them to bloom,” he said.

The hobby that began in 1975 has brought a tremendous amount of joy to Salatino and his family and friends.

“It’s a wonderful hobby to share,” he said.

Salatino is a member of the American Orchid Society, Sanibel-Captiva Orchid Society and Southwest Florida Orchid Society. While living in Texas, he won many awards for his orchids and provided speeches to further educate others about the flower.

“Orchid people are pleasant and we have a mutual love for these plants,” Salatino said. “It’s a very peaceful hobby.”

Another chapter starts

Another chapter starts

At 6 a.m. I slowly crawled out of bed as my alarm woke me Monday. Pure excitement washed over me as I got ready for my first day as the new editor of the Sanibel-Captiva Islander.

I was leaving to go to work. I was heading to an office where I would be working with others. My streak of working only out of my home doing freelance work came to an end that morning.

The hardest part of Monday was saying goodbye to my little puppy who I have spent pretty much every day with since we adopted her in April 2014. The look she gave me as I closed the garage door made me smile as memories flooded of the time we have spent together. My heart broke a little knowing that she will now spend a good portion of the day alone.

The goodbye with Jason carried me through the jitters of my first day. He always knows the right thing to say at the right moment. His excitement shined through his sleepy words and his sweet smile as he looked into my eyes. For the first time in two years, I was the one who kissed Jason goodbye, wishing him a good day as I left and went to work.  As I walked out of our bedroom, a smile swept across my face.

It’s true I have the support of a beautiful man. A man that has continued to share how proud he is of me through my career changes over the past almost six years.

That morning reminded me of a day in September 2009. I moved back to Fort Myers from Arizona a few months prior and began a job search. After a few months, I found a listing for the Cape Coral Daily Breeze and went in for an interview. I was at Jason’s place when I got the phone call . . . I was hired as a new reporter for the paper. The excitement he shared with me that day was beyond supportive. A memory that still makes me smile.

The sky was blue with typical Florida temperatures engulfing the car as my drive to work began before 7 a.m. earlier this week. It was the most relaxing 40-minute drive. As soon as I crossed the toll for Sanibel my shoulders relaxed and my back hugged the seat a little more as I took in the view of the water. Cars were already parked along the causeway as another beautiful day unfolded. I stopped where no other cars were parked next to the water, took a picture and breathed in the salt water before continuing my trip to the office.

First day at Islander

I did it. I was offered a full-time position, a position that will allow my passion of writing to continue.

The same smile I had after walking out of our bedroom surfaced again as I opened the door to the office. It remained as I introduced myself to Craig who I am replacing.

We shared information about ourselves before diving into the responsibilities I will be taking over come Monday morning.

I honestly felt like I was home again. As I sat in his office, soon to be mine, the passion of my craft consumed me. I am faced with another challenge . . . well opportunity . . . of making another newspaper into a great weekly sharing the news and stories of the island.

One of the true beauties of this career is the endless opportunities it provides in getting to know, fully diving deep into the character of a community. Although I grew up in Southwest Florida and have spent time on Sanibel, I really do not know the community well. Now, working on the island I have the opportunity to really get to know what makes this area a destination for so many.

My first day sped by relatively fast. It was absolutely perfect. That smile remained throughout the entire day. I was introduced to people, got some leads on stories and had the opportunity to see some of the beautiful island.

That night Jason, Lucy and I went to Fort Myers Beach to embark on one of my favorite past times. We stopped at Publix and I ordered us subs before we headed to our destination. We used to eat dinner on the beach while watching the sunset before we left for Tennessee.

Before we left the house it started raining, but since we live in Florida we ran to the car and hoped for the best. It rained on and off the entire drive to the beach. We ended up eating dinner in the car waiting for the showers to finish.

Fortunately the rain stopped and an incredible sunset covered the night sky.

rainbow

That night was the first time Lucy truly got to experience the beach. Although she was extremely hesitant of the water, Jason and I eventually encouraged her to get her feet wet.

IMG_3370 edit

IMG_3383 edit

IMG_3392 edit

 

IMG_3382 edit

Lucy and Jason edit

 

IMG_3377 edit

 

IMG_3378 edit

IMG_3367 edit

IMG_3384 edit

 

sunset edit

IMG_3409 edit

IMG_3435 edit

It was a perfect ending to a perfect day.

The next few days were just as successful as the first.

There is truly no better feeling than working in an office with others who have the same passion as mine. It’s nice to be surrounded by others, instead of being isolated in my home interviewing people over the phone.

Another perk of working on Sanibel came to fruition Thursday night on my way home. For the first time since Jason and I started dating we work in the same area. So, before I left the island I stopped by Jerry’s where he cooks and said hello.

With our hours, most of the time we only get to see each other at the end of the day, when I’m falling asleep on the couch waiting for him to come home.

Although it was a brief visit, it was great to see him.

With a smile on my face I began driving off the island when a rainbow caught my attention. The water began calling my name, so I decided to stop on the causeway and get out of the car. The weather was perfect at that moment as my hair started flying in every direction with the wind coming off the water. I stood there taking in the scenery, smelling the salt water and listening to the wave’s crash against the shore. I probably stood there for 15 to 20 minutes.

causeway

 

061115

 

causeway 061115

As I climbed back into my car I was completely relaxed as I drove the rest of the way home. It was at that moment that I truly felt grateful for the life Jason and I have. At that moment I began thinking about my journalism career here in Southwest Florida.

Since September 2009, my editor Val has taken care of me. I have gained heaps of experience as my duties change as a new position opened.

When I shared I would be moving to NE Tennessee in 2013, she kept me on as a freelance reporter. A phone call sharing that Jason and I were moving back to Florida offered her word in keeping me busy with freelance work until something full-time popped up. Val kept to her word. My workload tripled for the Cape Coral Daily Breeze as a freelance reporter.

Last week my world changed when I received an email from Val asking me to call her. That phone call, which led to a meeting in her office, was another promise kept.

I love what the beginning of this new chapter has offered so far. I’m excited to fully dig in next week when I no longer have to shadow the editor who is here now.

I firmly believe that our move back to Southwest Florida was meant to be. I continue to feel myself relax while the stress diminishes.

This week, although has worn me out, has been one of the best week’s I have had in a long time. I’ve met some really nice people, have seen some beautiful places and have contributed articles to a newspaper that will soon be filled with my byline.

Forty-six

Forty-six

Friday, April 24, I woke up beyond excited. My countdown was nearing the end. My countdown of when I could leave to pick up Jason.

As the morning progressed, my mood enhanced. The excitement was hard to control.

Friday marked the 47th day since Jason left. I was finally able to greet this man I love face-to-face at the Asheville airport.

On March 9, Jason left for Florida to start working on Sanibel at two jobs he was offered.

I remember that morning like it was yesterday. I remember the emotions that took hold, well to be honest, consumed me. That morning, March 9, was one of the hardest things I was ever faced with. You ask why?

Jason was leaving me in Kingsport, more than 800-miles north of his final destination.

My best friend, my boyfriend, my rock was leaving until we could make ends meet. Our goal was to work countless hours and get enough money together, so he could come back to get me and all of our animals and head back to Fort Myers.

The 46-days we spent a part had many high and low points.

It’s truly inspiring to see what you are capable of doing when faced with a situation like that. A situation where I was living by myself in a state where I had no family or good friends to lean on when needed.

I found such an incredible amount of independence deep down that I had no idea was there. I stayed true to my plan . . . I continued to live without the best part of my life right next to me. I found time to go running with Lucy, my puppy, reaching distances that made me proud. I even found a new passion of cooking healthy meals that were absolutely delicious.

The best, truly gratifying part, was the amount of work I was able to accomplish doing freelance writing for the three papers that hired me. I wrote enough articles and did enough editing to pay all of our bills for the entire month of April. All of our bills were paid by the second week of the month. That spoke volumes. It only reaffirmed that I could take care of myself, truly take care of myself while keeping a roof over my head and food on the table. That accomplishment set the ball rolling in the right direction. All of the hours Jason was working could completely go towards our move back to Fort Myers.

With that milestone met, I was able to book a plane ticket for Jason on April 7, Day 30 of us being a part.

Even with all the positive thoughts I tried to keep in check, I still had a few breakdowns, a few more than I hoped while Jason was away.

It’s crazy how many emotions you go through. I found myself crying at such random times, and also smiling when I least expected. The daily phone calls from my mom on her way home from work were comforting. My older brother also called often checking in on me.

My favorite part of the day was when Jason would call. I could not fall asleep until I heard his voice, to hear how he was doing, to hear he was okay.

I remember one breakdown as clear as day. It started one Friday night while Jason was away. I completely broke down. Lucy, our puppy, helped tremendously that night. She instantly became concerned as the tears violently fell. Lucy began licking the tears away before cuddling in my lap, helping me to gain composure again. I remember walking to bed, but was unable to sleep well at all. The next day my anxiety reached its highest point leaving me paralyzed.

That day was awful. I felt helpless. Everything I tried didn’t help.

Through it all, I felt an incredible amount of closeness to Jason as I lived my life in Kingsport, and he lived his in Fort Myers. Although we were living our separate lives, I felt we were still sharing our life together. We became closer. He remained my rock. He gave me tough love when I needed it to break through when I got the sinking feeling.

Jason shared how much he loved me and missed me on a daily basis. I felt how hard it was for him, as well, through our conversations. I knew, without a doubt, that he was doing everything in his power to come back to me sooner. Although he sounded exhausted on more than one occasion he woke the next day and worked another 15+ hour day, all so he could keep that promise he made before leaving.

So, back to Friday, April 24.

I arrived at the airport at 12:27 and he was supposed to land at 12:32. It was absolutely perfect timing. I had enough time to make a quick bathroom break and then stand where I could see Jason come into view.

It never fails. Six minutes turned into the longest 45-minutes of my life. Jason’s plane was delayed leaving Punta Gorda.

As soon as I saw him, I felt my entire body relax. I felt complete again. My true love was now in my presence. He was now standing in front of me. I was able to hug him, kiss him, see his smile instead of hearing the smile form over the phone.

I was giddy as all hell.

The relaxation that flowed through Jason’s body told me our decision to be a part was more than worth it. It was worth it because everything was coming together for us. Almost like it was meant to happen the way it did. Jason has been able to find work and continues to find more work. The stress we felt about making ends meet in Kingsport, I could sense was vanishing. He almost looked stress free. I didn’t even have to ask if we did the right thing.

The rest of the day was absolutely perfect. It was spent one-on-one, as well as with some of the friends we had made in Tennessee. I must have told Jason a hundred times how nice it was to have him back home. Well home, for the next 24+ hours until we headed south to Fort Myers.

Leo and Lucy at one of the many gas stations we had to stop at to fill up the truck.

Leo and Lucy at one of the many gas stations we had to stop at to fill up the truck.

After the truck was packed and we said our goodbyes to Frazier, we slowed down and fell asleep for a while before we hit the road at 1:30 a.m. Sunday.

Those early morning hours finally ended as we arrived in Fort Myers around 8 p.m.

It was an incredibly long drive, especially when traveling with three animals.

Our poor Leo had a difficult six or seven hours before he finally calmed down and found some comfort with our puppy Lucy. Kimber was frightened and let us know she wanted out of the truck hours ago.

20150426_123623

Leo

 

Kimber

Kimber

 

Lucy

Lucy

 

Leo finally relaxed as Lucy layed on him.

Leo finally relaxed as Lucy layed on him.

Even through the constant desire to be out of a moving vehicle, Jason and I had some amazing conversations, especially as we neared 17 hours on the road.

Our connection only intensified. Our connection only strengthened, as we had those deep conversations of our present circumstances, our future plans and goals.

A cloud came into view that resembled a heart as we neared Fort Myers.

A cloud came into view that resembled a heart as we neared Fort Myers.

Time a part definitely makes the heart grow fonder. I feel so much closer to a man I had already felt a deep connection with.

Now we are in the limbo stages staying with my parents until our new place is ready this weekend. I’m looking forward to making us a new home once again. I’m looking forward to getting us to the point where we can both relax with all of our belongings and animals all under one roof again.

Another chapter has been closed. Another chapter is already well on its way. Our lives are intertwined again in the same state, under the same roof.

We are living in Southwest Florida once again surrounded by family and friends.

Two years ago tomorrow, we traveled to Kingsport to start a new life. We arrived at our new home on May 1. Who would have thought we would be back in Fort Myers so soon?