Sunday, February 27, 2011


I watched an episode of Aquakids (yes, Aquakids) on TV. At first I wasn't going to watch it because I'm no longer into Saturday morning kid's shows. I changed my mind when they said that the kids would be swimming with manatees!

My first big dive vacation was a trip to Florida to SCUBA dive and swim with these same manatees, an awesome marine mammal that is related to elephants.

A long drive from Wisconsin to Florida brought us to the Florida Keys and a couple of beautiful dives on coral reefs. Following these great experiences, our caravan proceeded to our next stop: Crystal River, the wintering grounds of the Florida Manatee.

Manatees are large marine mammals: slower than dolphins; smaller than whales; bigger than us. They are also the only marine mammals to be completely herbivorous (plant-eating). Swimming with these gentle giants was a remarkable experience. I even got to touch one as it swam by!

While in Crystal River my dive group adventured out for one night dive--in a cave. Late one night, long after the sun went down, we got in the boat and carefully, while we avoided sleeping manatees, motored out to our dive spot. It was a moonless night and the only visible light was from the flashlight lighting our way. I was shivering, although I wasn't cold. My dive instructor, Rick, suggested that he be my dive buddy. I relaxed immediately upon this suggestion. With Rick in close proximity, I knew I would be safe.

Night diving was amazing. I felt, but didn't see, the fish as they swam past me. I heard, but didn't see, the swarm of bubbles being exhaled from my fellow divers' regulators. I listened carefully for sounds of popping shrimp, croaking fish, grunting seals or chirping manatees, but I heard only the sounds of the human intruders (us). At one point, we all turned off our flashlights, which made us feel really immersed in the underwater world.

Today, I stay in touch with my marine biology side by watching shows like this, going whale watching, attending conferences, and, of course, teaching marine biology!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bar Mitzvah

Today is February 13, 2011. For many months, I had been looking forward to February 12, 2011, the date of my son Andy's Bar Mitzvah. Now that it's over, I can look back on it with relief and pride. First of all, Andy did a magnificent job, chanting prayers and leading the service like a pro. He surely earned the cup of wine he was offered after reciting the kiddush (real wine--NOT grape juice)! Abby did a great job with her parts as well. She wasn't feeling well, but carried on as if nothing was wrong.

When it was my turn to climb up to the bima (platform), I didn't stumble. I offered a blessing to Andy during the ceremony. Since I wasn't able to do this during Abby's Bat Mitzvah four years ago, it was especially important to me to offer a blessing that was meaningful to both of them. As I was reciting the words, I truly felt God's presence. It was as if I was having a private moment with my children. The 100 spectators were forgotten.

Andy presented his prepared speeches flawlessly. He interpreted and found meaning in his Torah portion. He talked a lot about the Eternal Flame, but he was also able to incorporate his work at the zoo, the TV show Survivor, and the Disney movie Wall-E!

Following the service, we had a party, complete with a DJ, great food, and, of course, lots of wine. Everything went off without a hitch. The food arrived on time, and it was delicious! (I highly recommend Luigis in Pacifica.)

Andy with his Aunt Karen and Uncle Howard during the candle ceremony.
One of my favorite parts of the party was the candle-lighting ceremony. Andy lit a candle in honor of people who are important in his life. Cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends were included. A different song was played as each candle was lit.

Planning and executing this event meant so much to me--more so because of our situation, and the fact that I wasn't able to be as involved in planning Abby's Bat Mitzvah as I would have liked. But what I said in my last post is true, and I think it bears repeating because it applies to everyone: we all have to do the best we can do with the resources we have.