Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Florida Keys: Observations

So being in FL, and never having been down to the Keys before, (and not currently working), Jonathan and I decided to go down to the Keys for a few days.  So here are a few of my observations from that!

After talking with a few Florida natives, we determined that Key West itself might be a bit crazy, that the Floridians go to Islamorada instead.  (which thankfully is a much shorter drive!)  So we based ourselves out of Islamorada, which also happens to host some fabulous watersport activities.  Actually, all of the Keys seem to be home to fabulous watersports, so I would highly recommend partaking in them if you go.

Alligator lighthouse about 3 miles off the coast
Surprising to me, the Keys were not full of long white sandy beaches everywhere you looked.  On the contrary, much of the coast is mangrove swamp.  There are definitely some areas of white sandy beaches, but if that's all you're looking for, I'd really recommend the gulf coast of Florida instead!

The shallow reef near the lighthouse
If you're ready to be a little more adventuresome, the Keys do offer many snorkeling and diving opportunities that are great due to the clear water, and fairly shallow reefs and many sunken ships several miles off the coast (unfortunately the snorkel from the beach options aren't the best, so for better viewing take a boat out a few miles).  After doing a little research, we thought Alligator Reef off of Islamorada might be the best - lots of fish, shallow reef, and a lighthouse in the middle of the ocean to boot!
Fish love to hang out in the shade of the lighthouse and there are THOUSANDS!!  (Unfortunately I didn't take an underwater camera, but a few highlights were: Blue Tang, Sergeant Major fish, Yellow Tail Snapper, grunts, little minnows, Rainbow Parrotfish - if you listened underwater you could actually hear the Parrotfish biting coral!, etc)  We saw quite a few Barracudas, a Moray eel, and just after sliding off the boat near the lighthouse (our 2nd stop - first we stopped in a deeper reef for 45 minutes) I spotted a 5 foot grey nurse shark!  I came right back up and yelled, "Shark!" and Jonathan was able to see it, but no one else was really in the water yet and thankfully the shark decided it didn't like humans that well (and I personally don't like sharks that well, even if they are supposed to be harmless like this type was).

Speaking of sharks and watersports, we also did a little stand up paddleboarding - well, about 3 hours worth - which was plenty!  (all my little foot intrinsic muscles were very tired and sore after that!  ...ok, so they were already sore from ultimate frisbee in cleats, but anyways)  While SUP'ing, however, I saw 2 more, smaller sharks, about 2 feet long Black Tipped Sharks like this little guy:
I did not take this picture...but it looks the most like what I saw!
We also paddleboarded by an area where a crocodile lives (again, I was very thankful NOT to see said crocodile with a measly 4" fiberglass board being all that separately me from the water) in someone's backyard, and out to Indian Key a half mile out to sea.  There was once a settlement due to the wrecking trade in the 1800's that was attacked by Seminoles and largely burned and then turned over to the military - all that remains are a few cisterns and foundational structures on this tiny little island that once housed about 60 people.
We based our snorkeling and SUP'ing adventures out of Robbie's Marina, just a few miles from where we stayed in Islamorada.  There are other activities such as deep sea fishing, kayaking, and feeding the tarpon you can do there.  Feeding the tarpon?!  Yup, you can see these 100 lb fish fighting over the food you throw them from the dock at Robbie's.  Costs you a dollar, but would be highly entertaining for small children...  OR, if you happen to have rented a SUP or kayak from them, you might actually want to stay a little further away as I was a little scared paddling back in as these HUGE fish thrashed around as people fed them that I might just get bumped off my paddleboard into the water with all them!

So yes, we did go down to Key West for a little while one day, hit up the historic sites, which was fun!  We saw mile marker 0, Hemingway's house, the "southernmost part" of the US, were closer to Cuba than a Walmart, lots of chickens walking around the town, the Key West lighthouse, and a few endangered Key Deer on the drive home!

And off course we also sampled some more Key Lime Pie...

As far as food goes, well, we ate a lot of fish (duh!) and Key Lime pie...  Ma's Fish Camp and Islamorada Fish Company (yes, the same one that's in the Bass Pro Shops - this is the original!) did not disappoint at all and breakfast options in Islamorada were also quite tasty at Bob's Buns and Mangrove Mike's!

So overall, I would say if you're looking for a more laid back approach to the Florida Keys, Islamorada is an excellent (and cheaper!) way to go, but if you like a more lively "scene" then Key West would be a better choice.  Also from Key West you can visit the Dry Tortugas (if you have a reservation far enough in advance) which look pretty awesome!!  If we had been in Key West longer, however, I would have loved to have tried the all inclusive beach pass for a day which had a parasail, kayaks, SUPs, Windsurfing, Sailing, etc!

So a recap/words of advice if you're heading to the Keys?  Stay atleast part of the time in Islamorada, take lots of bug spray and sunscreen, and indulge in various water activities besides sunbathing!  (and eat lots of fish and Key Lime pie!!)

It's all about effort and attitude!

So when I was in high school, we had a couple basketball t-shirts with sayings on them...one reminiscent of Notre Dame: "Play like a champion today", and the other I think Coach Harvey kinda made up himself: "It's all about effort and attitude".

I might not play that much basketball anymore (sadness I know...but I would love a game of pickup if anyone's interested), but I've been struck recently be how true that second quote is in life...  A few examples:

In my last rotation, I was in an office where the 'leader' was the doctor, though unofficial, he is the one in the position of power afforded by his credentials.  Effort I can't necessarily speak to as I am unaware of the productivity and things along that line, however attitude was easily observable.  I was at 2 clinics a week for the same practice, however different staff at the 2 locations.  They were set up similarly - 1 MD, 2 PA's, multiple medical assistants and office staff.  However, the palpable feel was very different, and as I spent more time there, I believe the attitude of the "leader", in this case the doctor, makes a huge difference in the overall attitudes of the rest of the staff - which were constantly complaining, often out on sick days, often upset.  In this clinic the doctor had many complaints as well, and seemed to expect others to fix problems that affected him which he could also help fix.  In the other clinic, things were busier as far as caseload it seemed, however the MD and his main PA took it in stride and maintained a good attitude - joking, seriously considering problems without yelling or demeaning another, teaching other staff as they went along.

So I tried a little experiment - with the office that needed an attitude adjustment, I tried to be very friendly, not get into too much gossip, constantly ask if there were ways I could help, and even brought them some ice cream sandwiches on what seemed like it was a very stressful day.  And while they seemed to have a fabulous opinion of me with all that, it didn't seem to do much to alleviate the overall tension and attitude of the office.

So that led me to conclude that 1 random happy person cannot completely change attitudes, however 1 well positioned person can definitely sour attitudes (and hopefully improve them as well).  I guess I'm a little naive to just be struck with this so much at this particular time - thus far I have been blessed to have bosses who do lead by example and work to create solutions rather than complain about circumstances.

So that being said, if you are in a position of power and/or influence (as said at Second Mile), your attitude will greatly affect the quality of life of those around you - use it for good!  And since we all have someone(s) we influence somehow, it's a challenge to myself to not complain, but seek to improve bad situations, and as I Peter 2:23 says, "When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he ENTRUSTED HIMSELF TO HIM WHO JUDGES JUSTLY."  

If I entrust myself, my job (or current lack thereof), my relationships to the Lord, it puts a different light on things - I don't need to complain, or throw myself a pity party, or sulk when things don't go my way - instead  I need to keep looking for what the next opportunity God may have for me is, and try to consider what He may be trying to do in my/other's lives with my current circumstances (not that I may ever realize what that may be).