An Education in Crabs

September 8, 2015 at 8:51 pm (Education) (, , , , , , , )

Not too long ago, I wrote an article for Money-Fax.com that featured this paragraph:

Hermit Crabs

Hermit crabs are fantastic little creatures. You might even have fond memories of fishing them out of the ocean yourself or keeping them in your elementary school classroom. Hermit crabs are popular, and with good reason. They are just about the least expensive terrarium dweller you can hold.

A small plastic container, a fish bowl, or an old tank you find at a garage sale – almost anything can serve as a hermit crab habitat. Fill the bottom with sand and rocks and place a tray of water and a few extra shells larger than the one the crab currently inhabits in the tank. Again, only $10 spent at your local Wal-Mart or pet store can set you up for life of the crab.

The crab itself will cost anywhere from $5 – $15 and their food will cost about $3 per can. While that may sound like a lot for a hermit crab, these cans last quite awhile. All in all, you could easily have a hermit crab join your family for an initial cost of $20 – $40, depending on what you choose to purchase. – http://money-fax.com/4-inexpensive-family-pet-ideas/

A few weeks ago, however, we went to the beach and caught ourselves a few hermit crabs with our four year old.  Remembering my own article, I thought, we should keep these – it would be a fun starter pet and kiddo has already been begging for a new pet.  (We have two dogs, but you know kids, they want tiny creatures to pester and nurture.)

So I headed up to the gift shop and bought a hermit crab kit. $25.  It came with a free crab, but I told the lady at the counter that we had two downstairs under the dock.

“Oh, those are saltwater.  They’ll die if you take them home and don’t have a saltwater aquarium.  You should probably take the free one anyway and let those ones go.  These are freshwater brought from Florida.”

“Oh, ok.”

Then, she informed me that it’s best to buy an extra one.  They are community creatures.

“Sure, let’s do it.  We’ll let the other two go and take these two home.”

So, I took the little plastic container downstairs, full of gravel, a shell, a sponge, and food – plus two tiny crabs.house_hermit_crab

We explained to kiddo that the others needed to be free and she had no problem with that, after all, we were taking these fun ones home and she understood that the others had come from the ocean and these two from a shop.  She asked about extra shells, because we’ve read Eric Carle’s Hermit Crab book a thousand times.

We set the crabs up in the house when we got home from the beach that day and made plans to do some research and visit the pet store within the week.  We knew the plastic container was too small for our comfort – but we thought we were just being those people who spoil their pets.  I had no idea. No. Idea.

Nerd that I am, naturally, I bought a book.  I was a little disappointed that it was a “for dummies” title, 51MS-sTSuJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_because I’m a book snob and they seem so over marketed and written – well – for dummies.  BUT, they are actually great starting points for any kind of research on anything.  They are simplistic, concise, and give you the terms you need to dive deeper.  Terms you wouldn’t know to look up otherwise.  Like wikipedia, but more reliable, except the links aren’t necessarily up to date.

So it turns out, hermit crabs ARE community creatures.  In the wild they live with hundreds of other crabs.  It also turns out that the smallest container you want for these guys is a ten gallon tank for two small crabs.  Cheap guru that I am, I could have gotten one from a garage sale, but I didn’t.  I gave my sister our unused 20 gallon tank when we moved and my niece’s and nephews now have a tiny pet turtle.  I went the lazy route and bought a brand new ten gallon at PetsMart.  $30. (If you’re keeping track – remember my article peaked at a $40 expense to keep a crab alive.  So far in this story we’re at $55 pre-tax.)

EVOLUTION OF A CRABITAT

I bought more gravel to cover the bottom of the tank. $10.  I bought a crab shack because they need a place to hide. $8. A fake plant my daughter loved to make “it all so beautiful.” $4 (Actually, she paid for that one.) I was feeling pretty good about this terrarium.  Really good.

Then, I served pinterest.  I know.  Pinterest!

It led me to a lot of websites, blogs, and hermit crab advocates.  I discovered that I wasnP1030909‘t supposed to have gravel in the tank. They don’t like gravel.  They like soil substrate.  They like to bury themselves.  Not just like, they NEED.  Hermit crabs molt and to do so, you need 6 inches of soil for them to dive into.  Also, they’re climbers.  They want tree limbs.  Also, each crab needs its own hiding place, so one crab shack won’t cut it.  They want to live together but need their own bedrooms.  Who knew?

Also, they need a fresh water pool and a salt water pool.  So you need two kinds of water conditioners.  And two kinds of pools. And a mister to keep their climate humid enough because they have evolved gills – they can’t breathe in dry air.

By this time, I lost track of itemizing – but one trip to PetCo later and I’d spent another $70 or so.  While I was there, I also bought a wheat-germ plant that they had for sale for cats, but is actually good for crabs, which the workers didn’t know, I had just discovered this in all my internet surfing and wild book reading at the library.

I still need a heater, but I can’t afford one at the moment.  We’re in Texas, so I set the tank outside if I think they’re getting too cold – but come winter, these guys are having another $50-$100 spent on them.

On the plus side: I think they’ll live.  In captivity – because we con people into $25 habitats that slowly kill the crab – they live 3 months to 3 years.  In the wild, they live up to 30 years.  We’re shooting for a longer lifespan here.  We’re also using this as an educational project… we’re building an ecosystem.  Soon, we’ll add rolly pollies (they help keep the terrarium clean and co-habitate well with the hermies… again, who knew?)

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(Additional notes: hermit crabs can eat from your kitchen and like a wide variety of things in their diet that include meat, vegetables, and fruits.  We have begun a notebook compiling these lists.  One of ours has already changed shells twice – because he’s indecisive, not because he’s growing so much – and apparently this is common so it’s good to have not just one or two shells but a wide variety of empties at their disposal.)

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Spike and Spanish

June 19, 2015 at 4:22 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

SPIKE front coverTitle: Spike, The Mixed-Up Monster

Author: Susan Hood

Illustrator: Melissa Sweet

Genre: Picture Book

Ay, caramba!, we just read this before bed this evening and we love it! First off, I’m a sucker for an axolotl.  I discovered them about two years ago when an avid reddit surfer sent me some images they had found. Strange but cute creatures are kind of our thing, and an axolotl definitely fits the bill.

I remember thinking there should be a picture book about them.  I love kids picture books featuring the odd ducks of the planet and offer educational value at the end of the story.  I have tons of them lined up in my head that I haven’t written yet.  My favorite thing about Hood’s book is that she incorporates Spanish words through out the story and thesusan-hood-spikepic last few pages include research about the creatures who made an appearance.  There’s so much educational value to this book and I can’t wait to own a copy. (We read from a library book.)

Referred to as a water-monster by the Aztecs, I was introduced to these tiny creatures as Mexican Walking Fish.  Either way, they are super cute, come in all different colors, and if ever there was an animal worthy of a picture book it would be this one.

I absolutely adore Melissa Sweet’s illustrations.  They are bright and spunky and the kiddo was riveted by each and every page.  Sweet captured the essence of the story with care and finesse and I look forward to seeing more of her illustrations on picture books in the future.

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Ptolemy – Dwight Howard – Same Thing…

May 18, 2015 at 2:01 am (In So Many Words, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , )

I’ve never felt like a bigger idiot than when trying to read Ptolemy’s The Almagest.  First of all, I inevitably always pronounce the P when speaking about it.  And constantly get corrected, but can’t stop doing it.  Secondly, I switch the m and the g of “almagest” in my head so often that in my deepest heart I’m not reading The Almagest, I’m reading The Algamest.  Third, it’s a lot of information that I’ll never remember.  I hate knowing that what I’m reading is not going to sink in… it’s all just a passing whimsy and I’ll be able to tell you nothing of value about it when I’m done with it.

Nevertheless, I’m enjoying reading it.  Mostly because I’m a glutton for punishment, I think.  Also, it’s included in The Great Books, it’s fat (roughly 600 pages), and it’s part of our ancient history – which I’m a huge sucker for.

Reading stuff like this is kind of like watching certain sports for me.  I can follow the games, I know what’s going on, and I thoroughly enjoy them – but I don’t have sports lingo dripping from my lips and I rarely will discuss them with people because I know I’ll just sound like a moron.  I like the ambiance of the game and the thrill of hard work and athleticism paying off.  Just like I love the exertion it takes to read things slightly outside my knowledge base.  They are similar experiences for me.  Dropping me into a martial arts ring is more like breezing through fiction – I know it so well I can function there with my eyes closed.

It sounds completely absurd, even as I type it – but Ptolemy is like watching The Rockets play.  I’m there.  I get it.  I’m enjoying. I love it.  I will devour it – with chips, salsa, and beer.  I will not, however, scream and shout with the other fans or talk about it tomorrow; and if you try to talk to me about it, I’ll clam up. Mention apogees in anything other than reciting a chant from Bedknobs and Broomsticks and you’ll see the same blank expression on my face when people shout “Wet!”  I read that, I heard that… I internally absorbed it somewhere in my brain.  But please, please, don’t quiz me.  That’s recipe for an anxiety attack right there.

There are some things in life we should be allowed to simply enjoy without analyzation.  Therefore, just like I will never be any good at fantasy leagues, I will also never be able to give an intelligent lecture on Ptolemy and his great work.  But I’ll have fun being a half hearted amateur/ closet fan of both.

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Kids Books You MUST Check Out

May 13, 2015 at 6:06 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

We’ve been spending more and more time at the library than usual.  About 2-3 hours A DAY.  Before it was every few days, but with this rain – in the tradition of Noah – occurring in the northern Houston area the past few weeks, we’ve been trapped indoors.

So these are our top favorites for the week:

1. Snippet the Early Riser – Bethanie Deeney Murguia (http://amzn.to/1cxqz9Z)

We adore the illustrations in this tail of a snail that wakes up long before his family is ready to start their day.  In the book, you’ll meet a ton of different insects, and then finally discover the source of this family’s plight – Snippet just goes to bed way too early.  It’s a common hazard in family’s with small children and I think most kids and adults alike will be able to relate.

2. When a Dragon Moves In – Jodi More (http://amzn.to/1cxqsew)

Again, the illustrations are fantastic! Kiddo loves the beach setting and the fact that dragons are actually moving into the kid’s sandcastle.  She hasn’t yet caught the nuance that it’s this little dude’s epic imagination at work, but kiddo is – after all – only four.

3. When Rain Falls – Melissa Stewart (http://amzn.to/1bPVhdO)

This is soothing.  And completely appropriate for our current household situation.  So much rain and so many days when it merely threatens to rain, it was nice to read through how rain effects everyone and everything.  We read this right before bed and in the middle of the afternoon several times.  Lovely, lovely, book.

4. Freckleface Strawberry – Julianne Moore (http://amzn.to/1cxsknL)

This isn’t just one title, this is a series of which we have read two. Freckleface Strawberry is an adorable little girl with flaming red hair, completely covered in freckles.  I relate to these books so well because I was the freckle-faced short kid in my class.  Kiddo loves her “because she has so many freckles.  And you know what I like best of her? She has a nickname!”  Kiddo loves nicknames.  Her cousins call her “Fruitcake,” her daddy calls her “Booger,” her tia Danielle calls her “Nugget.”  I call her heathen, but that’s besides the point. Not really, I call her “Nugget” a lot too.

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Fibonacci

May 8, 2015 at 11:39 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Unknown-1Title: The Man of Numbers

Author: Keith Devlin, PhD

Publisher: Walker & Company

Genre: Math History

Length: 183 pages

Swirl by Swirl – a child’s picture book – is where it started.  We checked it out from the library once, then twice, and finally again and again.  It’s about the Fibonacci sequence found in so many spirals in our natural world.  We love it.  Of course, it has a bit in the back about the Fibonacci sequence and the math involved, and that’s cool too, something to instill in young minds so that theP1000952re is familiarity with the topic before they begin Algebra in their tweens.

Of course, at some point I picked up The Pythagorean Theorem, and there Posamatier mentions Ptolemy and his great work The Algamest as well as Fibonacci’s Liber Abaci. Naturally, I requested these at my local library.  “There’s a book about Fibonacci called The Man of Numbers that’s here if you want to read that while you wait for the others to come in,” she told me.  Yes, yes, I would like to read that while I wait for the others.

I checked it out.

I ended up starting and finishing it, however, in one sitting while my kiddo made use of the sixty minute literacy computer session I allow her if she’s been good prior to coming to the library that day.  It was good.  Quick.  Informative.  And of course, just made me want Liber Abaci even more.

Devlin gives you all the necessary history in the concise nature of a mathematician.  He even laments how most mathematicians are concerned about the math and the theorems and not necessarily who originally came up with them or their history, causing much of the history surrounding mathematical ideas to be lost or misconstrued.  Who cares? It’s about the numbers.

I care.  Historians care.  We don’t care as much about the numbers as we do about the theory, the philosophy… we care about math’s heritage more than the practice of being all mathy.  At least that’s how I feel.  I’ll leave number crunching to my husband and daughter – I’ll just be able to tell them who came up with that particular way to crunch.

With all this caring comes the discovery that Fibonacci’s name wasn’t even Fibonacci.  Devlin recounts the fact that the man’s name was Leonardo and he hailed from Pisa.  Leonardo Pisano, as the people of that time and culture would say.  But he referred to himself as fillies Boracic, “son of Bonacci.”  Yet, his father’s name wasn’t Bonacci, so people assumed he meant that he was of the family Bonacci… the Bonacci family evolved and later historian Guillaume Libri coined the name Fibonacci.  Hundreds of years later.  Leonardo was renamed Fibonacci in 1838.

Fibonacci also referred himself as Leonardo Bigolli… a named once translated would be “Leonardo Blockhead.”  Though, Devlin asserts, it’s doubtful that Fibonacci was calling himself a blockhead.

Unknown-2That brings us to our latest picture book selection… Blockhead: the life of Fibonacci.  This delightful picture book was written by Joseph D’Agnese and was illustrated by John O’Brien.  Even though there’s a lot we don’t know about Fibonacci’s real life or how he came to discover his mathematical findings the way he did – it’s fun to imagine what his life was like and where he might have come up with his self-proclaimed nickname “Bigolli.”

For good measure, we re-read Swirl by Swirl afterward and are looking forward to memorizing a few things in the upcoming months.

The first is from Brahmagupta (quoted in Devlin’s book):

“A debt minus zero is a debt.

A fortune minus zero is a fortune.

Zero minus zero is a zero.

A debt subtracted from zero is a fortune.

A fortune subtracted from zero is a debt.

The product of zero multiplied by a debt or fortune is zero.”

The second are the first ten numbers in the Fibonacci sequence: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55.

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Swirl By Swirl

March 9, 2015 at 4:42 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

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Title: Swirl By Swirl

Authors: Beth Krommes & Joyce Sidman

Genre: Picture Book / Educational

We actually read this one quite a bit ago, I was hoping to review it when I finally got around to purchasing it, but I can’t wait any longer.  It’s too wonderful to keep under wraps any longer and it has been an inspiration to my kiddo who now draws swirls and “round ups” into all her artwork.

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The book is all about finding math in nature.  About how snails, flowers, and everything have mathematical patterns that create functional things we can see.  It first page by page identifies all these things… spider webs, tendrils on foliage, the curls of animals’ tails, etc.

Then, it explains the how and why of it all.

Kiddo’s eye lit up at the end of the book every time (we had to read it over and over again before we turned it back into the library).  My four year old’s mind was blown.

P1000956 I want to have this book on hand when she’s older as well, to revisit and enjoy the beautiful illustrations again and again through out her studies.  It’s so lovely.

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Hello Wilderness, We’ve Missed You

February 13, 2015 at 3:04 am (Education, The Whim) (, , , , , , , , , )

Since moving away from our beloved Timberlane Estates, we’ve been in dire need for nature.  Especially with this winter we just had – harsher than I remember winter being – wet, muddy, colder sooner, and nowhere cozy to defrost.  Temporary living arrangements have caused us to leave the comfort of having a nearly 1000 square foot library just down the hall from our beds.  We also don’t have a fireplace here.  It’s been a long time since I lived without a fireplace.  But the change is good, it’s helped us redefine necessities, discover the beauty of new public libraries we hadn’t yet visited, save mP1000764oney for the land and dream home we want, and teach our daughter lessons she might have otherwise missed.

We’ve also discovered the Lake Houston Wilderness State Park.  We went from 100+ acres of trails and exploration that we knew like the back of our hands to not having anything most of the winter, to Lo! And Behold! 4700+ acres of trails and wilderness closer than we could have ever imagined.  Ask and ye shall receive.  Take a ride down the highway and pay attention to those marvelous brown signs!

It costs $3 per adult to get in, kids under 13 and senior citizens are free.  OR (and this is what we’ve done) it’s $25 for a year pass for an adult and three adult guests; basically, a family pass.

We’ve been back about every other day since we’ve discovered it.  We walk, tromp, and read.  We snack and picnic, we play in the creek, we stare at the trees.  We read all the sign posts and discover new plants we’ve never heard of.  We soak up vitamin D and work our muscles.

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To the left you’ll see a Hercules’ Club. We were pretty excited about this discovery and did a mini-research project on it when we got home.

In all this much needed tromping and new library resources at my fingertips, I stumbled across a Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants by a fellow named Nyerges.  It isn’t the best resource for Texans, only a few plants were ones I recognized, but if you hail from California then it’s right up your alley.  Either way, if you’re in the foraging scene, this book is a great read.  Nyerges personalizes a lot of his foraging facts with anecdotes of how he has confirmed or debunked various myths, legends, and general assumptions for certain plants.  My favorite was a bit about the Native Americans and poison oak – eat the young, red leaves and you’ll be immune to the rash for the rest of the season/year.  The science of immunizing oneself at its finest.  Already this is how we tackle seasonal allergies when it comes to pollen, it would not have occurred to me that there is a practical pre-remedy for poison oak.

 

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A Boy Called Dickens

January 21, 2015 at 12:56 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

* A Weekly Low Down on Kids Books *

P1000704Title: A Boy Called Dickens

Author: Deborah Hopkinson

Illustrator: John Hendrix

As a homeschool family, we’re suckers for the educational picture book.  Especially biographies.

A Boy Called Dickens tells the life of Charles Dickens.  Obviously there are some creative liberties taken with Dickens’ boyhood thoughts and how he might have come to write certain stories, but that happens with any piece of biographical fiction.

As an adult Dickens fan, you recognize characters peeking around corners and haunting the boy’s subconscious as he works at the factory, tells stories to his friend, helps get his family out of debtor’s prison, and finally returns to school.

When I finished read the book, kiddo said, “Let’s read it again.”

I was out of breath from my strained fake British accent.  I’m not an actress, but I like to make story time fun.  It takes more effort than I’d care to admit.  “No, I’m not reading it again right now.”

“Well, I think we should do the same thing with this one – let other kids read it!”

“You mean you recommend it?”

“Yes.” She gave it a literal thumbs up, with a tongue half sticking out the side of her mouth in thought.

Any biographical picture books you can find are great teaching tools, and you might as well fill them with as much information as you can while they’re sponges.  History is easiest to remember as a tale, Dickens world and era becomes one you can touch and taste.  Telling it from his boyhood makes it more relatable to a tiny one.  Whether you’re a homeschool mom, or just someone who reads to your kids when you can, this book is a great resource; it’s colorful, factual, and engrossing.

(If you’re a seasonal reader, this one is perfectly wintery.)

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Houston Pow Wow 2014

November 17, 2014 at 12:11 am (Education, Events) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Already in the mere four years I’ve been a homeschool mom, with my child not even “school age,” homeschooling in general has proven to be as much an education for me as it is for her.  When you homeschool, field trips feel imperative.  Not only do you want your kid to interact in the world, but even the most extreme homebody, if not an agoraphobe, gets a touch of cabin fever now and again.

Pow Wow 2012 017In 2012, we discovered that Houston has an annual Pow Wow and attended.  I documented that trip here. The kiddo loved it. We studied everything a two year old could “study” about Native Americans at that time and watched a lot of Pocahontas after the event. The culture, the dancing, the drums, the music, the food, I tried to dip my very pasty child in the whole experience. She came away desperately wanting an out fit just like the girl’s she took a picture with in my previous blog post (see left).

Life happened and we missed the 2013 gathering, though we do intend to attend every year.

Grant ForemanThis year, though kiddo didn’t do much in the way of pre- Pow Wow “research,” I felt the need to grab a book. On my lunch breaks I’ve been perusing The Five Civilized Tribes. I was most interested in the segment on the Choctaw since that is the tribe our rumored ancestor was supposed to have been. (I’m convinced everyone claims a tie to the Native Americans, I’m not convinced everyone has one… I’m not convinced I even have one. But from a geographical standpoint, Choctaw makes good sense.)

I’m not done reading, so a full review cannot commence.  Currently, I’ve read through the Choctaw segment and now am knee deep in the Creeks.  The book, however, is thorough and enjoyable though – as the Christian Science Monitor reported – “pure history, sober, and fully documented.”  One would assume that it would read dry, but it’s not.  Sober and dry should not be used interchangeably when speaking of history, but often it is.  Especially when dealing with the history of the Native American Indian tribes.  Their cultures are too colorful and their history too rich to ever be considered dry.

My favorite bit about the Choctaw is how thoroughly devoted to educating their children they were.  Building school houses and hiring teachers was a huge deal for them.  They built educational requests into their treaties.  Although I don’t agree with institutionalizing, I do find it interesting how much they wanted to learn about those infiltrating their land.  Some would say that it was an effort to assimilate, but I don’t think so.  I think it was more of an effort to understand.  Understanding and knowledge is important to me, though, so perhaps that is always how I will interpret those sorts of actions.

P1000571We don’t speak with the competitors at the Pow Wows much.  I’d like to know what tribes they are affiliated with, who their ancestors are, whether they live next door or on a reservation.  I’d like to talk to them all, interview them all, watch them all more closely.  But they are there for a competition and seem to be far more in the public eye than what could possibly be comfortable.  Instead we politely nod, smile, purchase raffle tickets for Indian Blankets, donate money to musicians, and try not to take too many invasive pictures of the dancers.  Instead, my child makes friends with their children for the day and blows bubbles, and desperately contains herself from touching their bead work and feathers, lest a fiercely intense father of a playmate scowl at all his hard work being undone.

The event is beautiful.  It’s all so beautiful.

Today, however, it was rainy and cold.  The Pow Wow had to be moved from the arena to a pavilion.  The show must go on, though, rain or shine, and despite the cold and the wet, they danced, and they were brilliant and kind.  Kind – even when my daughter said quite boldly during their prayer time, “But Indians DON’T PRAY!”  I promise I didn’t teach her that.  I popped her little butt and said, “Everyone prays, now bow your head.”

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Miraflores

July 22, 2014 at 3:38 pm (Education, Travel) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

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We saw it from the road when we were on our way to a bookstore.  It was on the right (off Hildebrand, on our way to Broadway, I think) and I would have missed it behind the construction cones along the road and the gritty chain link National Rent-a-Fence.  But the gates loomed, demanding to be seen.  The statues looking like mysterious cemetery pieces, but alas, there were no tombstones.

We passed it several times and weren’t actually able to go investigate until our last day there.

P1020606First we stopped at an old Spanish mission (turned greeting center, perhaps?) with a San Antonio Zoo sign perched near the steps.  I suppose we were on the backside of the zoo, or maybe it wasn’t even open, but we found ourselves in a beautiful park.

There were families, and ducks, and families of ducks.  But ultimately that ‘cemetery’ was calling our names and we had to go see it.  We drove back to the main street and lamented the fence.  We entered the parking lot to elsewhere and lamented the fence.  Then, we saw that the chain link gate was ajar.  Left for someone to go in and out for the day? We determined that it must be open by day and locked up at night to keep out the riffraff.  So, cameras in hand, we entered Miraflores, not knowing its name, and explored.

P1020644We found the Doctor’s name on several of the tiled benches.  To my uninformed eye there was no way for me to know they were designed by Atlee B Ayres, famous San Antonio architect.  I just knew they were beautiful and that they were made in honor of or for a Doctor, as the letters were mostly chipped away.  Later, we would see the name Urrutia on the gates.  There, in the mosaics of those grand gates, his name remained in tact and I took yet another photograph.  I skipped jotting down the information in my journal for the sake of spending that precious time getting more photographs.  Even though I thought it was ok to be there, something about the whole experience felt a bit like we had discovered a magic-hour of sorts and I didn’t want to waste a moment.

P1020616Though, I could spend hours there writing.  What I wanted to do more than anything was stay there all day and document every fragmented tile.  I longed for a library to access and investigate each piece of art and how it came to be gathered in this statuary field.  The gate said the “institute” was founded by Doctor Urrutia in 1921.  What institute?  Who was Doctor Urrutia?  What was the plan for this acreage?

P1020634Dr. Urrutia arrived in the States from Mexico in 1915 – as an exile.  He was born in the town “of floating gardens” just south of Mexico City and was a full-blooded Aztec Indian.  He went to medical school, graduated top of his class, and by the age of 22 was the President’s personal physician.  In 1910 Presidente Diaz was replaced by Madero, who was then killed and replaced by Huerta.  In all this killing and backstabbing, Huerta had got himself stabbed in the eye, and it was Urrutia who operated on him.  Then, according to Walt Lockley, Urrutia functioned a bit like a puppet master for the gangster and helped him run the country.

What happened next is a biography worth reading in itself:

But after dark, Urrutia was also accused of a medical assassination – a federal senator from Chiapas who publicly spoke against Huerta, Belisario Dominguez, was arrested as an enemy of the government, in the Jardin Hotel, on October 7, 1913, then taken to a cemetery, where dark persistent rumor has it that Dr. Urrutia cut out his tongue.

Without anesthetic.

Huerta threw eighty congressmen into prison at one point. Urrutia himself issued an ill-advised ultimatum to the US government, wanting official recognition, and Woodrow Wilson responded with battleships to Veracruz. In the late summer of 1914, as this government fell apart, a lot of the Huertistas and the well-to-do and ex-governors and henchmen drained out through Veracruz. Dr. Urrutia was arrested there by General Frederick Funston and was allowed to exile himself to the US: by ship from Veracruz to New Orleans, train from New Orleans to San Antonio, and two rail cars of treasure smuggled across the border later, to finance his new American life and humanitarian career.

– Walt Lockley

Urrutia died in 1975 at the age of 103, in his sleep, at his grand 15 acre estate in San Antonio.  But before that would happen, he would be the first doctor to separate Siamese twins in Texas and he would build something marvelous: Miraflores.  And I got to traipse around its remains.

P1020629Other artists contributed to this historic monument. According to Capturing Nature, Dionicio Rodriguez is responsible for the ‘rocks’ on the gates, but I’m not sure which aspect ‘rocks’ refers to.

In 2004, the area was added to The National Register of Historic Places, primarily for Rodriguez’s contributions.  It is thought that Miraflores contains his earliest work in the states as well as the “most intact and concentrated groupings” of his work.  One of those pieces is actually an extremely unique foot bridge in Breckenridge Park that caught our eyes several times.

The blog Urban Spotlight San Antonio describes a plan, in a post dated 2009, that would make the park open to the public. We saw the bridge from Breckenridge Park the post describes, but the public pedestrian walkway was blocked off and locked.  I am still unsure if the entrance I used was meant for the public or not.  Either way, I am glad I used it and got a chance to see so many beautiful works of art up close.  (There’s an extensive history included in that post regarding who owned the property during which decades and how they used it.  It’s quite interesting.)

According to SA Cultural Tours:

Much of the statuary originally designed for the park has been lost or damaged over the past several decades.  Remaining features include the tiled entrance gates along Hildebrand, designed by Mexican artist Marcelo Izaguirre, as well as the 1946 statue of Dr. Urrutia that originally stood in the center of a large pool.  […]  The park originally featured a small tower building housing Dr. Urrutia’s library, but it has been demolished.  The small remaining cottage, Quinta Maria, was built in 1923 as a guest house.  Statuary moved to the park in the 1960s following the demolition of Dr. Urrutia’s nearby home include the Winged Victory with crouching lions, and the replica of Coyolxauhqui, the Aztec moon goddess.

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I think my favorite… the place where I could sit for hours and reflect and write… would be near Cuautemoc.  He is the last ruler of the Aztecs, extremely energetic, and makes me feel mighty and safe.

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Luis L. Sanchez designed him in 1921, and it’s one of the most impressive statues I have seen in person, just for the sheer power it seems to radiate, like Achilles.

I love that Urrutia chose to include him in his garden.  Regardless of the sinister rumors that still surround Urrutia and his political dealings – including this statue in his place of exile says a lot about his passions and his identity.  He respected his heritage, his elders, and the past.  He had a taste for art, I think, I cannot bring myself to believe that he did this for the mere sake of showing off his money.  He had a library that has not survived, and clearly had a thirst for knowledge and legacy.

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After many business deals and exchanging of hands, The University of Incarnate Word now stands where Urrutia wanted a hospital.  The San Antonio Express reported in 1929 that Urrutia’s “grand ambition is to found a hospital here which will perpetuate his work … a hospital composed of pleasant, homelike bungalows surrounded by flowered lawns, clustered around a central House of Administration. For this purpose, he has bought an extensive piece of property on Broadway and Hildebrand.”  It sounds to me as though he sought some gentle peace after his years in Mexican politics.

However, Urrutia’s “institution” remained a private garden for hosting his family and parties, for morning excursions to swim laps in the pools, and to feed his peacocks while wearing his infamous cape.  I’m a little sorry the property never became exactly like he dreamed, but am glad he put forth the effort to get the gardens going.

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