Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Festival of Summer's End

In the U.S. and in some European countries we celebrate a holiday called Halloween. Some say it comes from a Celtic festival meaning summers end.  It is this time of year when the lighter half of the day gets shorter and the darker half grows longer, which therefore, allows both evil and benign spirits to pass through into our world for a short scary time.  It is a festival in which we turn our innocent and beloved young lads and lassies into monsters and send them out to ask strangers for candy in the early evening...yep, we really do this....

There is an even scarier side on my other blog.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thursday Thoughts (13)--Falling into Fall---a day early!

(I repeat that I do not do this 13 thing correctly or succinctly or even often, but I keep trying.)

  1. It took me two hours of hard labor but I loaded all the split wood that my husband had created the other day, and then, when my back was turned, the wood pile shrugged its shoulders and all my work was undone in seconds.
  2. My husband decided to encourage our grandson to help with the seeding (re-seeding) of the lawn this fall and gave him a small shoe box of seed to distribute by hand.   Almost a half hour later grandson returned with the box empty and the announcement that he was done...this week we discovered a rather intense square foot section of grass germinating just down the hill from the driveway.
  3. This has been the most productive year for acorns from all varieties of oak trees.  The air is filled with sounds like popguns going off in the sky as the nuts hit the leaves on their way to the ground.  It is a miracle that not one has hit me on the head.
  4. Yesterday I saw a squirrel sneak up on a deer by climbing quietly up the back side of the holly tree and then scrabbling noisily down the other side to the ground scaring the deer and causing him to flee into the deep woods.
  5. While burning deadfall I watched the gray fragile ash float into the blue sky as the nearby woodpecker threw down epithets at me, almost as if he knew what I was doing.
  6. Shortly later I saw three noisy crows falling and calling after a lovely hawk high in the sky.
  7. The delicate white feathery seeds of the salt bush have begun to release on the wind and fall in the air and collect on the spider webs on the shore making lovely decorations.
  8. My lovely decorated blue bird house which was for the bluebirds separated from the base and fell to the ground this fall and inside the peaked roof was a healthy nest of brightly colored wasps.
  9. My daughter gasped as I picked up my heavy 3-year-old granddaugther the other day to carry her upstairs.  I guess she was afraid at my old age, I might fall with this heavy treasure.
  10. Speaking of falling...I almost fell asleep while reading my textbook on the three forms in which phosphorus is taken up by plant roots...too many H's and subscript.
  11. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives eleven definitions of the word fall.
  12. Lots of rain falling as I write this text ... yes, I am cheating, but I am almost there.
  13. The only thing that has not fallen this fall is my weight!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Stretching Into Retirement

I have previously written about the unrewarding volunteer work I had been doing at the Public Library.  I started about 6 months ago and based on that recent volunteer luncheon (which I also wrote about), the scattered approach to their needs for me, and my sporadic personal schedule in the coming months, I called and told them I was going to put volunteering on hold for a while.  I may go back, but right now I am looking for something that "gives as much as it gets."  This may be unrealistic and selfish, but I am at the time in my life when I really need something more fulfilling and something where it is clear they need me and with at least a little social element.

So in the process of looking for a challenge, I recently signed up for the Master Gardener classes.  (In the U.S. this is a University based extension program involving an environmentally sustainable approach to working with commercial or hobby planting and landscaping.) 

What was I thinking?  Have you seen their class textbook (in the photo above)?  It was written by committee (mostly PhD professors) over several years of learning from prior classes, I am guessing.  The class meets two evenings a week for two months, has a quiz at the beginning of each class on the instruction from the prior class and covers an encyclopedia of stuff including history, policy, botany, pathology, geology, chemisty.  This will surely stretch my aging retired brain.  In the end it requires at least 40 hours of leadership-type of volunteering before certification.  Since I am new to this community, I am already intimidated by that requirement.  I also have to come up with two references...I guess that means my neighbors, because I do not know anyone else here.  

Oh well, I hope to get to know more people, have something to point to as an accomplishment, share what I learn with the next generation (esp. grandchildren) and certainly will learn more about gardening and landscaping.  Right now my brain is spinning with trying to understand the vocabulary:  positively charged ions, adsorption, desorption, lithosphere, anion, phloem, meristems, etc.  ( I am not showing off...just glad the final test is open book!)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Small Towns Never Change. Characters #4

(This is not the town in the post below.)

It was already 8:45 A.M. and the air was just starting to warm up.  I am normally an early riser, I was hungry...really hungry.  Since hubby is a big breakfast person the minute he gets up, whenever he gets up, he was verging on famished already.  We had to find food in this small Canada town which reminded me of the town I where I grew up.  There wasn't much here.  Train tracks along the outside edge, auto parts dealerships,  a hardware store, a real estate office, something called an 'underground galleria', another store with a sign 24 Hour Cash and a place that sold John Deere with John Deere toys in the window.  We did see a restaurant that advertised Chinese/Western food.  My stomach almost bolted.

Yes, there was a Dairy Queen (closed at this hour) and a MacDonalds...puleeze, I wanted food, not something to plug up my plumbing.  No pause for the challenges of travel when you are old.

We made a u-turn and did the whole town again finally finding a cross street with something that looked like a Tombstone version of Main Street.  I had read that Whifs Flapjack House was ranked as the #1 restaurant in town.  (Tabor, you aren't in Calgary anymore!)  We couldn't find that flapjack place, but as we cruised further down the quiet street we saw a restaurant with a few cars out front and a sign that said 'best bakery... something'.  Maybe we could get breakfast there?

Inside the restaurant of VERY SIMPLE decor (plastic chairs and tables and plastic flowers on a counter) was a small area the counter to the left and maybe six tables in a small open area on the right.  One table had four old-timers, 2 women and 2 men, sipping coffee and staring at each other.  As we entered, what little conversation they had been having ended, and they stared at us.  Clearly we were the break in Monday morning boredom they had been looking for.

Behind the counter was a chunky woman with a pony tail giving out change to another customer.  (I had the biggest deja-vu from when, as a teenager, I had worked two summers at Frank's cafe in my small hometown in Colorado...OMG I was going back in time and I had evolved and small towns had not and I wasn't all that comfortable about this revelation.)

The fact that no one talked and everyone watched our every move, made us even less comfortable.  We look questioning at the middle-aged woman behind the counter and she just stared back as well and then turned to the back wall to do something.

We walked up to the counter and studied the menu high on a board above her, at least to fill the uncomfortable void.  It listed a few pastries, a few sandwiches and drinks including something called "espresso."  Right!

When she turned back to face us, I asked what pastries she had.

"Just what is in that case behind you.  I have not had any time to bring anything up."  This was related in her best on-stage speaking voice so that everyone and anyone in the restaurant could hear.  

(Up?  From where?  Pastries from the cellar?  Fresh pastries from the former wine storage room?  More likely there was a former coal mine below.)

I saw a few sad rolls, two muffins and a cinnamon bun in the old fashioned case.  I asked for the cinnamon bun and coffee.  She handed me a white mug and pointed to the coffee pots on the side near the door.  I poured a cup of something, not really caring what as I wanted to just sit down and disappear.  I tried to pour from the cream jug and it appeared to be empty.  I tried the milk jug.  "Sorry but it looks like both of these are empty." 

"Hon, you will have to wait, I am the only one here until noon."   The only other four customers were drinking coffee and also waiting...  She was really busy.

Hubby ordered the fried egg sandwich but made the mistake of asking for tea.   

"That is going to take some time, outa hot water right now."  We both looked at each other in concern and I retreated to the far table for two against the wall.  Hubby then asked if she had Earl Gray (!)  She looked at him and replied: "If you want me to look in the back you will have to wait. " He suggested he would drink whatever tea she had available and then joined me at the table. 

Finally one of the old-timers (yeah, they were the same age as me and what?!) got tired of staring at us and returned my tentative smile and asked where we were from.  We told our little tale of coming to the badlands to take photos and maybe see the dinosaur museum.

The waitress behind the counter turned away from frying the egg and asked me if I wanted my bun heated, and I assume she meant the one I ordered for breakfast.  Knowing it was probably made last Friday and dry as toast, I said yes.

The old guy at the table turned to the waitress and asked her if the museum was open on Monday.  He wondered aloud if they were now on the winter schedule.  She looked up at him and I think she was thinking...either about what he said or whether she was going to throw the spatula at him.  He turned to the women sitting next to him and asked the same question.  She responded with a similar expression on her face.

As we waited the other one of the two women, dressed in a flower print dress and sweater that reminded me of what my grandmothers wore, stood up, and lifting a cell phone out of her purse, asked in a voice loud enough to be heard in the 'wine cellar' if she could get a bus ticket for mid-morning. (Was everyone in this town hard of hearing?)  The contact on the phone must have said 'yes', because she hung up and hugged the other women and said good-bye to the two men and headed out the door.  As she reached the door one of the men said something to her.  She turned and waddled back to the table and then around to where we sat and pulled a wheeled basket with a grocery sack inside from behind my chair and then headed back out the door as her companions stoically watched.

The waitress brought me my warmed cinnamon bun and I actually apologized (fully intimidated by her at this time) and said I could have come up to the counter and gotten it myself.

As the egg sandwich cooked and the water boiled the man at the table began to relate various places we should see while visiting their little town including their very interesting coal mine and its' museum and the homestead antique museum.  While these were probably very nice, we really just wanted to see the dinosaur bones.

I looked up as the waitress behind the counter picked up the phone and in her normal (loud) voice asked 'Betty' at the other end of the phone line if the dinosaur museum was open on Monday.  She listened and then hung up and turned to us and said 'Betty' would call back.  As luck would have it, during our gourmet breakfast we learned when Betty called back that the museum was indeed on winter hours and not open on Mondays.  But, by this time, we were beginning to get the 'rhythm' of this New York style of hospitality in a small town in the Badlands of Canada.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Drum the Hell Out of It.

The Badlands are just over an hour outside of Calgary and, sadly, an afterthought to many tourists. We (I) wanted the best lighting across the desert geology and left very early from Calgary on a Monday morning. Racing along the highway I was in agony missing this sunrise which I snapped addictively from the rental car as cold morning air blew in my face and large semi-trucks raced ahead.

We were heading to a town called Drumheller. The name alone reflects the harshness of a town in a valley surrounded by flat topped dry hills. It is an old coal mining town. 139 mines were registered between 1911 and 1979 and there is a coal mining museum that tells the hard story.  We did not stop to visit the museum and the last mining site although it has been designated a national historic site in Canada.

People here are solid and probably conservative.  The Passion Play which is held every year is currently a claim to fame and draws people for hundreds of miles.

Drumheller is also known as Dinosaur valley because some important fossils have been found and the town has a claim to having the "largest dinosaur statue" in the world...which hadn't been on my bucket list to see, but now is (was).  There is a stunning modern paleontology museum which was closed on Mondays to us and so we missed that interpretation of this exceptional area.  If you are curious please go here for some fun.

Just north of here is another town called Hanna where the group Nickelback originated  (I will leave you to do your detective work to figure out where the name came couch potatoes already know.)  There is something so totally talented and in abundance in the music gene pool of Canadians.  I like this group (Nickelback) , but not necessarily their evolutionary change in music as they move out of the valley.

Anyway, we did meet a few interesting town 'folks' of that solid small-town ilk which I will include in the next post.  

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Grizzly Repellent Characters #3

As I have written at least once before, the magical thing about travel is that you have an increased opportunity to meet interesting and diverse people.  When I was young my travels usually brought me to the homes of other's parents and that meant good food and good stories. Now that I am a 'gray beard' I usually meet the odd ducks and adventurers, like us.

We passed this fellow at right in the photo above at the bottom of the highway.  He was trying to hitch a ride up the mountain on a cool Canada morning.  His funny bear hat drew my attention as well as his smile.  Hubby was not that comfortable about stopping for him and drove on by.  As the fates would have it we met him at the bottom of the Larch Valley hike just a little while later.  The park service had been seeing grizzlies in the area and had a sign at the bottom of this rather strenuous hike telling people that they had to hike in groups of four.  (I think since this was one of the most popular hikes in the area at this time of year that any grizzly would attack only because the crowds going up and down were driving him nuts!)

The young man asked if he could walk up with us.  Hubby commented that made us only three, but I argued that this tall young man counted easily as two if we encountered a grizzly.  Since there was no ranger in sight nor any sign indicating a fine, we started off as three.

To protect his privacy I will call him Sandy.  The first thing I learned from Sandy is that he taught CPR in Australia.  He went on to say that the CPR exercise really did not work, but the electronic defibrillator would be the tool that will save someone's life and then add CPR after that!  He told me if I ever had to use one to not worry about lack of training as these AEDs are well designed for success.  Of course both my husband and I were panting and had to stop every 10 minutes on this steep trail to catch our this was a little more than idle chatter for us.  He was such a sweetie, waiting for us so patiently each time we paused to take in the views.

The more we climbed, the more I learned about Sandy.  He recently was working as a bartender and left his job to travel around the world until the money ran out.  He was almost certain he could get his job back upon his return.  Then I later learned he actually was just a few hours short of a Ph.D. in biotech and had given that goal up because he realized he did not want to write grants for the rest of his life.  He also was not a rule freak and clearly the pharmaceutical industry was full of rules for its researchers.  Sandy was young and free and currently enjoying the life of a vagabond.  He had parents and siblings back in Australia that he spoke of fondly.  We talked about politics and science and nature on the way down the hill.

Since his camera battery had died I took a number of pictures of him in the larches (I will post something about this interesting conifer on my other blog).  I offered to tag him on FB and he gave me his name.  When I got home and brought up his profile, he had written on it that he liked men.  When I saw this it made me feel very odd and embarrased because I had asked him if he had a girlfriend waiting for him at the end of this sojourn.  We always see the world through our eyes and I can imagine how many times some little old lady sees this cute charmer and wants to fix him up with a young lady and asks if he has a wife or girlfriend.  So tedious, I am sure.

Sandy was on his way to do volunteer work in South America for some organization when we parted at the end of the day.  I would love to run into him again some day and see how his adventure unfolded.  (I'll bet you thought this post was going to be about a grizzly...;-))

Friday, October 08, 2010

Into the Mountains

Above is the small tourist town of Canmore where we stayed. We did not stay in Banff, and although Banff is a stunning mountain tourist town, I am glad we rested our worn hiking boots in this smaller and gentler place just outside the Banff National Park.  It was busy at this time of year and stays busy until early November when tourism drops off just before beginning again in the busy crazy ski season.  Even though mornings were cold in this valley, the weather got very pleasant within hours once the sun burned through the clouds.  Some days were foggy and rainy (snowy), but most of our days were sunny.

The first afternoon we took an exploratory hike around the town park. The trail follows the river and seems to go for several miles up into the valley. Canadians are really scary healthy!  They jog in outfits that are out of some movie and with lean lanky dogs beside them. Picture a six foot Barbie in a skin tight black and red ski outfit springing gazelle-like up a narrow hiking path with two black Dobermans running at each side and then look away so you can catch your breath.  Look at the lovely view above that one gets when resting on the bench in this park.  The bench is empty because I do not think Canadians rest.

We saw a large number of tourists from Asia throughout the area. Above is a man from Japan practicing his fly fishing. We did see a few trout in the river although he had no success during the time we watched.

On our way down the river trail and after passing a number of very fancy vacation homes just up the hill behind us we saw this evidence of bear. We never saw a bear on any of our hikes, but the rangers did post signs on various trails about grizzly activity and asking hikers to hike in groups of four only.  Common sense and keeping food to yourself and making noise is usually a safe bet.  (If Barbie is not afraid, then neither am I.)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Calgary...Calga RAH!

Calgary is referred to as Cow Town by some and having engorged the delicious beef that can be purchased in dozens of restaurants, this is no misnomer.  I did not know what to expect upon arrival at Calgary because I had never met anyone from there or talked to anyone who had traveled there.  We really were heading out to Banff at the first part of our trip, but we did spend a couple of days exploring the city on our return.

It is a very easy city to explore,  easy to walk in and not so large that you get lost.  The theater district is not dynamic like New York City but we saw a play called Panelopiad which was professionally produced,  a play based on the story of ever faithful and ever patient Penelope waiting while Odysseus was out fighting wars for Helen of Troy.  It had an all female cast that portrayed the roles of men with convincing sexiness and all had excellent singing voices that I always encounter in Canada.

The food is wonderful in the city restaurants and VERY expensive if you eat in the nicer restaurants.  We ate at one place near the theaters which we thought was 'sort of' high end.  When we arrived (early because we were still on East Coast time) we noticed a young family at a large round table toward the modern kitchen bar.  There was a young baby in a bright red high chair and food was on the floor everywhere...just like at MacDonald's.    When we quietly asked, the waitress explained why three small children were eating just across from us with their mom and dad at this fancy restaurant.  The family it appears was renting a house owned by the restaurant owner in the nicer suburbs outside of Calgary.  The owner had it listed for 4.5 mil and had not sold it.  So these folks were renting it at $20,000 Canadian a month..!  They were celebrating a birthday for the youngest who had just turned one, which was, therefore, no big deal at such a high end restaurant.  And in spite of the fact that the two older little girls had beautifully highlighted hair and were dressed like Hannah Montana, all children behaved exceptionally well and the father who looked like an ex-hockey player was totally devoted to his third daughter throughout the night.  (As an aside, hubby and I spent the most we have ever spent at a restaurant eating here and I ordered only one glass of the cheapest wine with the meal, but the food was very good.  Although $18 for a salad of organic tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella topped with a rare French chile powder and sitting on prosciutto and basil was a ridiculous price and not nearly as good as something out of my garden and from my grocery.)

Weather was in the high 70's most of the time we were in Calgary, so walking around the city was an easy adventure.  The photos below were taken from the Tower downtown that had been built when the Olympics were held there back in the 1980's.  The third photo shows how ugly suburban sprawl is alive and well in Canadian cities.  In the last photo you can see the Canadian Rockies in the distance which was our primary eventual destination.  Most of those outdoor photos of dramatic scenery in the Rockies will be posted on my other blog.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Characters #2

Travel provides the opportunity to see common things in a new light. When in unfamiliar territory, people-watching becomes an opportunity in character development and a dedicated pastime for me.  I have a few stories from my recent exploration of Western Canada, but first one last anecdote from my August trip to Baltimore, which happened on a terribly hot, hellish weekend.  We spent as much time as we could being outside walking the city, but by mid-afternoon we sought the shelter of an air-conditioned store and ended up spending money on iced drinks regardless of our carefully pre-agreed upon budget.

We had drifted down to the historic Fell's Point.  The Internet states that Fell's point has "The unique to the unusual...the conservative to the wild." Fell's Point was named after a Quaker in the 1760s which might be the reason for its extreme nature.  It certainly is an interesting part of Baltimore. I became familiar with Fell's point many years ago when visiting an indoor aquaculture facility.  My visit was to a project showing that you could grow fish in the heart of the city.   This particular weekend the air was oppressive and we decided that the hole-in-the-wall coffee shop we were passing was the best place to collapse for a while.  (No Starbucks for us!)

This shop was very small and L-shaped...a long narrow L with tables along one wall and the checkout counter and pastries and teas and coffees on the other wall.  At the base of the L were two more tables and chairs, a couch, a small corner with children's toys, and a shelf of used books and magazines.  There was a man drinking an iced drink at a table near the door where we entered.  On the sofa at the far end of the hall past most of the tables were three men passing around a guitar and playing music. One of them was very good and played and sang a familiar country tune and we listened as we let our sweat dry.

There was a nice looking dark haired man about 35 behind the counter and he was talking to a 20-something gal with a brown pony tale leaning at the edge of the counter when we walked in.  They both broke off their conversation and the young woman asked what we wanted.  We both ordered an iced chai, and my husband being the gregarious soul started up a conversation about the heat.  The man agreed how unbearable the summer had been while he fixed the tea and the gal took our money.  When I mentioned we were tourists  and wondered about the water taxis, the gal, who was quite talkative and charming, took my arm and directed me to a small brochure rack behind the door.  She was clearly knowledgeable about Baltimore as she passed various brochures my way.

While we waited for our drinks she indicated that the heat was really hard for her as she lived in a third-story apartment...with no air-conditioning!  I felt so sorry for her and my mind drifted to how working in a coffee shop must pay very little.  She said she spent most of her time trying to keep cool with a fan.

We took a nearby table and perused the water-taxi schedule and the various stops while we sipped our tea.  My back was to the door, but I could see that hubby was intrigued watching the girl and guy.  The door opened a few times more and other customers completed orders.  The guy with the guitar walked by on his way out and apologized to us for singing so loud.  We loved his music, so were surprised at this.

Then the store got quiet.  The gal was outside on the sidewalk talking to someone.  I could not hear the conversation between the man who had been sitting at the table drinking when we entered and the guy behind the counter.  But hubby was intently watching them and interpreted this for me later.

The man at the table:  "Who is she?"

The clerk:  "Hell if I know.  Maybe she is doing her laundry across the street."

The man:  "  You don't know her?  She is in here every weekend."

The clerk:  "I know...don't have a clue!"

The gal came back into the store and rearranged some of the things on the counter, collected plates from a table and moved them to the counter, and then headed to the bathroom chattering with the man behind the counter most of the time.

My husband and I just smiled and shook our heads.  Pehaps this was her way of being able to stay cool on a Sunday and avoid the lack of AC in her apartment.  She was smart and brave and opportunistic.  (My next post will be about Canada...I promise.)