Friday, March 30, 2018

The Best Places to Be In

Spring has sprung and so have most of my ligaments. I spent hours weeding and cutting away perennials on my knees in wet soil. My roses never got their late winter cutback and now they are 4 feet high.  

Then there is the danger after taking a warm shower to sit down for an hour or so and go through emails. On these days I need a crane to get me off the couch when all the joints have joined in protest against moving ever again.

A pod from my gardenia.

I have spent much time going through expired packs of seeds and scolding myself for not throwing them all out or even to sprinkle in an area of soft soil, and thus, giving them a fair chance to rally. I also collect seeds in the fall and sometimes I am good about labeling and stratifying and or keeping in sealed containers, but other times they end up in an unmarked envelope and then leak all over the plastic shoe box in which I keep my seeds.  80% will most likely never germinate.  I faithfully gather black plastic seedling flats and fill with seed soil and place on a warming pad under a grow light and try to talk them into emerging.

I learned that pea and bean type seeds can be shocked with very, very warm water for a minute and they will germinate more rapidly when planted.  That is my experiment with my hyacinth bean this year...we shall see.

This week I took a tour of a magical composting facility which is too good to not have a post all its own.  By hanging out with gardeners and farmers I get into some of the very best places!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Talk About Home Away from Home

We were lucky in that we had time for a quick lunch at the airport before boarding for our lengthy second flight due to the layover in Charlotte. Of course, we landed at one concourse and had to make our way to the end of another. The people traffic was reasonable which made it easier to navigate and work around the people treadmill.

You may not know this, but airlines new move is to not only charge for the class of assigned seats but they now charge for boarding times! I think for $14 we could board before others, and we passed on that just because it seemed so stupid and mean!  Thus we boarded near the last and overhead bins were getting full, and it was harder to get around large knees in the aisle, and stewards and stewardesses were cheering us on to get seated as fast as possible, etc. 

We had an aisle and a middle seat. I almost always get stuck in the middle. The window seat had not been filled, but we put our stuff away and sat. I reset the air fan and turned on the reading light and thumbed through the airline magazine (pretending it was not full of germs) which contained articles on local restaurants, local tourist sights interspersed with full-page ads for plastic surgeons (had they had surgery ?) and executive love-matching facilitators who looked a lot like our President's liaisons. It is so hard to make a love connection when you are rich and busy, I guess.

After a short time, our seatmate was coming down the aisle.  She was a stocky woman in her 50s-60s of Latina heritage with very close-cropped hair and drawn on eyebrows.  Someone commented that there was no room for her hand luggage and she responded that she was not allowed to lift over her head anyway and she would tuck it under her seat.  We did the get-out-into- the-aisle dance while she moved in.  As she reached below while next to me I noticed she had a compression stocking on her arm, and realized she could not lift probably due to some circulatory or surgery issue.

I was not in a talking mood, but she was.  She was flying back to New York, her home.  She asked where we were from and what we had been doing.  I keep my responses polite but short.  Then, my mistake, I asked what she had been doing in San Juan.  I learned the following over the next hour or so:

She was on 30-day treatments for 4th stage breast cancer, but doctors felt she was in good remission and able to make this trip.  She was thankful to God and felt that her future looked bright.  I felt guilty about thinking her drawn on eyebrows were overkill and was impressed by her optimism and energy.

She was born in New York but lived in Puerto Rico for about 20 years of her younger life.  She had traveled various places following her husband who was in the Army.  She had taken this trip because she had to take care of her parents' house.  Her parents had passed on years ago, but neighbors had informed her that a wall and a fence had need of repair due to the recent hurricane.  This house was in a town outside of San Juan and most of the town had taken on substantial damage, so it was complicated getting there.  

While there she visited with a friend of hers, a teacher in her 60s.  This woman was living in a house owned by another and it had been pretty much destroyed.  The teacher has been living in the basement without water or electricity since the hurricane.  The owner was in no hurry to repair the house and the teacher had no friends or relatives that could take her in.  Imagine living in a basement without water or electricity for months!  My new friend on the plane said she got her parent's house somewhat repaired and convinced the teacher to move in and watch it for her for at least a couple of years.  There was still some contracting work to be done and she told the woman that she would have oversight to see that it was done correctly and she left her some cash for that.

All of the blue in the photo above covers roofs that have yet to be repaired on one of the Caribbean islands we toured.

I am sure this was just a smidgeon of the many stories that could have been told in that town.  I read an article the other day that said Puerto Rico had been set back at least a decade in development and infrastructure.  And of course, a new hurricane season is just a few months away.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Do you like to Samba?

The photo below is the back of the Capital Building and taken from the exact spot where I fell!  134 architectural designs were submitted from the US, Cuba, Canada, France, Spain, and Puerto Rico. After controversy and changes in architectural designs and more modifications of the final selection, the building was completed in 1929. The day we were there, the Governor was going to give a speech and therefore there were many police officers all around. This photo does not reflect how many!

The second photo of the Capital Building above is the front of the building and was taken the day after the speech and the barriers had not been taken down.

The statue in the photo below is the gateway to the Old Town area of San Juan where there are many restaurants and shops. It was not super busy on the day we were there and I think this was reflective of the reduction in tourism due to the hurricane.

"The statue commemorates the 400th anniversary of the discovery of Puerto Rico by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the new world. Christopher Columbus originally named the entire island of Puerto Rico to be San Juan Bautista (Saint John the Baptist), however, the island was later renamed and only the capital city of San Juan retains the name. Bronze plaques on the base of the monument provide pictorial representations of the ocean journey and arrival of Christopher Columbus and the meeting of the indigenous people."  

I will not discuss the colonial guilt I felt while studying this symbol.  Soon the local Indians had been enslaved by the Spanish.

This was a beautiful statue when you really looked at it.  

Old Town is colorful and artistic and a perfect place to shop and eat.

It is also full of colorful characters.

There were examples of hurricane damage even in these simple palms along the waterfront. There were buildings that had still to be repaired and others that were brand new on the same street.

I am not so sure I like the new architecture and I hope it is a reflection of storm sturdiness and not bad design. Of course, comments in U.S. social media complain that Puerto Rico does not deserve our support because it is so corrupt and the money would be unlike the real estate projects, private university efforts and philanthropic foundations established by the staff in our White House.

I did read in the newspapers of small grants and a few large loans being made through our government, so there is small hope.

There are a number of small and larger forts around the island where Spain protected its colony from attacks by pirates and others.  This is El Morro, one of the more well-known and one we have visited before.  The views of the ocean and bay are amazing and the freedom of such an open area is welcome on crowded days.  There is a small fee for the museum which is part of our National Park Service.  On this day the temperature was perfect as it can get quite hot!  (This is me after my fall, and you can see I am recovering well.)

We had to be at the airport by early to mid-afternoon and so had time to stop here:

The sunny courtyard was protected by palms and umbrellas and in the background was some very nice samba music to get you in the mood.  I had a rum Pina Colada and hubby had the virgin version.  It seems this famous drink was created here.

This barely touches the flavor and culture of the island that we absorbed in our two short days.  I didn't even mention the great restaurant attached to our hotel and the conversation with the man who runs the food program at the church that had been damaged across the street!  I also have to write the tale of the lady I sat with on the plane home and her story about the hurricane!  And I failed to mention that the very days we were there, winter storms on the north side of the island had sent huge waves inland washing cars into the ocean.  Never enough time is there?

Monday, March 19, 2018

Miscellania, or Whatevah

When I went to check the spelling in the above title I found out that Miscellania is a small island in some digital game. I think it would be a perfect name for a real island, and if I ever buy one, I will change its name to Miscellania.

Below are the last (I hope) of photos that I have selected related to the cruise. They are just for fun or question or pause.

We were photographed ourselves almost as much as we took photographs of others.

Every single port we anchored, there were armed military.

Cargill in Manaus port. "Cargill, Incorporated is an American privately held global corporation based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, and incorporated in Wilmington, Delaware. Founded in 1865, it is the largest privately held corporation in the United States in terms of revenue."

I have no idea what this crewman is doing. Those of you who know ships can perhaps enlighten me. This happened after we had docked.

This is how the locals go up and down the river. Supplies and shopping and shipping are on the bottom deck. Food and socializing and hammocks for sleeping above that. These journeys can take several days depending on the stops. Very different than how we traveled!

Thursday, March 15, 2018


We stopped at islands in the Caribbean after we stopped at small cities/villages in the Amazon; we were able to see lots of local people. 

First I must qualify this post. I HATE ocean cruises. I repeat, I HATE ocean cruises!  I only went on this one because it cruised up the Amazon River for most of its 1,000 miles. Something I would never be able to see unless I stayed in one of those villages for some time.  This ship held 900 people.  It was one of the smaller ships, but still WAY TO BIG.  

Ours was the "small" ship on the left.

When these floating giants come into a port the entire energy of the island or small city changes.  They see us as people who come to spend money (hopefully) and then leave before the day is over and we see them as very poor folks that make handicrafts and are very slow in service at the restaurants and can also be thieves.  (Two of the women on our cruise wore jewelry into a local fish market and were robbed...I know, they were idiots.)  

We descend like leaf-cutter ants as we swarm into their churches, museums and food places.  One of our 900 said they thought the 20-minute tour of the local museum was too long!  It was mostly history and political leader information and one of the few things they could show to us of interest.

Along the Amazon stops tourism via cruise ship is a brand new venture and they are struggling to learn enough English and to provide things that we want to buy, or see, or do. This is not just a hobby for them, this means they have food for their children and can repair their fishing boats! I will NEVER forget the haunting face of the small man in his late 40's who wanted to peddle us around the town, but the rain was too heavy for us to consider it. We gave him some money anyway, but that face...that face will never leave my mind. It is an ancient story.

It is a double-edged sword, this tourism thing. One of the talks about the tribes (100s) of the Amazon forest broke them down into three groups. Those who wanted nothing to do with outsiders and would shoot you with poison arrows as they retreated deeper into the forest, those who were willing to meet briefly with leaders to trade handicrafts/food for things they needed, and those who were making an effort to meld into the Western culture so that their children might have an 'easier' life and lived at the edge of the forest. 

The Amazon forest, referred to as the lungs of Brazil and the whole continent, is being destroyed by both drug cartels and illegal loggers on a daily basis. It started with rubber barons 100 years ago.  Seventy-eight million acres are lost annually to a forest that is currently 2.124 million mi² and there seems to be no slowing of this with the current levels of corruption in the government.  It is a sad story and an old story and I do not regret that I saw it.

Here is a good Ted Talk to leave you in a more optimistic state of mind:

Monday, March 12, 2018

No Time to Be Bored

At the beginning of the day, you turned on your TV to see where you were after traveling all night; and then your looked at your 'personal' daily schedule on the same TV so you did not miss anything you had signed up for.

The generic daily schedule for each day on this cruise was placed on your bed the night before while you were at dinner.  It was filled with items of interest, or not.  You never had an excuse to be bored.

Hubby took in many of the music shows at 9:30 while I headed to bed, but I did take in the magic show which was exceptional on that small stage.

You could actually just spend time on your tiny balcony and watch the horizon go by while you read a good book. If you forgot to bring a book there were LOTS of great titles to explore on the ship.  These below were in the Explorer's Room.

Note how 'tightly' packed they are on the shelf, someone works hard at that.  Each book is marked inside with a label of the lounge from which it was taken.  The Explorer's Lounge had books about explorers and exploration, of course.

The first few days the seas were rough and we adapted and got our sea legs or in some cases took Dramamine. I did not get seasick as that happens to me on the smaller boats.  The rest of the cruise was perfect in terms of ocean smoothness.

Most customers on the boat were "elitists" in the sense that they valued expertise and education and wanted to learn more about the culture, geography, and economy of the areas we were visiting.  This did not mean that they did not politely challenge some of the conclusions of the lecturers.  

There was always music playing somewhere!  There was always wine and soft drinks being served everywhere.

Yes, that is a view of the mouth of the AMAZON once we had moved up into it a couple of hundred miles.
There were cooking classes and dance classes and we took a small part of both.  The dance classes were free and the cooking classes were $30 each which coved the cost of the food.

If the day was too rainy for sipping wine on the bow or stern you could take your iPad or laptop and walk the public areas and learn all about the Norwegian art on board by following an audio website as well as check out the historic artifacts in the small onboard Viking museum.

They did have a lot of Munch art and I am not a fan of his, unfortunately.  Edvard Munch was most famous for "The Scream"  and moved through a number of styles in his lifetime.  (Note the audio clue next to the painting.)

If you got tired of the lectures and the shows and musicals and even the late night dancing in the little nightclub at the bow, you could go to bed and watch movies, or a few news programs or Ted Talks that had been pre-selected to match the cruise!  Then you could be rocked to sleep by the waves (gently).

Sunday, March 11, 2018

At the Beginning

Some of my readers (I have readers!) like to live vicariously and asked that I post about this cruise.  Therefore, those of you who have no interest in looking at a slideshow of my travels, you can skip the next few posts.  We were on the boat about 21 days and in two cases did not see land for at least 3 days. There was plenty to do so no passenger boredom and I will write about that in the next post.

Below is the itinerary (sort of). Our cruise was similar to this one posted below but we left from Miami and ended the journey in San Juan; we did not get to Devil's Island because the seas were too rough to tender passengers ashore and we stopped in Antiqua and not St. Lucia. These are grandma and grandpa cruises and some of these folks came on board with wheelchairs, walkers, and canes!  (The itinerary was also changed a few months ago due to the hurricane damage.)

We left Miami around 7:00 and got a lovely if somewhat hidden sunset.

We were able to board a few hours earlier and voyeuristically watch the tremendous wealth in this part of Miami.

No matter how much money you have, there are people that have so much more.  Note how the water is greenish and not a nice blue!  We soon were moving a rather windy speed and headed indoors for our first of many gourmet meals.  No, I did not take a photo of everything we ate...!

I did not take a photo of our room, but it was really comfortable.  Our traveling companions got one of the nicer rooms (a suite) because nothing else was available and I post that photo below!  The ship was from the Viking line..."In 1997, Torstein Hagen acquired four ships in Russia and Viking Cruises was born. Three years later, the company absorbed KD River Cruises, and in the process gained access to certain European ports as well as 40 years of river cruising experience. That same year, as Viking River Cruises, the company opened its American headquarters in Los Angeles. The operator has grown rapidly ever since while upholding its dedication to destination-focused itineraries that allow passengers to immerse themselves in the history and culture of their surroundings. Today, operational headquarters are located in Basel, Switzerland. In 2015, Viking Cruises broadened its horizons by taking to the seas with the launch of its first oceangoing cruise ship."

The design and decor are very pleasing to the eye and comfortable as well!  Our friend's suite was filled with lots of great books to read and a bottle of champagne to enjoy while reading.