Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thursday 13---Things I Learned in Class

As you may know, I have been involved for almost two months in the pursuit of a Master Gardener Certificate.  Some cherish Emmys, Oscars, blue ribbons or even those rare blogger awards.  I am, instead, stalking the Master Gardener award.  This award requires substantial sacrifice in money ($175), time (12/ 2.5 hour classes and two field trips) and brain power (reading a 656 page textbook followed by an actual test).  BUT I am less than two weeks away from reaching my goal!  I still have to put in 40 hours of volunteer and leadership work and find some advanced workshop to take before 12 months pass.  This challenge is not for the light-hearted nor those who still have nightmares about going to school.  Now for the 13 since some of you asked how the class was going...the interesting stuff starts at 7.

1  Do not mow your lawn lower than 3 inches unless you want weeds instead of lawn.
2  A family of 3 can reduce green house gases by 275 pounds per year by composting yard and kitchen waste.
3  If your yard doesn't have at least 6 hours of direct sunlight you will grow only shade plants successfully.  (We have just 6 hours and we are not allowed to cut down our 100 foot we are being optimistic.)
4  Continually and excessively roto-tilling or digging your soil will bring up the 300 to 600 dormant weed seeds that have been waiting for you to release them for decades.  Thirty-year-old farmed lands have 'seed banks' of 100 to 600 million weed seeds per acre.  Bless the farmer!
5  Weed is a valid term among the experts...dirt is not.  If it has a broad tolerance for soil types, sunlight or shadow, and tolerates frequent cutting and grows is a weed.  "Dirt is what you sweep under the rug."
6  You can improve your soil, BUT you cannot change your soil type unless you use raised beds.  I will always be growing in clay soils no matter how many dollars I throw at it.
7  On the odd chance that you never knew...insects mouthparts can be designed for sponging, siphoning, piercing-sucking, rasping-sucking and/or chewing-lapping.  (I know....ewww!)
8  Plant diseases are always a challenge.  Potato blight (Phytophthora infestans) caused the death of more than a million people by starvation between 1845 and 1860.  Later this same blight, so famous in Irish history, also brought about the demoralization of the German army when they read about the starvation of loved ones in the letters from home, which added to the collapse of the German army in WWI.
9  Disease of rye called Claviceps purpurea causes ergotism.  The diseased tissue on the rye contains high amounts of an acid that we know as LSD.  This diseased rye defeated Peter the Great's army invasion of Turkey before it even began as both his soldiers and their horses became blind after eating bread made from diseased rye, or in the case of the horses, the rye itself.  There is some theory that the Salem witch trials may have been more about the effects of ergotism (seeing visions on those acid trips) on the part of both the accuser and the accused although the link was never proven.
10   Hydrangeas in our area almost propagate themselves when the branches are buried beneath the ground.
11  An asparagus bed can last up to 75 years!
12  Out of  more than 100,000 species of insects in the U.S. less than 10% are considered pests.  I think at least 9,000 of those that are considered pests have parties in my yard on a regular basis.
13  Reading and following carefully the labels on herbicides and pesticides whether organic or not is still the best advice you can give anyone if they find they must use them.

Just skimming the surface on things I learned.  Now go forth and plant that shrub or mow that lawn, and yes,  I guess I am a bit of a smarty pants.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Truth, the Whole Truth

I sometimes take hundreds of photographs on a day trip. I used to be conservative and clearly egotistical thinking that I should be selective and only try to take the 'best' shots.  I also felt going through 300 photos when I got home would be a headache. It isn't really...just deleting 99% is the tedious part.  I find that among those 300 there is usually one or two worthy of a post or adding to my collection. I realized that just posting these 2 or 3 was not a fair or realistic story of my photographic trips. So below is a more accurate photographic journey that I took in the canoe just a few weeks ago.  (The 3% will be posted on my other blog in the future.)

It was a beautiful if somewhat nippy fall morning.  We drove up to the landing at a small river that flows into a small bay that is a protected area for wildlife.  The foggy mist was just lifting from the water and made for a nice but not great early morning shot.  I had to carefully stand in some squishy wet grass that was just beginning to thaw from the early frost and to lean out across the water.  It was hard to see where the land ended and the deeper part of the river bank began.  I only got a few toes wet and cold which is the sacrifice one makes for a photo.

The air was crisp and the sky was a perfect November blue.  Some of the trees were still clinging to their colored leaves and the water was like glass.  I had my camera, my paddle, my paddle-mate, my warm gloves, my travel mug of hot coffee and a package of donuts.  Perfect for this little Queen, I thought.

I was able to manage a paddle stroke and a sip of coffee while resting my bismarck on the bow of the canoe.  I had the rhythm going.  Of course it helps that your mate does 90% of the paddling while you eat and drink.  As we got to the wider part of the river we could hear the geese that were sheltering in this preserve.  The sound of gunfire was intermittent in the distance which must have been making them leery.

We heard the geese chattering long before we rounded the grassy point and actually saw them tucked against the marsh. I immediately recognized the photo op and quickly set down my coffee cup which promptly spilled on my foot warming my previously chilled toes...but I got the first shot before the geese were bolting.  I watched them gently swimming away from us and grumbling to each other as I dabbed at my now warm foot with my wool neck scarf and uprighted my travel mug.  I lowered the camera and removed my gloves and took a bite of the frosting sticky donut and noticed the geese didn't fly.  I licked my chocolate frosted fingers as I pondered the hesitation of the geese.

Suddenly without warning and just to the back of my left shoulder a large flock of ducks broke the silence screaming in panic.  I rarely can get photos of our wild ducks, the above photo being a prime example.  They are very leery and so my heart jumped at seeing so many and so close as they raced across the bow of the canoe quacking and flapping.  I grabbed my camera covering the hand grip with frosting and snapped this blurry tilted photo above.  Then while trying to manually focus for a better shot I got more frosting on the lens!

I grabbed the damp wool scarf at my feet and brushed it across the lens quickly and leaning back in the canoe snapping this shot above my head as the ducks banked left toward another marsh.  Please notice the framing, the focus and the artistic use of lint which is not something I have seen on many photos.  (You should click on the photo for the complete experience.)

Oh, yeah, I also got this sharp photo of a hawk...feel free to identify!

Thursday, November 11, 2010


(As a pre-script today is our Veterans Day.)

It is not hyperbole to write that World War Two changed the world.  It was fought on 6 of the 7 continents and in all of the major oceans.  British historian John Keegan wrote "It killed 50 million human beings, left hundred of millions wounded in mind and body..."  In early November we had a cold spell but were entertaining family so ended up walking on the windy National Mall.  My son's new girlfriend volunteers one weekend a month at the World War II Memorial, and thus, we got a special private tour.  It is a vast and impressive memorial, the newest on the Mall.  In spite of this, my mind and heart collide when viewing any impressive symbol of the death of so many good people. 

I have just finished reading The Book Thief  about a young girl growing up in Germany during this time and the visit to this memorial was most searing that day as the images of what had happened in Germany were still in my mind.  I am also reading a true story about another war, The Reluctant Spy:  My Secret Life in the CIA's War on Terror by John Kiriakou where he confirms that evidence was beginnning to be manipulated by the administration in their commitment to go to war with Iraq back in 2002.  This administrative focus adversely impacted the CIA's resource commitment to finding bin Laden and ultimately led to CIA Director George Tenet's resignation.  Kiraiakou's job was to provide the intelligence reports that he found were so heavily redacted and even changed by Chaney and his staff.  This may well be the longest war.

The World War II Memorial Act was introduced by Democrat Marcy Kaptur back in 1987. It became a bipartisan effort in 1993 and finally was approved by both houses of Congress and signed into law on May 25 of 1993.

Four hundred designs for this memorial were submitted.  In 1997 an Austrian-American's (Friedrich St. Florian) design was chosen...which is karma...isn't it?   Actual completion of all of the details of the design by various entities did not happen until 2003.

Former President Bill Clinton appointed a 12-member advisory board and they raised 197 million dollars from citizens including 16 million from the federal government.

Design and construction was fraught with controversy including the location. People were concerned that the sweeping views between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Memorial would be blocked.  Thus they dug down below the horizon so that the sweeping view remains. The round pool in the photos was actually the Rainbow Pool which was already there.  The memorial was opened to the public on April 29, 2004.

The memorial is divided into the Pacific and Atlantic theaters of WWII on each side of the pool. The monument consists of hundreds of symbols in the bronze sculptures and in the bronze reliefs and in the inscriptions.  The placement of state names and U.S. territories was carefully chosen.  Materials for construction were also selected from various areas of the United States.  A concerted effort was made to recognize those women who assisted in the war at home.  I learned that the 24 bronze bas relief panels depicting the war years, at home and overseas, are made from actual historic photos.  The 4048 gold stars along the far wall (Freedom Wall) each represent 100 Americans who died in the war. 

An interesting fact that I learned and couldn't find on the web is that the two victory columns have wind monitors that change the height of the volume of water pumped into the fountain so that on windy days visitors standing nearby won't get wet!  For the next few years when visiting the memorial you will be able to see veterans of this war.  Most arrive in wheelchairs or with canes and walkers. There is a program of some kind that helps finance their visit including allowing the payment of an assistant.   Most just come with their families.  It is moving to see them come and look out over the monument in silence or while talking and reminiscing with others that fought this war with them.  Our guide did say that she occasionally gets a question from a visiting foreigner on why the Memorial is U.S. centric since it was a 'world' war.  She tries to be diplomatic in her answers.  Expectations on being the leader of a free world are surprising sometimes.

Monday, November 08, 2010


I looked outside into the sunny day that had followed a rain sparkly morning...but I saw nothing unusual or intriguing.

I looked around my room which was not too neat, not too messy, not even 'just right' and saw nothing of importance or intrigue.

I thumbed through the mail, clicked through the blogs, scrolled down the email and even stopped a half dozen times at FB for updates along the way...but nothing pushed my creativity button at this time.

I folded clothes and allowed my brain to wander with the soft jazz from my stereo... NOTHING was floating by!

So all you get today is a photo that may (or may not) stimulate a creative thought for your blog post tomorrow.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Sane (and Insane) Characters

Part II on the Rally to Restore Sanity:  

When we arrived at the metro station our first clue that we might have to eventually walk was when we saw the mass of people standing in front of the ticket machines. There were about 7 machines and all of them said NO BILLS which meant they only took change...anyone got $6 in change for the round trip?!  There were two machines that took credit cards. What a nightmare! We stood behind a nice looking young man in his 50's with perhaps his son in his 20's. They needed a little help with the ticket machines which we 'tried' to provide as we pulled out our credit cards. They had driven for about 5 hours coming from Kentucky. He explained that mostly angry people attended rallies there and it was hard to have a civil conversation on issues.  He needed this rally was to help him realize that the whole country hadn't gone crazy.  (An example of this type of anger that you can meet anywhere was also be found on Peruby's recent post...Being a gardener I was surprised to find they even blame the pumpkin shortage on this adminstration!)

We finally got to the very crowded metro platform, and after waiting 25 minutes, a train arrived that was so full of people it couldn't open its doors.  We then realized that more time even hours would pass before we could get on a train.

Standing nearby we got to talking to a couple our age that had flown in from Monterey California two days earlier.  He had a business meeting, but they had decided before they left California to stay for the rally. She was an American citizen born in France and he was an American citizen born in in India.  She was as round as he was thin, but both were full of energy.  All four of us decided we had to walk to the rally.  Good thing they were regular bikers and we were regular hikers because it was at least 6-7 miles before we could catch a cab to take us the last 2-3 miles closer to the mall.

Once at the mall we had to wiggle and squeeze between many bodies to sneak closer to the front just to see the screens and be able to hear the speakers.  I stood mostly in a group of young people perhaps 18-25 years in age, but in front of me was a young couple with a baby (!) and directly behind us stood a retired couple.  My feet did go numb after standing for 3 hours...but that passed once I started walking again after the rally was over.

We waited almost two hours after the rally (getting some chocolate and cabernet savignon at Co Co. Sala's) before deciding to try to catch a metro home.  The crowds were still large but manageable.  On the metro we met and assisted two young college kids from Boston with directions.  They had to ride the metro out our way as they had a gift certificate for free meals at a restaurant on our metro stop.

This was NOT a political rally (no political speeches--no politicians) but a few signs carried by rally attenders made fun of the conservative Fox News Channel which had been caught reporting news using inaccurate videos or by focusing repeatedly on inaccurate re-statements said by their pundits.

As a famous liberal columnist said :  "The rally was a simple reminder that certain things bring out the best in people, and certain things bring out the worst. It's not that the people who attended the rally or watched it enthusiastically on television were nicer or better than those who didn't. It's that the rally tapped into the humanity we all share, but that is rarely called forth, shown, or celebrated by our media or our political leaders. As promised, the rally was non-partisan -- making the mainstream media's unwillingness to allow their reporters to attend all the more ludicrous. Not surprisingly, many in the media seem to have totally missed the point of the day, even though Stewart clearly laid it out in his brilliant closing speech. Better to miss the point, and dismiss the event, than deal with the witty but powerful indictment the Daily Show host delivered."

Having never attended a rally, I am glad that I went to this one. I still think that the reasonable people of this world will emerge as leaders and statesmen and that those of the angry rhetoric will be seen for the immature and uncreative approaches they are using in these trying times.  

I must say that I am gloomed by the fact that among those re-elected to high office recently was a Senator that believes that carrying AK-47 weapons is 'normal' and a right at a political rally, believes that repealing the Civil Rights act is not dangerous but a good thing for American business, and that stomping on the head of a small women by a grown man as another grown man stands by yelling is "unfortunate" but not necessarily something he has control over among his supporters, they are just so passionate and ardent about their beliefs.   He will soon be a very powerful person in our government in that he will be able to stop legislation single-handed via filibuster
(Apologies for the screwy fonts...Blogger has me on the ground with its foot at my neck.)

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

I Was Sane for a Day

First let me preface this by stating that I am 63 years young and (to my knowledge) have never attended a rally. I guess I have always felt that no one cares about my cheer. Well, I happen to love the intelligent and funny humor of both Jon Stewart and Stephen I did attend the Rally for sanity and/or Fear on the Washington DC Mall on October 30th.

(For those few readers of mine who live in other countries these two men are very popular comedians on cable TV's Comedy Channel and have been making fun of the inaccuracies and exaggeration of news and politics on both sides of the aisle for several years. They end up hitting the truth on the head with their commentary. They lean liberal but are pretty careful not to affiliate with any candidate or party and consider everyone fair game.)

Officially from Jon Stewart the purpose of this rally: "This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith. Or people of activism or to look down our noses at the heartland, or passionate argument or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies."
There were celebrities and funny skits and singing, but the goal was to remind people that discussions of our disagreements begin with dialog
...not shouting at each other or calling each other names.  Even violence was recently brought to light again when a supporter of the newly elected Senator Paul Rand brought a women to the ground at a rally and several men began punching her and one even put his foot on her neck!  Senator Rand refused to acknowledge the violence.

"According to the best estimate, using aerial photos from Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity," approximately 215,000 people attended the event.   The estimate was made by  That company is considered the most reputable as they publish the methodology behind their estimate, and also release the aerial photos they used to come up with their numbers. Others simply tend to use the non-scientific method of "I think" in coming up with their estimates. This company was commissioned by CBS News to come up with the estimate, and also has been hired by the Pentagon to do crowd size estimates."  

The Metro said they had sold over 300,000 tickets by 2:00PM and we could not get on and had to WALK 7 miles from our start point because the metro was packed by  11:00 AM. MANY of us walked. Later the D.C. metro posted this table after the event.  Over 825,000 rode that day...and many walked or drove!

Of course, some people will say that Washington, DC is liberal and that is why the numbers are so high, but this doesn't negate the rallies that took place in other cities across the nation nor the fact that the people I met and talked to....about 20 of them were 50/50 in terms of living in-district or even nearby.

BUT having written all of this above, the theme of this rally seemed to agree with this statement by social scientist Robert Putnam in USA today article:  

Our research for American Grace makes very clear that whereas religion and politics in the public arena are highly polarized, in our private lives Americans are much more tolerant and comfortable across religious lines.
Now more even than in the past, many of our most intimate relations, including our marriages and our "go-to" friends whom we count on in a crisis, cross religious lines, including the line between "religion" and "no religion."
But the angry public debate gives everyone on all sides of the issues the impression that we are in a no-holds-barred struggle of good versus evil. We are a lot less divided than we think we are, and that mis-perception is itself a big part of the problem.

Here are a few photos of the event and in my next post I will write about the people I met.

We had to walk from Ballston on the far left (no pun intended) 
to the far right of the map on the mall.  Shared a cab when we reached Georgetown.
 I am so in shape! (Click on photos if you want.)

There is the Washington Monument...only a few more miles to go, swim?

This was as close we could get.  Crowd was about 60% under thirty and 30% over up to
us oldies but goodies.  Mostly white but enough diversity to make me happy.  Mostly liberal
but also some conservatives...all moderates.

Tony Bennett (on the jumbotron in the lower right) sang God Bless America at the end.  
I never thought I would have the opportunity to  hear him live
and all our sacrifices were well worth it.
Here is the end of the rally about two blocks from the mall.  
Plenty of taxis around but not a taxi available for miles!  It was a real
love fest as absolutely no one ended up shouting or in anger or drunk
or on pot that I could see.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Variety Is the Spice of Life

I am a fanatic when it comes to variety. I can only eat leftovers once that week and either they get frozen, or the next time around have to be incorporated into something very different on the taste spectrum, or they get thrown out.  This theme is true with restaurants.   It is unusual that I will go back to the same restaurant without going to other restaurants in between.

I do not like to watch the same movie more than once.  (With the exception of Cars, Toy Story, or Tinkerbell because I love holding hands and watching movies!)  There are a few that I will re-see with lots of time in between but that is rare.  (Oddly enough I will watch re-runs of Star Trek or Public Television British mysteries until the cows come home, and we have no cows.)

I will go on a wine tour but that can only happen once or twice a year...then I am done with the whole wine thing for many months.  I am not excited about going back to any annual festival even if I have enjoyed myself the first year I attended.

I will only go to the art museum when they change the exhibit, even if the attendance is free.

I regularly juggle my music on my CD system.  Light Latin, movie themes, retro music, cool jazz and then on to independent international stuff or favorite singers for a while.

When I worked I had a rather large wardrobe because I would not wear the same outfit unless three weeks had passed.

I do get bored if I see people I know too often.  Fortunately my current hermit existence resolves that problem for both them and me.

I do feel that variety is the spice of life.  Thus my husband frequently says to me,  "How did you stay with me so long?"

That is a good question.  He is very predictable after 40 years of marriage.  Our lives are becoming even more routine as we mesh our rhythms together in this retirement.  I think I have fit in this relationship because he is high energy and I am more laid back.  When I need an energy boost I go with him.  When I want to read and drink a glass of wine or take photos in the yard, I send him on his way to his project with my good wishes.  He will compromise, and naturally, I will get what I want.

There are those that hate change in routine, love the coziness of the predictable and want every day just like yesterday if yesterday was good.  There are those who could fill every day with the repetition of their hobby or passion.

What about you?  Where do you fall on the spectrum?

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.)