Saturday, August 18, 2012

My Garden, sort of…

Well, I have to be truthful - the above photo is not a picture of my garden – it is a vintage postcard from the turn of last century – but if I had placed a picture of my garden instead – I would not have many visitors come to this post because it is certainly not as colorful. We do not have a garden.We have a wooded lot and some potted plants. As I mentioned in earlier posts, we are in the middle of our little rain forest. This is what one can see from the road – with more trees on both sides. (Please click on the photos to enlarge them as they look so much better.)

When we bought the house there were less trees in the front yard. I planted a rose garden – I had 150 rose bushes then. The trees grew and with more and more shade the roses did not last. We bought the lot next to ours and it is covered with trees. The other problem is that the soil is mostly red clay and rocks. We planted a couple of new rose bushes last year in a spot with a little morning sun.

Just to dig the two holes for the roses my husband had to first remove the rocks shown below.

All these trees certainly give us a lot of cool shade in summer. It is also a bit scary during tornado times when the trees wave wildly – one fell on our vehicle once, and totally flattened it. My husband is an environmentalist by profession and always wished to keep the land in its natural state- so that’s the way it is – au naturel. It is very green in summer and attracts many birds.

(Click on collage then on each picture to biggify)

It also attracts loads of mosquitoes –

Looking up we know the sun is there, way above the tall trees – but we never see a sunset – we see a red hue behind the trees. I can never get a good picture of it – I tried with my telephoto but it shows just a red light at the end of a tunnel of trees. We have even driven several miles to find the sunset, but it is always behind trees.

When I yearn to look at pretty flowers and nice gardens, I look at the gardens shown on my friends’ blogs. They have graciously let me copy some of their photos so I can place them on my post. Vicki Lane from the blog Vicki Lane Mysteries lives on a farm in the North Carolina hills. She has a big garden with vegetables, flowers, herbs and wild animals, like the little turtle below, and domestic animals such as her sweet cows in the second collage. Her pictures of flowers and of the sunrise or sunset she can see over the hills from her window make me dream. Below are some of her photos.

Then looking west, my friend Naomi of the blog Here in the Hills lives in a house perched on top of the Hollywood hills.

Naomi has a wonderful view of Los Angeles and extraordinary sunsets but she has also a stunning succulent garden. Some of her cacti have grown very tall. She has a large amount of exotic plants such as Euphorbia and Cereus. Her lovely blog shows her garden often. Below are some of her pictures.

Going even farther west, to Alaska, my friend Elaine of the blog Arctic View lives in Fairbanks and has a green thumb. Her summer season is short but she has a colorful garden. Her plants grow fast during the long daylight hours. She took the top two pictures in the collage below shortly after midnight. We went to Alaska and it is strange to be outside at 11 pm and still be in daylight. Elaine also has wildflowers in her garden.

Now going the other way, to France, my friend Diane of the blog My Life in the Charente has a lovely and comfortable house in that region of France. She grows luscious looking vegetables as you can see by her collage below

and her flowers are quite vibrant as you can see below.

In our “garden,” we have some vegetable which is just a great variety of wild mushrooms, but I hesitate to cook them as I do not recognize them.

We also have wild fruits – muscadine. Muscadines (Vitis rotundifolia) are native to Georgia. They are like large grapes. The skin is thick but they do have a nice flavor, not too sweet. The vines and fruits appeared one day on top of some trees. I usually have to wait for the muscadine to fall on the ground as I cannot reach them.

Years ago a friend gave us suckers, or shoots from two of his trees – a fig tree and a black walnut tree. We planted them and forgot them. Now we have a large crop of figs and many black walnuts. I make jam with the figs but don’t know what to do with the black walnuts. They have a heavy shell which I cannot remove from the nut. The picture below shows the nuts in the tree, when they are green, but after they fall their skin get black. My husband tries to pick up the figs before the birds eat them and he also picks up the muscadines for me (he does not care for them.) The fig tree has grown so much that it looks for sun over the roof – I wonder if we should prune it?

There are also some wild flowers in our yard (I just can’t call it a garden) such as violets and honeysuckle in spring. There is also a pretty lavender flower and a trumpet like flower – don’t know their names.

In the front yard we have placed some pots with easy growing plants and flowers. There is a bit of sun in the morning and it keeps them happy it seems.

My husband also planted some flowers and herbs on the patio in the backyard. We had to keep them close together so they could catch a bit of sunshine in the afternoon. The plants of basil and rosemary are strong and the herbs taste delicious in many dishes.

We have not had to water the pots often as it has been raining several times a week. We placed our house plants in the back yard and they are looking lush. We had to prune the pot below once already as it is growing too large and won’t fit back in our den.

The area I like best for our potted plants though is right in front of the kitchen window under a pine tree. We placed plain shade loving plants like impatiens there and they bring a nice spot of color among all the green. In the spring my husband planted several pots and they were doing fine and were expected to grow well.

But when we came back from one of our trips the flowers were all gone. We moved some of the pots to the front yard and planted some more flowers but left some pots in the back to see if we could find out what had happened.

Before we left we had seen some new visitors – ducks. There is a lake not far from our house, maybe they came from there. Of course we always have squirrels eating the bird seeds. In the photo below, taken before our trip, the flowers are still there (in the upper right hand corner of left photo.)

But several days later I saw something moving in a couple of pots – I took my camera with the telephoto and this is the series of photos I took, below. They are squirrel bandits with no shame. They were rolling in the pot dirt in pure delight, then stopping, looking around. Then after finding the right spot – they stayed there for a long while looking the yard over. What a nerve!

I bought new bird seed feeders- guaranteed squirrel proofs. If a squirrel sets its foot on the feeder perch, then the opening closes but will stay open for little birds.

As I took the photo above I saw our squirrel bandits arrive in the yard. In no time one had chased the bird and came on top of the feeder. As I was watching I saw the squirrel open the top of the feeder with his teeth…

So I tapped on the window. The squirrel stopped and watched me while munching on a seed. I yelled at him and called him names : “Will you stop eating my seeds – you rodent thief!” So he moved away from the bird feeder and sat on the bar for a while looking at me – he had the same look people have when they can’t understand my French accent. So much audacious effrontery, I say! Then he went back down, stopped and stared at me in disgust. Insolent animal!

I told my husband that if he could catch them I would make him a nice squirrel stew with wine gravy, potatoes and herbs. But he said he found them charming. So, goodbye pretty flowers! I guess I’ll just have to keep looking at my vintage postcards as our “garden” (sort of) … will never be that colorful.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Medals per Capita - Olympic Games 2012

In my post of Saturday July 27, 2012, I mentioned that I was sad that the Tour de France had ended. I had written the post the night before and published it at 1:00 am on Saturday morning. When I turned the TV on later than morning I was surprised to see some cycling event – I thought it was a Tour de France rerun, truly. Then I realized that the background did not look like some French country village and noticed a pub – it was a biking event for the Olympic Games! I kept watching and was very happy when Alexander Vinokourov of Kazakhstan came ahead of all the others and won the gold medal. Here he is below at the Tour de France 2012 (photo Wikimedia Creative Commons.)

Vino, as he is called, started bicycling when he was 11 years old. He was in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games as an amateur and finished 53rd. I saw him in many Tours de France, wearing the Kazakhstan’s colors of turquoise and gold. Last year I was watching the Tour de France live on TV when Vino plunged into a deep ditch with his bike. Two people had to go and retrieve him. I was hoping he was not hurt but he was – his femur was broken and he had to abandon the Tour. At the time he decided to retire but this year he returned into competitive cycling for one last year and made this unexpected victory. At 38 he can be very happy to have been victorious at the Olympic Games and defeating, by himself, the British cycling “dream team” and obtaining a gold medal for the men’s cycling road race. Vinokourov shown below with the gold medal (image source: Creative Commons Flickr user Lee.)

I watched a number of events on television during the Olympic Games but had to stop several times because there were too many commercial breaks. I read that television coverage was much better in Canada and Norway where a great variety of events were shown to completion with minimum commercials. Here, both the opening and closing ceremonies were edited for the US viewing audience. The British public was shocked to find out that the tribute to the victims of the “7/7 terrorist attacks” performance had been censored by NBC. NBC Spokesman said “Our programming is tailored for the US audience” - an interview with swimmer Phelps was inserted instead. I read a blogger who wrote “Can you imagine the BBC opting to cut out a tribute to 9/11 at a future Olympics held in the States because it wasn't "tailored for a UK audience"?' Since I did not see the Olympic Games in London I have to rely on photographs in the public domain, those without a copyright or some very mediocre shots taken from my small TV. Below is the Olympic Monument at the International Olympic Committee Building in Lausanne, Switzerland (public domain photo.)

During the week, I watched the US Men’s National Basketball team play against the Lithuanian Basketball team. LeBron James of the USA scored 20 points against the Lithuanians. The US team won by 99 to 94. I read about the US Men’s National Basketball team (Team USA) and saw that they were talented professionals picked from several states. They include players like Lebron James from the Miami Heat (originally from Ohio,) Kobe Bryant from the Los Angeles Lakers (originally from Phladelphia, PA,) Tyson Chandler from the New York Knicks (originally from California,) Kevin Durant from the Oklahoma City Thunder (originally from Washington, DC.) Then I looked at Lithuania – it is slightly larger than West Virginia with a population of 3,192,800. Below is Team USA player Kobe Bryant in pre-Olympic game (US Air Force public domain photo.)

I also watched the women’s handball Montenegro team playing against Russia. Montenegro, slightly smaller than Connecticut, has a population of 620,029 which is less than the city of Detroit, Michigan (713,777.) Russia has a population of 143,056,383. Thinking about this it seems to me that large and rich countries have an advantage as there is more money available and a larger pool of talent to choose from. The city of Los Angeles alone has more people – 4,065,585 than many of these other countries. What if Team USA members could only be chosen from the city of Los Angeles rather than from the whole USA? Below is Tower Bridge in London with the Olympic Rings (source: Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike.)

On another blog this week I saw a commenter who wrote that he wished US and China wouldn’t win so many medals. Another commenter replied that he was wrong – that US athletes trained very hard and had the same chances. I still think that larger and richer countries have an advantage. For example I was raised in France –I liked swimming, ice skating and horseback riding. I could only practice if I went on my own - no coach, no trainer. In college it was the same thing – there certainly was not a football or basketball field at La Sorbonne in Paris then – and I doubt that there are some now. But my husband was able to be on the rowing team at his college in Marietta, Ohio – he did not have to go and join an expensive club. Photo below – Rowing at the Summer Olympics (image source: Creative Commons Flickr user Steve Elliott.)

In the USA sports are a priority. Children can start early, then in high school sports are part of the school program. There are summer sport camps. Sport scholarships can be obtained to attend colleges and universities. In addition there are more sports clubs at the community level in a variety of sports to pick up promising young athletes. Then when professional athletes are chosen for Team USA, for example, it is easier to choose from a country of 313,382,000 (USA) than Tunisia (10,673,800) which played against them 10 days ago. This is not taking away from what the US athletes accomplished but it has to be acknowledged that sports are well funded here and other rich countries. Many poor countries don’t even have one Olympic size swimming pool and their athletes cannot afford a racing bicycle. "USA Swimming” a 300,000 member organization promotes swimming from the youngest ages. Look at their site here. Population is not as important, I believe, as a country’s wealth, because I don’t think Bangladesh with a population of 161,000,000 even entered the Olympics. Photo below is the 1896 Olympics Gold Medal (Public domain.)

While I was looking at the statistics of various countries I found a site showing the “Medals per Capita.” Their motto is “Olympic glory in proportion.” They also have calculated Olympic medals by each country’s gross domestic product. I thought it was quite interesting. New Zealand won 13 medals or 1 medal per 340,970 residents- so their rank is 4th. America with 114 medals comes in 40th place with one medal per 3.4 million residents. Here is the site: Medals per Capita. – I found it fascinating – it certainly gives a new perspective, but many may find it boring - or won’t care. Here are some shots of the closing ceremonies from my TV screen.

We watched the Closing Ceremonies last night. I enjoyed the “Imagine” performance with the pictures of John Lennon. London and all the participating countries should be proud of these Olympic Games – they were a success.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Walker on the Cape – in Newfoundland

Several of my posts have been about St Pierre and Miquelon, the French islands south of Newfoundland’s Burin Peninsula in Canada. My last post mentioning them was on January 19, 2012 in my post about selecting travel destinations, click here to see it. As I explained in that post, I had wished to visit these islands since childhood, the last remaining French territory in North America, and finally visited them in 2008. I had stamps from these islands in my collection and was intrigued by them – because as it says on the top stamp on the left below, it was France in North America.

The posts on St Pierre and Miquelon can be found by clicking on the index on my blog on the right under that name. On August 22, 2010 I wrote a Blog Intermission post entitled An Island – une île, with a poem and photos of various islands, click here to see it. I had included the photo of the Grand Bank lighthouse taken later on an afternoon and which is now at the top of this post. Below is the same lighthouse taken around noon the same day.

In May 2012 I received an email from a Mr. Mike Martin asking if he could use the photo of the Grand Bank lighthouse – the one at the top of this post – for the cover of his upcoming book, a mystery set in Grand Bank, Newfoundland. I answered him that he could and to send me a copy of his book when it was published. In early July Mike Martin sent me another email saying that his book had been published and would I like a copy. Yes, indeed I replied. Here is the book below "The Walker on the Cape" – and my photograph on the cover, with the special effect, looks a lot better than my original picture.

click on the collage to enlarge it then click on each picture to biggify it and read about it
The Walker on the Cape
I had also asked him to autograph the book for me, and he did. I have not read the book yet but am looking forward to it as I enjoy a good mystery and one set in Newfoundland will be a first for me.

Along the years I had looked at ways to go and visit St Pierre et Miquelon from Atlanta, but I had to go to Paris and visit my mother – St Pierre was not on the way and it was expensive to take a flight from Halifax or Montreal. When I retired though I tried again to see how we could visit the islands. We had enough frequent flyers miles to get a round-trip flight to St. John’s, Newfoundland.

From there it looked like if we rented a car and drove down the Burin Peninsula to Fortune in southern Newfoundland, we could take a ferry to St. Pierre. So this is what we did. Below is a vintage postcard of St Pierre and Miquelon islands. On the extreme right you can see Terre-Neuve (New Land, the French name for Newfoundland) and Fortune above it.

I frankly did not know much about Newfoundland. I read a bit about it and found out it is quite a large island. It has an area of 108,860 square kilometers or 42,031 square miles. It is a little less than the area contained in Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands combined. You can see St Pierre et Miquelon in the bottom center of the map with Grand Bank across on the right.

We arrived late in the evening in St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland, and stayed the night. The next morning we drove toward the Burin Peninsula. I was very surprised by the landscape. I frankly had never seen anything like it. There was one road, called the Trans-Canada Highway, with hardly any cars on it. It is one of the longest highways in the world as it goes from Newfoundland, across Canada, and ends in Victoria, Vancouver Island in British Columbia. I’d love to drive on this “Route Transcanadienne” all 8,030 kms or 4,990 miles of it. Everything looked so green – no trees, just shrubs and many little lakes or ponds were on both sides of the highway. We drove carefully as we had been told that numerous moose were on the roadsides and could cross unexpectedly. You can see the road on the top left of the photo below.

The distance between St John’s and Fortune is 363 kms – 226 miles or 5 hours, but we had a Bed and Breakfast reservation in a town on the way, called Marystown. We stopped for lunch at a gas station restaurant – actually the first one we had seen (and the last one until Marystown.) I still remember that I had cod with cod’s tongue and cod’s cheeks. It was very tasty. I was not taking many photos at the time as I had just purchased my new digital camera. I loved the scenery of rolling heaths and bogs.

Newfoundlanders call their island “The Rock” because it is a giant rock. There is little topsoil so the trees are very short and stunted by their exposure to the strong elements and winds. Here we are below taking a break from driving.

Vikings came here in the 11th century – Viking Leif Eriksson called the land “Vinland” then John Cabot called it “new found isle” in 1497. Portuguese and French called it Terra Nova or Terre Neuve and Newfoundland.

Newfoundland was British until 1949 and then became the 10th province of the Canadian Confederation. Since 2001 the province is officially called Newfoundland and Labrador, but most people call is Newfoundland only.

This island has been inhabited for thousands of years and traces of people go back to 9,000 years ago. In 1960, Norwegian explorers discovered the only authenticated Norse settlement in North America dating to about the year 999.

Norse settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows (courtesy Toronto Sun)

Native Americans from this island were the Beothuk (now extinct) and the Mi’kmaq. One interesting note about the Mi’kmaqs – when I was a child in Paris and played “Indians and cowboys” with my little friends I called myself a “Micmac” Indian. I don’t know where in 1945 I could have ever heard the name if at all. My friend’s brother told me I invented the name, that there were no such Indians in the USA. I said that maybe they were in Texas. He said I should be a Sioux or Apache because these were true Indians. We had fights about it and I always wanted to stay a Micmac. So, when I read about Newfoundland and found out that the Mi’kmaqs were indeed a First Nation from Newfoundland, I was thrilled – who knew

Queen Elizabeth is greeted by Mi'kmaq First Nations Grand Chief Ben Sylliboy and his daughter Christina Sylliboy, in 2010 (Courtesy Reuters)

On our second day in Newfoundland we drove to Fortune and bought our ticket for a round-trip passage to St. Pierre. We looked around but it is not a large town – they had some interesting fire hydrants though.

It was early so we drove back to Grand Bank - 7 kms or 4.3 miles away. The French used Grand Bank as a fishing station as early as 1650. Fishing was the major industry for centuries until the death of the cod fishing industry in the 1990s (because of over fishing.) Fishing was done in the inshore and near offshore of the Grand Banks, which are shallow plateaus.

Grand Banks Fishermen by Barbara Furhovde, Canadian, contemporary

We parked the car and walked around. This was in August but we did not see hardly any tourist. I just realized that I am standing near the painting of the man, left on the wall on the photo taken near the parking area, top center of collage below.

Historic Grand Bank has some lovely houses painted vivid colors. I would have liked to stay at the Bed and Breakfast facing the harbor (below, behind my husband – top left) a Queen Anne revival style home built in 1917 by Captain John Thornhill, a famous fisherman.

But it was getting close to lunch and the "Sharon’s Nook Tea Room" looked inviting. We ate a delicious lunch there and a great dessert. There even was a book signing of Mike Martin’s Walker on the Cape at this tea room today.

After lunch we walked around some more and stopped in front of a colorfully painted building.

Then we walked back toward the Thornhill house in front of the port and lighthouse and our car. It was a short drive back to Fortune – we were still early and sat with the other few tourists to wait for our ferry to St Pierre. Then our Atlantic Jet ferry arrived (carrying foot passengers only.)

There have been about 500,000 tourists visiting Newfoundland last year, which is a large increase but still not a large number when you consider that 81.4 million tourists visited France last year as well. I heard that you either love or hate Newfoundland. I loved it and hope to return there someday. I can’t describe the feeling I had when visiting Newfoundland – it is like being in an unblemished land, unsullied by humanity – a different atmosphere, miles from malls, traffic and people – a mystical quality in the air – a primeval purity if you will.

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